Historical dominance of low-severity fire in dry and wet mixed-conifer forest habitats of the endangered terrestrial Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus)
The authors reconstructed the historical stand structure and fire regimes along a gradient of ponderosa pine to wet mixed-conifer and aspen stands within the habitat of the endangered Jemez Mountains salamander. They further related the variability of climate to the historic fire regime.
The historical fire frequency of the study area ranged from 10-42 years mean fire return interval (MFRI). The authors found that mixed-conifer ecosystems are drought-limited, not fuel limited; therefore, they do not require prior wet years to build up fuels before burning, but instead will burn when fuel moistures are low. They also found that fire severity was significantly related to drought severity.
Recent events such as the 2011 Las Conchas Fire contain high-severity patches across multiple vegetation types, including ponderosa pine, that are many times larger than occurred in recent centuries. Furthermore, the authors suggest that projected increases in forest drought stress will likely lead to more intense and severe fires in the future, especially combined with high fuel densities, the legacy of a century of fire suppression.