Climate Corner, July 2018: Wildfire Patterns and Implications in California's Forests

The severity and burn patters of wildfires as they move across the landscape greatly affect local plant and animal communities as the fires change vegetation communities and fragment habitats. The effects of fire suppression practices on fuel loads, and the impacts of climate change on temperature and precipitation, make understanding these dynamics especially important for determining fire management practices and protecting plant and animal communities.

A recent study published in Landscape Ecology looked at spatial pattern trends for low- and high-severity fires in yellow pine and mixed-conifer forests in California between 1984 and 2015. Trends of total and proportional burned area, shape complexity, aggregation, and core area were estimated for both areas where fire suppression had been practiced and for those where fire had been used as a resource management tool.

The authors found that overall, high-severity fires increased over time, and were less fragmented (burned more contiguous area) in the Sierras. Places where fire had been used as a management tool in the past showed less high-severity burns and more spatial complexity. "The changing landscape of wildfire: burn pattern trends and implications for California’s yellow pine and mixed conifer forests" is available for purchase here.