Canadian Forest Service Publications

Contrasting human influences and macro-environmental factors on fire activity inside and outside protected areas of North America. 2019. Mansuy, N.; Miller, C.; Parisien, M.-A.; Parks, S. A.; Batllori, E.; Moritz, M. A. Environmental Research Letters 14(6):064007.

Year: 2019

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 40255

Language: English

Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab1bc5

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Human activities threaten the effectiveness of protected areas (PAs) in achieving their conservation goals across the globe. In this study, we contrast the influence of human and macro-environmental factors driving fire activity inside and outside PAs. Using area burned between 1984 and 2014 for 11 ecoregions in Canada and the United States, we built and compared statistical models of fire likelihood using the MaxEnt software and a set of 11 key anthropogenic, climatic, and physical variables. Overall, the full model (i.e. including all variables) performed better (adjusted area under the curve ranging from 0.71 to 0.95 for individual ecoregions) than the model that excluded anthropogenic variables. Both model types (with and without anthropogenic variables) generally performed better inside than outside the PAs. Climatic variables were usually of foremost importance in explaining fire activity inside and outside PAs, with anthropogenic variables being the second most important predictors, even inside PAs. While the individual contributions of anthropogenic variables indicate that fire activity decreased as of function of increasing human footprint, the anthropogenic effects were often substantially greater than those of physical features and were comparable to or even greater than climatic effects in some densely developed ecoregions, both outside and within PAs (e.g. Mediterranean California, Eastern Temperate Forest, and Tropical Wet Forests). Together, these results show the pervasive impact of humans on fire regimes inside PAs, as well as outside PAs. Given the increasing attractiveness of PAs, the implications for adaptive fire management beyond the concept of naturalness in the PAs are discussed. Our assessment of human-altered fire activity could serve as an indicator of human pressure in PAs; however, we suggest that further analysis is needed to understand specific interactions among fire, human pressures, and the environmental conditions at the scale of PAs.

Plain Language Summary

Protected areas are a critical tool for maintaining habitat integrity, species diversity, and ecosystem health. This study evaluated the degree to which fire activity inside protected areas is natural compared to outside the protected areas between 1984 and 2014 in North America (USA and Canada). Understanding the biophysical and anthropogenic drivers of fire regimes within the protected areas is crucial for developing effective strategies for preserving and managing biodiversity and ecosystem functions. An untested assumption is that fire regimes in the protected areas are more "natural" compared to more human-altered areas. Our study revealed that the drivers of fire in the protected areas are, in many cases, not that different from those in non-PAs. Even in the protected areas with minimal human activity, we show that the human influence on fire is pervasive and reduces fire activity across North America. This study is important to contrasting the macro-environmental and human drivers of fire activity inside and outside the protected areas and managing protected areas as natural baselines.