, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 935-949
Date: 18 Apr 2012

Human impacts on fire occurrence: a case study of hundred years of forest fires in a dry alpine valley in Switzerland

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Forest fire regimes are sensitive to alterations of climate, fuel load, and ignition sources. We investigated the impact of human activities and climate on fire occurrence in a dry continental valley of the Swiss Alps (Valais) by relating fire occurrence to population and road density, biomass removal by livestock grazing and wood harvest, temperature and precipitation in two distinct periods (1904–1955 and 1956–2006) using generalized additive modeling. This study provides evidence for the role played by humans and temperature in shaping fire occurrence. The existence of ignition sources promotes fire occurrence to a certain extent only; for example, high road density tends to be related to fewer fires. Changes in forest uses within the study region seem to be particularly important. Fire occurrence appears to have been negatively associated with livestock pasturing in the forest and wood harvesting, in particular during the period 1904–1955. This study illustrates consistently how fire occurrence has been influenced by land use and socioeconomic conditions. It also suggests that there is no straightforward linear relationship between human factors and fire occurrence.