The University of Arizona

Fire History of a Relict Oak Woodland in Northeast Texas

Micheal C. Stambaugh, Jeff Sparks, Richard P. Guyette

Abstract


Empirical data generated from fire scars are a foundation for understanding fire regimes, designing land-management objectives, and addressing long-term land-use and climate-change effects. We derived precise dates of historic fires from fire-scar injuries occurring on trees growing in a relict post oak woodland in northeastern Texas. The fire-event chronology shows the last three centuries were marked with human influence, with an overall trend of decreasing fire occurrence through time. Thirty different fire events occurred between 1690 and 2007, of which 26 occurred prior to 1856. All fires occurred while trees were dormant. From 1690 to 1820, the mean fire interval was 6.7 yr. A 50-yr period without fire occurred in the latter 19th century (1855–1905) and coincided with the establishment of an oak cohort. A second extended period (80 yr) without fire characterized most of the 20th century. We hypothesize that the absence of fire during much of the last century has resulted in increased tree density and canopy closure, the establishment of fire-intolerant vines, shrubs, and trees, and likely the decline of fire-dependent plant species. Information describing long-term changes of fire regimes in oak woodlands in this region could aid in determining fire-management objectives with respect to prescribed fire implementation and community restoration.


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