Fire Ecology, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 3
Special Issue: Fire History in California
Author: Thomas W. Swetnam
A common refrain that fire historians hear from managers and scientists is: “Haven’t we done enough fire history studies already, especially in ponderosa pine? What more is there to learn?” It is true that there are dozens of published studies in western North America using tree rings to evaluate the historical range and variability of past fire regimes. It is also true that the majority of these studies were conducted in pine dominant or mixed-conifer forests where moderate to high frequency surface fire regimes prevailed for centuries before the fire suppression era. Despite the substantial body of existing fire history literature, this special issue of Fire Ecology serves to demonstrate that, in fact, there is still much more to learn.
This set of seven papers expands our understanding of long-term fire history, climate, and land use effects on fire regimes in several new geographic locales and ecosystems in California. In three papers (Vaillant and Stephens, North et al., and Gill and Taylor), we learn about fire history on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, where little previous work has been done. All of these studies (plus the Skinner et al. study located in northern California) rely in part on ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson) or Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Balf.) fire scarred trees to reconstruct detailed fire history. The North et al. study also extends to higher elevation forests of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Douglas ex Louden), foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana Balf.), and bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva D.K. Bailey).