The Great Fires: Abstract and Table of Contents

Zybach, Bob 2018. The Great Fires: Indian Burning and Catastrophic Forest Fire Patterns of the Oregon Coast Range, 1491-1951 (2nd Edition). NW Maps Co., Cottage Grove, Oregon: 364 pp. [$85.00 Hardcover; $20.00 PDF]

ABSTRACT

This study was designed to examine the relationship between land management practices of Indian communities prior to contact with Europeans and the nature or character of subsequent catastrophic forest fires in the Oregon Coast Range. The research focused on spatial and temporal patterns of Indian burning across the landscape from 1491 until 1848, and corresponding patterns of catastrophic fire events from 1849 until 1951. Archival and anthropological research methods were used to obtain early surveys, maps, drawings, photographs, interviews, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) inventories, eyewitness accounts and other sources of evidence that document fire history. Data were tabulated, mapped, and digitized as new GIS layers for purposes of comparative analysis. An abundance of useful historical evidence was found for reconstructing precontact vegetation patterns and human burning practices in western Oregon. The data also proved useful for documenting local and regional forest fire histories. Precontact Indians used fire to produce landscape patterns of trails, patches, fields, woodlands, forests and grasslands that varied from time to time and place to place, partly due to demographic, cultural, topographic, and climatic differences that existed throughout the Coast Range. Native plants were systematically managed by local Indian families in even-aged stands, usually dominated by a single species, throughout all river basins of the study area. Oak, filberts, camas, wapato, tarweed, yampah, strawberries, huckleberries, brackenfern, nettles, and other plants were raised in select areas by all known tribes, over long periods of time. However, current scientific and policy assumptions regarding the abundance and extent of precontact western Oregon old-growth forests may have been erroneous. This study demonstrates a high rate of coincidence between the land management practices of precontact Indian communities, and the causes, timing, boundaries, severity, and extent of subsequent catastrophic forest fires in the same areas. Information developed from this study will be of value to researchers, wildlife managers, forest landowners, and others with an interest in the history and resources of the Oregon Coast Range.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

This book is a reprinting of Dr. Zybach's 2003 Oregon State University PhD dissertation and includes all text, 60 maps, 38 figures, and 26 tables contained in the original. Some minor typos have been corrected, but numbered pages have been reduced from 451 to 364 by removing academic signature sheets and reformatting text with changed fonts and spacing. The principal result has been a change in pagination, so academic references will vary between the two versions.

1. INTRODUCTION: HYPOTHESIS AND SETTING                                                  1

1.1 Hypothesis                                                                                                 3
1.2 Time Period and Scale                                                                               6
1.3 Physical and Political Setting                                                                      8         
1.3.1 Geological history                                                                       8         
1.3.2 Topography                                                                    9
1.3.3 Rivers and counties                                                         10
1.4 Climate and Weather                                                                                  13
1.4.1 Precipitation and temperature                                          15
1.4.2 Wind and humidity                                                         17
1.4.3 Lightning and lightning caused fires                               20
1.4.4 Seasonal fire weather                                                      23
1.4.5 Fire-induced weather                                                      25
1.5 Vegetation and Fuel Patterns                                                                                  27
1.5.1 Coastal fog belt                                                               29
1.5.2 Douglas-fir forestland                                                     30
1.5.3 Oak savannah grasslands                                                 34
1.6 Discussion and Summary: Subregions and Seasons                                                34       
1.6.1 Oregon Coast Range subregions                                      35       
1.6.2 Oregon Coast Range climatic seasons                              38       

2. METHODOLOGY                                                                                                   40

2.1 Research Boundaries and Focal Points                                                        41
2.1.1 North: Tsp. 4 N., Clatsop County, 1913                          43
2.1.2 East: Soap Creek Valley, 1826                                        43
2.1.3 West: Alseya Valley, 1850                                                          44
2.1.4 South: Coos Bay Quadrangle, 1895                                45
2.2 Sources of Information                                                                              45
2.2.1 Names on the landscape                                                  46
2.2.2 Persistent vegetation patterns                                           48
2.2.3 Literature                                                                                    52
2.2.4 Living memory                                                               59
2.2.5 Aerial photographs                                                         62
2.2.6 Historical maps and surveys                                            64
2.2.7 GIS layers                                                                                   74
2.3 Landscape Scales                                                                                       90
2.3.1 Regional and subregional                                                            90
2.3.2 Basin and subbasin                                                          91
2.3.3 Local: patch, stand, and trail                                           93
2.4 Discussion and Summary                                                                           97       
2.4.1 Research design                                                              97
2.4.2 Research methods                                                                       97
2.4.3 Mapping scale                                                                 98
                                   
3. INDIAN BURNING PATTERNS, 1491-1848                                                          99

3.1 Historical Coast Range Indian Nations: Background                                               99
3.1.1 North: Chinookan, Athapaskan, and Salish                                 108
3.1.2 East: Kalapuyan                                                              109
3.1.3 West: Salish and Yakonan                                                           110
3.1.4 South: Kusan, Athapaskan, and Kalapuyan                                 111
3.2 Types of Burning Practices                                                                        112
3.2.1 Firewood                                                                                    114
3.2.2 Patches                                                                            115
3.2.3 Broadcast                                                                                    115
3.3 Native Foods and Fire                                                                                116
3.3.1 Plants                                                                              116     
3.3.2 Animals                                                                          123
3.4 Cultural Landscape Patterns                                                                                   125
3.4.1 North: firewood and flood                                                          125
3.4.2 East: oak savannah                                                          127
3.4.3 West: "lawns, corridors, and mosaics"                              135
3.4.4 South: mixed                                                                  140
3.5 Discussion and Summary: Cultural Legacy                                                143

4. CATASTROPHIC FOREST FIRE PATTERNS, 1491-1951                                      146

4.1 Catastrophic Fires: Background                                                                  146
4.1.1 Mystery of the 16th Century                                           148
4.1.2 Millicoma Fire, ca. 1765                                                 153
4.1.3 Yaquina Fire, ca. 1849                                                    155
4.1.4 Nestucca Fire, ca. 1853                                                   160
4.1.5 Coos Fire, 1868                                                              163
4.1.6 Tillamook Fires, 1933-1951                                           167
4.2 Catastrophic Fire Years                                                                              173
4.2.1 Precontact evidence: 1491-1775                                     173
4.2.2 Early historical accounts: 1776-1848                              174
4.2.3 The Great Burns: 1849-1910                                          174
4.2.4 Fire suppression policies: 1911-1951                              176
4.3 Catastrophic Fire Patterns                                                                           177
4.3.1 North: Columbia River old-growth                                 177
4.3.2 East: cultural legacy                                                        184
4.3.3 West: six-year jinx                                                          188     
4.3.4 South: mixed                                                                  194
4.4 Discussion and Summary: Transitional Landscape                                     198

5. SUMMARY, DISCUSSION, AND CONCLUSIONS                                                 202

5.1 Indian Burning Patterns                                                                             203
5.1.1 Cause and locations                                                         204
5.1.2 Seasonality                                                                      204
5.1.3 Wildlife habitat                                                               205
5.1.4 Cultural legacy and fuel distribution                               205
5.1.5 White settlement and transitional forests                          206     
5.2 Catastrophic Fire Patterns                                                                           207
5.2.1 Cause and locations                                                         209
5.2.2 Climate trends and seasonality                                         209
5.2.3 Topography and wildlife habitat                                     210
5.2.4 Human safety                                                                  210
5.2.5 Land ownership                                                              211
5.3 16th Century Events Hypotheses                                                                211
5.3.1 Catastrophic fires hypothesis                                           212
5.3.2 Reduction in Indian burning practices hypothesis                       212
5.3.3 Climate change hypothesis                                                          214
5.3.4 Remarkable coincidences hypothesis                               216
5.3.5 Summary: "weight of the evidence"                                217
5.4 Indian Burning and Catastrophic Fire Pattern Hypotheses                          219
5.4.1 Climate change hypothesis                                                          220     
5.4.2 Cessation of Indian burning hypothesis                           220     
5.4.3 White land management practices hypothesis                  221
5.4.4 Coincidence/better record-keeping hypothesis                221     
5.4.5 Summary: "weight of the evidence"                                222

6. RECOMMENDATIONS                                                                                          223

6.1 Additional Research                                                                                               223
6.1.1 Carrying capacity and precontact populations                 223
6.1.2 Indian burning practices and wildlife habitat                   225
6.1.3 Fire history and forest management practices                  225
6.1.4 Geology and soils                                                                       228
6.1.5 Tree rings and climate change                                         230
6.1.6 Long-term experimental fire reintroduction                                231
6.2 Reintroduction of Indian-type Burning Practices                                        232
6.2.1 Aesthetics                                                                        234
6.2.2 Cultural landscapes and events                                        237
6.2.3 Wildfire management                                                      239
6.2.4 Site preparation                                                               240
6.2.5 Weed and pest control                                                     241
6.2.6 Traditional crops                                                                         241
6.2.7 Wildlife habitat: old-growth and grasslands                     242     
6.3 Discussion and Summary                                                                                       243
6.3.1 Research: long-term experimentation                              243
6.3.2 Reintroduction strategy                                                   244
6.3.3 Reintroduction economics                                                           245
6.3.4 Reintroduction employment                                            246
6.3.5 Risk of escapement                                                         246
6.3.6 Smoke: management and education                                247

REFERENCES                                                                                                             249

APPENDICES                                                                                                              279

LIST OF FIGURES

1.01 Fire Triangle: Topography, Weather, and Fuel.                                                    10
1.02 Palmer Drought Index, western Oregon, 1663-1983.                                           21
1.03 Sitka spruce regeneration: 15,000 trees/acre at 10 years.                          30
1.04 Sitka spruce old-growth, near Waldport, OR, 1923.                                             31
1.05 Douglas-fir 2nd-growth, near Cottage Grove, OR, at 66 years.                32

2.01 Grassy bald on Marys Peak, 1885.                                                                                   59
2.02 Sources of living memory, Siletz Tribe, 1924.                                         61
2.03 Aerial photograph of Alsea, Benton County, June 29, 1948.                                64
2.04 T. 14 S., R. 7 W. annotated GLO field notes, June 9, 1856.                                 66
2.05 Alsea North Fork ridgeline trail network, ca. 1800-2003.                        88

3.01 Native people of the Oregon Coast Range.                                                                       103
3.02 Large wood products, Oregon Coast Range, 1788-1860.                                     105
3.03 Sauvies Island seasonal flood, pre-1941 dike completion.                                    127
3.04 Willamette Valley, 1845-1888.                                                                130
3.05 Soap Creek Valley, 1914-1989.                                                               133
3.06 Alseya Valley prairie relicts, April 14, 2003.                                            138
3.07 Coos Bay (Marshfield), 1885.                                                                  141

4.01 Precontact Douglas-fir and white oak old-growth, 1841-2003.                            151
4.02 Logging of Clatskanie River basin, ca. 1900.                                           152
4.03 Millicoma Fire second-growth reforestation, ca. 1946.                             154
4.04 Yaquina Burn, Toledo, Lincoln Co., 1885.                                                          158
4.05 Yaquina and Nestucca burns, ca. 1902.                                                    162
4.06 Coos Burn, Gould's Lake landslide, 1894.                                                            167
4.07 Tillamook Fire mushroom cloud, August 24, 1933.                                             170
4.08 Tillamook Burn snags, ca. 1938.                                                              173

LIST OF MAPS

1.01 Location of the Oregon Coast Range study area.                                                  3
1.02 Topography of the Oregon Coast Range.                                                 11
1.03 Rivers and counties of the Oregon Coast Range.                                      12
1.04 Precipitation of the Oregon Coast Range, 1961-1990.                              14
1.05 Wind patterns of the Oregon Coast Range.                                                           19
1.06 Lightning storms in Oregon, 1925-1931.                                                 22
1.07 Lightning fires in Oregon, 1925-1931.                                                    23
1.08 Lightning strikes in Oregon, 1992-1996.                                                 24
1.09 Current vegetation patterns of the Oregon Coast Range.                           28

2.01 Oregon Coast Range study index.                                                                        42
2.02 T. 14 S., R. 8 W. GLO subdivision and DLC survey index.                                  68
2.03 Willamette Falls, Clackamas Indian burial ground, 1856.                         71
2.04 T. 14 S., R. 8 W., Sec. 22 timber cruise, 1915.                                         73
2.05 Oregon State Forester's Fire Map, 1914.                                                   74
2.06 USGS Coos Bay 30 min. quadrangle map, 1895-1896.                            76
2.07 1895-1896 USGS Coos Bay Quad GIS map.                                            77
2.08 1900 USDI Forests of Oregon GIS map.                                                  81
2.09 1914 ODF Forest Fire GIS map.                                                               82
2.10 1936 PNW Forest Type GIS map.                                                                        83
2.11 T. 14 S., R. 8 W. "Indian Trail to Tidewater" segment, 1856.                   85
2.12 "Alseya Valley" towns, trails, and campgrounds, ca. 1800.                                   86
2.13 "Alseya Valley" land use patterns ca. 1850 GIS map.                               89
2.14 Alsea Valley forest fire patterns, ca. 1850-1936.                                      92
2.15 T. 14 S., R. 8 W., Sec. 14 timber cruise map, 1915.                                             94
2.16 Alsea Valley section-scale comparisons, ca. 1850-1936.                          95

3.01 Oregon Coast Range tribes and nations, ca. 1770.                                                            101
3.02 Northern Coast Range landscape patterns, ca. 1800.                                             126
3.03 Soap Creek Valley, ca. 1826 GIS map.                                                    131
3.04 Soap Creek Valley, ca. 1850 GIS map.                                                    132
3.05 Eastern Coast Range landscape patterns, ca. 1800.                                               134
3.06 Western Coast Range landscape patterns, ca. 1800.                                              139
3.07 Southern Coast Range landscape patterns, ca. 1800.                                             142
3.08 Oregon Coast Range cultural landscape patterns, ca. 1800.                                  144

4.01 Historic Oregon Coast Range forest fires, 1750-1933.                                          147
4.02 Tsp. 4 N., Rng. 8 W., Sec. 35 timber cruise map, 1913.                           178
4.03 Clatsop County Tsp. 4 N. fire patterns, 1868-1936.                                             180
4.04 Northern Oregon Coast Range forest fire patterns, 1720-1936.                181
4.05 Clatsop County logging patterns, ca. 1900-1935.                                     182
4.06 Columbia County logging patterns, ca. 1900-1935.                                             183
4.07 Soap Creek Valley cultural forest age classes, 1650-1992.                                   186
4.08 Eastern Oregon Coast Range forest fire patterns, 1720-1936.                   187
4.09 Western Oregon Coast Range forest fire patterns, 1720-1936.                  189
4.10 Siletz River basin forest fire patterns, 1849-1966.                                                191
4.11 Alsea Valley forest fire patterns, 1900-1936.                                           192
4.12 Alsi tribe foot, horse, and canoe trails, 1826-1853.                                              193
4.13 Alsea River basin forest fire patterns, 1849-1936.                                                194
4.14 Coos Bay forest fire patterns, 1895-1936.                                                            196
4.15 Southern Oregon Coast Range forest fire patterns, 1720-1936.                197

6.01 Land ownership patterns of the Oregon Coast Range, 2003.                                            233
6.02 Alsea Valley: GLO ca. 1800, PNW 1936, FEMAT 1993 patterns.                        236

LIST OF TABLES

1.01 Oregon Coast Range seasonal climate markers, 1961-1990.                                             16
1.02 Average relative humidity percentages at 4:00 PM.                                              20
1.03 Oregon Coast Range subregional comparisons.                                        36
1.04 Oregon Coast Range seasonal climate patterns.                                         38

2.01 Comparative North American forest research methods.                                        55
2.02 Early journalists of the Oregon Coast Range, 1788-1849.                                    58
2.03 Original GLO surveyors of "Alseya Valley," 1853-1897.                         69
2.04 Conversion of 1936 vegetation legend to 2003 GIS pattern.                                79

3.01 Oregon Coast Range tribes, rivers, and counties, 1770-1893.                               102
3.02 Oregon Coast Range Indian burning practices, pre-1849.                        113
3.03 Native plant environments of "Alseya Valley," 1853-1897.                                  117
3.04 Seasonal locations of Alsea Valley Indian fires.                                        119
3.05 Oregon Coast Range weather and burning patterns.                                             120
3.06 Principal native food plants of the Oregon Coast Range.                          122
3.07 Principal native food animals of the Oregon Coast Range.                                   124

4.01 Historic Oregon Coast Range forest fires, 1750-1951.                                          148
4.02 Historic western Oregon forest fire years, 1849-2003.                             176

5.01 Comparison of Indian burning and catastrophic fire patterns.                              222

LIST OF APPENDICES

A. Oregon Coast Range Plants and Animals, ca. 1750                                                  281

B. Oregon Coast Range Landmark Names, 1776 to 1951                                                         285

C. 1910 Smith Interview: "The Big [Yaquina] Fire" of 1849                                        294

D. "Alseya Valley" to Alsea Valley: GLO Survey Index, 1853-1915                            300

E. Historical Maps vs. Historical Theme Maps, 1850-1940                                          325

F. Moravets 1932: Cessation of Indian Burning and Afforestation                               331

G. Oregon Coast Range Forest Fire History, 1491-2003                                                           332

H. "Alseya Valley" Prairie Relicts, April 14, 2003                                                        336

LIST OF APPENDIX FIGURES

D.01 Aerial photo of Grass Mountain balds, 1966.                                                      311     
D.02 Aerial photo of Prairie Peak prairies, June 9, 1965.                                             321
D.03 John Sapp home and family, ca. 1900                                                     324

H.01 North Fork Alsea Indian Trail crossing, April 14, 2003.                                      339
H.02 North Fork Alsea Indian Trail crossing, early fall, 2003.                         340     
H.03 North Fork Indian prairie relict, April 14, 2003.                                     340
H.04 Canoe campsite, North Fork Alsea River.                                                341
H.05 Riparian prairie relict, North Fork Alsea River.                                        342
H.06 Landmark hill and oak savannah relict, Alsea River Forks.                                  343
H.07 Douglas-fir stump, Alsea High School.                                                    344
H.08 Mouth of Mill Creek.                                                                              345
H.09 "Old Billy's" homesite, Alsea Valley.                                                        346
H.10 Prairie relict near "The Narrows," in Alsea Valley.                                               347

LIST OF APPENDIX MAPS

D.01 Alsea Valley original land surveys index.                                                                        302
D.02 T. 14 S., R. 8 W., GLO Donation Land Claims (DLC), 1856.                  305
D.03 T. 15 S., R. 7 W., GLO errors with corrections, 1897-1940.                                307
D.04 Grass Mountain balds and trails, 1971.                                                    310
D.05 Prairie Peak prairies and trails, 1966.                                                       320

E.01 USDI BLM Coast Range fire history maps, 1850-1940.                                       326
E.02 BLM mosaic patterns: Alsea Valley, 1850-1940.                                     327
E.03 Pacific Ocean coastal strip comparisons, 1850-1940.                               328
E.04 Thematic map vs. historical map: 1933 Tillamook Fire.                           329

H.01 Index to "Alseya Valley" prairie relicts, April 14, 2003.                                      337

LIST OF APPENDIX TABLES

A.01 Native trees and other plants noted by GLO surveyors.                                       282
A.02 Native food plants of the Oregon Coast Range.                                       283
A.03 Native food animals of the Oregon Coast Range.                                     284

B.01 American Indian names on the Coast Range landscape.                                       287
B.02 Native plant names on the Coast Range landscape.                                               290
B.03 Plant environment names on the Coast Range landscape.                         292
B.04 Plant condition names on the Coast Range landscape.                              293

G.01 Tree ages and fire years of the Oregon Coast Range.                                           333

 

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