Seminar Abstract

Jeremy Littell and Dave Peterson

Thursday, May 18, 2006

20th century associations between climate and fire in the American West: Implications for ecosystem management, policy, and climate change science.


Fire is an important climate-mediated agent of change in Western ecosystems and represents one of the chief uncertainties in developing adaptive capacity and resilience in ecosystem management plans. During the 20th century, climate exerted a strong influence on the area burned in most of the ecosystems in the American west. Predictive regression models indicate that, for the period 1977-2003, between 33% and 87% of the variance in area burned is a function of a few climate variables. The nature of these predictive models depends on the sensitivity of ecosystem vegetation to climate and there is a spectrum of relationships between  “fuel-limited” and “climate limited” ecoprovinces. However, all ecoprovinces are highly sensitive to temperature or combined precipitation/temperature variables, and we confirm and expand previous research indicating the role of climate variability in the area burned by western fire. In this talk, we describe some of the significant scientific, policy, and management barriers to developing institutional (and ecosystem) adaptive capacity in the face of climate change in the 21st century.

Speaker bio:

Jeremy Littell is a CIG-supported PhD student in the University of Washington's College of Forest Resources.

Dave Peterson is a Research Forester with the USDA Forest Service's Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team and a Professor at the UW College of Forest Resources.