Northern Rockies Fire History

Climate Drivers of Fire in the Northern Rockies: Past, Present and Future

Forest fires were widespread throughout the US northern Rocky Mountains during the regional-fire years of 2000, 2003, 2006, and 2007.

However, until recently there was little knowledge of whether forest fires were also widespread in the past or of the role of climate in the occurrence of such years.

Our objective was to address this knowledge using digital polygon fire atlases, fire scars on trees, and instrumental and tree-ring reconstructed climate. In addition, we modeled the landscape consequences of future fire regimes in this region, projected from changing climate.

Photo: Penny Morgan and Lauren Miller counting fire scars on a ponderosa pine tree in Idaho.


Penny Morgan and Lauren Miller counting fire scars on a ponderosa pine tree in Idaho.

Select Publications & Products

Heyerdahl, E.K., P. Morgan, and J.P. Riser II. 2008. Multi-season climate synchronized historical fires in dry forests (1650-1900), northern Rockies, USA. Ecology. 89:705-716.

Heyerdahl, Emily K.; Morgan, Penelope; Riser, James P., II. 2008. Crossdated fire histories (1650-1900) from ponderosa pine-dominated forests of Idaho and western Montana. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-214WWW. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 83 p.

Miller, C. 2007. Simulation of the consequences of different fire regimes to support wildland fire use decisions. Fire Ecology. 3:83-102.

Morgan, P., E.K. Heyerdahl, and C.E. Gibson. 2008. Multi-season climate synchronized forest fires throughout the 20th century, northern Rockies, USA. Ecology. 89:717-728.

Morgan, P., E.K. Heyerdahl, C. Miller, A. Wilson, and C. Gibson. 2014. Northern Rockies pyrogeography: An example of fire atlas utility. Fire Ecology.

Shapiro-Miller, L.B., E.K. Heyerdahl, and P. Morgan. 2007. Comparison of fire scars, fire atlases, and satellite data in the northwestern United States. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 37:1933-1943.

A summary of our work was written in non-technical language and is available from the Joint Fire Science Program. Morgan, P.; E. Heyerdahl; C. Miller. 2009. Climate and fire in the Northern Rockies: Past, present and future. Rachel Clark [editor]. Fire Science Brief. 32 [January]. 6 p. Available: [May 12, 2009].

Our tree-ring and fire-atlas data are publicly available from the Forest Service Research Data Archive.