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Fire history of an isolated subalpine mountain range of the Intermountain Region, United States



Fire has historically been an important ecological component of forests in the Intermountain Region of the northwestern United States. This study is set in a small biogeographically disjunct mountain range. Our research objectives were to (1) investigate the historical frequency, severity, size, and spatial pattern of fire; (2) determine if and how fire regimes have changed since Euro-American settlement; and (3) compare how fire regimes of a small isolated range compare to nearby, but considerably larger, mountain agglomerations. Our findings suggest that this mountain range has historically supported fires typified by small size and high frequency, resulting in a high degree of spatial pattern complexity compared to mountain agglomerations. We also found disparity in size and burn severity solely within the study area based on the bisecting Continental Divide. Since the advent of Euro-American settlement in the 1870s, fire frequency and sizes of individual fires in the West Big Hole Range have significantly decreased resulting in an estimated 87% reduction in area burned. We discuss potential relationships of mountain range isolation and fire regimes in the Intermountain Region. Furthermore, we suggest that the relative small size of this mountain range predisposes it to greater anthropogenic effects upon fire occurrence.