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Indian fires as an ecological influence in the Northern Rockies

Author(s): Stephen W. Barrett, Stephen F. Arno
Year Published: 1982

The importance of fire as an ecological disturbance in the Northern Rockies is well accepted. Lightning is generally thought to have been the main source of ignition prior to settlement by Europeans. But writings of explorers and pioneers mention deliberate burning by Indians frequently enough to warrant an investigation of its importance. Interviews with descendants of Native Americans and of pioneer settlers in western Montana suggest that Indian burning was widespread, had many purposes, but was generally unsystematic. Fire chronologies based upon scars on old-growth trees indicate that fire intervals within similar forest types were shortest near Indian-use zones. Comparisons of presettlement fire intervals with those calculated from modern lightning-fire records suggest that Indian-caused fires substantially augmented lightning fires over large areas. As dependence on lightning fires alone may not create or perpetuate certain desirable plant communities or stand conditions, prescribed burning may be needed.

Citation: Barrett, Stephen W.; Arno, Stephen F. 1982. Indian fires as an ecological influence in the Northern Rockies. Journal of Forestry. 80(10): 647-651.
Topic(s): Fire History, Frequency, Fire & Traditional Knowledge, Fire Regime, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 7910
FRAMES RCS number: 3520
Record updated: May 24, 2018