Fire History of Mt. Constitution

By examining the changes in wildfire and vegetation, researchers are able to learn more about the climate history of Mt. Constitution.

By examining the fire history of an ecosystem, researchers can look into the past and see how vegetation and climate have changed over time.

When you think of a wildfire, the images that come to mind are probably not painting the fire in a positive light. Despite this, naturally occurring wildfires have always been essential to ecosystem function and some species even depend on fire during their life cycle. Because of this, it is important to consider how fire has played an ecosystem role in an area in the past. The research on fire history provides insight into how fire has played a role in the temporal and spatial framework of an ecosystem overtime meaning the species present, the diversity of those species, the spacing and crowding of species, and more. Data on fire history can be collected from historical records, fire-scar tree rings, forest stand age, and charcoal and pollen located in sediment. This fire history can reveal previously unknown information on the climate, vegetation, and fire occurrence in several millennia back.

In Moran State Park, the fire history has been traced back 7600 years and allows researchers to see how the ecosystem and vegetation on Mt. Constitution has changed over all those years. Research from the fire history study found that the current forests are mainly dominated by Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and lodgepole pine and that fires occur every 100 to 200 years. The study examined the vegetation’s past by sampling pollen and spore percentages from small-hollow sediment cores and comparing the fossil samples to modern samples. The study concluded that over the past 6000-7000 years, there has not been any drastic changes to the vegetation and that regional climate changes were too minor to cause large-scale changes.

Though the naked eye may not be able to tell what the fire history of Mt. Constitution is, anyone who walks the trails of Moran can see the fire scars some trees carry. These charred trees that stand today have become a very important part of the fire history as some day, possibly in another thousand years, their rings will provide an important look into the past. Human development and fire suppression has created an environment where wildfires are unable to occur naturally and when they do, there is a great societal loss. Despite this, fire can bring life and provides many ecosystems with the rebirth it relies on to prosper. In this instance, fire is used as a tool to measure climate change as increased fires or changes in vegetation can indicate major changes in climate. This area of study will continue to be important as climate science becomes more prevalent and looking into the past will be one of the ways to protect our future.