Fire Ecology, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 3
Climate, Rain Shadow, and Human-Use Influences on Fire Regimes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, California, USA
Authors: Malcolm P. North, Kip M. Van de Water, Scott L. Stephens, and Brandon M. Collins
There have been few fire history studies of eastern Sierra Nevada forests in California, USA, where a steep elevation gradient, rain shadow conditions, and forest stand isolation may produce different fire regimes than those found on the range’s western slope. We investigated historic fire regimes and potential climate influences on four forest types ranging in elevation from 1700 m to 3200 m on the Sierra Nevada’s eastern slope and the White Mountains’ western slope. Sample areas (approximately 15 ha to 45 ha) had mean site fire return intervals ranging from 4.8 yr to 16.9 yr across ten Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Balf.) sites, and 13.4 yr to 45.7 yr across four high elevation lodgepole (P. contorta Douglas ex Louden), foxtail (P. balfouriana Balf.) and bristlecone (P. longaeva D.K. Bailey) pine sites. At most sites (13 of 14), >50 % of fire events occurred in late or dormant season wood. Twentieth century fire return intervals increased at some sites, while other sites continued to record frequent fire events into the 1950s. Years where two or more sites recorded fire events on two or more trees were correlated with drought conditions forecast by the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) in our sample locations at and north of Mammoth Lakes. The lower Sierra Nevada crest due west of these locations may connect weather patterns with western slope conditions more than at our southern eastside sample sites, which were not significantly correlated with PDSI. Our results suggest eastern Sierra Nevada Jeffrey pine forests have similar seasonality and fire return intervals as some western slope forests, but site fire history can be influenced by stand isolation, historical use, and local rain shadow conditions.