Replacement of Dynamically Stable Fire Regimes by Euro-American Settlement

Authors: Jesse Minor*, University of Maine - Farmington
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Indigenous Peoples, Physical Geography
Keywords: Apache, coupled natural-human systems (CHNS), dendrochronology, fire frequency, fire history, indigenous burning, pyrogeography, wildfire
Session Type: Guided Poster
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Roosevelt 3.5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: Download


We explore the effects of several waves of human occupation on temporal fire regime characteristics in various topographic settings and forest types in the Chiricahua Mountains of the borderlands of southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. Using tree-ring based fire histories assembled from distinct settings in the mountain range, we characterize and statistically test differences in fire frequency from as far back as pre-1500. The oldest part of the tree-ring fire scar record contains evidence of pre-Apache fire regimes that may have been influenced by the Sobaipuri people. Following Apache arrival in the late 1600s, Apache-period fire regimes show phases of increased fire frequency coincident with conflict with first the Spanish and later the Mexican and US states, and slackened fire frequencies during peacetime. Finally, permanent Euro-American settlement and Apache removal coincided with the cessation of widespread fire, and disruption of a regime of frequent, low-severity surface fires that had been dynamically stable for centuries. We provide the most comprehensive, landscape-scale fire history from the Chiricahuas, and the first fire history combining fire histories from low-elevation gallery forest to upland and mixed conifer forests. We contribute to an evolving literature in tree-ring based fire history that investigates indigenous fire regimes, none of which have focused on the Arizona Sky Islands. By explicitly testing fire-climate relationships in various topographic settings and forest types across gradations in widespread fire, we uncover apparent anthropogenic additions to fire regimes, as expressed through increases in fire frequency and decoupling of climate and fire regime characteristics.

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