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This article highlights the findings of the literature on aboriginal fire from the human-and the land-centered disciplines, and suggests that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples be incorporated into plans for reintroducing fire to the nation's forests. Traditional knowledge represents the outcome of long experimentation with application of fire by indigenous people, which can inform contemporary policy discussions.
Journal of Forestry November 200136
Every landscape reflects the his-
tory and culture of the people
who inhabit it. The worldview
of a society is often written more truth-
fully on the land than in its docu-
ments. The current American land-
scape represents the historical legacy of
one worldview superimposed on an-
other, the colonial overlaying the in-
digenous. Nowhere is this history more
apparent than in the attitudes toward
fire, attitudes made manifest on the
Euro-Americans arrived in North
America bearing their folk knowledge
that held fire in forests to be destruc-
tive and hazardous to humans (Arno
1985; Lewis 1982). This view con-
trasted sharply with the traditional
knowledge of the indigenous inhabi-
tants, who embraced the benefits of
burning and were skilled in applica-
tion of fire technology.
Fire suppression began soon after
colonization, and its effects followed the
expansion of the frontier westward. An-
thropogenic fire all but disappeared
from eastern forests by the early 1700s
and from the West by 1899 (Arno
1985). The consequences of suppres-
sion are written on the landscape today,
creating what former Secretary of Inte-
rior Bruce Babbitt (1997) called “a crisis
in forest health.” Fire suppression was a
“catastrophic disturbance for those
ecosystems which had been influenced
by anthropogenic fire throughout their
development” (Packard 1993).
The results of fire suppression have
been well documented for ecosystems
throughout North America (e.g.,
Botkin 1990; Wilson 1992; Pyne
1995; Williams 2000a). Parklands
were replaced by dense forests (Biswell
1989; Lewis 1993), prairies and savan-
nas disappeared (Lewis 1993), and re-
Robin Wall Kimmerer and Frank Kanawha Lake
This article highlights the findings of the literature on aboriginal fire from the human- and the
land-centered disciplines, and suggests that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples
be incorporated into plans for reintroducing fire to the nation’s forests. Traditional knowledge
represents the outcome of long experimentation with application of fire by indigenous people,
which can inform contemporary policy discussions.
Keywords: biodiversity; fire; history; policy; traditional knowledge
The Role of
Indigenous Burning
in Land Management
generation patterns were dramatically
altered. Fire suppression has promoted
stand homogeneity and the associated
problems of insects and disease, dis-
rupting the age-class mosaic that was
historically maintained by burning
(Barrett 2000).
The loss of fire in the American
landscape is inextricably linked with
the history of federal Indian policy that
removed tribal people and, therefore,
indigenous land management. In the
words of Williams (2000a),
The basis for much of our forest
health crisis nationwide lies in the al-
most complete cessation of burning by
Indians in fire-adapted ecosystems.
The crisis is commonly attributed to
the advent of systematic fire suppres-
sion and the Smokey Bear mentality of
the 20th century. To fully come to
grips with our forest health crisis
today, we must go back to much ear-
lier land management decisions that
ended thousands of years of Indian in-
teractions with the land, especially
through the use of fire.
Policymakers are struggling with the
outcome of that history and trying to
develop new management policy to re-
store forest health and biodiversity. The
policy pendulum has now swung back
from fire suppression to recognition that
fire regimes are an important part of
ecosystem health. However, the role of
humans in a “natural” fire regime con-
tinues to be debated (Kilgore 1985).
National forest policy now calls for
managers to recreate forests of the pre-
settlement type. Babbitt (1997) pro-
posed that fire be reintroduced for
restoration of ecosystem health and
productivity. If we are to manage for-
ests with the intent of restoration of the
presettlement condition, then it is im-
perative that we understand the role of
indigenous practices in shaping the
landscape (Kimmerer 2000).
Every ecosystem in North America
has been affected in some way by a fire
regime (Pyne 1982; Gruell 1985;
Williams 2000a) manipulated by in-
digenous people. Much forest science,
including ecological classifications of
vegetation types, arose from observa-
tion of forests that were essentially in
transition from conditions of indige-
nous fire management to post-colonial
fire suppression. Our understanding of
forest processes may thus be based on
an anomalous, transitional landscape
(Phillips 1985). “Humans have been a
part of the ecosystem over the past ten
centuries of major climatic change, so
that all forests have developed under
some kind of human influence. This
influence must be accounted for as an
important part of any study of forest
structure and dynamics” (Russell
1997). Further, Anderson (1997) sug-
gests that
a full understanding of wild plant pro-
duction will be achieved only through
the development of a better rap-
prochement between the social, his-
torical and biological sciences. It
would require the sustained and coop-
erative efforts of scholars using both
human- and land-centered avenues of
Extent of Indigenous Burning
In contrast to the romanticized view
of native peoples living with minimal
impact on unspoiled nature (Botkin
1990; Martinez 1998), the presettle-
ment landscape was strongly influ-
enced by indigenous land management
to enhance productivity (Botkin 1992;
Wilson 1992; Blackburn and Ander-
son 1993; Pyne 1995). The most pow-
erful tool for landscape manipulation
was fire. Fire was used by indigenous
people throughout North America
(Kilgore 1985; Williams 2000a), and
its presence or absence strongly shaped
the presettlement vegetation. For ex-
ample, evidence suggests that the dom-
inance of oak and chestnut in Ap-
palachian forests was enhanced by vig-
orous resprouting after indigenous
burning (Abrams 1986, 1992; Del-
court and Delcourt 1997). The extent
of tallgrass prairie of the Midwest is
thought to be largely a result of Indian
fires (e.g., Axelrod 1985).
Western forests, often thought to be
shaped primarily by wildfire, may be
more the product of indigenous burn-
ing than previously thought. For exam-
ple, the distribution and historical
dominance of sugar pine cannot be ex-
plained by frequency of “natural” light-
ning ignition alone. Cultural data pro-
vide evidence that sugar pine stands
were managed by tribal groups who
took “ownership” of individual stands
and applied fire to reduce encroach-
ment by competing species (Schenk
and Gifford 1952). Dated fire scars on
sugar pine offer the best evidence of
heightened aboriginal fire frequency in
the Sierra Nevada (Lewis 1993), which
altered the distribution and abundance
of numerous species.
So ubiquitous was Indian burning
that its absence also shaped forest com-
position. The coastal forests of the Pa-
cific Northwest have a very low inci-
dence of lightning fire. Williams
(2000a) notes that coastal redwood
forests were little affected by burning,
although small clearings were made.
He argues that fire was less prominent
among peoples who relied primarily on
marine resources for food and materi-
als. However, a few miles inland even
the coastal redwoods contained patches
of prairie “too numerous to mention
if left to themselves would doubtless
soon have produced forest, but the In-
dians were accustomed to burn them
annually so as to gather seeds. These
prairies were of incalculable value to
the Indians, not alone for their veg-
etable products, but for the game
found upon them (Loud [1918]
quoted in Lewis 1993).
Resource-rich patches in the old-
growth coastal forests were created by
indigenous manipulation of the fire re-
turn interval.
Goals of Indigenous Burning
Fires were intentionally ignited to
fulfill a wide variety of purposes, from
clearing village sites (Brown 2000) to
long-distance signaling. Lewis (1993)
documents more than 70 uses of fire,
including treefelling, clearing travel
corridors, fireproofing settlements, and
hunting. Burning also was used to re-
duce pest populations, including ro-
dents and biting insects, as well as for
collecting edible insects such as Pan-
dora moths and grasshoppers. Burning
November 2001 Journal of Forestry
in oak woodlands reduced the popula-
tion levels of acorn weevils and yielded
a more abundant acorn crop, which was
easier to harvest after burning (Mc-
Carthy 1993). Riparian areas com-
monly were burned to attract game an-
imals to the new grass and tree sprouts
(Williams 2000a). Fire still is widely
used in management of basketry plants,
to provide a consistent crop of straight,
slender shoots and roots (Ortiz 1993).
From crop management to range man-
agement, fire was a ubiquitous tool.
Indigenous people used fire to
modify the environment for their own
survival. The most important out-
come of fire use was the intentional
creation of a mosaic of habitat patches
that promoted food security by ensur-
ing a diverse and productive landscape
(Lewis 1985; Williams 2000a). Pro-
ducing such a mosaic promoted sta-
bility in the food supply by creating
multiple resource patches. Maintain-
ing a diversity of habitats buffers the
impact of natural fluctuation in a sin-
gle food species and increases overall
productivity. For example, fire was
used to create prairies which would at-
tract elk, deer, and other game. In-
digenous people skillfully modified
the fire regime to create a range of for-
est openings in many different stages
of postfire succession, which en-
hanced the diversity and yield of
game, berries, root crops, edible seeds,
and medicinal plants. In contrast, fire
was often used by the colonists with a
different intent—uniformity, such as
production of pastures, cropland, and
plantations (Williams 2000a).
The policy of fire suppression in
Western society arises from the myth
that nature can be controlled. Ironi-
cally, trying to control nature through
fire suppression has led to greater un-
predictability. The indigenous world-
view emphasizes the dual nature, cre-
ative and destructive, of all forces. Fire
can be a force for good as it warms
homes and stimulates grasses, but it
can also be immensely destructive. The
role of humans is not to control nature,
but to maintain a balance between
these opposing forces.
This balance is based on recognition
of reciprocal relationships between
human and nonhuman members of
the ecological community. As co-
equals, humans are dependent on non-
humans, and the reverse is also true
(Pierotti and Wildcat 2000). Human
application of fire is part of that inter-
dependence. The ethic of reciprocal re-
sponsibility underlies the indigenous
use of fire, an adaptive symbiosis in
which humans and nonhumans both
benefit from burning. For example, in-
digenous people of the Northwest rou-
tinely burned grasslands and savannas
to increase the yield of root crops, such
as camas and other geophytes. The
people realized a direct benefit from
burning, and so did the plants, as the
fire frequency and extent produced ex-
pansion in the patch size and popula-
tion density of the geophyte species
(Anderson 1997).
Meeting the responsibility for reci-
procity among members of the ecosys-
tem is understood to be simultaneously
pragmatic and spiritual. Application of
fire is viewed by many indigenous
groups as a spiritual responsibility to
the land, a tool that was given to peo-
ple to fulfill the caregiving responsibil-
ities for the land (Martinez 1998) and
to promote world renewal (Krober and
Gifford 1949). The Karuk people of
northern California burn ritually in
New Year ceremonies. Silas Whitman
of the Nez Perce tribe states, “We burn
because it is good for the land; fire
brings more life.” For example, the
prairies of Walpole Island First Nation
have been ritually burned since time
immemorial by the Potawatomi,
Ojibwe, and Ottawa peoples who ac-
cept this as their responsibility and
name themselves the “keepers of the
fire.” The prairies of Walpole Island are
renowned among ecologists for their
species richness, which far exceeds the
diversity where the indigenous fire
regime has been interrupted.
Sophisticated application of fire
technology has been a major compo-
nent of indigenous land management
for millennia. The landscape encoun-
tered by colonists was largely shaped by
indigenous burning, yet until recently,
few people acknowledged that Indian
fire use had an impact on the land
(Pyne 1995; Williams 2000a). A for-
estry textbook published as recently as
1973 portrayed the view that “no ha-
bitual or systematic burning was car-
ried out by the Indians” (Williams
2000a). This marginalization of tradi-
tional knowledge arose partly out of ig-
norance and prejudice, but also be-
cause of the fragmentary nature of the
evidence (Williams 2000a). Accounts
of aboriginal burning are found in
notes, journals, and the oral tradition.
These are qualitative, anecdotal sources
that are not readily accepted by West-
ern scientists whose training is usually
limited to interpretation of quantita-
tive data. Much traditional knowledge
has been lost to time and forced assim-
ilation, but much persists in the oral
tradition and practices of contempo-
rary native communities, who are only
rarely consulted as equal partners in
land management.
The correspondence between tradi-
tional ecological knowledge of fire re-
sponse and later scientific evidence is
very strong. Examination of traditional
knowledge offers an opportunity for
crosscultural verification of scientific
hypotheses concerning fire manage-
ment. There is an increasing body of ev-
idence noted by Brown (2000) that val-
idates the oral tradition, through data
collected from historical documents,
dendrochronology, charcoal profiles,
archeological evidence, and statistical
analysis of land survey records. Paleo-
ecological data also support interpreta-
tion of widespread Indian burning and
its effects on vegetation composition
(e.g., Clark and Royall 1996; Delcourt
and Delcourt 1997). However, it must
be acknowledged that there are many
pitfalls in the interpretation of such in-
direct evidence (Williams 2000a). The
widespread significance of indigenous
burning is by no means universally ac-
cepted. Kilgore (1985) summarizes the
arguments critical of the importance of
aboriginal burning, which focus primar-
ily on issues of scale.
The main impediment to scientific
acceptance of the wide impact of abo-
riginal burning arises from a lack of un-
derstanding of the cultural context in
which it took place. For many peoples,
manipulation of the landscape through
38 Journal of Forestry November 2001
November 2001 Journal of Forestry 39
skillful application of fire was critical to
cultural survival, and enhanced food
productivity made agriculture unneces-
sary (Biswell 1989).The material cul-
ture of many tribal peoples simply
could not have been sustained without
extensive use of fire (Blackburn and An-
derson 1993). In terms of energy effi-
ciency, fire was the most potent land
management tool available to indige-
nous people. Millennia of experimenta-
tion and detailed empirical observa-
tions led to a sophisticated application
of fire technology. Coupled with a
worldview that emphasizes the role of
humans as active participants in nature,
fire was integral to many cultures.
The Practice
A careful examination of the philos-
ophy and practice of Indian burning
reveals that it differs from a nonan-
thropogenic fire regime (i.e., wildfire)
in five important respects: seasonality,
frequency, extent, site, and outcome
(Williams 2000a).
Seasonality of burning varied with
the tribe and the ecosystem in question,
but in general fire was applied at a care-
fully considered time that would mini-
mize its destructive nature while har-
nessing its creative power. Numerous
studies confirm that the timing of in-
digenous burns differs significantly
from the seasonality of natural light-
ning ignitions (Barrett 1980; Barrett
and Arno 1982; Lewis 1982; Arno
1985; Brown 2000; Williams 2000a).
Lightning fires are most abundant in
the late summer, but indigenous fires
were set in seasons less conducive to
wildfire. For example, in the boreal for-
ests of northern Alberta, fire was ap-
plied in the early spring when the grass
was dry but the soil was still moist and
the surrounding forests were too wet to
carry a fire. The small-scale, low-inten-
sity burns created openings in the forest
where regrowth was accelerated on the
newly blackened earth, extending the
growing season in this harsh environ-
ment by several weeks and attracting
abundant game (Lewis 1982).
The season of burning also de-
pended on the desired outcome. For ex-
ample, people in the Southwest would
burn the chaparral in the fall to increase
forage for deer. The lower temperatures
and increased soil moisture favored vig-
orous resprouting, which was beneficial
in attracting deer in the winter. In con-
trast, if the intent was to clear land for
tobacco cultivation, the chaparral was
ignited in the spring, when a hotter
burn would discourage resprouting and
prepare a suitable seedbed. In the Great
Plains, Indians rotated the seasonality
of burning as a tool to influence sea-
sonal movement of bison, in synchrony
with their own semi-nomadic move-
ments. In the mosaic of tallgrass prairie
and aspen parkland, the prairie was
burned in the fall, forcing bison into
the parklands that the people inhabited
during the winter. In spring, the park-
lands were burned, which stimulated
movement of the bison out onto the
open prairies (Lewis 1982). This so-
phisticated application of fire required
extensive knowledge of the vegetation
response, the life history of herbivores,
and their interactions with predators.
Williams (2000a) reports an excep-
tion to the general pattern of burning
in the spring or fall, when fire intensity
would be reduced. In northern Califor-
nia and in the Willamette Valley of
Oregon, Kalapuya people burned the
grasslands in the summer, when fire
might be expected to be more intense
and potentially destructive. This un-
usual midsummer burn created a sec-
ond flush of growth in the fall when
the rains returned, a dual cropping sys-
tem that maintained local herbivore
populations. However, the intensity of
the summer burns was quite low be-
cause of their high frequency, which re-
duced fuel accumulation. Appropriate
season of burn was thus understood in
interaction with fire frequency.
Frequency. Most wildfires are started
by lightning strikes; however, scholars
of aboriginal fire agree that anthro-
pogenic fire far exceeded the frequency
of natural lightning strikes. “Lightning
in fire-adapted ecosystems does not
usually cause fires. Lightning tends to
strikehigh rocky points, individual
trees, or other places where no ignition
occurs. Most snag fires are soon extin-
guished by the rain that usually accom-
panies lightning” (Williams 2000b).
Indigenous people enhanced fire fre-
quency not only with more ignitions
but in creating fuel piles so that areas
would burn that ordinarily might not
carry a fire. Several studies of fire return
intervals (Barrett 1980; Blackburn and
Anderson 1993; Brown 2000; Williams
2000b) indicate that fire scars are much
more abundant in areas of Indian habi-
tation than in comparable regions not
managed by indigenous people.
The frequency of fire application
generally was based on the manage-
ment goal. Land was burned annually
if the intent was to increase game by
providing new grass forage. Berry
patches were maintained by burning
on a cycle of three to five years, de-
pending on the ecology of the target
species. A 10- to 12-year fire interval
was typically observed around beaver
ponds to maximize regeneration of
aspen and willows to feed beaver
(Lewis 1982; Williams 2000a). The re-
sult of altered fire frequency was to cre-
ate a mosaic of successional patches,
varying in species composition and age
structure, which ensured a diversity of
plant foods, medicines, game, and ma-
terials for the subsistence of the people.
Extent. Aboriginal burning also dif-
fers from wildfire in its extent. Most
burns were of a modest scale, designed
to maintain small successional patches.
Large-scale burns could be viewed as
maladaptive, disrupting the diverse mo-
saic, disrupting ecotones, and decreas-
ing productivity and stability of the
food supply (Lewis 1993). Extent of
fires was controlled by careful timing,
increased fire frequency and reduced
fuel load, and the use of natural fire
breaks. The mosaic of patches differing
in successional age and flammability
would itself limit the extent of fires.
Ironically, trying to control nature through fire
suppression has led to greater unpredictability.
Journal of Forestry November 200140
Without doubt, fire control was not
uniformly effective, just as we experi-
ence today, and some fires escaped,
with unintended consequences. One
notable exception to the general pattern
of small-scale burning is the huge con-
flagrations traditionally set by peoples
of the northern Great Plains. Prairie
fires would extend for miles and were
used to influence the distribution of
buffalo. This large scale of burning re-
flects the very different ways of Plains
peoples, whose food security arose not
from a mosaic of diverse patches in a
local area, but from maximizing pro-
ductivity of a single species, the buffalo.
A broad range of effects is seen, de-
pending on the resource needs of the
people and the flammability of their
Site. Indian fires also differ from
lightning-ignited wildfires in the sites
at which they occur. For example, ri-
parian areas that might not burn with-
out assistance were regularly ignited to
improve waterfowl habitat and encour-
age growth of basketry materials and
certain medicines. Locations of fires
might reflect annual migrations along
the elevational gradient, which enabled
people to take advantage of seasonally
available foods. By understanding dif-
ferential burning conditions, Indians
were able to restrict fires to certain
areas, matching the fire regime to the
ecological conditions and life history of
the target species and thus enhancing
Application to Current Goals
Aboriginal use of fire to create and
maintain a landscape mosaic is an an-
cient practice that can be a key to
meeting contemporary land-use goals.
Fire was used as a pragmatic tool to
meet the goals of indigenous practi-
tioners, to increase the yield and diver-
sity of subsistence foods. These practi-
cal goals were also coupled to a spiri-
tual responsibility to carefully use fire
to multiply life. The “natural” fire
regime was manipulated to produce a
richly diverse mosaic of vegetation
types differing in successional age and
species composition.
The intent of contemporary forest
management is no longer to support
the subsistence economy of human be-
ings but to enhance ecosystem health,
productivity, and biodiversity. It is in
this capacity that indigenous knowl-
edge of fire is an invaluable resource for
forest managers. The same indigenous
strategy that was used to increase bio-
diversity and productivity for subsis-
tence can also be used to enhance and
maintain biodiversity for goals of eco-
system health.
For example, indigenous Kalapuya
people of Oregons Willamette Valley
routinely burned savannas and mead-
ows to increase the yield of food plants
such as camas and tarweed (Williams
2000b). Other postfire species in-
creased as well, among them the Kin-
caids Lupine, a legume that is vital to
the life cycle of the Fenders blue butter-
fly (Schulz and Crone 1998). At least
24 species of butterflies once inhabited
these meadows; since cessation of in-
digenous burning, seven have become
extinct and six, including the Fenders
blue, are listed as endangered species
(Schulz and Crone 1998). Restoration
of the indigenous fire regime and the
mosaic it created can have significant
impacts on biodiversity.
Restoration of indigenous-style
burning is not a panacea for problems
of fuel accumulation and structural
changes that have accompanied a cen-
tury of fire suppression, but it should
be part of the strategy for restoration of
forest health. Pyne (1995) states that
to restore natural conditions without
the Indians and the things they did,
including burning, is to construct an
artificial landscape that is historically
and ecologically incomplete. The rea-
son for reinstating fire is not to try and
restore pre-Columbian vistas, but be-
cause we cannot sustain the landscape
we value without it.
The suppression of traditional care-
giving practices has contributed to the
current state of forest health; resump-
tion of human responsibility for fire
can be part of the solution. Indigenous
practice and philosophy offer us an al-
ternative view of the “natural” fire
regime, in which humans regain their
role as “keepers of the fire” and the
symbiotic relationship between hu-
mans, forests, and fire is reestablished
for mutual benefit.
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Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi)
( is associate profes-
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Syracuse, NY 13210-2778; Frank
Kanawha Lake is graduate research assis-
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November 2001 Journal of Forestry
... A profound contribution of wilderness and protected area management has been to catalyze a paradigm shift from fire suppression to fire management for resource benefit (Van Wagtendonk 2007). This is especially true in the USA, where, for much of the 20 th century, there was very little fire activity due to the 10 AM Policy-a national policy enacted in 1935 to suppress all wildfire ignitionsas well as earlier depopulation and displacement of Native Americans and their use of fire (Fisher 1997;Kimmerer and Lake 2001;Ostlund et al. 2005;Roos et al. 2021). However, the Leopold report (Leopold et al. 1963), which stimulated the National Park Service to recognize fire as an ecological process (Rothman 2007), along with the Wilderness Act ("Wilderness Act 16 U.S. Code § 1131Code § , " 1964, which prompted Forest Service managers in the US Northern Rocky Mountains to manage some natural ignitions (Smith 2014;Berkey et al. 2021b), began to restore fire as an ecological process and management tool in some parks and wilderness areas starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. ...
... Many of the high-priority future research areas identified in the synthesis section relate to climate change, and we urge the greater use of wilderness areas as a natural laboratory to explore impacts of climate change on fire regimes and fire-prone ecosystems (Belote et al. 2015). Finally, while there is a growing appreciation that most wilderness areas were historically managed and impacted by Indigenous groups and their use of fire (Fisher 1997;Kimmerer and Lake 2001;Watson et al. 2011), our sampled detected very few publications that focused on the past or present role of cultural or Indigenous burning in wilderness (e.g., Kay 2000;Trauernicht et al. 2013). Despite the fact that Indigenous burning was identified as a research focus already forty years ago at a large North American symposium on wilderness fire (Kilgore 1987;Lotan et al. 1985), we found that this emphasis has largely diminished in our sample in more recent years. ...
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Background Wilderness areas are important natural laboratories for scientists and managers working to understand fire. In the last half-century, shifts in the culture and policy of land management agencies have facilitated the management practice of letting some naturally ignited fires burn, allowing fire to fulfill its ecological role and increasing the extent of fire-related research opportunities. With the goal of identifying the global scientific advances enabled by this paradigm shift in wilderness fire management, we conducted a systematic review of publications that either (1) selected protected areas for investigation because of an active fire regime enabled by wilderness fire management, (2) studied modern fires or fire regimes deliberately located in a wilderness area, or (3) conducted applied research to support wilderness fire management. Results Our systematic review returned a sample of 222 publications that met these criteria, with an increase in wilderness fire science over time. Studies largely occurred in the USA and were concentrated in a relatively small number of protected areas, particularly in the Northern Rocky Mountains. As a result, this sample of wilderness fire science is highly skewed toward areas of temperate mixed-conifer forests and historical mixed-severity fire regimes. Common principal subjects of publications included fire effects (44%), wilderness fire management (18%), or fire regimes (17%), and studies tended to focus on vegetation, disturbance, or wilderness management as response variables. Conclusions This work identifies major scientific contributions facilitated by fire in wilderness, including self-limitation of fire, the effects of active fire regimes on forest and aquatic systems, barriers and potential solutions to wilderness fire management, and the effect of fire on wilderness recreation and visitor experiences. Our work reveals geographic and bioclimatic areas where more research attention is needed and highlights under-represented wilderness areas that could serve to fill these gaps. Finally, we identify priorities for future wilderness fire research, including the past and potential role of Indigenous and prescribed burning, the effects of changing climate and fire regimes on ecosystem processes, and how to overcome barriers to wilderness fire management.
... Before European settlement, grazing by bison and other mammalian herbivores, frequent wildfires triggered by lightening, and fires intentionally set by Indigenous peoples were the major sources of disturbance in North American grasslands ( Gibson 2009 ;Roos et al. 2018 ;Samson et al. 2004 ). Indigenous peoples in North America practiced various forms of nomadic pastoralism and regularly applied fire in sophisticated ways to maintain habitat suitable for hunting, promote desirable plant species, and control pests ( Kimmerer and Lake 2001 ). These practices helped to maintain grasslands and also promoted habitat heterogeneity. ...
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North America's grassland birds remain in crisis despite decades of conservation effort s. This review provides an overview of factors contributing to these declines, as well as strategies and resources available to a diversity of stakeholders to help conserve grassland bird communities with an emphasis on the Great Plains-a grassland region of global ecological significance and a habitat stronghold for grassland birds. Grassland bird declines are driven by historical and continuing threats across the full annual cycle including grassland habitat loss, agriculture intensification, woody encroachment, and disruption of fire and grazing regimes. More recently, energy development activities, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and anthropogenic climate change have emerged as additional threats. While threats to grassland birds are numerous and often synergistic, possibilities for conservation are also diverse and multifaceted. Land set-aside programs, incentives and voluntary practices for producers, improved environmental management by energy and utility companies, and policy and regulation can all contribute to the conservation of these unique species. We suggest that future grassland bird research should focus on poorly studied aspects of the annual cycle, such as overwinter survival and habitat use, and the migratory period, which remains completely unexplored for many species. Filling these knowledge gaps may facilitate more sophisticated population modeling that can identify limiting factors and more effectively guide investment in conservation.
... Fire activity is increasing across western North American forests due to lengthening fire seasons and drier fuels from anthropogenic climate change (Abatzoglou & Williams, 2016;Westerling et al., 2006), and the same factors may be leading to more fire in sagebrush systems as well. However, where sagebrush landscapes have not burned recently, other lines of evidence suggest that fire activity may be substantially depressed relative to pre-Euro-American settlement, due to the removal of pre-settlement human ignition sources, reduced fine fuel abundance by livestock grazing, and modern, direct fire suppression (Davies et al., 2010;Kimmerer & Lake, 2001;Strand et al., 2014). ...
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The historical role of fire in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) landscapes remains poorly understood, yet is important to inform management and conservation of obligate species such as the threatened Gunnison Sage-grouse (GUSG; Centrocercus minimus). We reconstructed fire histories from tree-ring fire scars at sagebrush–forest ecotones (10 sites, 111 trees) to better understand the role of fire in sagebrush landscapes of the Upper Gunnison Basin (UGB), Colorado, and how fire may have changed following Euro-American settlement. We assessed likely influences of historical fire by surveying plant composition and structure at 100 sagebrush sites with and without recent (2001–2020) fires. Tree-ring fire scars revealed a history of repeated low-severity fire at sagebrush–forest ecotones until 1892, followed by over a century without fire. Between 1684 and 1892, the mean fire interval (MFI) among sites averaged 49.6 years (ranging from 18.2 to 119 years). Fire over this period occurred synchronously at two or more sites on average every 23.6 years, potentially indicative of spread between sites. Most (70%) of the historical fires burned in the early growing season, consistent with times of strong wind. Recent burns exhibited reductions in sagebrush cover (5% vs. 25% in unburned sites) and concomitant increases in herbaceous cover (55% vs. 40%). These differences declined over time but persisted for at least two decades. Burned sites were dominated by native perennial grasses, forbs, and resprouting shrub species. Historically, such openings may have served as seasonal GUSG habitat. Our results indicate that parts of the UGB sagebrush landscapes were characterized historically by frequent fire and dynamic vegetation mosaics that included open, grassy patches. These findings support the use of prescribed fire to restore and maintain this ecological process and vegetation heterogeneity. However, the contemporary context for fire has changed and now includes substantially reduced, Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed GUSG populations, increased risk of non-native plant invasion, and climate warming. These circumstances highlight new risks, information needs, and opportunities for key knowledge co-production via management–research partnerships.
... of controlled burns as a land management practice in North America and Australia(Kimmerer & Kanawha, 2001) • Timing and extent of mammalian biodiversity declines in Australia(Ziembicki et al., 2013) • The impacts of Indigenous land stewardship and sovereignty on biodiversity conservation across continents(O'Bryan et al., 2020;Garnett et al., 2018;Schuster et al., 2019) ...
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In this chapter, we introduce our perspectives and guidance for authentically integrating principles of EcoJustice – transparency of and access to information, diversity of cultural perspectives, and equity in decision-making - into undergraduate ecology and environmental science classrooms. As a professor of ecology and a recently graduated undergraduate student of biology and history, we found that EcoJustice can act as an inspiration and source of content and a framework to guide authentic, growth-focused pedagogy. Inclusion of diverse cultural perspectives on how science is performed may deepen connection to content in students representing marginalized communities and broaden discussions and understanding of what science is. We detail the benefits of broadening science pedagogy and pivoting from a practice where single actors and sources of knowledge are emphasized to one that emphasizes a more authentic, diverse, and democratic representation of science. We focus on the strengths of including multiple perspectives on pedagogy and sources of knowledge in the classroom. To promote inclusion, we suggest multiple assessments that emphasize individuality, creativity, application, and fun – often sorely missing from undergraduate classrooms. Finally, we offer guiding questions for faculty and student leaders to reflect on while developing courses and structuring learning environments that value and promote authenticity.
... Species' adaptations determine ecosystem responses to fire (Pausas et al. 2017), and species possessing traits adapted to a particular fire regime may be threatened when regime shifts render adaptations no longer advantageous (Keeley et al. 2011;Bowman et al. 2014;Pausas 2015). Regime shifts involving substantial changes in fire frequency and severity are increasingly common in fireadapted ecosystems worldwide due to anthropogenicallydriven climate change (Flannigan et al. 2009;Moritz et al. 2012), legacies of forest management and fire suppression (Stephens et al. 2014;Parks et al. 2015), exclusion of Indigenous burning (Kimmerer and Lake 2001;Cermak 2005), and introductions of non-native disturbance agents (Metz et al. 2013). Regime shifts are consequential, as ecological resilience -returning to a pre-fire state, function, or regime (Gunderson 2000) -is a key underpinning in persistence of fire-adapted species. ...
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Background In ecosystems where fire has been excluded, pyrosilviculture can restore some processes historically maintained by fire while mitigating risk where fire is inevitable. Pyrosilviculture in crown fire-adapted forests is, however, limited by insight into the temporal window of fire return matching canopy seedbank development. Here, we characterized demographic responses to fire and non-native pine pitch canker infection in a chronosequence of serotinous bishop pine stands burned at high-severity to quantify (1) temporal patterns of seedbank development given seed viability and density, cone production, and tree density, and (2) pine pitch canker incidence across tree ages and sizes to assess how infection might impact stand and seedbank development. We use our findings to elucidate pyrosilvicuture as a means of restoring fire given practical challenges of reintroducing high-severity fire in crown-fire adapted forests embedded within wildland urban interfaces (WUI). Results Bishop pine produces an abundant, viable seedbank within eight years that persists across developmental stages and age classes. Seed abundance and viability are exceptionally high at even the earliest age (median > 600,000 seeds ha − 1 and 97% viability at 6 years) and remain high, with the oldest stands (36 years) maintaining median densities of > 500,000 seeds ha − 1 and viability of 95%. We additionally learned that pine pitch canker infection is most severe during the sapling stage (8–10 years post-fire), likely altering stand development trajectories as well as potentially limiting recruitment, and thus the aerial seedbank, into the canopy. Conclusions In bishop pine and equally-fecund serotinous species, pyrosilviculture appears a viable management tool across a broad fire return window given the early development and persistence of a robust, viable seedbank, allowing managers flexibility in restoring fire to promote forest persistence while simultaneously mitigating wildfire risk. Moreover, pyrosilviculture in pine pitch canker infected stands may also provide disease mitigation. Although the long-term effects of pine pitch canker infection remain unknown, bishop pines’ viable, persistent seedbank suggests that managers can ignite prescribed fire across a broad return interval — as short as eight years and as long as several decades — to promote bishop pine persistence, mitigate disease infection rates, and reduce wildfire risk in WUI-adjacent ecosystems.
... In fact, the most biodiverse areas on the planet, often characterized as 'natural', 'intact' and 'wild', are those that have long histories of use and stewardship by Indigenous people [18][19][20]. This is in part because people have been performing vital ecological functions for millennia, transporting seeds and animals to ensure viable populations [21,22], applying controlled fire to promote biodiversity and landscape heterogeneity [23,24], and terracing and tilling sediment to boost plant and animal production [25], all amid major biophysical disturbances. ...
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With climate, biodiversity and inequity crises squarely upon us, never has there been a more pressing time to rethink how we conceptualize, understand and manage our relationship with Earth's biodiversity. Here, we describe governance principles of 17 Indigenous Nations from the Northwest Coast of North America used to understand and steward relationships among all components of nature, including humans. We then chart the colonial origins of biodiversity science and use the complex case of sea otter recovery to illuminate how ancestral governance principles can be mobilized to characterize, manage and restore biodiversity in more inclusive, integrative and equitable ways. To enhance environmental sustainability, resilience and social justice amid today's crises, we need to broaden who benefits from and participates in the sciences of biodiversity by expanding the values and methodologies that shape such initiatives. In practice, biodiversity conservation and natural resource management need to shift from centralized, siloed approaches to those that can accommodate plurality in values, objectives, governance systems, legal traditions and ways of knowing. In doing so, developing solutions to our planetary crises becomes a shared responsibility. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Detecting and attributing the causes of biodiversity change: needs, gaps and solutions’.
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The escalating climate and wildfire crises have generated worldwide interest in using proactive forest management (e.g. forest thinning, prescribed fire, cultural burning) to mitigate the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss in forests. To estimate the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss in western United States (US) conifer forests, we used a generalizable framework to evaluate interactions among wildfire hazard and carbon exposure and vulnerability. By evaluating where high social adaptive capacity for proactive forest management overlaps with carbon most vulnerable to wildfire-caused carbon loss, we identified opportunity hot spots for reducing the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss. We found that relative to their total forest area, California, New Mexico, and Arizona contained the greatest proportion of carbon highly vulnerable to wildfire-caused loss. We also observed widespread opportunities in the western US for using proactive forest management to reduce the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss, with many areas containing opportunities for simultaneously mitigating the greatest risk from wildfire to carbon and human communities. Finally, we highlighted collaborative and equitable processes that provide pathways to achieving timely climate- and wildfire-mitigation goals at opportunity hot spots.
Driven by the national conversation on systemic racism, ongoing inequities, appeals to decolonize science, and the many recent calls for diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, we use stories of plants to discuss the history of bias and exclusionary practices in scientific botany, particularly regarding access to scientific spaces, and the exploitation of marginalized peoples. We discuss the many opportunities and challenges presented by the age of information technology as we seek to create a more inclusive botany that recognizes and acknowledges the contributions of historically marginalized groups, including Black and Indigenous communities. We hope this article can be used as a conversation starter to raise awareness, encourage reflection, and promote action toward creating a more equitable and just scientific practice.
Decisions by individuals, organisations, and nations shape the well-being of humans and other species, the environment, and sustainability. Decisions for Sustainability examines how we can make better decisions concerning our future. It incorporates sociological, psychological, and economic perspectives to highlight our strengths and weaknesses in decision-making, and suggest strategies to influence both individual and societal decisions. Sustainability challenges – from local land use and toxic contamination to climate change and biodiversity loss – illustrate how we can improve decision making and what factors lead to conflict. How we use science in the face of uncertainty is also examined, and a range of ethical criteria for good decisions are proposed. Emphasizing the need for diversity in decision making and clarifying the relationship between reform and societal transformation, this book provides a comprehensive view of what we know about decision-making, and how we can do better in the face of sustainability challenges.
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Contemporary Western attitudes concerning the management of natural re- sources, treatment of nonhuman animals, and the natural world emerge from traditions derived from Western European philosophy, i.e., they assume that humans are autonomous from, and in control of, the natural world. A different approach is presented by Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of indigenous peoples of North America. Although spiritually oriented, TEK converges on Western scientific approaches. TEK is based on close obser- vation of nature and natural phenomena; however, it is combined with a concept of com- munity membership that differs from that of Western political and social thought. TEK is strongly tied to specific physical localities; therefore, all aspects of the physical space can be considered part of the community, including animals, plants, and landforms. As a con- sequence, native worldviews can be considered to be spatially oriented, in contrast to the temporal orientation of Western political and historical thought. TEK also emphasizes the idea that individual plants and animals exist on their own terms. This sense of place and concern for individuals leads to two basic TEK concepts: (1) all things are connected, which is conceptually related to Western community ecology, and (2) all things are related, which changes the emphasis from the human to the ecological community as the focus of theories concerning nature. Connectedness and relatedness are involved in the clan systems of many indigenous peoples, where nonhuman organisms are recognized as relatives whom the humans are obliged to treat with respect and honor. Convergence of TEK and Western science suggests that there may be areas in which TEK can contribute insights, or possibly even new concepts, to Western science. TEK is inherently multidisciplinary in that it links the human and the nonhuman, and is the basis not only for indigenous concepts of nature, but also for concepts of indigenous politics and ethics. This multidisciplinary aspect sug- gests that TEK may be useful in resolving conflicts involving a variety of stakeholders and interest groups in controversies over natural resource use, animal rights, and conservation. TEK may also have implications for human behavior and obligations toward other forms of life that are often unrecognized, or at least not emphasized, in Western science. We present examples from community and behavioral ecology where a TEK-based approach yielded unexpected and nonintuitive insights into natural phenomena. Understanding of TEK may be useful in helping scientists respond to the changing public perceptions of science, and new cultural pressures in our society.
One of the oldest forms of tillage in the world is the digging of subterranean organs of wild plants for food and other purposes. Many areas were managed for increased densities and abundances of wild plants with edible corms, bulbs, tubers, and rhizomes. The horticultural techniques of digging, replanting, and sparing, in conjunction with larger-scale habitat management, created ecological effects at the species, population, community, and landscape levels . California provides a vivid example of an area where tillage was an important element in a comprehensive land management system that was in place for millennia. It is hypothesized that native California tillage activities mimicked natural disturbances with which plants coevolved, and played an ecological role that is now vacant in many wildlands, where Native Americans can no longer harvest and manage plants. Their land management system needs to be studied, described, interpreted, and experimentally mimicked to better understand indigenous disturbance regimes. It is suggested that some wildland areas would benefit from the reintroduction of management and harvesting regimes that authentically mimic indigenous techniques. RESUMEN.-Una de las formas mas antiguas de labranza en el mundo fue excavar los 6rganos subterraneos de plantas silvestres para obtener alimento y para otros prop6sitos. Muchas areas fueron manejadas para incrementar la densidad y abundancia de plantas silvestres con corrnos, bulbos y tuberculos comestibles. Las tecnicas horticolas de escarbar, replantar y dejar plantas para que proliferen, junto con el manejo del habitat a mayor escala, crearon efectos ecol6gicos al nivel de especie, poblaci6n, comunidad y paisaje . California ofrece un ejemplo elocuente de un area donde la labranza fue un elemento importante en un sistema integral de manejo del terreno que oper6 a 10 largo de milenios. Se plantea como hip6tesis que las actividades de labranza de la poblaci6n indigena de California simulaban las perturbaciones naturales con las cuales habian coevolucionado las plantas, y que jugaban un papel ecol6gico ahora vacante en muchas areas naturales, donde los indigenas ya no pueden cosechar y manejar las plantas. Sus sistemas de manejo del terreno deben ser estudiados, descritos, interpretados y reproducidos experimentalmente para entender mejor los regimenes indigenas de perturbaci6n. Se sugiere que algunas areas naturales se beneficiarian de la reintroducci6n de regimenes de manejo y cosecha que imitaran las interacciones indigenas de una manera autentica, RESUME.-Une des plus anciennes formes de labourage au monde consistait a fouiller la terre pour en extraire les organes souterrains des plantes sauvages utilises comme aliments ou a d 'autres fins . Plusieurs endroits etaient geres afin 150 M. K. ANDERSON Vol. 17,No.2 d'augmenter en densite et en abondance les plantes sauvages qui comportaient des rhizomes, des bulbes et des tubercules comestibles . Les techniques d'horticulture d' extraction, d' ensemencementet de jachereassocieesaune gestion de l'habitat a grande echelle a produit des effets ecologiques aux niveaux de I'espece, de la population, de la cornmunaute et du paysage. La Californie foumit un exemple frappant d'un endroit ou Ie labourage etait un element important dans un systeme global de gestion des terres, en place depuis des millenaires, Nous emettons l'hypothese que les activites de labourage des Amerindiens de la Californie mimaient les perturbations naturelles du milieu ou coevoluaient les plantes et ont joue un role ecologique qui maintenant fait defaut aplusieurs terres sauvages ou les autochtones d' Amerique ne peuvent desorrnais plus recolter et gerer les plantes. Leur systeme de gestion des terres doit etre etudie, decrit, interprete et mime de facon experimentale afin de mieux comprendre les regimes de perturbation autochtones. II est suggere que quelques endroits sauvages pourraient beneficier d'une reintroduction des regimes de gestion et de recolte qui mimeraient de facon authentique les interactions autochtones .
Research into the nature and functioning of the oak savannas and woodlands of the American Midwest is leading to re-evaluation of ideas concerning plant community structure and succession, which in turn requires reassessment of landscape management and restoration. The author's goal is to restore savanna to its last known natural state and then let processes that are as natural as possible proceed. -P.J.Jarvis
1 Presettlement fire regimes in north-eastern North America and their dependence on climate, fuels, and cultural patterns are poorly understood due to lack of relevant historic or palaeoecological data. Annual records of sediment charcoal accumulation were compiled from seven sites spanning the last 2000 years and representing important climate, vegetation, and cultural settings. Results were compared across sites and across changes in Indian cultures to determine whether fire patterns might be explained by one or more of these variables. 2 Clearly interpretable fires were restricted to the western (most xeric) portion of our study region in Pine Hardwoods of Minnesota, a single fire in Northern Hardwoods of northern Wisconsin, and cultural burning near an Iroquois village in southern Ontario. Other sites in Northern Hardwoods and Hardwood Hemlock forests did not show clear evidence of fire. Spectral analysis suggested instances in which local fire regimes departed from regional ones. 3 Our interpretation suggests substantially longer intervals between fires than reported in previous sediment charcoal studies. We did not find evidence for fire in mixed oak forests, where it has been speculated that fire might be necessary for oak recruitment, suggesting need for further analysis. 4 A single site in northern Wisconsin was the only Algonquin site showing a clear increase in charcoal suggesting local fire. Algonquin use of fire for hunting may not have affected our sites. A single site in Sioux territory experienced such frequent fire that cultural effects were not evident, even when Sioux were replaced by Chippewa (Algonquin) in the 18th century. One of two Iroquois sites showed clear increases in charcoal during occupation. The second site may not have had settlements nearby.