26 Feb 2008, 4:30pm
by admin

Are Lightning Fires Unnatural?

I have just posted the BEST environmental research paper of 2007 in the History of Western Landscapes colloquium.

Are Lightning Fires Unnatural? A Comparison of Aboriginal and Lightning Ignition Rates in the United States by Charles E. Kay, Utah State University, is a paradigm-shattering report.

The Western U.S. (and the eastern half, too) is covered to a large extent by pyrophytic (fire-adapted) vegetation. The standard (old paradigm) thinking is that the fire-type plant assemblages are completely natural in origin and distribution across our landscapes. Dr. Charles E. Kay challenges that assumption in Are Lightning Fires Unnatural?

Using simple math and abundant archaeological and lightning-fire records, Dr Kay demonstrates that the number of human-set fires (per million acres) must have vastly exceeded the number of lightning ignitions, perhaps by as much as 35,000 to 1. One of his conclusions:

This would suggest that lightning-caused fires have been largely irrelevant in structuring plant communities throughout many areas in North America. It also turns out that it does not require very many native people to completely alter fire regimes because lightning ignition rates were so low and aboriginal ignition rates so high.

That’s a bold statement. It changes everything we thought we knew about the history of our ecosystems. If Dr. Kay’s hypothesis is to be accepted, and I for one do, human beings played a key role, THE key role, in the presence and distribution of vegetation in North America over the last 12,000+ years.

Dr. Kay’s logic, math, and source data are unassailable. His hypothesis is very strong. Are Lightning Fires Unnatural? is one of the most important research papers of this century, so far.

I am personally proud as a peacock and pleased as punch to be able to post this work at W.I.S.E. I feel like we have finally arrived; and that we are so cutting-edge it hurts.

Please read Are Lightning Fires Unnatural? and submit your thoughts below (in the comment window). I am anxious to know if others view this paper like I do, and/or what your take is on it.



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