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Paleoclimate Fire History Study Reveals Human Affects to Fire Regime Differs Than Expected Climate on Western Klamath Vegetation.

Photo of Frank Lake showing Ukonom Hotshots Crew the desired fire scars on stump sample; Jeff Crawford and Scott Mensing extracting lake sediment core for pollen and charcoal analysis. USDA Forest ServiceFrank Lake showing Ukonom Hotshots Crew the desired fire scars on stump sample; Jeff Crawford and Scott Mensing extracting lake sediment core for pollen and charcoal analysis. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Forest Service scientists examined low-elevation lakes to determine if American Indian and early American forest management could be detected using pollen and charcoal from lake cores, as well as growth rings and fire scars from trees. One lake revealed a change in fire regime and vegetation different than expected from climate alone. This multi-disciplinary approach highlights the importance of considering human impacts on vegetation and fire regimes.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Lake, Frank K. 
Research Location : Western Klamath Mountains, Orleans, California
Research Station : Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 822

Summary

This research highlights the importance of using a multi-disciplinary methods to investigate the potential impacts that climate, pre-historic and early historic American Indian fire management, as well as the effects of fire exclusion from American governance have on forest ecosystems. Two lower elevation lakes, nearer to pre-historic American Indian villages, boarding two tribal territories were selected to study. Former paleoclimate studies in the region, using lake sediment cores for pollen and charcoal were conducted at higher elevation, assumed that fire regime was primarily influenced by climate alone. This study indicates two lakes have differing fire regimes and associated vegetation over the last several thousand years, although having a similar climate history. Lake basin size, sediment deposition rates, distance from human habitation sites, maritime-costal influence, regional precipitation, and human influences on local fire regimes are likely responsible for the detected change between the two lakes. Climate has been viewed as the dominant determinant of vegetation structure and composition change over time, but ethnographic and anthropological evidence suggest that Native American land-use practices such as fire use had significant landscape effects on vegetation. The study also indicates a strong anthropogenic influence on modern vegetation at both lake sites following European-American settlement, decline in tribal use, and subsequent fire exclusion.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Carl Skinner, Celeste Abbott, Bob Carlson with PSW Fire and Fuels Program, Redding lab.
  • University of Nevada-Reno, Department of Geography Dr. Scott Mensing and Dr. Jeff Crawford

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