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Postglacial fire, vegetation, and climate history in the Clearwater Range, Northern Idaho, USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Andrea Brunelle
University of Oregon, Department of Geography, 1251 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA
Cathy Whitlock
University of Oregon, Department of Geography, 1251 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA


The environmental history of the Northern Rocky Mountains was reconstructed using lake sediments from Burnt Knob Lake, Idaho, and comparing the results with those from other previously published sites in the region to understand how vegetation and fire regimes responded to large-scale climate changes during the Holocene. Vegetation reconstructions indicate parkland or alpine meadow at the end of the glacial period indicating cold-dry conditions. From 14,000 to 12,000 cal yr B.P., abundant Pinus pollen suggests warmer, moister conditions than the previous period. Most sites record the development of a forest with Pseudotsuga ca. 9500 cal yr B.P. indicating warm dry climate coincident with the summer insolation maximum. As the amplification of the seasonal cycle of insolation waned during the middle Holocene, Pseudotsuga was replaced by Pinus and Abies suggesting cool, moist conditions. The fire reconstructions show less synchroneity. In general, the sites west of the continental divide display a fire-frequency maximum around 12,000–8000 cal yr B.P., which coincides with the interval of high summer insolation and stronger-than-present subtropical high. The sites on the east side of the continental divide have the highest fire frequency ca. 6000–3500 cal yr B.P. and may be responding to a decrease in summer precipitation as monsoonal circulation weakened in the middle and late Holocene. This study demonstrated that the fire frequency of the last two decades does not exceed the historical range of variability in that periods of even higher-than-present fire frequency occurred in the past.

Research Article
University of Washington

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