Skip to page content
USDA Forest Service

Research & Development Treesearch

Treesearch Home
About Treesearch
Contact Us
Research & Development
Forest Products Lab
International Institute of Tropical Forestry
Pacific Northwest
Pacific Southwest
Rocky Mountain
Southern Research Station
Help - We Participate  Government Made Easy

Global Forest Information Service

US Forest Service
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, D.C.

(202) 205-8333

You are here: Home / Search / Publication Information
Bookmark and Share

Publication Information

View PDF (5.7 MB)

Title: Human and climatic influences on fire occurrence in California's north coast range

Author: Skinner, Carl; Abbott, Celeste; Fry, Danny; Stephens, Scott; Taylor, Alan; Trouet, Valerie;

Date: 2009

Source: Fire Ecology 5(3): 76-99

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: Outside of the immediate coastal environments, little is known of fire history in the North Coast Range of California. Fire scar specimens were collected from ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson), sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana Douglas), incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens [Torr] Florin), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii [Mirb.] Franco) for seven plots in mixed-conifer forests from the Mendocino National Forest, California, USA. Five plots were on high ridges immediately adjacent to the Sacramento Valley (DRY plots). The other two plots were on mesic north facing slopes interior in the range (MESIC plots), and were separated from the Sacramento Valley by at least one to several ridge systems. These two plots were selected because they supported populations of rare lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium fasciculatum [Kellogg ex S. Watson] and C. montanum [Douglas ex Lindl.]). We found that DRY plots had unusually short fire return intervals (FRI) compared to other areas in northwestern California. The median FRI for these plots ranged from 4.5 yr to 6 yr in comparison with a tenth percentile of 11 yr, grand median of 24 yr, and ninetieth percentile of 66 yr for FRIs from other mixed conifer plots (n = 109) in the region. In northwestern California, most fire scars have been found pri­marily at ring boundary (68 %) and secondarily in latewood (23 %) with few in earlywood (9 %). In contrast, in the DRY plots 35 % (88) of the fire scars were in earlywood with only 15 % (39) at the ring boundary. Fire occurrence was associated with drought condi­tions in the year of fire, and with wet conditions three years before the fire year. Before ~1850, fires that scarred at least two trees on a site were quite frequent for the DRY plots while being less frequent and more variable on the MESIC plots. However, the MESIC orchid habitats burned with frequency and seasonality similar to mixed conifer forests in the Klamath Mountains of northern California. Fires were less frequent after ~1850, with fires ceasing on most plots shortly after 1900. We suggest that these unusually low FRIs and high incidence of fire scars in earlywood were due to the adjacency of the DRY plots to the hot, relatively dry Sacramento Valley grasslands that were likely influenced by the burning practices of Native Americans.

Keywords: Fire Ecology, Fire History, Mendocino National Forest, Dendrochronology, Cypripedium, fire scars, lady’s slipper orchid, Men­docino National Forest, Native Americans, Sacramento Valley

Publication Notes:

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.



Skinner, Carl; Abbott, Celeste; Fry, Danny; Stephens, Scott; Taylor, Alan; Trouet, Valerie 2009. Human and climatic influences on fire occurrence in California's North Coast Range. Fire Ecology, Vol. 5(3): 76-99.


 [ Get Acrobat ]  Get the latest version of the Adobe Acrobat reader or Acrobat Reader for Windows with Search and Accessibility

USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.