Landscape Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 7, pp 1195–1209 | Cite as

Influence of landscape structure, topography, and forest type on spatial variation in historical fire regimes, Central Oregon, USA

  • Andrew G. MerschelEmail author
  • Emily K. Heyerdahl
  • Thomas A. Spies
  • Rachel A. Loehman
Research Article



In the interior Northwest, debate over restoring mixed-conifer forests after a century of fire exclusion is hampered by poor understanding of the pattern and causes of spatial variation in historical fire regimes.


To identify the roles of topography, landscape structure, and forest type in driving spatial variation in historical fire regimes in mixed-conifer forests of central Oregon.


We used tree rings to reconstruct multicentury fire and forest histories at 105 plots over 10,393 ha. We classified fire regimes into four types and assessed whether they varied with topography, the location of fuel-limited pumice basins that inhibit fire spread, and an updated classification of forest type.


We identified four fire-regime types and six forest types. Although surface fires were frequent and often extensive, severe fires were rare in all four types. Fire regimes varied with some aspects of topography (elevation), but not others (slope or aspect) and with the distribution of pumice basins. Fire regimes did not strictly co-vary with mixed-conifer forest types.


Our work reveals the persistent influence of landscape structure on spatial variation in historical fire regimes and can help inform discussions about appropriate restoration of fire-excluded forests in the interior Northwest. Where the goal is to restore historical fire regimes at landscape scales, managers may want to consider the influence of topoedaphic and vegetation patch types that could affect fire spread and ignition frequency.


Dendroecology Landscape structure Fire history Fire regimes Eastern Cascades Reference conditions Forest restoration 



We thank Meg Krawchuk, Don Falk, Matt Reilly, Emily Comfort, and two anonymous reviews for comments on earlier drafts. This work was facilitated through the Nature Conservancy, Deschutes National Forest, and the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. Funding was provided by the Oregon Department of Forestry, the Deschutes National Forest, and the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station. We thank Pete Caligiuri and Mark Stern for their assistance in coordinating and implementing the project. We thank Pete Powers for his summary of management history in the study area. We thank Calvin Farris for his methodological assistance with mapping historical fires, and Chris Zanger, Keith Olsen, and Ray Davis for help with GIS work. We thank Abby Eurich, Brent Gaither, Kelly Regan, James Johnston, Kayla Johnston, Dawn Pepper, Ben Hart, Lauren Matoszuik, Andrés Holz, Bobby Burdick, and Beatrice Serrano-Martinez for assistance in the field and with dendrochronological work.

Supplementary material

10980_2018_656_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1234 kb)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Forest Engineering Resources and Management, College of ForestryOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research StationMissoulaUSA
  3. 3.USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationCorvallisUSA
  4. 4.US Geological Survey, Alaska Science CenterAnchorageUSA

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