Local and regional sediment charcoal evidence for fire regimes in presettlement north-eastern North America
1 Presettlement fire regimes in north-eastern North America and their dependence on climate, fuels, and cultural patterns are poorly understood due to lack of relevant historic or palaeoecological data. Annual records of sediment charcoal accumulation were compiled from seven sites spanning the last 2000 years and representing important climate, vegetation, and cultural settings. Results were compared across sites and across changes in Indian cultures to determine whether fire patterns might be explained by one or more of these variables. 2 Clearly interpretable fires were restricted to the western (most xeric) portion of our study region in Pine Hardwoods of Minnesota, a single fire in Northern Hardwoods of northern Wisconsin, and cultural burning near an Iroquois village in southern Ontario. Other sites in Northern Hardwoods and Hardwood Hemlock forests did not show clear evidence of fire. Spectral analysis suggested instances in which local fire regimes departed from regional ones. 3 Our interpretation suggests substantially longer intervals between fires than reported in previous sediment charcoal studies. We did not find evidence for fire in mixed oak forests, where it has been speculated that fire might be necessary for oak recruitment, suggesting need for further analysis. 4 A single site in northern Wisconsin was the only Algonquin site showing a clear increase in charcoal suggesting local fire. Algonquin use of fire for hunting may not have affected our sites. A single site in Sioux territory experienced such frequent fire that cultural effects were not evident, even when Sioux were replaced by Chippewa (Algonquin) in the 18th century. One of two Iroquois sites showed clear increases in charcoal during occupation. The second site may not have had settlements nearby.
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