We use the historical presence of high-severity fire patches in mixed-conifer forests of the western United States to make several points that we hope will encourage development of a more ecologically informed view of severe wildland fire effects. First, many plant and animal species use, and have sometimes evolved to depend on, severely burned forest conditions for their persistence.
Widespread habitat degradation and uncharacteristic fire, insect, and disease outbreaks in forests across the western United States have led to highly publicized calls to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration. Despite these calls, we frequently lack a comprehensive understanding of forest restoration needs.
Wildfire activity in boreal forests is anticipated to increase dramatically, with far-reaching ecological and socioeconomic consequences. Paleorecords are indispensible for elucidating boreal fire regime dynamics under changing climate, because fire return intervals and successional cycles in these ecosystems occur over decadal to centennial timescales.
The interaction of fires, where one fire burns into another recently burned area, is receiving increased attention from scientists and land managers wishing to describe the role of fire scars in affecting landscape pattern and future fire spread.
Aim Wildfire is often considered more severe now than historically in dry forestsof the western United States. Tree-ring reconstructions, which suggest that historicaldry forests were park-like with large, old trees maintained by low-severity fires,are from small, scattered studies.
Wildfires change plant communities by reducing dominance of some species while enhancing the abundance of others. Detailed habitat-specific models have been developed to predict plant responses to fire, but these models generally ignore the breadth of fire regime characteristics that can influence plant survival such as the degree and duration of exposure to lethal temperatures.