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Pre-European biomass collection and Indigenous cultural impacts on forest fuel loads

Authors: Scott Markwith*, Florida Atlantic University
Topics: Biogeography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Mountain Environments
Keywords: biomass harvest, firewood collection, mixed-conifer forest, fuel loads, Sierra Nevada
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Available fuel is one of the major determinants of fire frequency, intensity, and spread, and fuel loads are of concern to forest managers as fire frequencies, intensities, and sizes are all increasing across the western United States. Because the majority of people live in urban areas in western societies and governments control large tracts of forest and conservation lands, governments rely upon top-down prescriptions for the use of fire, thinning, and other intensive and centralized practices for fuel management. In other parts of the world, local peoples continue to use non-timber forest products and harvest biomass for shelter, tool production, cooking, and heating, and manage forests on a private or communal basis. These practices are in many ways similar to practices used for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples in the pre-European era of the western US. However, recognition by modern managers of Indigenous peoples’ cultural practices is typically limited to the use of targeted or broadcast forest burning to favor particular vegetation types or hunting conditions. This focus likely underestimates the influence of Indigenous peoples on pre-European fuel loads and forest dynamics. The objective was to use biomass removal estimates related to practices by local peoples globally, e.g. firewood collection, that are analogous to practices in the pre-European era and examine the impacts on fuel loads in western US forests. Inclusion of cultural practices on fuel loads may improve reconstructions of fuel and fire regimes, and highlight the lost bottom-up practices that may benefit modern management strategies.

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