John Nesbitt, MSc
Quantifying forest fire variability using tree rings Nelson, British Columbia 1700–present
This study uses dendroecology to provide direct evidence of historic forest fires and their effects on stand structure and dynamics at a local scale in the montane forests in southeastern British Columbia (BC). Using tree ages and fire-scarred trees, I determined the historic variability of fires by quantifying stand dynamics in relation to past fires in the mixed-conifer forests surrounding Nelson, a wildland-urban interface community in southeastern BC. I built fire records that extended from 1642–2009 across 18 sites in the ~160,000 hectare study area. Although a watershed-level fire signal is evident, site-to-site differences in fire-scar records and stand dynamics suggest that topography and land use caused variability in the fire histories of the individual sites. Numbers of fire-scarred trees and importance values of fire-tolerant trees decreased significantly with elevation. Fire-intolerant trees were most abundant in the subcanopy across all elevations. Most strikingly, no fires were recorded since 1932 across all sites, suggesting that fire exclusion has been effective and that future stands will likely continue to diverge from historic stands by becoming more dense, more homogenous in species composition, and, as a result, more susceptible to high-severity fires.