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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: January 2012

13 - Fire Management of Mediterranean Landscapes

from Section III - Comparative Ecology, Evolution and Management


The hazardous mediterranean climate, highly flammable vegetation, and rugged terrain, all important elements of fire behavior, become problems only in the presence of people. People recreate and build homes in the mediterranean wildlands because of the delightful climate and will continue to do so as long as space is available. People start most fires, and their mere presence tends to warp fire suppression strategies because fire agencies must protect lives and property threatened by fires rather than “back off” and build fire lines around fire perimeters.

Carl C. Wilson (1979a), Chief of Division of Forest and Fire Research, USFS/Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station

Human presence in mediterranean-type climate (MTC) regions has differed markedly in the length of human occupation; however, there are remarkable similarities in how early inhabitants altered fire regimes and how modern societies deal with the fire hazard. Here we draw on the history of human impacts outlined in the regional reviews (see Chapters 4–8), the problems created by nineteenth and twentieth century management practices, and conclude with twenty-first century problems and future options. As discussed throughout this book, MTC ecosystems are highly fire adapted but, as illustrated here, contemporary societies have not fully adapted to balancing fire hazard risk and resource needs on these landscapes.

Early Human Fire Use and Impacts

Fire has been a widely utilized management tool throughout the history of humankind (Pyne 1995). Early hunter–gatherers utilized fire to manage for plant and animal resources. Fire also played an important role in early domestication of crops as clearing off woody or other perennial vegetation would have required fire on many landscapes. With domestication of livestock it was an important tool for increasing forage.