BIOL 354 SDSU Ecology and The Environment Questions

Pyrodiversity is the coupling of
biodiversity and fire regimes in food webs
David M. J. S. Bowman1, George L. W. Perry2, Steve I. Higgins3,
Chris N. Johnson1, Samuel D. Fuhlendorf4 and Brett P. Murphy5
Cite this article: Bowman DMJS, Perry GLW,
Higgins SI, Johnson CN, Fuhlendorf SD, Murphy
BP. 2016 Pyrodiversity is the coupling of
biodiversity and fire regimes in food webs.
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169.
Accepted: 5 February 2016
One contribution of 24 to a discussion meeting
issue ‘The interaction of fire and mankind’.
Subject Areas:
anthropogenic burning, ecosystem engineer,
feedbacks, landscape fire, pyrogeography,
trophic interactions
Author for correspondence:
David M. J. S. Bowman
Electronic supplementary material is available
at or
School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 55, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
School of Environment, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
Department of Botany, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA
Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory,
DMJSB, 0000-0001-8075-124X; GLWP, 0000-0001-9672-9135; BPM, 0000-0002-8230-3069
Fire positively and negatively affects food webs across all trophic levels and
guilds and influences a range of ecological processes that reinforce fire
regimes, such as nutrient cycling and soil development, plant regeneration
and growth, plant community assembly and dynamics, herbivory and
predation. Thus we argue that rather than merely describing spatio-temporal
patterns of fire regimes, pyrodiversity must be understood in terms of
feedbacks between fire regimes, biodiversity and ecological processes.
Humans shape pyrodiversity both directly, by manipulating the intensity,
severity, frequency and extent of fires, and indirectly, by influencing the
abundance and distribution of various trophic guilds through hunting and
husbandry of animals, and introduction and cultivation of plant species.
Conceptualizing landscape fire as deeply embedded in food webs suggests
that the restoration of degraded ecosystems requires the simultaneous careful management of fire regimes and native and invasive plants and animals,
and may include introducing new vertebrates to compensate for extinctions
that occurred in the recent and more distant past.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘The interaction of fire and mankind’.
1. Introduction
Human manipulation of landscape fires, whether deliberate or accidental, is a
powerful ecological force that can influence the conservation of biodiversity
and the provision of ecosystem services, and positively or negatively affect
the risk of economically disruptive fires. Nonetheless, there remains
substantial discussion and disagreement among fire managers, ecologists and
conservation biologists over how best to achieve ecologically and economically
sustainable fire management. This debate reflects the myriad competing objectives of fire management and the social values that influence them, combined
with the complexity and uncertainties inherent in fire ecology. An example of
these issues and concerns is the ‘pyrodiversity begets biodiversity’ hypothesis
[1]—the idea that humans can promote biodiversity through the manipulation
of the spatio-temporal component of fire regimes.
Martin & Sapsis [1] first introduced the term ‘pyrodiversity’ in their exploration of the biodiversity consequences of the transition from Native American
fire management to twentieth-century fire suppression by government
agencies. They characterized this transition as a shift from a pattern of anthropogenic burning that created and maintained fine-grained habitat mosaics,
to one that reduced fire-induced heterogeneity in the landscape. This
shift was driven by changes in the spatial extent (small to large), frequency (frequent to infrequent), seasonality (increase in summer) and severity (low to
high) of fires. Martin & Sapsis [1] suggested that these changes reduce
& 2016 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original
author and source are credited.
trophic transfers
soil biota
o m p o sitio
Figure 1. A conceptual overview of pyrodiversity, showing how fire regimes are embedded in food webs. The solid black lines indicate trophic transfers of carbon,
analogous to the conventional links in a food web. Hence, landscape fire acts as a ‘consumer’ of plant biomass. However, fire has a range of other ecological effects
(shown by dashed lines) on trophic processes, either directly, or indirectly (e.g. by modifying vegetation structure), which may facilitate predation. The shading of
the components of the food web indicates the intensity of the biological refinement of organic carbon (quality), such as the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Plants, soil
biota and fire are shaded black, indicating they produce and use low-quality carbon. The carbon quality is assumed to increase through the food chain with humans
being shaded white, indicating they use the highest-quality carbon. Humans are assumed to directly influence all elements of the system (e.g. lighting and suppressing fire, harvesting animals and plants), and anthropogenic influences have now become predominate due to global climate change. Although humans are
assumed to strongly influence pyrodiversity, it can still exist in their absence.
‘pyrodiversity’ with accompanying losses of biodiversity,
and recommended the implementation of heterogeneous
fire regimes, tailored to suit particular environments and
taxa, to conserve biodiversity.
The distinction between the fire regime concept and
pyrodiversity, and the linkage between biodiversity and
pyrodiversity proposed by Martin & Sapsis [1], has resulted
in ongoing debate and confusion [2–7]. These debates highlight many of the core intellectual and technical challenges
in fire ecology and pyrogeography, including how fire
regimes are defined and measured, how landscape fire
history shapes ecosystems, and understanding how the coupling between humans and landscape fire has shaped
ecosystems through time [8]. Here, we argue that landscape
fire is an integral, albeit biophysically unique, component
of food webs that connects fire regimes and biological diversity across trophic levels, including humans, the only
organism to directly manipulate landscape fires: thus, we
define pyrodiversity as the outcome of the trophic interactions and feedbacks between fire regimes, biodiversity
and ecological processes (figure 1). It is important to note
that some types of pyrodiversity are not reliant on human
influence, whereas others, such as grasslands embedded in
forest [9], are human artefacts.
Our conceptualization of pyrodiversity extends the view
that landscape fire is a ‘global herbivore’, competing with
other herbivores for fuel [10], seeing some species as having
a metaphoric symbiotic and/or co-evolved relationship
with fire. We suggest there is a spectrum of ecological
states generated by landscape fire, each associated with a
range of biodiversity conditions; some types of pyrodiversity
emerge from ecologically degraded systems, whereas others
enhance biodiversity. This conceptualization of pyrodiversity
resonates with alternative stable-state theory, in which
changes in fire, herbivory, or both, can cause rapid shifts
between ecosystem states [11], the most iconic examples
being the invasion of overgrazed rangelands by woody
plants, the invasive grass –fire cycle [12], and the control of
rainforest–savanna boundaries [13,14].
The idea that fire modulates food webs has been anticipated by some authors [15]. For instance, Bond [16]
suggested that the global distribution of vegetation may reflect
the complex interplay between herbivores, environmental constraints and fire (figure 2), resulting in ‘black worlds’ where
fire is the predominant constraint on biomass, ‘brown
worlds’ where biomass is primarily regulated by herbivores,
or ‘green worlds’ with biomass principally shaped by
bottom-up resource constraints (climate and soils). Our conceptualization of pyrodiversity lies between Bond’s [16]
idealized black, brown and green worlds (figure 2) because
top-down control by herbivores and bottom-up resource limitation together shape fire regimes and vegetation patterns [14].
Bond ([16], p. 264) noted that ‘it is intriguing to ask whether
more of the world has become ‘black’ since extirpation/
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169
y, gra
ecological effects
RESOURCE controlled
brown world
survival traits
black world
fire-survival or
tolerance traits
Figure 2. The trophic bounding of pyrodiversity due to the interplay of ecological conditions where biomass is predominantly constrained by fire, herbivores or
resources. Adapted from Bond [16].
extinction of the megafauna’ (figure 3a). Applying a similar
logic, we can reconceptualize the grass–fire cycle, which can
degrade ecosystems following the introduction of invasive
flammable grasses [12], as the absence of an accompanying
coevolved herbivore to ‘compete’ with fire for grass biomass
[17] (figure 3b).
To develop our view of pyrodiversity as an emergent
property of fire embedded in food webs, we: (i) consider
how this idea relates to the fire regime concept; (ii) review
the correlative and mechanistic evidence for and against the
importance of spatio-temporal fire patterns on biodiversity
and how this influences ecological processes; and (iii) outline
the implications of our argument for the management of
ecosystems. Our focus is on ecosystems that have not been
drastically transformed by land clearance; hence, most of
our examples come from Australia, Africa and the western
USA. Nonetheless, we believe our argument can be extended
and applied to all ecosystems where fire was, is or potentially
will be a key ecological disturbance.
2. Fire regimes and pyrodiversity
The term ‘fire regime’ captures the multi-dimensional nature
of landscape fire [18]. Key characteristics of a fire regime
include fire intensity, the time interval between fires, the
spatial pattern of fires (size, shape), type of combustion
(flaming versus smouldering), and the biogeochemical
impacts that shape soils and vegetation [19]. Fire regimes
filter biotas, selecting adaptations to tolerate and arguably
even promote fire, reinforcing the tendency for a given pattern of fire to recur [20 –23]. Even though the fire regime is
a powerful organizing principle in fire ecology, it has
proved remarkably difficult to operationalize as a metric
that can be spatio-temporally analysed [24,25]. This problem
has been summarized by Krebs et al. ([25], p. 61), who wrote
that ‘in a complex process like fire, that involves temporal
cascades, interactions and feedbacks, every cause is also an
effect, every effect may be a causal variable, and no variable
is truly independent. Any selection of the variables of the FR
[fire regime] is therefore questionable and implies a significant degree of subjectivity’. It is in this complex intellectual
milieu that the pyrodiversity concept is situated.
A narrow, trophically flat interpretation of pyrodiversity
focuses exclusively on the spatio-temporal patterns of a fire
regime. To empirically validate this comparatively simple
definition, we need accurate time-series data to reveal the
‘invisible’ mosaic created by past fire events that interact
with the visible mosaic created by the most recent fire
event [26] (electronic supplementary material, figure S1). A
range of techniques can be used to reconstruct spatiotemporal fire pattern, and each has constraints affecting the
scale, accuracy and time-depth of historical reconstructions
[27 –30]. These reconstructions are often synthesized by a
small number of static indices describing spatial or temporal
patterns of fire activity or the landscape patterns arising from
it (e.g. mean fire size, habitat diversity, fire return interval).
Whether such metrics are sufficient to characterize landscape
pattern and interactions between pattern and process is debatable [18,31]. Our conceptualization of pyrodiversity is not
reducible to a single index, because it is hierarchical and
multi-dimensional, requiring simultaneous consideration of
both landscape pattern and ecological process, as is inherent
in the interaction between fire regimes and biodiversity
(figure 1). As outlined below, this conceptualization of pyrodiversity affects how it is studied and tested.
3. Does pyrodiversity beget biodiversity?
Martin & Sapsis’s [1] seminal paper has stimulated an
ongoing debate in conservation biology, over their ‘pyrodiversity begets biodiversity’ hypothesis and, by extension,
the relevance of the fire management paradigm known as
‘patch mosaic burning’, which seeks to create and maintain
spatio-temporal habitat heterogeneity in order to promote
biodiversity [2,32]. Several researchers have investigated the
pyrodiversity –biodiversity hypothesis by narrowly defining
pyrodiversity as the spatio-temporal heterogeneity of landscape fire activity. For instance, a major research project in
southeastern Australia’s semi-arid eucalypt shrublands—
known locally as ‘mallee’—found no consistent positive
relationship between the Shannon –Weiner diversity of postfire age-classes in the local area (2-km radius) and the abundance of individual species or species richness, among small
mammals [3], birds [5] and reptiles [4]. This research concluded that the pyrodiversity –biodiversity hypothesis was
not supported. However, this correlative ‘natural experiment’
has a number of limitations, including: (i) the failure to
control for the ‘size, shape and interspersion of patches
with differing fire histories, amount of ecotone habitat’ [5];
(ii) the assumption that the snap-shot surveys sampled
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169
CONSUMER controlled
green world
resource-acquisition traits
mosaic landscape
uniform landscape
herbivore guild
depauperate or absent
higher vegetation
lower vegetation
allows fire-sensitive
taxa to recruit
taxa dominate
less and patchier
fire activity
more and spatially
uniform fire activity
flammability/rapid regrowth
introduction of
pyrophyllic exotics
Figure 3. (a) A conceptual model of how megafaunal extinctions and altered fire regimes result in a switch in pyrodiversity. (b) The grass – fire cycle as an example
of how the loss of consumer control can alter pyrodiversity (blue and red arrows reflect positive and negative feedbacks, respectively). (a) Redrawn from Bowman
et al. [11] and (b) from D’Antonio & Vitousek [12].
landscapes that originally had similar faunal distributions and equivalent disturbance histories embedded in
the ‘invisible’ burn mosaic [33]; and (iii) fundamental
limits to the ability of simple metrics to capture the complexity of the spatial processes and interactions underpinning
pyrodiversity [18,31].
The issue of the realism and sufficiency of the indices
used to characterize fire regimes also affects experiments
designed to test the pyrodiversity –biodiversity hypothesis.
For example, in northern Australia’s Kakadu National
Park, where large homogeneous fires are implicated in biodiversity declines, Griffiths et al. [7] concluded that fire
frequency has a far greater effect on populations of small
mammals than fire size [34]. Their conclusion is derived
from the outcomes of spatially explicit population models
of four small-mammal species, built using data from a
landscape-level fire experiment. However, Russell-Smith
et al. [35] criticized this work as presenting grossly unrealistic scenarios—namely that the experimental fires imposed
under the modelled ‘mosaic’ scenario were an order of magnitude larger than those typically experienced in Kakadu
(15 –20 km2 versus 1.2–4 km2, respectively). Hence, the
‘mosaic’ scenario of Griffiths et al. [7] does not even closely
approximate the fine-grained mosaic advocated to conserve
small mammals in Kakadu (i.e. less than 1 km2 [34,36]).
Simple, one-way statistical linkages between biodiversity
surrogates and fire regimes are unlikely to identify crucial
feedbacks between spatio-temporal patterns of burning and
trophic interactions, because the direct impacts of such feedbacks reveal themselves on a variety of time-scales, and
because direct impacts of fire on biodiversity may be nonlinear
or conditional on other covariates [11]. Some experimental
studies of pyrodiversity have focused on eusocial insects
(e.g. ants and termites) [6,37,38], yet these species-rich communal organisms are possibly better buffered against changes in
fire regimes than vertebrates, so there needs to be caution in
extrapolating their response to fire to the entire biota. Rather,
recognition of the trophic linkages between fire and the ecosystem as a whole demands detailed ecological studies to reveal
mechanistic links between spatio-temporal mosaics of fire
and particular species and species guilds.
Despite the weaknesses of correlative studies of the
relationships between pyrodiversity and biodiversity, a consistent finding is the importance of relatively long-unburnt
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169
herbivore guild
ecosystem structure
ecosystem function
grazing ×
(e.g. biomass)
Figure 4. Conceptual model of the interaction between grazing and fire mosaics that drive ‘pyric herbivory’, with flow-on effects on biodiversity and ecosystem
function. Adapted from Fuhlendorf et al. [43].
habitat for birds [5,39] and, to a lesser extent, mammals [3,40]
and reptiles [4]. This agrees with the finding of Bradstock
et al. [26], who used a simulation model to show that populations of the threatened ground-dwelling bird, malleefowl
(Leipoa ocellata), could be sustained by a regime of small
patchy fires. Kelly et al. [40] used decision theory to identify
the ‘optimal’ fire regime for biodiversity conservation in the
southeastern Australian mallee and found that vertebrate
species diversity is likely to be maximized by a mix of
early, middle and late successional vegetation, albeit not in
equal proportions. Such heterogeneity is most likely to arise
if the prime management objective is the creation and maintenance of fine-grained fire mosaics to ensure the persistence
of long-unburnt habitats [26,41,42], which can be critical for
many species.
4. Evidence of trophic linkages with fire
Studies of individual taxa illuminate the reciprocal relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem processes and the
patterns generated by fire regimes. A good example of this
is the ‘pyric herbivory’ concept that demonstrates the coupling between spatio-temporal fire patterns and grazing
activity [43–45]. For example, bison (Bison bison) can reinforce
fine-grained fire mosaics in North American tall-grass prairie
ecosystems as their grazing reduces biomass and alters local
species composition. This effect, in turn, reduces grazing
pressure on the most palatable species because herbivores
consume a broader range of species [43] (figure 4). The concentration of dung and urine produced by feeding animals
further reinforces these biological effects. The resultant
changes to vegetation structure affect the passage and intensity of subsequent fires, again reinforcing the fire mosaic. In
North America, the pyric herbivory dynamic has a positive
effect on the diversity of invertebrates [46 –48], small mammals [44], birds [33,49], and productivity and behaviour of
large native and domestic ungulates [45,50].
The interactions and feedbacks that create pyric herbivory
are ecologically highly context-dependent in how they influence fire size and frequency, and their effects on biomass
and fuel flammability [51 –54]. This context dependence is
clearly illustrated by Archibald et al. [51] in South African
savannas. They demonstrated that frequent large fires
can eliminate patches of grazing lawn, composed of short
grazing-tolerant grasses that are embedded in tall, firedependent bunch grasslands. The mechanism driving the
loss of grazing lawns is a reduction in the local intensity of
grazing as large herbivores are enticed into surrounding
burnt areas with resprouting grass. This mechanism depends
upon both grazer density and biomass growth rate such that
grazing lawns are less affected by landscape fire heterogeneity
where there is high grazing pressure or low rainfall/productivity or vice versa [51]. In contrast to the South African
dynamic, grazing lawns can become established and persist
in some Tasmanian tussock grasslands following fire and subsequent intense herbivory by marsupials [53] (electronic
supplementary material, figure S2).
The ecological interactions between small digging mammals and fire regimes also highlight the complex interplay
of fire in food webs inherent in our conceptualization of pyrodiversity. Animals that dig for their food, and so disturb and
turnover soil and generate micro-topographic variation in the
form of foraging pits, have a broad range of ecological effects
(electronic supplementary material, figure S3). These effects
include increasing rates of organic matter decomposition,
and thus nutrient cycling and soil formation, promoting
water infiltration into soil, and creating safe sites for seed
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169
grazing +
There is increasing recognition by anthropologists, environmental historians and pyrogeographers of the positive and
negative effects of human use of fire on ecosystems and biodiversity resulting in abrupt changes to pyrodiversity. For
example, palaeoecological reconstructions show interrelated
changes to fire regimes, vegetation type (including inferred
structure) and food webs following the human-induced
extinction of large body-mass animals in the Late Quaternary
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169
5. Fire management and pyrodiversity
[65,66]. These studies suggest that large browsing animals
created mosaics of open and closed vegetation, and that
when humans caused their extinction these mosaics were
lost due to accumulation of biomass that fuelled more
severe fires [58,67] (figure 3a). This model is supported by
evidence from the eastern USA, Australia and Madagascar,
showing that declines in dung fungal spores (a proxy for
megafaunal populations) were followed by an increase in
charcoal abundance (signalling increased and more extensive
landscape fire) and then a shift to more fire-tolerant
vegetation [68 –70].
In contrast to the ecological upheavals that followed the
megafaunal extinctions, skillful fire management by indigenous peoples in the recent past created landscape fire patterns
at a much finer grain than occurs under natural ignition
regimes [41,71– 76]. These studies suggest a wide variety of
utilitarian motives for the creation of fire mosaics, including
increasing the abundance of game using the principle of
pyric herbivory, reducing the risk of large uncontrolled fires
and generally making landscapes more suitable for humans
[41,50,77]. Irrespective of motivation, or even explicit awareness of the ecological outcomes, there is considerable
evidence that this activity promotes biodiversity [71,78]. For
instance, a heuristic simulation modelling exercise by Trauernicht et al. [41] compared mosaics of numerous small fires
with mosaics of few large fires (though occupying the same
total area), demonstrating that a finer-grained mosaic produces more patches of long-unburnt habitat, which provide
refugia for fire-sensitive plants and animals across the
landscape, such as the fire-sensitive obligate-seeding tree
(Callitris intratropica) that persists in very fire-prone Australian tropical savanna under the management of the Gunei
people. This Aboriginal group use fire for a wide variety of
purposes that indirectly benefit many species, although
their patch burning on drainage lines in the late dry season
is explicitly designed to promote local abundance of kangaroos (Macropus spp.) [79]; one elder explained that ‘fire is for
kangaroos’ [80]. Likewise, Codding et al. [81] found Macropus
robustus abundance was greatest in desert habitats actively
burnt by Aboriginal people, creating fine-grained
Perhaps the most striking example of human-induced
pyrodiversity is described by Bird et al. [82], who demonstrated that, paradoxically, the greatest abundance of
the large lizard Varanus gouldii occurs where Aboriginal
hunting is most intense (figure 5). They explained this as a
consequence of the fine-grained pyrodiversity created by
Aboriginal hunting fires, combined with human predation
of feral cats, and describe it as ‘dreamtime logic’, where fire
management improved habitats for key harvested animal
species. Bird et al. [83] suggest that Aboriginal hunters
should be considered ‘trophic facilitators’ because of their creation of habitat mosaics that appear critical for the persistence
of small mammals. Another important effect of Aboriginal
patch burning is buffering against large fires driven by
inter-annual climate variability such as that related to the El
Niño Southern Oscillation [83]. Bird et al. [83] showed that
in the absence of patch burning, lightning-ignited fires are
orders of magnitude larger following seasons of high rainfall.
Such buffering is important in environments where wildlife
populations experience boom–bust cycles. In Australia, the
effect of inter-annual climate variability has been amplified
by the cessation of Aboriginal fire management in most
germination. Combined, these effects can increase ecosystemlevel diversity and productivity [55]. One of the best
examples of the coupling of digging animals with fire
regimes involves the spreading of spores from ectomycorrhizal fungi specialized for Eucalyptus host trees. Johnson [56]
found that sporocarp production was stimulated by fire,
and that this caused a localized increase in the abundance
of a mycophagous marsupial, the eastern bettong (Bettongia
gaimardi). These animals dispersed the spores of ectomycorrhizal fungi, thereby facilitating the establishment of the
mycorrhizal association in vegetation regenerating after fire.
Digging animals may also interact with landscape fires by
altering the amount and structure of fuel loads. For example,
Nugent et al. [57] provide evidence that the superb lyrebird
(Menura novaehollandiae), which forages by turning over
large quantities of litter in southeastern Australian Eucalyptus
forests, suppresses forest flammability by reducing connectivity of fine fuels and enhancing their decomposition.
Further, Nugent et al. [57] found that when these ecosystem
engineers are eliminated from severely burnt forests, there
is an increase in the risk of subsequent fires.
In Australia, the specialist fossorial (digger) guild has
suffered disproportionate extinction rates, raising concerns
that there will be significant ecological transformations associated with loss of critical links in food webs [55,58]. If extensive
fires remove ground cover, predation pressure on small mammals (such as diggers) may increase [59,60]. For example,
McGregor et al. [61] attached video cameras with global positioning systems to collars on feral cats in northern Australian
savannas and demonstrated sharp differences in hunting success (17% versus 70%) between micro-habitats with and
without the refugia provided by dense grass and rocky terrain.
High fire frequencies often disadvantage late-successional
tree species that produce large fruits, with direct and indirect
effects on frugivores driving pyrodiversity state change
(electronic supplementary material, figure S4). This is illustrated by Perry et al. [62], who described a suite of complex
interactions between novel fire regimes, the decline of indigenous frugivorous birds, invasive pyrophyllic plants and
exotic seed predators (rodents) in northern New Zealand, in
an environment where fire was exceptionally rare before
human colonization. In these landscapes, anthropogenic fire
has reduced forest to small remnant patches and succession
has been almost completely halted by a combination of
seed predation and lack of dispersal. This slowed succession
in turn makes the landscape more flammable for longer
periods and provides a window for fire-tolerant and fire-promoting invasive plants to capture recently disturbed sites and
increase flammability [63]. It seems likely that fire and exotic
seed predators interact to divert successional trajectories in
other Pacific islands (e.g. Hawaii [64]).
human burning
V. gouldii
density in burned
Figure 5. Conceptual model of the effect of indigenous fire management on
food-webs and the abundance of a key prey item, the monitor lizard Varanus
gouldii, in the Western Desert of Australia. Red and blue arrows show
negative and positive feedbacks/interactions, respectively. Adapted from
Bird et al. [82].
areas. The resultant larger fires, combined with introduced
prey (rabbits and black rats) and predators (cats and foxes)
that irrupt under wet La Niña conditions, may trigger extinction cascades due to hyper-predation and the loss of the
unburnt habitats critical for provision of food resources and
shelter during dry El Niño conditions [84] (electronic supplementary material, figure S5).
The decline of granivorous birds in northern Australian
savannas has been attributed, at least partly, to altered fire
regimes, and the loss of fine-grained Aboriginal fire mosaics
[85]. This hypothesis has been experimentally validated by a
landscape-scale intervention in northern Australia by Legge
et al. [86]. These authors demonstrated three granivorous
finches in northern Australia suffered physiological stress
under ‘extensive, intense fires, which homogenise the spatiotemporal variability’. Reduced fire frequency and increased
extent of relatively long-unburnt (more than three years) vegetation significantly improved the condition of these birds, as
the availability of grass seeds increased during the late dry and
wet seasons. The breakdown of Aboriginal fire mosaics has
also disadvantaged fruit trees and fruit-eating animals [87 –
89]. Such results provide support for management interventions such as burning in the early dry season when fuel
moistures limit the spatial extent and intensity of fires,
designed to increase fine-grained pyrodiversity in these
savanna landscapes [90].
An excellent example of how human actions can change
pyrodiversity both directly and indirectly concerns dry,
low-elevation western USA ponderosa pine forests, where
Martin & Sapsis [1] originally proposed the pyrodiversity –
biodiversity nexus. These forests are believed to have evolved
to tolerate frequent low-severity fires under a summer lightning fire regime [91]. Native American fire management
probably increased the frequency of fires, creating parklands
with a grassy understorey, through both patch burning and
harvesting of wood and other fuels around permanent settlements such as Pueblo [92]. European colonization in the late
eighteenth century disrupted indigenous fire management
and changed fuels through overgrazing and logging,
especially following the construction of railways in the
6. Conclusion
We define pyrodiversity as the outcome of complex interactions and feedbacks between fire regimes, biodiversity
and ecosystem effects (figure 1). This definition captures the
interplay between landscape patterns and ecological processes. We see parallels with the delineation of biodiversity,
which involves both enumeration of objects (e.g. genes,
populations, species, ecosystems) and processes that shape
these objects (e.g. natural selection, demography, population
dynamics). Our conceptualization of pyrodiversity situates
the fire regime concept in a trophic framework by extending
the notion that fire is a ‘global herbivore’ to it being a broadspectrum ‘ecological engineer’ with diverse trophic interactions, that in some cases has parallels with symbiosis and
coevolution. Foundation writings in ecosystem theory have
failed to adequately represent the trophic effects of fire.
Indeed, fire is typically treated as a simple limiting factor
along with soil nutrients [97]. The ‘thought experiment’ of
Bond et al. [98] of a ‘world without fire’ has catalysed much
recent activity showing how important fire can be in driving
global vegetation patterns [99,100]. Ecosystem modellers
have only recently begun to embrace the interactive effects
of landscape fire, especially feedbacks between the biota
and fire, in their thinking. However, ecosystem models
have begun to represent the interactive effects of herbivory
and fire [101,102], and fire behaviour models have started
to consider herbivory in shaping landscape fire [103]. Each
of these examples has taken very different approaches to
modelling the fire –herbivory interaction. Scheiter & Higgins
[104] found that fire, CO2 and herbivory interact strongly
to shape vegetation structure globally, whereas other studies
have suggested that the effect is far more localized [102,103].
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371: 20150169
V. gouldii
density in unburned
V. gouldii
predators (e.g. cats)
fire size
ninteenth century [93]. In order to reduce large uncontrolled
fires, a policy of total fire suppression was implemented in
the early twentieth century. Reduced fire activity lead to a
change in forest structure from open to closed understoreys
densely stocked with Pinus saplings, resulting in infrequent,
geographically large, high-severity crown fires that have
disadvantaged some components of biodiversity [94]. New
approaches to reduce the extent of these ‘megafires’ involve
ecological restoration of fire regimes, with interventions
including mechanical thinning of overstocked stands, and
in localized cases the use of herbivores to return these forests
to more open communities with a low-severity, surface fire
regime [95,96].
Ecological restoration of pyrodiversity requires more than
the reimposition of fire regimes if keystone taxa, such as herbivores that create grazing lawns, small digging animals that
drive nutrient cycling, frugivores that disperse seeds and predators to regulate herbivores have been eliminated. By the
same token, successful reintroduction of animal and plant
species requires careful consideration of the restoration of
appropriate fire (and other disturbance) regimes by manipulating fuel loads by harvesting fuels, clearing forests or
introducing plant species, influencing grazing and browsing
pressure, and active fire suppression [8]. Such ecological restoration programmes are increasingly important given the
influence of humans on ecosystems across the globe, including
disrupting fire regimes and altering food webs by deliberately
or accidentally creating novel ecological assemblages.
Authors’ contributions. D.M.J.S.B. conceived and drafted the manuscript;
G.L.W.P. and B.P.M. drew the figures; all authors critically reviewed
early versions of the manuscript and provided guidance for improvement. All authors gave final approval for publication.
Competing interests. We have no competing interests.
Funding. B.P.M. was supported by a fellowship from the Australian
7. Meeting discussion
Toddi Steelman (University of Saskatchewan, Canada). If
we need to manage for pyrodiverse patterns and processes,
which patterns and processes do we manage for given
Research Council (DE130100434). G.L.W.P. acknowledges the support of a University of Tasmania Visiting Scholar fellowship.
D.M.J.S.B., S.I.H. and C.N.J. received funding from the Australian
Research Council (DP160100748).
Acknowledgements. D.M.J.S.B. acknowledges the support of the Royal
Society London in the production of this paper.
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the current patterns and processes in existence? What is the
new goal?
D.M.J.S.B.: Understanding pyrodiversity as the emergent
property of the interactions between biodiversity, fire regimes
and ecological processes shapes the way we understand fire
management, land management and restoration ecology.
The question of management objectives, however, hinges on
values because pyrodiversity is an ecological state that is
neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. Given the stress on the Earth
system from anthropogenic impacts, particularly through climate change, declining biodiversity and disruption to ancient
traditions of fire management, there is a need to manipulate
pyrodiversity to achieve sustainable outcomes such as enhancing ecosystem services, reducing the risk of catastrophic fires
and maximizing biodiversity. This may be achieved through
the creation of novel ecosystems, ecological replacement of
extinct keystone species or restoration and maintenance of
historical fire regimes. Such interventions carry risk and
demand monitoring and adaptive management. Management that ignores pyrodiversity through a narrow fixation
on individual elements of fire regimes, specific biodiversity
components and ecological process is unlikely to result in
sustainable outcomes or meet management objectives.
However, given the nonlinear nature of the interactions and
feedbacks inherent in our conceptualization of pyrodiversity,
no single method of enquiry can be expected to disclose all of
the underlying controls. Rather, integrated research—using
ecological and historical narratives, statistical analysis, experimentation and modelling—is required to understand an
environmental modulator like landscape fire [11,15].
Our conceptualization of pyrodiversity emphasizes the
special ecological role played by humans—the only species
able to directly and deliberately manipulate landscape fires
through a variety of management actions [8]. This view
demands that scientists and managers understand and interrogate the feedbacks between fire, vegetation and animals.
Holistic studies, targeting trophic interactions and feedbacks,
are required and we recommend against over-reliance on
simple experimental or correlative study designs [11]. Such
reimagining and reframing of fire as a modulator of trophic
interactions opens up new ways of managing fire that involve
manipulating wildlife and vegetation as much as directly altering fuel loads and ignition rates. This reimagining includes
breaking the invasive grass–fire cycle using herbivores, replacing extinct megafauna to restore vegetation mosaics, and
sustaining frugivore populations by re-establishing fruit trees
in degraded habitats. Fundamentally, pyrodiversity shows
that humans are a central actor in a web of interactions with
fire, highlighting the wisdom in the adage that ‘fire is a good
servant and a bad master’.
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fire & fuels management
Frank K. Lake, Vita Wright, Penelope Morgan, Mary McFadzen,
Dave McWethy, and Camille Stevens-Rumann
Indigenous peoples’ detailed traditional knowledge about fire, although superficially referenced in various
writings, has not for the most part been analyzed in detail or simulated by resource managers, wildlife
biologists, and ecologists…. Instead, scientists have developed the principles and theories of fire ecology, fire
behavior and effects models, and concepts of conservation, wildlife management and ecosystem management
largely independent of native examples.
(Lewis and Anderson 2002, p. 4)
North American tribes have traditional knowledge about fire effects on ecosystems, habitats, and resources. For
millennia, tribes have used fire to promote valued resources. Sharing our collective understanding of fire, derived
from traditional and western knowledge systems, can benefit landscapes and people. We organized two
workshops to investigate how traditional and western knowledge can be used to enhance wildland fire and fuels
management and research. We engaged tribal members, managers, and researchers to formulate solutions
regarding the main topics identified as important to tribal and other land managers: cross-jurisdictional work,
fuels reduction strategies, and wildland fire management and research involving traditional knowledge. A key
conclusion from the workshops is that successful management of wildland fire and fuels requires collaborative
partnerships that share traditional and western fire knowledge through culturally sensitive consultation,
coordination, and communication for building trust. We present a framework for developing these partnerships
based on workshop discussions.
Keywords: wildland fire, fuels reduction, American Indians, cross-jurisdiction, communication
ire is a key ecological process influencing the distribution, structure,
and function of many biomes worldwide (Bond and Keely 2005, Bowman et al.
2009). In North America, landscape fire effects are critical to many tribal cultures.
Most tribes have traditional knowledge
(TK) about how fire affects ecosystems, habitats, and resources (Lewis 1993, Bowman
et al. 2009, 2011, Trosper et al. 2012,
Welch 2012, Huffman 2013). Many tribes
used fire to improve the quantity, quality,
and functionality of valued resources and
habitats, but the extent of fire use varied
across North America (Stewart 2002). Some
tribes used fire extensively and purposively,
as American Indian men and women carefully planned and conducted burns (prescribed) for different reasons, at different locations, in different seasons, and at different
frequencies (Stewart 2002, Williams 2002,
Eriksen and Hankins 2014). Tribes used fire
associated with hunting, crop improvement,
pest control, habitat diversity, range management, fireproofing, fuelwood, travel
route maintenance, riparian area clearing,
growth of basket materials, communication,
and ceremonies (Stewart 2002, Williams
2002, Trauernicht et al. 2015). Huffman
(2013) found that TK included fire effects
on fungi, plants, and animals; timing of fire
relative to plant phenology and season; fuel
moisture; time since previous fire (and severity); and control of fire behavior and spread.
To promote desired resources, tribes influenced fire regimes by affecting when,
where, and how fires burned. These cultural
fire regimes (Bonnicksen et al. 1999, Lewis
and Anderson 2002) reflected the composition, structure, fuel loading, and characteristics of habitats and cultural resources
(Timmons et al. 2012, Welch 2012). Cultural fire regimes, associated with human ignitions and management of fuels, often differed from natural fire regimes in (1)
seasonality of burning, (2) frequency of fire,
(3) fire intensity and effects, (4) sites burned
or protected, and (5) strategic application of
ignitions given conditions that promoted
desired fire behavior and effects (Bonnicksen
et al. 1999, Lake 2007). Whereas many
tribal communities desire to apply TK and
cultural burning with contemporary wildland fire and resource management, a number of factors limit application of this knowledge today (Rasmussen et al. 2007, Eriksen
and Hankins 2014, Norgaard 2014). We
summarize themes that emerged during two
workshops within the context of published
Received August 11, 2016; accepted March 16, 2017; published online April 20, 2017.
Affiliations: Frank K. Lake (, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Fire and Fuels Program, USDA Forest Service, Redding, CA. Vita Wright
(, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service. Penelope Morgan (, University of Idaho. Mary McFadzen
(, Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Montana Institute on Ecosystems – MSU. Dave McWethy
(, Montana State University. Camille Stevens-Rumann (, University of Idaho and Colorado State University.
Journal of Forestry • September 2017
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Returning Fire to the Land: Celebrating
Traditional Knowledge and Fire
literature to highlight challenges and solutions for using TK and western knowledge
(WK) approaches to wildland fire, fuels, and
natural and cultural resource management.
We conclude with a framework for applying
TK to fire management and research.
Journal of Forestry • September 2017
Figure 1. Celebrating Traditional Knowledge and Fire Workshop 2012. Small groups of
tribal elders, community members, tribal forest managers, and agency managers discuss
challenges and solutions to cross-jurisdictional management of cultural and ecological
resources. (Courtesy of Vita Wright, USDA Forest Service.)
shop. Workshop details and related resources are available.1 Unless otherwise
noted, we report results for the two workshops combined as the first workshop informed the second. In reporting these
themes, we also draw on findings from the
literature broadly and use examples from the
Northern Rockies and Pacific West regions
of the United States.
Applications of TK and WK in Fire
TK is differentiated from traditional
ecological knowledge (Mason et al. 2012,
Huffman 2013) in that it is more inclusive
of tribal beliefs, philosophies, and practices
that integrate metaphysical and biophysical
ways of knowing (Eriksen and Hankins
2014, Norgaard 2014). TK is the cumulative collective understanding derived from
individuals and communities about ecological processes, natural resources, and sociocultural adaptive responses to the environment. As local and place-based knowledge,
TK guides the holistic approach of tribal
people when burning and performing subsequent subsistence or stewardship practices
(Anderson 2006). TK informs purposeful
application of fire for specific reasons by
Management and Policy Implications
Many tribes across North America used fire as a tool to perpetuate habitats and resources that sustained
their cultures, economies, traditions, and livelihoods. Tribal uses and knowledge of wildland fire have
decreased as a result of fire suppression policy and management decisions that have limited the use of
fire to manage landscapes. The federal government has a trust responsibility to American Indian tribes.
This trust responsibility extends to federal agency and tribal governance for management of natural and
cultural resources. Many tribes seek to use traditional burning in a modern context to achieve multiple
resource objectives including reducing hazardous fuels and reintroducing fire into fire-adapted ecosystems
to protect life, property, and valued resources. Scientists and managers can learn about fire ecology and
effects from tribal Traditional Knowledge. We provide a framework for improving fire management and
research based on traditional and Western Knowledge systems. This includes strategies for hazardous fuel
reduction and the reintroduction of fire in the context of tribal community values, cultural revitalization,
and collaborative landscape restoration efforts. The objectives of this framework are to strengthen
communication, developing trust and partnerships among managers, scientists, and tribal members.
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Understanding Challenges to the Use
of TK with Fire Management and
We held two workshops to engage a diverse community of tribal and nontribal
managers, scientists, and students. The first
workshop, held in Polson, Montana in
2012, was organized with the Confederated
Salish and Kootenai Tribes Forestry Department following the recommendations by
Mason et al. (2012, p. 192), to “bring keepers of TK together with representatives of
management entities, practitioners, and academic and research institutions.” Tribal elders welcomed and spoke to workshop participants during a field trip. Sixty-three
people participated in workshop activities.
During breakout sessions, participants discussed challenges to using TK regarding key
topics: (1) cross-jurisdictional management,
(2) fuels reduction strategies, (3) wildfire
management, and (4) research (Figure 1).
We organized a second workshop, in conjunction with the Large Wildland Fires conference in Missoula, Montana in 2014, to
validate and deepen our understanding of
workshop themes. The co-leaders of the second workshop, a subset of the first workshop’s leaders, organized discussion topics
and questions around themes documented
during the first workshop into the following
topics: communication, understanding, and
trust; fuels reduction and prescribed fire;
and wildfire. Thirty people affiliated with
tribes, universities, agencies, and forestry or
fire-associated organizations from around
the world participated, about 10 of whom
had participated in the first workshop. Although there was some overlap in participants, the second workshop had a greater
diversity of participants as part of an international conference. Each topic session in
both workshops was facilitated by one or
two leaders, and key points were captured
with flip charts and hand-written and computer-typed notes. Although we did not
conduct a formal analysis, we report on recurring and salient (Buetow 2010) discussion topics raised across workshops and
across discussion groups within each work-
and other land uses (Timmons et al. 2012).
Whereas vegetation biomass is fuel for fires,
plants are also food, medicine, material, and
habitat for animals and people. Many prescribed burning and fuels reduction assessments do not account for the cultural role of
plants. For example, the Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)2 synthesizes WK
about how plants respond to fire. TK about
use of fire to promote or inhibit plants is still
predominantly in the minds of tribal elders;
however, efforts to capture this knowledge
are growing. For example, the Fire on the
Land fire history project documents elder
knowledge about the use of fire as a land
management tool.3
There are many reasons why land managers may want to work with tribal governments and communities to document historical landscape changes resulting from fire
suppression and/or the removal of indigenous land use and occupancy (Kimmerer
and Lake 2001, Anderson and Barbour
2003, Lake 2013). Many areas today, often
viewed by the public as natural or unmanaged, including designated protected areas,
were historically burned or used by tribal
peoples (Moon-Stumpff 2000, Ratner and
Holen 2007, Watson et al. 2011). Land
within and beyond current tribal reservation
boundaries is still used for tribal subsistence
activities and possesses other cultural values.
A better understanding of cultural fire regimes and TK associated with specific plant
communities is advised for landscape-level
fire management (Ray et al. 2012, Huffman
2013, Lake and Long 2014, Long et al.
2015). Restoring heterogeneity and fostering resilience across landscapes can support
ecocultural revitalization (Hessburg et al.
2015, Trauernicht et al. 2015, Tripp 2015)
as well as reduce fire hazard, reintroduce fire
for ecological benefits, and achieve sociocultural objectives (McCaffrey et al. 2013).
Increased value in resources (e.g., timber,
recreation, rural residences, and wildlife
habitat) may also warrant the exclusion of
fire or managing for longer fire frequencies
in locations formally burned frequently by
tribes (Rasmussen et al. 2007, Watson et al.
2009, Abt et al. 2015, Long et al. 2015).
Results and Discussion
Our workshops provided opportunities
for cross-cultural dialogue on the challenges
of and potential solutions for using TK and
WK. Challenges are not limited to the
Northern Rockies and Pacific West regions
of the United States (Bowman et al. 2009,
Trosper et al. 2012, Huffman 2013, McCaffrey et al. 2013). However, TK of fire
was historically strong here, and there is momentum for applying it to modern wildland
fire and resource management (Gilles 2017,
Rasmussen et al. 2007). Through self-determination and interactions with government
fire managers, tribes in these regions are actively engaged in natural resource management on reservations and adjacent lands
(Gordon et al. 2013). This tribal involvement is being scaled up to landscape collaborative restoration projects in several regions
of the western United States (Donoghue
et al. 2010, Goldstein et al. 2010, Tripp
2015). Use of TK within existing landscape
restoration programs and projects is needed.
We describe the main topics around which
workshops were organized and highlight
cross-cutting themes evident across discussion topics and workshops.
Cross-Jurisdictional Work and Cultural
Cross-jurisdictional work is defined
here as fuels reduction and wildland fire
planning and implementation across multiple land ownerships in a culturally sensitive
manner that achieves cultural and ecological
objectives at meaningful scales. Cross-jurisdictional planning is essential to the protection of both living and nonliving cultural
resources during fuels reduction and wildland fire activities (Timmons et al. 2012,
Welch 2012). Jurisdictions may include
tribal, federal, state, and local management
entities with various missions and responsibilities. Jurisdiction within organizations is
often allotted across departments (e.g.,
forestry, fire, natural resources, heritage, and
culture). In addition to coordination by
managers within and across agencies, planning efforts benefit from input from tribal
communities both on and off reservations
(Jurney et al. 2017). Workshop participants
focused on cultural resources as a main component of cross-jurisdictional work.
Cultural resources are legally protected
by a suite of treaties, laws, executive orders,
and regulations (Welch 2012). However,
the resources culturally important to
many tribes often include living resources:
habitats, plants, animals, and fungi. These
living cultural resources can be inadvertently disturbed by field personnel, fire
crews, and recreationists. Workshop participants discussed the benefits and drawbacks of disclosing the location of cultural
resources to protect them.
Journal of Forestry • September 2017
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tribes (Lewis and Anderson 2002).
Knowledge of fire behavior and effects on
valued habitats and natural and cultural resources is often acquired during subsistence
activities, stewardship practices, and religious functions. There is increasing academic interest in TK related to fire ecology
and effects (Boyd 1999, Anderson 2006,
Mason et al. 2012, Huffman 2013).
In contrast, WK is collective understanding and documentation of natural phenomena that result from observation, experimental manipulations, or modeling. WK
strives to be objective, to discriminate
among or between variables, to test hypotheses, to minimize assumptions, to identify
causal factors, and to consider fire as a physical phenomenon affecting biological and
socioeconomic relationships (Conedera
et al. 2009). TK and WK perspectives on fire
regimes and fire effects on resources are often congruent and complementary on a
broad scale (Stewart 2002), but when applied locally can lead to different objectives
and sometimes conflicting approaches to
managing fire (Conedera et al. 2009, Whitlock et al. 2010, Lake 2013, Crawford et al.
2015). TK and WK of fire regimes and effects are learned, experienced, understood,
and transmitted with different methods, institutions, and educational systems (Mason
et al. 2012, Trosper et al. 2012, Huffman
2013, Bussey et al. 2016). Tribal communities
are pursuing complementary applications of
both TK and WK into their wildland fire and
landscape restoration management and research efforts (Charnley et al. 2007, Ray et al.
2012, Gordon et al. 2013, Tripp 2015, Bussey
et al. 2016).
TK and WK are two different yet complementary ways of knowing (Mason et al.
2012, Bussey et al. 2016). Using TK with
WK can more fully inform fire management
to reduce fire risk and hazard, reintroduce
fire, and maintain cultural landscapes (Mason et al. 2012, Huffman 2013). Resource
managers and local communities are currently grappling with how to successfully
implement hazardous fuel treatments to
lessen the degree to which large wildfires
threaten life, property, and valued resources
(Watson et al. 2009, Collins et al. 2010, McCaffrey et al. 2013, Hessburg et al. 2015).
Emphasis has been on the wildland-urban
interface (WUI), but culturally valued resources beyond the WUI are also affected by
fires, particularly those where vegetation
composition and structure have greatly
changed because of the altered fire regimes
Table 1. Framework for applying TK and WK in wildland fire and fuels management and research.
Wildland fire and fuels
1. Sources of TK
Literature based or communication with tribes
and tribal organizations.
2. Tribal outreach
Request of tribal government, cultural
committee, or members for incorporation of
applicable TK.
3. Tribal consultation
management or research issues and actions of
4. Building trust
Tribal identification, transfer, and
authorization of TK use.
5. Active learning for TK and WK
Cross-cultural appreciation of TK used with
management actions and research methods.
Publications and presentations of fire effects on
cultural resources, traditional fire
knowledge, and practices.
Contact tribes about planning and
management strategies, short- and long-term
project objectives.
Conduct literature review. Ethnographic materials
at universities, agencies, or tribal archives.
Consult with tribal government, departments,
or committees for proposed actions
(emergency or NEPA).
Request input from tribal councils, departments,
and committees to develop preliminary research
questions and methods.
Develop or renew agency-tribe fire
management agreement. Identify designated
tribal representatives and heritage advisors.
Workforce education of management effects
on heritage/cultural resources and tribal
values. TK informs NEPA and WFDSS
Tribes review proposed management
treatments or incident objectives and
identify missing values or issues.
Interdisciplinary or Incident Command Team
works with tribal staff to identify values at
risk and develop mitigation actions.
Obtain formal agreements, permission or
authorization of TK use: IRB, OMB, and tribal
Researcher and student education on tribal TK,
fire use, and fire effects through academic
courses, workshops and field trips.
9. Tribal review
Tribal approval and oversight of project
implementation and results.
Tribal partnerships using TK to guide fuels
treatments, fire operations and mitigation
Tribes review project implementation or fire
management and modify actions for
adaptive management.
10. Reporting
Share and celebrate accomplishments and
lessons learned from TK and WK.
Identify postfire actions: BAER practices,
share/reflect on lessons learned from After
Action Review.
TK collaboratively guides experimental methods,
study sites, treatments, indicators, or variables
of research interest developed.
Tribes review analysis results, discussion, and
recommendations for management or
additional research. Clarify TK and data
Best available science is developed. Publications
and presentations co-authored with tribes and
tribal organizations.
6. Tribal oversight
Coordination and communication with tribes
on planning and implementation of projects.
7. Active listening and sharing
TK informs workforce, treatment
implementation, mitigation activities or
research practices.
8. Applying TK with WK
Tribal participation and stewardship activities.
Contact tribes and tribal organizations for
researchable questions of interest and science
support needs.
Tribes approve research methods, metrics used,
and analysis planned, identifying specific values
or addressing issues of concern.
Tribal members/youth assist researchers. Collect
data with tribal members. Conduct new
interviews if needed.
BAER, burned area emergency response; IRB, institutional review board; NEPA, National Environmental Protection Act; OMB, Office of Management and Budget; TK, traditional knowledge;
WFDSS, Wildland Fire Decision Support System; WK, western knowledge.
During our workshops, participants
discussed the tradeoffs of informing fire personnel of cultural resource locations. Sacred
sites, gathering areas, rock art, scarred trees,
traditional travel routes, and other cultural
resources can be damaged by wildland fire
and fuels activities (Welch 2012). Such
damage is often irreparable, making it imperative that potential impacts are assessed
before fire or fuels treatments. Workshop
participants recommended involving tribes
in the development of collaborative management plans (Watson et al. 2009). For example, participatory geographic information
systems (GIS) can be used to facilitate collaboration without disclosing resource locations (McBride et al. 2017). Participants
noted that both interdepartmental cooperation and interagency cooperation are critical
to protecting cultural resources in working
across jurisdictions to assess and avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts. Partnerships can
promote synergy, and more work can be
Journal of Forestry • September 2017
completed by combining financial and intellectual resources.
For all topics, workshop participants
concluded that building and improving
communication and relationships between
tribes and federal agencies, between disciplines within agencies, and between tribal
land managers and tribal members are critical issues that need to be addressed for successful cross-jurisdictional fire and fuels
management (Jurney et al. 2017). Experiences of tribal and fire managers highlight
that effective communication depends on
active listening, transparency, accountability, and trust and requires an understanding
of the culture and goals of those affected by
management decisions and actions (White
and McDowell 2009, Abt et al. 2015) (Table 1). Workshop participants emphasized
that consulting with tribal elders and other
key community members during planning
and implementation of land management
activities and fire use is essential to effective
cross-jurisdictional management (Mason
et al. 2012, Jurney et al. 2017). Managers
can increase their effectiveness in identifying
and understanding cultural resources and
tribal values relevant to shared goals (Welch
2012, Lake and Long 2014). Likewise, tribal
members can increase understanding by
communicating their needs and desires to
tribal and agency managers. Improved communication in consultation and project
planning can lead to strategies for minimizing or mitigating impacts on tribally valued
resources before fuel treatments and wildfires occur (Rasmussen et al. 2007, Lake
2011, Timmons et al. 2012, Welch 2012,
Norgaard 2014).
Fuels Reduction Strategies
Fuel treatments can facilitate prescribed
fire and future management of wildfires for
resource benefits (Resource Innovations
2006, Watson et al. 2009, Collins et al.
2010, Timmons et al. 2012, Welch 2012,
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Key elements
Wildland Fire Management (Planned
and Unplanned Ignitions)
Prescribed fire plays an important role
in maintaining traditional lifeways (Lake
and Long 2014, Tripp 2015), while increasing landscape resilience and heterogeneity
(Yapp et al. 2010, Moritz et al. 2011, Hessburg et al. 2015). Prescribed fire is defined as
“any fire intentionally ignited by management actions in accordance with applicable
laws, policies, and regulations to meet specific objectives” (National Wildfire Coordination Group [NWCG] 2015). Workshop
participants and session facilitators noted
that many prescribed fires are designed without addressing the need to maintain culturally important species, habitats, places, and
traditions, even when these outcomes could
be complementary with other resource objectives. Workshop participants, reiterating
findings in the literature, identified obstacles
to the use of prescribed fire to meet cultural
and land management goals. These include
lack of funding to support prescribed fire for
purposes other than fuels management, administrative and jurisdictional challenges to
using prescribed fire across landscapes with
mixed land management (e.g., WUI; federal, state, private, and tribal lands; and federal and tribal wilderness), conflict with policies (e.g., Clean Air Act, Endangered
Species Act, and fire restrictions and burn
bans), loss of knowledge regarding traditional uses of fire, concerns related to tribal
intellectual property rights and compensation (CTWK 2014), and the use of fire to
address climate change (Armatas et al. 2016,
Gilles 2017).
Ultimately, tribal communities, managers, and scientists must learn from each
other to move forward collaboratively to
better apply prescribed fires in ways that
meet multiple objectives (Gilles 2017).
Tribal practitioners and fire managers can
explore why, when, how, where, and which
ignition strategies to use (Huffman 2013) to
accomplish fire use objectives given sociocultural values and resource conditions
(Timmons et al. 2012, Lake and Long
2014). Thoughtful consideration of how
traditional fire use can be employed on the
landscape promises to provide new strategies
for meeting both specific cultural and broad
land-use goals (Watson et al. 2009, Tripp
2015). With proper use, prescribed fires can
promote culturally important species, habitats, and traditions and enhance ecosystem
function while also reducing wildland fire
risk and hazard (Huffman 2013, Lake and
Long 2014, Gilles 2017).
Many tribes desire burning for cultural
purposes, but workshop participants explained that this is often restricted because of
land tenure, competing internal and external societal values (e.g., fear of wildfire, air
quality, and urbanization), and capacity.
Some tribal members, like the general public, may also have an aversion to wildland
fires. Younger generations have been influenced by societal fear of fire, leading to a
culture of fire suppression and unease about
using fire (Carroll et al. 2010, Norgaard
2014, Abt et al. 2015). However, some public and tribal land managers have a renewed
interest in using prescribed fire to reduce
hazardous fuels and mitigate the impact of
climate change and longer fire seasons
(Westerling et al. 2006, Littell et al. 2009,
Stavros et al. 2014, Gilles 2017). WK and
TK can be integrated during planning to address climate change and other challenges.
For example, in the Pacific Northwest and
California, many tribes place higher value
on culturally significant trees (e.g., pines and
oaks) that are fire-adapted and drought-tolerant, promoting these species in landscape
restoration strategies (see Voggesser et al.
2013). Fire and fuels management decisions
that favor fire-adapted species can increase
the resilience of valued habitats and associated resources to fires.
Wildfire is defined as “an unplanned,
unwanted wildland fire including unauthorized human-caused fires, escaped wildland
fire use events, escaped prescribed fire projects and all other wildland fires where the
objective is to put the fire out” (NWCG
2015). This is in contrast to “management
by objectives,” which includes intentionally
identifying multiple objectives for unplanned fires and selecting appropriate
strategies and tactics to achieve objectives
(NWCG 2015). On American Indian reservations and in the ancestral territories of
tribes, the objectives and desired management strategies of a wildfire may be to manage for resources or other cultural benefits
while using point protection strategies to
protect areas of concern rather than aggressively suppressing wildfire (Abt et al. 2015).
Workshop participants identified their
key topics regarding wildfires and fires managed to meet objectives on tribal lands: communication, planning, education, and funding to support wildland fire management.
An overarching workshop theme was that
the main challenges regarding wildfires on
tribal lands stem from the lack of communication or miscommunication between
managers and local communities, between
agencies, and between agencies and tribes
(White and McDowell 2009, Ray et al.
2012, Bussey et al. 2016). Participants noted
that using technical jargon when discussing
wildfire suppression tactics with tribal community members can often lead to misunderstanding and a shutdown in communication. Communities may view the value of a
wildfire versus risk trade-off differently from
the managers on teams charged with managing fires. Participants suggested developing
strategies and approaches that improve lines
of communication between wildfire incident managers, agency decisionmakers, and
tribes (White and McDowell 2009).
Misunderstanding can arise during
management of fires when the cultural importance of a particular value or threatened
at-risk resource is conveyed (White and McDowell 2009, Watson et al. 2009). This may
be best addressed in advance through the
government-to-government consultation
processes and identification of site-specific
sensitive data pertaining to the fire. Tribes
may not want to share all the information
about the importance of an area threatened
by wildfire. Efforts are needed to prevent or
mitigate adverse impacts to tribal cultural
resources, such as sacred sites, where fire
suppression tactics may have undesirable
impacts (Welch 2012). Allowing wildfire to
burn through these areas or assigning local
tribal staff to work on point protection or
mitigation treatments are options to consider (Lake 2011). Further, allowing lightning-caused fires to spread within tribal ancestral territorial or within reservation
boundaries, even if other agencies are engagJournal of Forestry • September 2017
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Tripp 2015). Fuel treatments are often focused around residential areas (WUI), ignoring the important ecological role that
fires have in promoting culturally important
plants, habitats, and tribal traditions across
the broader landscape (Stewart 2002, Eriksen and Hankins 2014, Lake and Long
2014). Workshop participants emphasized
that it is important to think beyond hazardous fuels reduction and expand use of such
treatments to meet ecological and cultural
objectives (Lake and Long 2014, McCaffrey
et al. 2013). Workshop participants concluded that it is important to clarify how
fuels reduction strategies can be used to promote cultural resources while also meeting
goals for reducing the undesirable impacts of
large, intense wildfires.
Journal of Forestry • September 2017
sions on strategically placed fuel reduction
treatments that facilitate the use of wildland
fire around culturally sensitive areas or communities (Taber et al. 2013) could foster
communication among agencies with adjacent jurisdictions. This could improve communication effectiveness when fire managers are on a wildfire within American Indian
lands or within a tribe’s ancestral territory
(White and McDowell 2009).
Funding was identified as a fire management limitation. Workshop participants
concluded that more funding is needed to
support culturally prescribed fire for traditional purposes or cultural resources enhancement. Currently, funding for hazardous fuels and prescribed fire for tribally
important lands (via Department of Interior
Bureau of Indian Affairs [DOI-BIA]) primarily is associated with congressional allocations to federal agency budgets. Furthermore, federal fire policies influence the
appropriation of funding to specific hazardous fuels reduction, geographic regions, and
particular goals (e.g., National Fire Plan
2000, Healthy Forest Restoration Act 2005
for Wildland-Urban Interface, and The National Strategy 2014) for landscapes, communities, and wildfire response. The cost of
wildfire suppression and management has
increased, requiring more expenditures from
federal budgets (e.g., Federal Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act
2009, amended 2012). Recently, federal
agencies have pursued ways to fund integrated fuels, wildland fire, and landscape restoration efforts (Title IV of the Omnibus
Public Land Management Act of 2009).
Federal funding to tribal programs, such as
the DOI-BIA’s Reserved Treaty Rights
Lands Program, are intended to support
tribal engagement for wildland fire management in ancestral lands across all jurisdictions.4 However, strategies are needed to
help tribes apply for funding and encourage
fire management entities to invest in prescribed fire for tribal cultural resources.
Use of TK and WK in Research
Exploring and exchanging information
from TK and WK can be challenging, but
when achieved, extremely rewarding. Workshop participants and session facilitators
identified several issues that pose difficulties
for successful exchange and sharing of TK
and WK to occur. First are communication
challenges between researchers and the
tribes, including sharing of TK from tribal
elders with managers and researchers while
protecting sensitive information and formulating data sharing and ownership agreements (White and McDowell 2009, Beatty
and Leighton 2012). Where incorporation
of TK and WK is a shared goal, the synergy
can be effective (Huffman 2013), but, as
workshop participants explained, only if
there is mutual trust and respect built on
open communication (Kimmerer and Lake
2001, Mason et al. 2012, Bussey et al.
2016). Second, best practices for investigating and sharing TK are clearly needed
(Charnley et al. 2007). Inclusion of all relevant stakeholders and disclosure on the potential implications of the research and data
ownership and access can facilitate more respectful and appropriate methods. Third,
research inquisitiveness can harm relationships if researchers inadvertently offend
tribal members with their questions and assumptions. Addressing these and other concerns will require effective communication,
including shared and open discussion about
the mutual goals and concerns (Beatty and
Leighton 2012).
Despite challenges, fostering use of
both TK and WK in fire research is critically
important (Wells 2014). Workshop participants recommended that funding for fire research be focused on addressing challenges
in the application of TK outlined above
(Charnley et al. 2007, McCaffrey et al.
2013). For such efforts to be effective, questions of importance to the tribes can be discussed in ways that are relevant while also
being respectful and sensitive to TK and
tribal cultures. These efforts will foster
knowledge sharing, collaborative research,
and the production of science useful to all
partners (Beatty and Leighton 2012, Bussey
et al. 2016).
One of the greatest challenges to drawing research conclusions is that knowledge is
local, holding it is a responsibility, and it
must reflect the history and sustainability of
place and culture (Ratner and Holen 2007).
Learning sessions for managers have been
most successful when tribal members leading the sessions have established working relationships and some level of trust with the
participants (Mason et al. 2012). Many
tribal elders are eager to share their TK, especially to mentor future tribal generations,
but this requires some commitment of the
recipients to respect this information
(Bussey et al. 2016). Likewise, researchers
are often motivated to share knowledge
through publications and presentations to
support management and inform policy de-
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ing in fire suppression tactics, may be desirable and should be considered by decisionmakers (Watson et al. 2009, White and
McDowell 2009).
Planning efforts such as formal consultation with tribes on projects are an opportunity to convey managers’…

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