, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 1139-1151
Date: 03 Jul 2013

Privatization, Drought, and Fire Exclusion in the Tuul River Watershed, Mongolia

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Global wildfire frequency and extent are expected to increase under projected climate change in the twenty-first century, yet little is known about how human activities might affect this trend. In central Mongolia, there has been a 2.5°C rise in spring and summer temperatures during the last 40 years and a decrease in moisture availability during the latter half of the twentieth century. Concurrently, Mongolia has experienced multiple shifts in socioeconomic systems during the twentieth century, most notably the establishment of a Soviet-backed communist economy in the 1920s and a rapid transition to privatization in the 1990s. Observed records of fire in the late twentieth century suggested that fire activity had increased, but no long-term data existed to place these trends in a historical context. Our objective was to identify spatial and temporal patterns in fire occurrence in the forest-steppe ecotone of the Tuul River watershed in the context of changing climatic and social conditions since 1875. We used fire-scarred trees to reconstruct past fire occurrence during the period 1875–2009. Our results indicate a significant association between human activity and fire occurrence independent of climatic variables. The greatest evidence for an anthropogenic fire regime exists following the transition to a free market economy during the early 1990s when land-use intensification near the capital city of Ulaanbaatar resulted in fire exclusion. We emphasize the importance of including socio-political variables in global models of wildfire potential, particularly where fuels limit fire activity.

Author Contributions

Thomas Saladyga was responsible for the conception and design of the study. Saladyga also performed background research, analyzed data, developed tables and figures, and wrote the paper. As the first author’s Ph.D. advisor, Amy Hessl provided guidance in the conception and design of the study. Hessl also contributed to writing and editing the manuscript. Baatarbileg Nachin participated in the design of the study and provided comments throughout the writing process. Neil Pederson contributed to research and participated in editing the manuscript.