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Collaborative dendropyrochronology: Connecting worldviews on wildfire

Authors: Kelsey M Copes-Gerbitz*, University of British Columbia, Alexandra Pogue, University of British Columbia, Greg Greene, University of British Columbia, Lori D Daniels, University of British Columbia, Shannon M Hagerman, University of British Columbia
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Human-Environment Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: fire regimes; Indigenous knowledge; tree-rings; collaborative research
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Modern wildfire is a complex challenge given its increasingly detrimental impacts on social-ecological systems, yet tree-rings reveal the historical prevalence of wildfire in temperate forested ecosystems. Dendropyrochronology demonstrates that many fire regimes have shifted through time due to impacts of land-use change, including fire suppression and forest management, and more recently due to climate change. Nevertheless, inferences about historical fire regimes and resulting management implications can be incomplete when they are based on a purely scientific worldview. This worldview is often siloed from Indigenous (ecological) knowledge, which has been tested over long time periods, is uniquely place-based, and is still thriving today. We offer several examples of tree-ring based fire histories that corroborate oral histories of First Nations’ burning in British Columbia (BC), and emerging lessons from an ongoing, community-based landscape history developed in collaboration with researchers, First Nation Elders, land managers, and archaeologists. This “collaborative experiment” illustrates the extent to which land use and occupation by T’exelc people influences tree-ring based fire histories recorded in a dry forest ecosystem on the traditional territory of the T’exelc. Furthermore, this process highlights the ongoing legacies of colonialism, which severed both ecological and cultural memories associated with fire. In discussing the importance of Indigenous peoples’ relationship to fire, we demonstrate that changes to ignitions may be a driver of ecological change recorded in tree-ring based fire histories. Finally, we argue it is imperative that we embrace Indigenous worldviews and create space for Indigenous collaborators to ensure ongoing cultural and ecological wildfire resilience.

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