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Keywords:

  • Fire cycle;
  • Forest fire;
  • Fuel accumulation;
  • Landscape ecology;
  • Landscape mosaic;
  • Forest management

Abstract. Mimicking of natural disturbance for ecosystem management requires an understanding of the disturbance processes and the resulting landscape patterns. Since fire is the major disturbance in the boreal forest, three widely held beliefs about fire behavior and resulting landscape patterns are examined in light of the empirical evidence available. These beliefs are: (1) that there is a ‘natural’ fire frequency for boreal ecosystems; (2) that the landscape mosaic created by wildfire is generally one of small, younger patches embedded within a matrix of older forest; and (3) that forest flammability is largely controlled by fuel accumulation. Despite the apparently logical basis for such beliefs, they are not well supported by empirical evidence. This discrepancy is explained by problems such as failure to appreciate the relationship between number of fires and area burned and inappropriate extrapolations or generalizations from other regions and vegetation types. The most important implications for management are that the natural disturbance processes producing landscape patterns in the boreal forest generally operate at much larger scales than management units, and that humans may have more indirect (through landuse change) rather than direct (through fire suppression) effects on the frequency of wildfires.