Privatization, Drought, and Fire Exclusion in the Tuul River Watershed, Mongolia
Global wildfire frequency and extent are expected to increase under projected climate change in the twenty-first century, yet little is known about how human activities might affect this trend. In central Mongolia, there has been a 2.5°C rise in spring and summer temperatures during the last 40 years and a decrease in moisture availability during the latter half of the twentieth century. Concurrently, Mongolia has experienced multiple shifts in socioeconomic systems during the twentieth century, most notably the establishment of a Soviet-backed communist economy in the 1920s and a rapid transition to privatization in the 1990s. Observed records of fire in the late twentieth century suggested that fire activity had increased, but no long-term data existed to place these trends in a historical context. Our objective was to identify spatial and temporal patterns in fire occurrence in the forest-steppe ecotone of the Tuul River watershed in the context of changing climatic and social conditions since 1875. We used fire-scarred trees to reconstruct past fire occurrence during the period 1875–2009. Our results indicate a significant association between human activity and fire occurrence independent of climatic variables. The greatest evidence for an anthropogenic fire regime exists following the transition to a free market economy during the early 1990s when land-use intensification near the capital city of Ulaanbaatar resulted in fire exclusion. We emphasize the importance of including socio-political variables in global models of wildfire potential, particularly where fuels limit fire activity.
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