International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Occurrence of wildfire in the northern Great Lakes Region: Effects of land cover and land ownership assessed at multiple scales

International Journal of Wildland Fire 10(2) 145 - 154
Published: 2001


Risk of wildfire has become a major concern for forest managers, particularly where humans live in close proximity to forests. To date, there has been no comprehensive analysis of contemporary wildfire patterns or the influence of landscape-level factors in the northern, largely forested parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, USA.

Using electronic archives from the USDA Forest Service and from the Departments of Natural Resources of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, we created and analysed a new, spatially explicit data set: the Lake States Fire Database. Most of the 18 514 fires during 1985—1995 were smaller than 4 ha, although there were 746 fires larger than 41 ha. Most fires were caused by debris burning and incendiary activity. There was considerable interannual variability in fire counts; over 80% of fires occurred in March, April, or May.

We analysed the relationship of land cover and ownership to fires at two different fire size thresholds across four gridded spatial scales. Fires were more likely on non-forest than within forests; this was also true if considering only fires larger than 41 ha. An area of National or State Forest was less likely to have experienced a fire during the study period than was a forest of equal size outside National or State Forest boundaries. Large fires were less likely in State Forests, although they were neither more nor less likely to have occurred on National Forests. Fire frequency also varied significantly by forest type. All results were extremely consistent across analysis resolutions, indicating robust relationships.

Keywords: fire, wildfire, Forest, Great Lakes, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, land cover, ownership, USDA Forest Service, DNR.

© IAWF 2001

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