Decoupling natural and anthropogenic fire regimes: A case study in Everglades National Park, Florida

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Anthropogenic fire regimes obscure natural fire regimes, reducing the ability to manage fire-frequented habitats ecologically. To address this problem, we attempted to decouple natural and anthropogenic fire regimes by comparing them to seasonal climatic patterns and landscape characteristics in Everglades National Park (1948-1999). Of the total area burned by lightning fires, 57% resulted from ignitions seven days within onset of the wet season, 11% from ignitions starting 7-21 days before onset, and 36% from ignitions > 7 days after onset. In contrast, of the total area burned by incendiary fires, 89% resulted from ignitions > 7 days before onset, and 40% resulted from ignitions > 35 days before onset. Moreover, ∼100% of the total area burned by prescribed fires resulted from ignitions > 7 days after onset. Lightning fires occurred most frequently in wet seasonal savanna that had limited accessibility to humans; incendiary fires were most frequent in wet seasonal savanna that had ready accessibility to humans. In addition, 35% of the total area burned by incendiary fires in areas of limited accessibility occurred when incendiary fires spread from readily accessible areas. We propose that, because incendiary fires occurred at the end of the dry season, they burned drier fuels and burned more intensely than lightning fires, which generally occurred following the first rains of the wet season. Incendiary fires thus should be more likely to burn lower elevation areas that normally hinder fire spread. Finally, by occurring later in the wet season, prescribed fires may have burned patchily and insufficiently intensely to achieve restoration goals. Decoupling anthropogenic and natural fire regimes using seasonal climate patterns and landscape characteristics leads us to propose strategies to guide fire management in the park.

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Natural Areas Journal

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