North Coast


The North Coast bioregion supports north coastal scrub and prairie, north coast pine forest, and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) forest on the immediate coast. Upland forests and woodlands that are farther away from the marine influence include coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana), and mixed evergreen. At the higher elevations, the vegetation is typically mixed-conifer lower montane forest and Shasta red fir (Abies magnifica var. shastensis) upper montane forests (Stephens et al. 2006).

Generally, the most frequent fire occurred in grasslands and oak woodlands with less frequent fire in chaparral, coastal conifer forests, mixed evergreen, and montane mixed-conifer. Fire history studies from the last 1,000 years indicate that in northwestern California, Native Americans frequently burned around villages or areas cultured for food and basketry materials (Lewis 1993). Lightning fires were less frequent in this bioregion, but were more numerous at higher elevations in the North Coast Ranges than in the coast. After the removal and prevention of Native American ignited fires in the mid-1800’s, the primary uses of fire were to improve forage for livestock (Barrett 1935) or to aid in site preparation for intensive logging practices. Fire suppression on national forests in this region began around 1905, but ramped up on private, state, and federal lands around 1945. 

There are fire records dating to around 1915 for this bioregion; they indicate that there were consistently more fires in the North Coast Ranges than the North Coast (CALFIRE-FRAP 2015). The increase in efficacy of fire prevention and suppression led to a consistent decrease in cumulative area burned since the 1950’s. However, in the last few decades, cumulative area burned has been trending upward, possibly due to increases in fuel loads and stand densities in fire-suppressed forests (Stuart and Salazar 2000) and increasing global temperatures influencing (Westerling et al. 2006).


Barrett, L.A. 1935. A record of forest and field fires in California from the days of the early explorers to the creation of the forest reserves. Report to the Regional Forester. October 14, 1935. USDA Forest Service, California Region, San Francisco, California, USA.

CALFIRE-FRAP. 2001. Fire perimeters. Fire and Resource Assessment Program. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Accessed December 12, 2015.

Lewis, H.T. 1993. Patterns of Indian burning in California: ecology and ethnohistory. Pages 55-116 in: T.C. Blackburn and K. Anderson, editors. Before the Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians. Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California, USA

Stephens, S.L., J.M. Kane, J.D. Stuart. 2006. North Coast Bioregion. Pages 149-170. In: J.W. Van Wagtendonk, N.G. Sugihara, S.L. Stephens, A.E. Thode, K.E. Shaffer, J.A. Fites-Kaufman, editors. Fire in California’s Ecosystems. University of California Press, Oakland, California, USA.

Stuart, J.D., L.A. Salazar. 2000. Fire history of white fir forests in the coastal mountains of northwestern California. Northwest Science 74: 280-285.

Westerling, A.L., H.D. Hidalgo, D.R. Cayan, T.W. Swetnam. 2006. Warming and earlier spring increase western U.S. forest wildfire activity. Science 313: 940-943.