Spatial and temporal variability of stand-replacing fire frequency in Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario
Scoular, Matthew Graham
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Fire is the primary natural disturbance vital to the ecological integrity of Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada. A new provincial park planning process (i.e., Class Environmental Assessment) has required the review of Quetico’s Fire Management Plan. To support this review, large and severe (stand-replacing) Quetico fires were studied using 1966 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) forest resource inventory (FRI) mapping. A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database of the FRI was created and updated with the OMNR digital fire atlas. This database was used as a time-since-fire and fire interval dataset to estimate fire frequency. It also served to archive the 1966 FRI for the largest protected area in the transition between the Boreal and Great Lakes-St. Lawrence forest regions. Non-parametric (Kaplan-Meier) survival analysis was used to estimate survival functions and mean fire intervals (i.e., the expected time between two consecutive stand-replacing fires for any location within the Park). Previous studies that have used Kaplan-Meier survival analysis methods have based fire frequency estimates solely on time-since-fire data. However, time-since-fire data cannot be equated with fire interval data when using non-parametric methods. At least one fire interval is required to obtain reliable results. The mean fire interval for the entire 475,782 ha Park between the years 1668 and 2007 was 230 years. Performing the analysis on various geographic and temporal partitions revealed fire frequency spatial and temporal variability. A constant (independent of time-since-fire) probability of burning was not observed for Quetico which is contrary to accepted conjecture for northwestern Ontario boreal/mixed-wood forests. A current fire cycle was also estimated for the Park (342 years) using the digital fire atlas. The results suggested that use of historical static fire frequency estimates as fire management prescriptions may not be justified given considerable fire frequency temporal variability. The observed fire frequency spatial variability suggests that studies should be undertaken at coarser scales than is the norm to characterise the regions fire regime in support of landscape level fire management planning.