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Research article2008Peer reviewedOpen access

Potentials and limitations for human control over historic fire regimes in the boreal forest

Granström, Anders; Niklasson, Mats


Fire, being both a natural and cultural phenomenon, presents problems in disentangling the historical effect of humans from that of climate change. Here, we investigate the potential impact of humans on boreal fire regimes from a perspective of fuels, ignitions and culture. Two ways for a low technology culture to impact the fire regime are as follows: (i) by altering the number of ignitions and their spatial distribution and timing and (ii) by hindering fire spread. Different cultures should be expected to have quite different impacts on the fire regimes. In northern Fennoscandia, there is evidence for fire regime changes associated with the following: a reindeer herding culture associated with few ignitions above the natural; an era of cattle husbandry with dramatically increased ignitions and somewhat higher fire frequency; and a timber exploitation era with decreasing fire sizes and diminishing fire frequency. In other regions of the boreal zone, such schemes can look quite different, but we suggest that a close look at the resource extraction and land use of different cultures should be part of any analysis of past fire regimes.


anthropogenic fire; fire regimes; circumboreal; fire management; culture

Published in

Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
2008, Volume: 363, number: 1501, pages: 2353-2358