Wildfire at the Crossroads

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Detailed Description

The relationship between people and wildfire has always been paradoxical: fire is an essential ecological process and management tool but can also be detrimental to life and property. Consequently, fire regimes have been modified throughout history through both intentional burning to promote benefits and active suppression to reduce risks. Reintroducing fire and its benefits back into the Sky Island mountains of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands has the potential to reduce adverse impacts of altered fire regimes and build resilient ecosystems and human communities. Our findings provide a new depiction of fire regimes in the Sky Islands that can help inform fire management, restoration and regional conservation planning, fostered by local and traditional knowledge and collaboration among landowners and managers. Learn more at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1178622120969191.

View the Spanish version.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:02:33

Location Taken: AZ, US

Video Credits

Publication Contact:
Miguel Villarreal
Supervisory Research Geographer
Western Geographic Science Center


Wildfire at the Crossroads 

What the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands can teach us about living with wildfire 

The “Sky islands” along the U.S.-Mexico border rise from desert shrublands to upland evergreen forests.

These isolated mountains are inhabited by a diverse mix of plants and animals.

Some are residents, while others travel between countries in search of food, better habitat, or a mate.

The mountains and valleys have also been called “home” by people for many thousands of years.

It is a land of rich culture, but also one shaped by a history of wildfire.

How fire is managed varies on either side of the border, offering researchers a unique opportunity to study how landscapes respond to these differences in wildfire management.

A binational team of researchers has looked at over 30 years of satellite imagery to assess changes in fire patterns in this area.

Most of the Sky islands region has remained unburned…

Where fire occurred, the fire severity and fire frequency have changed considerably over the last three decades compared to historical patterns.

Climate change has led to increased fire activity in high-elevation forests with a history of fire suppression. 

Whereas some remote and unmanaged forests burned with much less intensity, although just as frequently as in the past.

Reintroducing fire and its benefits to unburned areas could reduce available fuels, building more resilient ecosystems and protecting local communities.

International conservation partnerships, such as this one, prove critical for effectively managing fires across these binational landscapes. 

Read “Contemporary fire regimes provide a critical perspective on restoration needs in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands” at link below.

Research Partners 

U.S. Geological Survey 

U.S. Forest Service 

University of Arizona 

Haire Laboratory for Landscape Ecology