We've gone BETA! A new RMRS website will be launched soon. Visit our new site & tell us what you think.

Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
Contact Information
  • Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
  • 333 Broadway SE. Suite 115
  • Albuquerque, NM 87102-3497
  • 505-724-3660
  • 505-724-3688 (fax)
You are here: Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems / Research by Project / Historical and Modern Fire Regimes

Historical and Modern Fire Regimes

Project Title

Historical and Modern Fire Regimes of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau: Temporal and Spatial Drivers of Variation


Management of natural landscapes requires knowledge of key disturbance processes and their effects on vegetation. Fire and forest histories provide valuable insight into how fire and vegetation varied and interacted in the past and a basis for interpreting modern conditions. We have constructed multi-century fire chronologies for 26 sites from the eastern Great Basin, Colorado Plateau and intervening uplands. Vegetation histories were constructed for 15 sites. We infer the effects of climate variability on historical fire patterns. Evidence for a significant impact of Native American burning practices on historical fire regimes, including fire seasonality patterns, has been implicated. Linked assessment of fire and forest history data suggest a predominantly mixed-severity fire regime for eastern Great Basin mountains with episodic tree recruitment occurring at stand to landscape scales. Additional analysis will address variability in historic fire regimes for specific vegetation types including mountain big sagebrush and aspen communities.

Selected Publications

Datable fire scars
The classic triangular shape of the wound area at the base of this snag is a good indicator that datable fire scars may be present on the wound surfaces. Cross-sections taken from trees such as this facilitate reconstruction of multi-century histories of surface fire.

GSD Principal Investigators

Kitchen, Stanley    Research Botanist    801-356-5108

Cooperators and Sponsors

Bureau of Land Management
Fishlake National Forest
Joint Fire Science Program

Emily K Heyerdahl, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula, MT
Peter M Brown, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ft Collins, CO

Related Links

Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research

Fire injuries within the tree’s ring structure
Cross-sections reveal the location of fire injuries within the tree’s ring structure with annual accuracy allowing investigators to assign a year to each fire scar.