Human interaction with fire and vegetation occurs at many levels of human population density and cultural development, from subsistence cultures to highly technological societies. The dynamics of these interactions with respect to wildland fire are often difficult to understand and identify at short temporal scales. Dendrochronological fire histories from the Missouri Ozarks, coupled with human population data, offer a quantitative means of examining historic (1680–1990) changes in the anthropogenic fire regime. A temporal analysis of fire scar dates over the last 3 centuries indicates that the percent of sites burned and fire intervals of anthropogenic fires are conditioned by the following four limiting factors: (a) anthropogenic ignition, (b) surface fuel production, (c) fuel fragmentation, and (d) cultural behavior. During an ignition-dependent stage (fewer than 0.64 humans/km2), the percent of sites burned is logarithmically related to human population (r2 = 0.67). During a fuel-limited stage, where population density exceeds a threshold of 0.64 humans/km2, the percent of sites burned is independent of population increases and is limited by fuel production. During a fuel-fragmentation stage, regional trade allows population densities to increase above 3.4 humans/km2, and the percent of sites burned becomes inversely related to population (r2 = 0.18) as decreases in fuel continuity limit the propagation of surface fires. During a culture-dependent stage, increases in the value of timber over forage greatly reduce the mean fire interval and the percent of sites burned. Examples of the dynamics of these four stages are presented from the Current River watershed of the Missouri Ozarks.
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