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A multi-century history of fire regimes along a transect of mixed-conifer forests in central Oregon, U.S.A.

Heyerdahl, Emily K., Loehman, Rachel A., Falk, Donald A.
Canadian journal of forest research 2019 v.49 no.1 pp. 76-86
Abies grandis, Pinus ponderosa, Pseudotsuga menziesii, fire regime, fire severity, fires, forest types, growth rings, trees, Oregon
Dry mixed-conifer forests are widespread in the interior Pacific Northwest, but their historical fire regimes are poorly characterized, in particular the relative mix of low- and high-severity fire. We reconstructed a multi-century history of fire from tree rings in dry mixed-conifer forests in central Oregon. These forests are dominated by ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco), and grand fir (Abies grandis (Douglas ex D. Don) Lindl.). Across four, 30-plot grids of ∼800 ha covering a mosaic of dry mixed-conifer forest types, we sampled 4065 trees for evidence of both high- and low-severity fire. From 1650 to ∼1900, all four sites sustained frequent, often extensive, low-severity fires that sometimes included small patches of severe fire (50–150 ha during 18%–28% of fire years). Fire intervals were similar among sites and also among forest types within sites (mean intervals of 14–32 years). To characterize the continuous nature of the variation in fire severity, we computed a plot-based index that captures the relative occurrence of low- and high-severity fire. Our work contributes to the growing understanding of variation in past fire regimes in the complex and dynamic forests of North America’s Interior West.