Dendroecological techniques were applied to reconstruct stand-replacing fire history in upper montane forests in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Fourteen stand-replacing fires were dated to 8 unique fire years (1842-1901) using four lines of evidence at each of 12 sites within the upper Rio Grande Basin. The four lines of evidence were (i) quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) inner-ring dates, (ii) fire-killed conifer bark-ring dates, (iii) tree-ring width changes or other morphological indicators of injury, and (iv) fire scars. The annual precision of dating allowed the identification of synchronous stand-replacing fire years among the sites, and co-occurrence with regional surface fire events previously reconstructed from a network of fire scar collections in lower elevation pine forests across the southwestern United States. Nearly all of the synchronous stand-replacing and surface fire years coincided with severe droughts, because climate variability created regional conditions where stand-replacing fires and surface fires burned across ecosystems. Reconstructed stand-replacing fires that predate substantial Anglo-American settlement in this region provide direct evidence that stand-replacing fires were a feature of high-elevation forests before extensive and intensive land-use practices (e.g., logging, railroad, and mining) began in the late 19th century.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Global and Planetary Change