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Title: Human influence on late Holocene fire history in a mixed-conifer forest, Sierra National Forest, California
Abstract Background

Understanding pre-1850s fire history and its effect on forest structure can provide insights useful for fire managers in developing plans to moderate fire hazards in the face of forecasted climate change. While climate clearly plays a substantial role in California wildfires, traditional use of fire by Indigenous people also affected fire history and forest structure in the Sierra Nevada. Disentangling the effects of human versus climatically-induced fire on Sierran forests from paleoecological records has historically proved challenging, but here we use pollen-based forest structure reconstructions and comparative paleoclimatic-vegetation response modeling to identify periods of human impact over the last 1300 years at Markwood Meadow, Sierra National Forest.


We find strong evidence for anthropogenic fires at Markwood Meadow ca. 1550 – 1750 C.E., contemporaneous with archaeological evidence for fundamental shifts in Indigenous lifeways. When we compare our findings to five other paleoecological sites in the central and southern Sierra Nevada, we find evidence for contemporaneous anthropogenic effects on forest structure across a broad swath of cismontane central California. This is significant because it implies that late 19th and early twentieth century forest structure – the structure that land managers most often seek to emulate – was in part the result anthropogenic fire and precolonial resource management.


We consequently suggest that modern management strategies consider (1) further incorporating traditional ecological knowledge fire practices in consultation with local tribal groups, and (2) using pollen-based reconstructions to track how forest composition compares to pre-1850 C.E. conditions rather than the novel forest states encountered in the late 20th and early twenty-first centuries. These strategies could help mitigate the effects of forecast climate change and associated megafires on forests and on socio-ecological systems in a more comprehensive manner.

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Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Fire Ecology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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