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Land surveys show regional variability of historical fire regimes and structure of dry forests of the western USA

Author(s): William L. Baker, Mark A. Williams
Year Published: 2018
Description:

An understanding of how historical fire and structure in dry forests (ponderosa pine, dry mixed conifer) varied across the western USA remains incomplete. Yet, fire strongly affects ecosystem services, and forest restoration programs are underway. We used General Land Office survey reconstructions from the late-1800s across 11 landscapes covering ∼1.9 million ha in four states to analyze spatial variation in fire regimes and forest structure. We first synthesized the state of validation of our methods using 20 modern validations, 53 historical cross-validations, and corroborating evidence. These show our method creates accurate reconstructions with low errors. One independent modern test reported high error, but did not replicate our method and made many calculation errors. Using reconstructed parameters of historical fire regimes and forest structure from our validated methods, forests were found to be non-uniform across the 11 landscapes, but grouped together in three geographical areas. Each had a mixture of fire severities, but dominated by low-severity fire and low median tree density in Arizona, mixed-severity fire and intermediate to high median tree density in Oregon-California, and high-severity fire and intermediate median tree density in Colorado. Programs to restore fire and forest structure could benefit from regional frameworks, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Ecosystem Changes, Structure, Fire History, Fire Regime, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Fire and Landscape Mosaics, Patch Size, Fire Return Intervals, Recovery after fire
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 16421
Record updated: May 23, 2018