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Quantifying the human influence on fire ignition across the western USA

Author(s): Emily J. Fusco, John T. Abatzoglou, Jennifer Balch, John T. Finn, Bethany A. Bradley
Year Published: 2016

Humans have a profound effect on fire regimes by increasing the frequency of ignitions. Although ignition is an integral component of understanding and predicting fire, to date fire models have not been able to isolate the ignition location, leading to inconsistent use of anthropogenic ignition proxies. Here, we identified fire ignitions from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) Burned Area Product (2000–2012) to create the first remotely sensed, consistently derived, and regionally comprehensive fire ignition data set for the western United States. We quantified the spatial relationships between several anthropogenic land-use/disturbance features and ignition for ecoregions within the study area and used hierarchical partitioning to test how the anthropogenic predictors of fire ignition vary among ecoregions. The degree to which anthropogenic features predicted ignition varied considerably by ecoregion, with the strongest relationships found in the Marine West Coast Forest and North American Desert ecoregions. Similarly, the contribution of individual anthropogenic predictors varied greatly among ecoregions. Railroad corridors and agricultural presence tended to be the most important predictors of anthropogenic ignition, while population density and roads were generally poor predictors. Although human population has often been used as a proxy for ignitions at global scales, it is less important at regional scales when more specific land uses (e.g., agriculture) can be identified. The variability of ignition predictors among ecoregions suggests that human activities have heterogeneous impacts in altering fire regimes within different vegetation types and geographies.

Citation: Fusco, E.J.; Abatzoglou, J.T.; Balch, J.K.; Finn, J.T.; Bradley, B.A. 2016. Quantifying the human influence on fire ignition across the western USA. Ecological Applications. 26: 2390–2401
Topic(s): Fire Communication & Education, Fire History, Frequency
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 14896
FRAMES RCS number: 22993
Record updated: Dec 28, 2016