Twentieth Century Fire Patterns in the Gila/Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas, New Mexico and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area, Idaho/Montana
|Twentieth Century Fire Patterns in the Gila/Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas, New Mexico and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area, Idaho/Montana
|Year of Publication
|School of Renewable Natural Resources
|University of Arizona
I used archives of wildfire perimeters (fire atlases) within a geographic information system (GIS) to describe and evaluate fire frequency patterns for the 20 th century in the 486,673-ha Gila/Aldo Leopold Wilderness Complex (GALWC), New Mexico and the 785,090-ha Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Complex (SBWC) in Idaho and Montana. I addressed questions about changing 20 th century fire frequencies and landscape-scale controls of fire frequency by analyzing fire atlases along with data for topography, vegetation, and climate. Similarities and differences in comparisons between study areas highlight important aspects of fire regimes and strengthen my interpretation and inference. In the GALWC, fire rotations were shortest during the recent wildfire use period (1975-1993) and longest during the pre-modern suppression period (1909-1946). In the SBWC, fire rotations were shortest during the pre-modern suppression period (1880-1934) and longest during the modern suppression period (1935-1975). Elevations with the highest fire frequencies differed between study areas. However, forest types found at these elevations are characterized by similar overstory tree species. Steeper northeastern slopes in the GALWC and southwestern slopes in the SBWC burned most frequently. I assert that, in the GALWC, horizontal fuel continuity is a main factor determining fire frequency. In the SBWC, fuel moisture status limits fire frequency. Fires are most frequent in areas where ignitions occur and neither fuel continuity nor fuel moisture are likely to limit fire spread. Three statistical modeling approaches were used to produce maps of reburn probabilities. Log-likelihood modeling provided the most satisfactory results, while logistic regression and classification and regression trees yielded statistically insignificant models. Empirical models contributed to the assertion that fuel continuity limits fire frequency in the GALWC while fuel moisture limits fire frequency in the SBWC. Mapped fire perimeters provide a valuable source of spatial historical information for describing the role of large fires over broad areas. This dissertation enhances scientific knowledge about broad scale changes in fire regimes. Comparisons between areas facilitate identification of unique versus general patterns. Results provide a contemporary baseline for comparison with estimates of Pre-EuroAmerican fire frequencies, and a historical, spatial context for modeling and managing future fire regimes.