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The spatially varying influence of humans on fire probability in North America

Posted date: August 10, 2016
Publication Year: 
Authors: Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol L.Parks, Sean A.; DeLancey, Evan R.; Robinne, Francois-Nicolas; Flannigan, Mike D.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Environmental Research Letters. 11: 075005.


Humans affect fire regimes by providing ignition sources in some cases, suppressing wildfires in others, and altering natural vegetation in ways that may either promote or limit fire. InNorthAmerica, several studies have evaluated the effects of society on fire activity; however, most studies have been regional or subcontinental in scope and used different data and methods, thereby making continent-wide comparisons difficult.We circumvent these challenges by investigating the broad-scale impact of humans on fire activity using parallel statistical models of fire probability from1984 to 2014 as a function of climate, enduring features (topography and percent nonfuel), lightning, and three indices of human activity (population density, an integrated metric of human activity [Human Footprint Index], and a measure of remoteness [roadless volume]) across equally spaced regions of theUnited States and Canada.Through a statistical control approach,whereby we account for the effect of other explanatory variables, we found evidence of non-negligible human-wildfire association across the entire continent, even in the most sparsely populated areas. A surprisingly coherent negative relationship between fire activity and humans was observed across theUnited States and Canada: fire probability generally diminishes with increasing human influence. Intriguing exceptions to this relationship are the continent’s least disturbed areas,where fewer humans equate to less fire. These remote areas, however, also often have lower lightning densities, leading us to believe that they may be ignition limited at the spatiotemporal scale of the study.Our results suggest that there are few purely natural fire regimes inNorthAmerica today. Consequently, projections of future fire activity should consider human impacts on fire regimes to ensure sound adaptation and mitigation measures in fire-prone areas.


Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol; Parks, Sean A.; DeLancey, Evan R.; Robinne, Francois-Nicolas; Flannigan, Mike D. 2016. The spatially varying influence of humans on fire probability in North America. Environmental Research Letters. 11: 075005.