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Mixed-severity fire regimes: How well are they represented by existing fire-regime classification systems?

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Maps depicting historic fire regimes provide critical baselines for sustainable forest management and wildfire risk assessments. However, given our poor understanding of mixed-severity fire regimes, we asked if there may be considerable errors in fire-regime classification systems used to create landscape-level maps. We used dendrochronological field data (fire scars and tree establishment dates) from 20 randomly selected sites in southern British Columbia to evaluate two classification systems (Natural Disturbance Type (NDT) and Historical Natural Fire Regime (HNFR)) used by managers to map fire regimes. We found evidence of mixed-severity fires at 55% of sites. Each classification system made considerable and contrasting errors predicting mixed-severity regimes (relative to field data), and the discrepancies varied with elevation. The NDT system underrepresented low-to-moderate-severity fires at lower elevations, whereas the HNFR system overpredicted their occurrence at higher elevations. Errors are attributed to underlying assumptions about disturbances in the two classification systems, as well as limitations of the research methods used to estimate fire frequency in mixed-severity regimes (i.e., methods more relevant to high- versus low-severity regimes). Ecological heterogeneity created by mixed-severity regimes potentially influences decisions related to conservation, silviculture, wildfire, and fuel mitigation. Thus, understanding underlying assumptions and errors in mapping fire regimes is critical.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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