Fire History in Cariboo Forests


Historically, fire was a primary agent of disturbance in Douglas-fir–lodgepole pine forests of central British Columbia, Canada. The historic fire regime included low-severity, stand-maintaining fires and less frequent, stand-replacing fires. At the stand level, fire intervals ranged from two to 59 years, with median intervals of 13 to 22 years. Fire intervals doubled when considering only fires that scarred at least two recorder trees per plot, indicating that severe fires burned less frequently than low-severity fires. Current fire free intervals exceed historic median intervals at all plots and maximum intervals at six of nine plots. Links between climate variation and fire in the Carbioo forests between 1700 and 1970 were consistent with climate-fire relationships in dry forests in the southwest US, but opposite to patterns in the Pacific Northwest. In the Cariboo, fires burned during droughts that correspond with La Niña conditions. Understanding the links between climate variation and fire allows managers to use climate forecasting to anticipate annual to decadal periods of increased fire risk.

Restoring and managing the Cariboo forests is challenging due to the complexity of the mixed-severity fire regime. In many stands, mitigation of fuels accumulated during the fire suppression era will be a form of ecological restoration. However, some accumulations are to stand development following high-severity fires in the past century and restoration is not needed. In spite of effective mitigation, fires will burn under appropriate climate conditions. Scientists and managers need to work with communication experts to ensure the public understands that restoration and mitigation will not eliminate fire from our forests. Rather, restoration and mitigation are management tools to be applied strategically at stand and landscape levels to reduce risk of fire in specific culturally, socially, or economically valuable forests.

KEY WORDS: Cariboo region, climate reconstruction, dendrochronology, disturbance regime, Douglas-fir, dry forests, El Niño, fire history, fire return interval, inter-annual climate variation, La Niña, lodgepole pine, stand dynamics, ring-width chronologies



Heyerdahl, E.K., L.D. Daniels, A. Hessl, J. Littell, N. Mantua, and D. McKenzie. 2008. Climate drivers of historical fire regimes in the Pacific Northwest. International Journal of Wildland Fire 17:40-49.


Daniels, L.D. and E. Watson. 2003. Climate-Fire-Vegetation Interactions in the Cariboo Forests: A Dendrochronological Analysis. Report to Forest Innovation and Investment – Forest Research Program, Vancouver BC, April 2003. 57pp.

Daniels, L.D. 2004. Climate and Fire: A Case Study of the Cariboo Forest, British Columbia. Pp. 235-246 in Taylor, L., J. Zelnik, S. Cadwallader and B. Hughes (editors). Proceedings of the Mixed Severity Fire Regimes: Ecology and Management Conference, Washington State University, WA.


Fire Storm 2003 and the Future of BC’s Dry Forests. Arts Talk, Faculty of Arts, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. January 2006.

Climate-Fire-Vegetation Interactions in the Cariboo Forests of BC. Western Mountain Initiative Fire History Working Group, Flagstaff, AZ, May 2005.

Climate-Fire-Vegetation Interactions of Cariboo Forests of Canada. Co-Author: E.Watson. Western Mountain Initiative Climate Change Workshop, Lake Tahoe, CA. May 2004.

Fire in the Dry Forests of British Columbia Geography Colloquium, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, February 2004.

Hot Topics in Biogeography: Forest Fires in BC.s Cariboo Region. Geography Colloquium, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, October 2003.

Dry Forests of the Americas: Fire Regimes, Climate and Human Impacts, Co-Author: T.T. Veblen, Invited presentation at Dry Forest Ecosystems Symposium, The Federation of British Columbia Naturalists, University College of the Cariboo, Kamloops, BC, May 2003.

Fire history in the Cariboo region of British Columbia, Canada. Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, New Orleans, March 2003.

Dendroclimatic analysis of Douglas-fir in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. Co-AuthorsStan, A., L.D. Daniels, and J. Dobry. Poster presented at Dendrochronology, Environmental Change and Human History, Quebec City, August 2002.


Contact Dr. Lori Daniels, Department of Geography,
University of British Columbia,