Alterations to fire regimes have resulted in many changes to the biological communities including changes in vegetation composition and structure and vegetation type conversions or ecosystem migrations. This text details many of these changes, explains how fire has changed as an ecosystem process, and provides insights for determining the direction that the changes might take in the future. As with introductory treatments of any of the elements of natural ecosystems, we are prone to generalization, simplification, and standardization of processes and interactions that are inherently complex. In describing fire effects and regimes we are by necessity guilty of continuing that trend toward simplification. However, we hope that by communicating the concepts of the role that fire plays as a dynamic ecological process, we can communicate the importance of fire’s role in defining what we know as California ecosystems.
This book is intended for use both as a text for learning and teaching the basics of fire ecology and as a reference book on fire in California ecosystems. It synthesizes and expands upon our knowledge of fire as an ecological process and facilitates a better understanding of the complex and dynamic interactions between fire and the other physical and biological components of California ecosystems. Modern western society has tended to view ecosystems within narrowly defined ranges of time and space. Focused studies of ecosystems from the standpoint of individual species within their habitats, individual stands of trees, populations, plant communities, fire events, or watersheds allow us to know specific mechanics of ecosystems but, by nature, do not help us develop a broad view of large dynamic landscapes. On the other hand, studies of broad spatial or temporal application are usually quite limited in their application to specific examples. Understanding fire in ecosystems requires us to greatly expand our spatial and temporal context to include both discrete fire events that occur on finite landscapes and complex multi-scale burning patterns and processes that are dynamic on large landscapes. We intend this text to present an integrated view of fire in California ecosystems from as wide a spectrum of temporal and spatial scales as possible.
This text is divided into three parts. Part I is an introduction to the study of fire ecology that is intended for use in teaching the basics of fire ecology. It includes overviews of fire in California, fire as a physical process, fire regimes, and interactions of fire with the biological and physical components of the environment. Part II is a treatment of the history, ecology, and management of fire by bioregions and is intended for use as a reference and for teaching fire ecology within the various bioregions within California. Part III is a treatment of fire management issues and is intended for use as a reference and for teaching fire management from a historical, policy, and issue perspective.
Obviously, a book such as this is not written without the help of many people. First, we would like to thank the many authors of all the chapters; they endured structured outlines, tight deadlines, and an authoritarian group of editors. Heath Norton drew the figures, Daniel Rankin prepared the maps, Scott Dailey formatted the tables, Gail Bakker formatted tables and chapters, and Lester Thode created the fire regime graphs. Without their help, the book would have lacked the consistency and attractiveness that add greatly to its readability. Finally, we would like to thank the Joint Fire Science Program board and Ray Quintanar of the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region for providing the funds and time necessary to write the book. Their support was essential.