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The influences of drought and humans on the fire regimes of northern Pennsylvania, USA

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Understanding past fire regimes is necessary to justify and implement restoration of disturbance-associated forests via prescribed fire programs. In eastern North America, the characteristics of many presettlement fire regimes are unclear because of the passage of time. To help clarify this situation, we developed a 435-year fire history for the former conifer forests of northern Pennsylvania. Ninety-three cross sections of fire-scarred red pines (Pinus resinosa Aiton) collected from three sites were analyzed to determine common fire regime characteristics. Prior to European settlement, fires occurred every 35–50 years and were often large dormant-season burns that sometimes initiated red pine regeneration. American Indians probably ignited these fires. Fire occurrence had a weak association with multiyear droughts. After European settlement started around 1800, fires occurred every 5–7 years due to widespread logging. Fire size and seasonality expanded to include small growing-season fires. The weak drought–fire association ceased. In the early 1900s, logging ended and wildfire control began. Since then, fires have been nearly absent from the sites despite several multiyear droughts in the 20th century. The human influences of cultural burning, logging, and fire exclusion are more important than the influence of drought to the fire regimes of northern Pennsylvania.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 335 National Forge Road, Irvine, PA 16329, USA. 2: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, 202 ABNR, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. 3: School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA.

Publication date: May 21, 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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