Prehistory of Grand Teton National Park and region

Fire and vegetation history of low-elevation steppe and forest in Grand Teton National Park during the last 2000 years

Fire is a significant natural disturbance in nearly every terrestrial ecosystem, and it is widely recognized as an important part of forests in the western United States. Over the last decade, approximately 20 million hectares have burned in the United States. The occurrence of large and severe fires has raised questions about the nature of prehistoric fire regimes prior to extensive land-use activities. Charcoal records are useful to study the fire-history of an area because they span a long period of time and are associated with pollen records that provide information on the vegetation history of an area.

We propose to study the fire, vegetation and climate history of the last 2000 years in low-elevation forest and steppe within Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park based on an analysis of charcoal, pollen, and plant macrofossil records from four lakes. Our investigation will add to existing information on past fire, vegetation, and climatic change in the region, and allow us to compare the environmental history of Jackson Hole with that of other areas within the Greater Yellowstone area. Our focus is on the environmental changes of the last 2000 years, which is a critical period for understanding the current landscape of Grand Teton National Park. The records of fire and vegetation history obtained in this study will provide information on the ecological response of lower forest and steppe communities in the Park to past climate changes occurring on decadal to centennial timescales. The project will also provide new information on the influence of Native Americans and Euro-Americans activity as well as Park management policies on low-elevation plant communities.