Southeastern Deserts

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The southeastern portion of the state is extremely arid. Except for isolated desert mountains, rainfall is 25 cm (10 in). Portions of the Mojave and Sonoran warm deserts, and the southwestern tongue of the Great Basin cold desert comprise the Southeastern Deserts bioregion. Major vegetation types include various desert scrubs (creosote bush Larrea tridentata], blackbrush [Coloegyne ramosissima] , sagebrush [Artemisia spp. ]), halophytic scrubs in alkaline sinks (greasewood [Sarcobatus vermiculatus], saltbush [Atriplex spp. ]), desert riparian woodland, pinyon (Pinus monophylla) woodland, montane conifer forest dominated by white fir (Abies concolor), and, in the Panamint and White Mountains, a subalpine woodland with scattered western bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) and limber pine (Pinus flexilis; Brooks and Minnich 2006). 

Fire is typically limited by the lack of fuel continuity and by fuel type. Fires will not typically spread beyond ignition points in the lower elevation and desert ecological zones. Little is known about the pre-Euro-American settlement pattern of fire in this bioregion because of lack of fire history information (i.e. long-lived trees and sediment cores). Fire was used by livestock operators to convert shrublands to grasslands to increase forage production. Currently, the total area burned in this region remains relatively low, with most fires occurring along roadsides or in remote areas following lightning strikes (Brooks and Esque 2002). Non-native annual grasses also have altered local fuel types and loads, which can influence fire frequency in these areas.


Brooks, M.L., T.C. Esque. 2002. Alien annual plants and wildfire in desert tortoise habitat: status, ecological effects, and management. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 4:330-340. 

Brooks, M.L., R.A. Minnich. Southeastern Deserts Bioregion. Pages 391-414. 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.