November 29, 2009

Big Fire Years in the Sangre de Cristos

Going through an old notebook, I discovered notes from a talk given ten years ago by Catherine Alington, at that time a PhD student in landscape ecology at Colorado State University-Fort Collins.

She researched fire cycles on both sides of the northern Sangre de Cristo range, and in some cases was able to go back three centuries. Her work was published in her dissertation, "Fire History and Landscape Pattern in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains" (1998).

According to my notes, some big fire years--when multiple valleys burned--were 1636, 1703, and 1851. Don't you wish you knew what was going on then?

Low-elevation forests burned on the average every 30 years, while higher elevations, above 10,000 feet, burned about every 100 years.

After teaching at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana and at the University of Wellington, New Zealand (her home), she is now, according to Linked-In, the head of professional development for the New Zealand Police.


mdmnm said...

I really do wonder what was going on in 1636, 1703 and 1851 and I'd like to know how long the scars of those fires lasted. Up on the southern rim of the Cruces Basin there are miles of downed trees, burned or windblown I can't tell, most lying in the same direction in what is now largely grassland. No doubt they fell after there was significant human impact in the area, but a person still wonders at the event.

Catherine Alington said...

Hi Chas
Googling myself (as you do) I found your post about my PhD research. I realise this is an old post, and it's been a long time (and a career change, as you discovered from LinkedIn) since I did that research, but I vaguely recall there may have been some relationship between very slow-growth years prior to the fire years (from the dendrochronology analysis). I wish I had an explanation but even now, so many years later, 1851 sticks in my mind as a very big fire year -- it showed up on both sides of the range from what I recall.

Nice to discover your blog - brings back many happy memories of my research and field work in the Sangres.