Publication Date

Summer 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies


Will H. Russell


Coast redwood, Dendrochronology, Fire scar, Sequoia sempervirens

Subject Areas

Ecology; Environmental studies; Natural resource management


Physical evidence of past fires, left in the form of cambial scars, suggests that low and moderate intensity fires have burned periodically for centuries in the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forest in California's central coast bioregion. These fires may have played an important role in shaping stand age structure and composition. Nonetheless, the ecological role of fire in shaping successional processes in the redwood ecosystem is not well understood. The extent to which both aboriginal and more recent burning practices have affected the central coast landscape is also uncertain. Standard dendrochronology techniques were used to reconstruct and analyze the fire history of the coast redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains based on the fire scar record. Three hundred and seventy-three fire scars were identified in 70 cross-sections that were removed from redwood stumps, downed logs, and trees in select locations between Davenport and Año Nuevo, California. The earliest recorded fire occurred in 1352 and the most recent in 2009. The grand mean fire return interval (FRI) for single trees (point) was 60.6 years, and the median FRI was 40.1 years. Fire scars were found most frequently in the dormant and latewood portions of the annual growth rings, signifying that fires tended to occur in the late summer and fall. A high degree of variability in the data set suggests that cultural burning practices occurred on fluctuating temporal and spatial scales.