We use macroscopic charcoal analysis to reconstruct fire history in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis and A. tridentata var. tridentata), in Newark Valley, Nevada. We analyzed charcoal at continuous 1-cm intervals (~7–127 years), and pollen at 2- to 10-cm intervals (~70–263 years) in a core spanning the last 5500 cal yr BP (calendar years before present). A charcoal peak in the historic period was associated with a >1400-ha fire dated to 1986 that burned in the watershed. We reconstructed the prehistoric fire history by inferring fires from similar charcoal peaks that were significantly greater than the background charcoal accumulation. Our results suggest the fire regime is climate and fuel driven. During periods of wetter climate, sagebrush increased and fires were more abundant, and during extended dry periods when sagebrush decreased, fires were less frequent. Our method does not allow calculation of a fire-return interval; however, our results support models that estimate a mean fire-return interval of up to a century in Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis. The charcoal record indicates that fires have increased within the historic period. This contrasts with pinyon/juniper studies that indicate an expansion of woodland associated with fewer fires in the historic period. We suggest that in the central Great Basin, a regime of frequent fires in sagebrush that limits woodland expansion is true for the sagebrush-woodland ecotone, but in sagebrush-dominated valleys with lower fuel loads, fires have always been less frequent. Protecting sagebrush-dominated valleys from frequent fire would appear to be consistent with the prehistoric fire regime.
Mensing, Scott; Livingston, Stephanie; and Barker, Pat
"Long-term fire history in Great Basin sagebrush reconstructed from macroscopic charcoal in spring sediments, Newark Valley, Nevada,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 66
, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol66/iss1/6