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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Peter Z. Fulé
Publication Date: 2008

Forest restoration guided by historical reference conditions of fire regime, forest structure, and composition has been increasingly and successfully applied in fire-adapted forests of western North America. But because climate change is expected to alter vegetation distributions and foster severe disturbances, does it make sense to restore the ecological role of wildland fire through management burning and related activities such as tree thinning? I suggest that some site- and date-specific historical conditions may be less relevant, but reference conditions in the broad sense are still useful. Reference conditions encompass not only the recent past but also evolutionary history, reflecting the role of fire as a selective force over millennia. Taking a long-term functional view of historical reference conditions as the result of evolutionary processes can provide insights into past forest adaptations and migrations under various climates. As future climates change, historical reference data from lower, southerly, and drier sites may be useful in places that are higher, northerly, and currently wetter. Almost all models suggest that the future will have substantial increases in wildfire occurrence, but prior to recent human-caused fire exclusion, fire-adapted pine forests of western North America were among the most frequently burned in the world. Restoration of patterns of burning and fuels/forest structure that reasonably emulate historical conditions prior to fire exclusion is consistent with reducing the susceptibility of these ecosystems to catastrophic loss. Priorities may include fire and thinning treatments of upper elevation ecotones to facilitate forest migration, whereas vulnerable low-elevation forests may merit less management investment.

Online Links
Citation: Fulé, Peter Z. 2008. Does it make sense to restore wildland fire in changing climate? Restoration Ecology 16(4):526-531.

Cataloging Information

Partner Sites:
  • Abies concolor
  • Abies lasiocarpa
  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • climatology
  • coniferous forest
  • distribution
  • disturbance
  • Douglas-fir
  • Durango pine
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • ecotones
  • elevation
  • fire adaptations
  • fire exclusion
  • fire frequency
  • fire hazard reduction
  • fire management
  • fire regimes
  • fire restoration
  • forest management
  • histories
  • Jeffrey pine
  • Picea spp.
  • pine forests
  • Pinus durangensis
  • Pinus jeffreyi
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • ponderosa pine
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • thinning
  • vegetation surveys
  • wildfires
Tall Timbers Record Number: 23366Location Status: In-fileCall Number: Journals-RAbstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 12076

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of Tall Timbers.
This document is part of the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography, which includes published research related to the interactions between climate change, wildfire, and subsequent ecosystem effects in the southwestern U.S. The publications contained in the Bibliography have each been summarized to distill the outcomes as they pertain to fire and climate. Go to this document's record in the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography.