Long-term Landscape Patterns of Past Fire Events in a Montane Ponderosa Pine Forest of Central Colorado

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Landscape Ecology

Publication Date







Kluwer Academic Publishing

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Parameters of fire regimes, including fire frequency, spatial extent of burned areas, fire severity, and season of fire occurrence, influence vegetation patterns over multiple scales. In this study, centuries-long patterns of fire events in a montane ponderosa pine – Douglas-fir forest landscape surrounding Cheesman Lake in central Colorado were reconstructed from fire-scarred trees and inferences from forest stand ages. We crossdated 153 fire-scarred trees from an approximately 4000 ha study area that recorded 77 total fire years from 1197 to the present. Spatial extent of burned areas during fire years varied from the scale of single trees or small clusters of trees to fires that burned across the entire landscape. Intervals between fire years varied from 1 to 29 years across the entire landscape to 3 to 58 years in one stand, to over 100 years in other stands. Large portions of the landscape did not record any fire for a 128 year-long period from 1723 to 1851. Fire severity varied from low-intensity surface fires to large-scale, stand-destroying fires, especially during the 1851 fire year but also possibly during other years. Fires occurred throughout tree growing seasons and both before and after growing seasons. These results suggest that the fire regime has varied considerably across the study area during the past several centuries. Since fires influence plant establishment and mortality on the landscape, these results further suggest that vegetation patterns changed at multiple scales during this period. The fire history from Cheesman Lake documents a greater range in fire behavior in ponderosa pine forests than generally has been found in previous studies.