Presettlement fire frequency regimes of the United States: a first approximation [Chapter 4]
Document Type: Book Chapter
Author(s): Cecil C. Frost
Editor(s): Cecil C. Frost
Publication Year: 2000

Cataloging Information

  • bibliographies
  • catastrophic fires
  • charcoal
  • community ecology
  • dendrochronology
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • European settlement
  • fire dependent species
  • fire frequency
  • fire intensity
  • fire regimes
  • fire scar analysis
  • firebreaks
  • flammability
  • forest fragmentation
  • fragmentation
  • fuel models
  • fuel types
  • GIS
  • grasses
  • ground fires
  • habitat types
  • herbaceous vegetation
  • histories
  • ignition
  • land management
  • landscape ecology
  • lightning
  • lightning caused fires
  • mountains
  • Native Americans
  • native species (plants)
  • natural areas management
  • North Carolina
  • overstory
  • plant communities
  • pocosins
  • prairies
  • presettlement vegetation
  • rangelands
  • season of fire
  • shrubs
  • sloping terrain
  • species diversity (plants)
  • succession
  • surface fires
  • thinning
  • threatened and endangered species (plants)
  • topography
  • trees
  • understory vegetation
  • vegetation surveys
  • vulnerable species or communities
  • witness trees
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 23, 2021
FRAMES Record Number: 40489
Tall Timbers Record Number: 15248
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy 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 the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


It is now apparent that fire once played some role in shaping all but the wettest, the most arid, or the most fire-sheltered plant communities of the United States. Understanding the role of fire in structuring vegetation is critical for land management choices that will, for example, prevent extinction of rare species and natural vegetation types. Pre-European fire frequency can be reconstructed in two main ways. First is by dating fire scars on old trees, using a composite fire scar chronology. Where old fire-scarred trees are lacking, as in much of the eastern U.S., a second approach is possible. This is a landscape method, using a synthesis of physiographic factors such as topography and land surface form, along with fire compartment size, historical vegetation records, fire frequency indicator species, lightning ignition data, and remnant natural vegetation. Such kinds of information, along with a survey of published fire history studies, were used to construct a map of presettlement fire frequency regions of the conterminous U.S. The map represents frequency in the most fire-exposed parts of the landscape. Original fire-return intervals in different parts of the U.S. ranged from nearly every year to more than 700 years. Vegetation types were distributed accordingly along the fire frequency master gradient. A fire regime classification system is proposed that involves, rather than a focus on trees, a consideration of all vegetation layers. From the Introduction...'The primary object of this paper is to construct a map of fire frequency regions of the United States as they existed in one window of time, the era of European settlement. The intention is to begin to visually relate fire history studies across the country in order to further appreciation of the pervasive role of fire in natural vegetation. The secondary objective is to classify fire regimes in terms of their effects on whole vegetation communities: the canopy, midstory, shrub and herb strata.' Abstract reproduced by permission of author.

Frost, C. C. 2000. Presettlement fire frequency regimes of the United States: a first approximation [Chapter 4], in CC Frost ed., Studies in landscape ecology and presettlement vegetation of the southeastern United States. Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina, p. 163-197.