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Project ID: 06-3-1-17

Year: 2006

Date Started: 07/07/2006

Date Completed: 09/30/2013

Title: Historic Fire Frequency in Mountain Big Sagebrush Communities of the Eastern Great Basin and Colorado Plateau: A Comparison of Estimates Based Upon Proxy Fire Scar Records and Predictions Derived from Post-Fire Succession Rates

Project Proposal Abstract: Knowledge of past fire regimes associated with mountain big sagebrush-dominated landscapes is inadequate for accurate assessment of current departures from historic conditions and scientifically-based fire planning by land managers. Widely utilized estimates of fire frequency are based upon a few problematic studies using fire-scarred proxy trees positioned at the forest/shrubland ecotone. These studies, all conducted in the northern half of the species distribution, generally fail to adequately address questions of fire behavior across the fuels threshold at the forest/shrubland ecotone. Alternatively, fire frequencies compatible with big sagebrush have been suggested based upon post-fire succession rates. Specifically, minimum and maximum fire free intervals are estimated based upon the time required for big sagebrush population recovery and tree invasion and dominance, respectively. Published studies of mountain big sagebrush post-fire recovery are also limited primarily to higher latitudes, and as a rule are not linked to tree invasion studies. Our objective is to address these deficiencies through the following steps. We propose to develop estimates of fire frequency for mountain big sagebrush communities in the eastern Great Basin, upper Colorado Plateau and intervening mountains and highlands, representing the southern half of the species distribution, using fire chronologies from proximal fire-scarred trees. Eight study sites will be selected to provide representation for the region. Fire chronologies will be generated from cross-dated, fire-scarred living and dead trees located within, or proximal to, mountain big sagebrush communities. Secondly, we propose to develop estimates of recovery rate for mountain big sagebrush and co-dominant shrub species, and estimates for the rate of tree invasion, for 16 burn sites in the same geographic region. Sites will be limited to those in which year of burn is known or can be accurately estimated. Sites representing a full range of fire-free intervals (5-80+ years) will be selected. Thirdly, we propose to model the long-term response of woody species to fire regime, using as model input our proxy fire-scar estimates for fire frequency and empirically-derived estimates of successional rate and pattern. An analysis of model outputs for vegetation cover classes over time will provide a critical test of the appropriateness of shrubland fire frequency estimates based upon fire-scar records obtained from proxy trees. Findings will provide a sound basis for updating LANDFIRE succession models. Finally, we will communicate our data and findings to FS, BLM, and NPS land managers and other scientists through a web page, workshops, written reports, peer-reviewed publications, and oral presentations.

Principal Investigator: Stanley G. Kitchen

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: RMRS-Shrub Sciences Laboratory

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Peter J. Weisberg

University of Nevada-Reno

Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science

Federal Cooperator

Alison Hill

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network











Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
view or print   945 Government Publication SageSTEP News: Effects of Prescribed Fire on Biological Soil Crusts and Their Subsequent Recovery in a Great Basin Juniper Woodland
view or print   3487 Journal Article International Journal of Wildland Fire
  go to website 400 Website  
view or print   1073 Poster Recovery Following Fire and Long Term Persistence of Mountain Sagebrush Communities
view or print   1833 Poster Post-fire Recovery of Mountain Sagebrush in the Intermountain West, USA

Supporting Documents

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