The Science of the Total Environment xx (2001 )xxx –xxx

0048-9697/01/$-see front matter _ 2001 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.

PII:S0048-9697 Z 01 .01067-1


Human ecological intervention and the role of forest fires in

3 human ecology

4 N.Caldararo

5 San Francisco State University, Department of Anthropology, 1600 Holloway Ave, San Francisco, CA SF94132-4155, USA

6 Received 22 September 2000;accepted 27 September 2001


8 Abstract

9 The present text is a summary of research on the relationship between forest fires and human activities.Numerous

10 theories have been created to explain changes in forests during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene,and a general

11 understanding has developed in the past 50 years regarding natural fire regimes.The present summary is directed to

12 assess the validity of these theories.A re-analysis of the literature argues that the intense forest fires we experience

13 today are an artifact of human intervention in forest ecology,especially by the reduction of herbivores and are

14 relatively recent,approximately 100 000 –250 000 BP.The history of fire,especially in the context of the increased

15 dominance of humans,has produced a progressively fire-adapted ecology,which argues for human-free wildlife areas

16 and against prescribed burns under many circumstances._ 2001 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.

17 Keywords: Natural forest fires;Human dominance;Fire-adapted ecology




1. Introduction

21 1.1. Dominant paradigm of forest fire

22 Over the past 20 years or so the view has

23 developed that forest fires,as they occur today,are

24 natural events which are good for forests,animals

25 and everyone in general.Nearly 40 years ago 26

Helm (1964 )defined the ecological approach in

27 Anthropology as one which stressed,‘...the adap-

28 tive and exploitive relations,through the agency

29 of technology,of the human group to its habitat,

30 and the demographic and sociocultural conse-

31 quences of those relations ’.Anthropologists who

32 take this approach tend to take a long-term view


1842 E-mail address: (N.Caldararo ).


of human history and establish frameworks by

34 which human relations to the environment can be

35 charted to causes and consequences of human

36 behavior.Humans exist within the flora and fauna

37 of any locality and,in a general sense,humans are

38 in a co-evolutionary sequence,caught within the

39 effects of this biota and climate.While these

40 concepts are the result of work in other fields and

41 long established among biologists,for example in

42 the work of Wallace (1880 )and Matthew (1939 ),

43 they are seldom applied to humans outside of

44 evolutionary considerations (Potts,1996 ).This is

45 the approach I have taken to the subject of forest

46 fires,both regarding the history of the phenomenon

47 of forest fires and to the attitudes applied to their

48 occurrence in recent years.