William L. Baker, Chad T. Hanson, Mark A. Williams, Dominick A. DellaSala
Year Published:

Cataloging Information

Fire Effects
Fire History
Fire Regime

NRFSN number: 25509
Record updated: May 10, 2023

The structure and fire regime of pre-industrial (historical) dry forests over ~26 million ha of the western USA is of growing importance because wildfires are increasing and spilling over into communities. Management is guided by current conditions relative to the historical range of variability (HRV). Two models of HRV, with different implications, have been debated since the 1990s in a complex series of papers, replies, and rebuttals. The “low-severity” model is that dry forests were relatively uniform, low in tree density, and dominated by low- to moderate-severity fires; the “mixed-severity” model is that dry forests were heterogeneous, with both low and high tree densities and a mixture of fire severities. Here, we simply rebut evidence in the low-severity model’s latest review, including its 37 critiques of the mixed-severity model. A central finding of high-severity fire recently exceeding its historical rates was not supported by evidence in the review itself. A large body of published evidence supporting the mixed-severity model was omitted. These included numerous direct observations by early scientists, early forest atlases, early newspaper accounts, early oblique and aerial photographs, seven paleo-charcoal reconstructions, ≥18 tree-ring reconstructions, 15 land survey reconstructions, and analysis of forest inventory data. Our rebuttal shows that evidence omitted in the review left a falsification of the scientific record, with significant land management implications. The low-severity model is rejected and mixed-severity model is supported by the corrected body of scientific evidence.


Baker WA, Hanson CT, Williams MA, and DellaSala DA. 2023. Countering Omitted Evidence of Variable Historical Forests and Fire Regime in Western USA Dry Forests: The Low-Severity-Fire Model Rejected. Fire 6(4), 146;

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