Fire regime in a Mexican forest under indigenous resource management

Peter Z. Fulé, Mauro Ramos-Gó Mez, Citlali Corté S-Montãno, Andrew M. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The Rarámuri (Tarahumara) people live in the mountains and canyons of the Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua, Mexico. They base their subsistence on multiple-use strategies of their natural resources, including agriculture, pastoralism, and harvesting of native plants and wildlife. Pino Gordo is a Rarámuri settlement in a remote location where the forest has not been commercially logged. We reconstructed the forest fire regime from firescarred trees, measured the structure of the never-logged forest, and interviewed community members about fire use. Fire occurrence was consistent throughout the 19th and 20th centuries up to our fire scar collection in 2004. This is the least interrupted surface-fire regime reported to date in North America. Studies from other relict sites such as nature reserves in Mexico or the USA have all shown some recent alterations associated with industrialized society. At Pino Gordo, fires recurred frequently at the three study sites, with a composite mean fire interval of 1.9 years (all fires) to 7.6 years (fires scarring 25% or more of samples). Per-sample fire intervals averaged 10-14 years at the three sites. Approximately two-thirds of fires burned in the season of cambial dormancy, probably during the pre-monsoonal drought. Forests were dominated by pines and contained many large living trees and snags, in contrast to two nearby similar forests that have been logged. Community residents reported using fire for many purposes, consistent with previous literature on fire use by indigenous people. Pino Gordo is a valuable example of a continuing frequent-fire regime in a never-harvested forest. The Rarámuri people have actively conserved this forest through their traditional livelihood and management techniques, as opposed to logging the forest, and have also facilitated the fire regime by burning. The data contribute to a better understanding of the interactions of humans who live in pine forests and the fire regimes of these ecosystems, a topic that has been controversial and difficult to assess from historical or paleoecological vidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764-775
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Dendrochronology
  • Fire scars
  • Human-caused ignition
  • Pine-oak forest
  • Pino Gordo
  • Sierra Madre Occidental

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Fire regime in a Mexican forest under indigenous resource management'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this