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

Fine-scale variation of historical fire regimes in sagebrush-steppe and juniper woodland: an example from California, USA

Richard F. Miller A B D and Emily K. Heyerdahl C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, Oregon State University, 67826-A Highway 205, Burns, OR 97720, USA.

B Current address: Rangeland Ecology and Management, Oregon State University, 202 Strand Ag Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331-2218, USA.

C USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 5775 US West Highway 10, Missoula, MT 59808, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email:

International Journal of Wildland Fire 17(2) 245-254
Submitted: 26 January 2007  Accepted: 18 October 2007   Published: 17 April 2008


Coarse-scale estimates of fire intervals across the mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata spp. vaseyana (Rydb.) Beetle) alliance range from decades to centuries. However, soil depth and texture can affect the abundance and continuity of fine fuels and vary at fine spatial scales, suggesting fire regimes may vary at similar scales. We explored variation in fire frequency across 4000 ha in four plant associations with differing soils in which mountain big sagebrush and western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis subsp. occidentalis Hook.) were diagnostic or a transitory component. We reconstructed fire frequency from fire-scarred ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa P. & C. Lawson) in one association. The other three associations lacked fire-scarred trees so we inferred fire frequency from establishment or death dates of western juniper and a model of the rate of post-fire succession we developed from current vegetation along a chronosequence of time-since-fire. Historical fire frequency varied at fine spatial scales in response to soil-driven variation in fuel abundance and continuity and spanned the range of frequencies currently debated. Fire intervals ranged from decades in areas of deep, productive soils where fine fuels were likely abundant and continuous, to centuries in areas of shallow, coarse soils where fine fuel was likely limited.

Additional keywords: fire history, grassland, Lava Beds National Monument, mountain big sagebrush, ponderosa pine, succession, tree rings, western juniper.


For help in the field and laboratory, we thank Karl Hopkins, Kristy Miller and Angela Rose. We thank Bob Keane, Stan Kitchen, James P. Riser II, Peter Brown and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. This study was funded by the US Department of Interior, Lava Beds National Monument, the Oregon Agricultural Research Center (jointly operated by Oregon State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service), and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.


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