Long-term fire history from alluvial fan sediments: the role of drought and climate variability, and implications for management of Rocky Mountain forests
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): J. Pierce; G. Meyer
Publication Year: 2008

Cataloging Information

  • Abies lasiocarpa
  • catastrophic fires
  • charcoal
  • climate change
  • coniferous forests
  • debris flows
  • dendrochronology
  • droughts
  • elevation
  • erosion
  • European settlement
  • fire frequency
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire regimes
  • fire scar analysis
  • fire size
  • forbs
  • forest management
  • grasses
  • histories
  • Idaho
  • Idaho
  • ladder fuels
  • litter
  • moisture
  • Picea engelmannii
  • pine forests
  • Pinus albicaulis
  • Pinus contorta
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • pollen
  • ponderosa pine
  • population density
  • precipitation
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • sedimentation
  • Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Areas
  • shrubs
  • statistical analysis
  • surface fires
  • temperature
  • wildfires
  • Yellowstone
  • Yellowstone National Park
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 46430
Tall Timbers Record Number: 22166
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Journals-I
TTRS Abstract Status: Okay, Fair use, 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.


Alluvial fan deposits are widespread and preserve millennial-length records of fire. We used these records to examine changes in fire regimes over the last 2000 years in Yellowstone National Park mixed-conifer forests and drier central Idaho ponderosa pine forests. In Idaho, frequent, small, fire-related erosional events occurred within the Little Ice Age (similar to 1450-1800 AD), when greater effective moisture probably promoted grass growth and low-severity fires. This regime is consistent with tree-ring records showing generally wetter conditions and frequent fires before European settlement. At higher elevations in Yellowstone, cool conditions limited overall fire activity. Conversely, both Idaho and Yellowstone experienced a peak in fire-related debris flows between ~950 and 1150 AD. During this generally warmer time, severe multidecadal droughts were interspersed with unusually wet intervals that probably increased forest densities, producing stand-replacing fires. Thus, severe fires are clearly within the natural range of variability in Idaho ponderosa pine forests over longer timescales. Historical records indicate that large burn areas in Idaho correspond with drought intervals within the past 100 years and that burn area has increased markedly since ~1985. Recent stand-replacing fires in ponderosa pine forests are likely related to both changes in management and increasing temperatures and drought severity during the 20th century. © IAWF 2008. Reproduced from the International Journal of Wildland Fire (Jennifer Pierce and Grant Meyer, 2008) with the kind permission of CSIRO PUBLISHING on behalf of the International Association of Wildland Fire.

Online Link(s):
Pierce, J., and G. Meyer. 2008. Long-term fire history from alluvial fan sediments: the role of drought and climate variability, and implications for management of Rocky Mountain forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire, v. 17, no. 1, p. 84-95. 10.1071/.