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National Park Service policy directs that more natural conditions be restored to giant sequoia groves, which have been altered by a century of fire exclusion. Efforts to find a reasonable and practical definition of 'natural' have helped drive scientists and land managers to use past grove conditions as reference conditions for restoration. Extensive research aimed at determining reference conditions has demonstrated that past fire regimes can be characterized with greater precision than past grove structures. Difficulty and imprecision in determining past grove structure has helped fuel a debate between 'structural restorationists,' who believe that forest structure should be restored mechanically before fire is reintroduced, and 'process restorationists,' who believe that simple reintroduction of fire is appropriate. I evaluate old and new studies from sequoia groves to show that some of the arguments of both groups have been flawed. Importantly, it appears that restoration of fire without a preceding mechanical restoration may restore the pre-Euro-American structure of sequoia groves, at least within the bounds of our imprecise knowledge of past grove structure. However, the same may not be true for all forest types that have experienced lengthy fire exclusion. Our ability to draw robust generalizations about fire's role in forest restoration will depend heavily on a thorough understanding of past and present interactions among climate, fire, and forest structure. Use of reference conditions will be central to developing this understanding.
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Reference conditions for giant sequoia forest restoration: Structure, process, and precision