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Historical fire regime and forest variability on two eastern Great Basin fire-sheds (USA)

Kitchen, Stanley G. 2012. Historical fire regime and forest variability on two eastern Great Basin fire-sheds (USA). Forest Ecology and Management. 285: 53-66.


Proper management of naturally forested landscapes requires knowledge of key disturbance processes and their effects on species composition and structure. Spatially-intensive fire and forest histories provide valuable information about how fire and vegetation may vary and interact on heterogeneous landscapes. I constructed 800-year fire and tree recruitment chronologies for two eastern Great Basin fire-sheds using fire-scar and tree establishment evidence from 48 gridded plots (500 m spacing) and from fire-scarred trees between plots. Fire-sheds are located in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada (BMC) and Wah Wah Range of western Utah (LAW) and span a range in elevation and vegetation zones typical for the region. Estimates of point mean fire interval varied more than 10-fold at both BMC (7.8-125.6 years) and LAW (13.3-138.4 years). At BMC, a distinct within-fire-shed contrast in fire frequency was difficult to explain without invoking the possibility of spatially-variable human-caused ignitions. A majority of fires were small (<10 ha) but large fires (P100 ha) accounted for 78% (BMC) to 89% (LAW) of cumulative area burned. Tree recruitment for mid-elevation, mixed-conifer stands was somewhat episodic and asynchronous among plots. Recruitment pulses were synchronous with multidecade fire quiescent periods, and often followed large fires. I concluded that fire frequency was under strong topographic control and that fire severity was mixed and variable through time and space resulting in a dynamic mosaic of variable-aged, fire-initiated vegetation intermixed with long-lived, fireresilient trees and open shrub-steppe communities (BMC). A major change in fire regime and forest composition began in the 1800s causing shifts in composition and structure at the stand scale and homogenization at the landscape scale. I recommend that management strategies prioritize the use of fire and surrogate treatments on mid-elevation forests that have deviated most from historic conditions and on associated shrub-steppe communities where conifer encroachment has occurred. Planned disturbances should be of mixed severity and sized to recreate vegetative mosaics at historic spatial scales.

Keywords: dendrochronology, point mean fire interval, mixed-severity fire, pinyon-juniper fire, anthropogenic fire, fire restoration

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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Historical fire regime and forest variability on two eastern Great Basin fire-sheds (USA)
Electronic Publish Date: September 12, 2012
Last Update:
September 12, 2012

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