Network assembles historical data from fire-scarred trees

With data from more than 37,000 fire-scarred trees at more than 2,500 sites, the Joint Fire Science Program has built up a sizeable database regarding forest fires across much of North America dating back centuries.

From this North American Tree-Ring Fire-Scar Network, it’s apparent that there used to be a lot more fires on the landscape, often ones that were of lower intensity, since they didn’t kill the trees that were scarred.

One tree researchers found in New Mexico had endured 32 fires over 250 years, but showed no fires since 1880, according to Ellis Margolis, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Service in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A fire every two to 20 years was not uncommon in some areas, the data revealed. In large trees like sequoias, fire histories may date back as far as the 1300s creating a “window into the past,” he said.

These charts show the decline in precipitation, increase in temperature and the increase in fires and fire severity in the Southwest over 40 years.

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