Episode 1 - How did we get here? History of Wildfire in Nevada

October 8th, 2021

The first episode of the Living With Fire Podcast features Brad Schultz, professor and Humboldt County extension educator with the University of Nevada, Reno Extension. Schultz. As an expert in rangeland management, he has looked at wildfire from a “big picture” perspective across the state and across the West.

“Across a large landscape, fires would occur periodically, but at different places at different times, and you would get a very strong mosaic pattern of predominantly grasses in some areas, predominantly shrubs in others, and most of it being a mix in-between.”

Shultz says that this “mosaic” pattern of discontinuous vegetation across the landscape conferred many benefits to the ecosystem and created natural fuel breaks, or areas of less flammable vegetation that changed the behavior and reduced the intensity of wildfire.

How often fire happened in Nevada and how widespread it was is somewhat speculative, according to Schultz, who explains the challenges of finding physical evidence of historic fires in Nevada. “The best way to document fire history is scars on trees, and most of Nevada has very few long-lived trees that can document that fire history going back hundreds, if not thousands of years.”

Other factors to consider are the causes of fire, historically. Schultz points out that scientists acknowledge lightning as a natural cause of fire but that the role of Native Americans on the landscape is often overlooked. “They used fire every day of the year, 24-hours a day. Because fire was used not just for cooking, but for manufacturing their clothes, their tools, the impediments they needed to survive and so forth.”

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