Chapter

Pre-Euro-American and Recent Fire in Sagebrush Ecosystems

William L. Baker

in Greater Sage-Grouse

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267114
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948686 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520267114.003.0012
Pre-Euro-American and Recent Fire in Sagebrush Ecosystems

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Sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems are under threat from a variety of land uses, disturbance, and invasive species, and are also thought by some to have been affected by fire exclusion and require burning as a part of restoration. To better understand the historical range of variation (HRV) of fire in sagebrush ecosystems and whether sagebrush fire regimes today have too much or too little fire, a study was conducted to estimate fire rotation (expected time to burn the area of a landscape) in sagebrush ecosystems under the HRV. Landscape dynamics under the HRV were likely dominated in all sagebrush areas by infrequent episodes of large, high-severity fires followed by long interludes with smaller, patchier fires, allowing mature sagebrush to dominate for extended periods. Fire rotation, estimated from recent fire records, suggests that fire exclusion had little effect on fire in sagebrush ecosystems. Instead, cheatgrass, human-set fires, and global warming may have led to too much fire relative to the HRV in four floristic provinces within the range of sagebrush in the western United States.

Keywords: Artemisia; fires; fire exclusion; fire rotation; landscape dynamics; sagebrush; sagebrush ecosystems; historical range of variation; cheatgrass; global warming

Chapter.  9886 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Vertebrates

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