Beaver Creek  
Conserving Water Through the Ages Home | Contacts | Search | Index | Help

Beaver Creek Biosphere Reserve | Drought
Fire Ecology| Invasives | Sinagua Circle

Fire Ecology


Fire is a critical aspect of ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper (P-J) woodland areas such as the Beaver Creek watershed. Historically, frequent, low-intensity fire has been a normal process within the ponderosa and P-J ecosystems of the Colorado Plateau region. However, fire suppression efforts of the 20th century resulted in ponderosa and P-J woodlands that are more densely populated and now undergo intense burning during wildfires. The less frequent, more intense wildfires that now occur have the potential to be much more catastrophic than fires have historically been in the area.

A burning juniper bush on the Colorado Plateau; Knife fire, May 2006

Fire and the Beaver Creek Watershed

Among the many effects extreme fire events have on ponderosa and P-J watersheds is that of hardening soils, resulting in increased slope erosion and headwater channel scouring. This, in turn, causes increased flooding and sedimentation in downstream channels. Increased sedimentation can cause streambanks to widen and streambeds to shallow, thereby increasing stream temperatures, which can adversely affect the habitats of aquatic species. Intense, infrequent fire can also facilitate the growth of invasive plant species that can take over and push out native species. Fire suppression can reduce streambank erosion, which can limit the growth of diverse vegetation types that rely on sediment influx for their growth. Thus, fire suppression can alter ponderosa and P-J ecosystems by preventing natural processes from taking their course and tipping the scales of equilibrium out of balance.

Fire as a Management Tool

Land managers have to find a balance themselves, between protecting property from fire and allowing the ecosystem to renew itself. In recent years, land managers have begun to attempt to return ponderosa and P-J ecosystems to their normal pattern of frequent, low-intensity fire with the use of prescribed burning treatments.





Northern Arizona University         Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research         Rocky Mountain Research Station         MAB