Benefits of Forest/Brush Fires By Terrill Tackwood

Did you know that cigarette butts, climate change, camp fires, fireworks, and other natural/ electronic disastrous events can cause forest fires? When lit cigarette butts lay on or near weed, crops, and trees it will gradually ignite up into flames. Next, climate change can sometimes lead into dry and humid air which can also cause brush fires. Finally, broken down power lines can make sparks that can cause brush and forest fires. In open dry spaces, there can be brush fires causing property damage, black smoke polluting the air from the wildfire, etc. Wildfires are the cause of endangerment of the wild life and our human habitats such as our homes, parks, and cities! Society can help reduce wildfires by ending people's abilities to smoke in all green open space areas, construct less electronic substances around forests, make global warming extinct, and take better control of the environment around us.

All of the negative implications I mentioned above were the first thoughts that came to mind when I heard the word wildfires. All I knew is they caused massive destruction. However, I have done some research discovering the pros and cons of wildfires and have determined that they are also benefits in addition to the negatives. We will start with one of the cons of wildfires and how it has taking a toll on our planet earth. The thought of forest/brush fires always come with these type of negative connotation. We will start with one of the cons of wildfires which is population.

According to Climate Central, “Wildfires burning within 50-100 miles of a city routinely caused air quality to be 5 to 15 times worse than normal, and often 2-3 times worse than the worst non-fire day of the year” and “They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the mortality risk and health and lung problems, according to the U.S. EPA” (Central 10-19). Wildfires can cause toxic air pollution throughout an entire city depending on how big it is. Not mentioning seniors and children breathing in the polluted air which is unhealthy for the human body. I remember when I was in the 5th grade in elementary school one morning there was a wildfire near the school, but wasn’t close enough for the raging flames to reach us. The other students and I had to breathe in the dreadful air while going to class, during recess and lunch time.

I know for a fact that I do not want to see those horrible scenes of lifeless trees because of wildfires. Nevertheless, no matter what the trees/brushes look like it's apart of the process. This is a picture of an uncontrolled wildfire. (Picture above)

There are so many contributions that wildfires provide to our forests. Outside of using controlled fires to stop one that is uncontrolled, it is very important for people to clearly outline the plan for creating controlled fires to accomplish “burn objective such as the following: Kill woody plants, remove grass, wildflower dead vegetative build-up (duff), promote regrowth of warm season plant, promote regrowth of cool season plant, reduce or set back noxious weeds, increase populations of wildflowers, reduce cattail mono-cultures, reduce wildfire fuel build-up, promote growth of fire dependent trees such as Jack pine, and increase populations of threatened and endangered species. For both safety and legal reasons, certain groups should be notified before a burn to prevent unnecessary concerns and danger.” (Management 5-6). What is very important to note and what most authors have mentioned during my research, is the strong recommendation for prescribed burns to only be initiated by trained professionals.

Next, in addition to naturally occurring fires and careless man-made fires, there are also what is called controlled fires. This is a process called controlled burning. Initially, I did not understand how starting a controlled fire could actually stop another fire from burning until I began researching the details. “Firefighters also fight wildfires by deliberately starting fires in a process called controlled burning. These prescribed fires remove undergrowth, brush, and ground litter from a forest, depriving a wildfire of fuel.” (Geographic 3). These type of monitored fires are also referred to as prescribed burning. Controlled fires are managed by creating smaller fires in front of the raging wildfire. Basically, the firefighters are depriving the wildfire from fuel which in turn helps to minimize the amount of burning and it eventually dies out. There are also other techniques utilizing prescribed burning that help with stopping wildfires, such as firebreaks. This process is “often used as an anchor point to start a line of fires along natural or man made features such as a river, road or a bulldozed clearing.” (Bowman 2).

Another benefit of forest fires that is most interesting to me, is its ability to destroy diseases. These fires can “act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects from a forest ecosystem. And by burning through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, wildfires allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling a new generation of seedlings to grow.” (Geographic 3). I am amazed at how nature can correct its imperfections and replace them with new soil, nutrients, and resources as a result of wildfires.

We have discussed how naturally occurring fires help to restore the soil and nutrients, but we have yet talked about how often they should occur. This is an important conversation to have because it helps provide us with clarity on how nature tries to maintain the health of our forest. “Forest health is a particularly difficult indicator to frame and quantify as there is no consensus on exactly what defines forest health. Using the Sierra forest as an example, Researchers determined fire frequency by analyzing fire scars in tree rings of live and dead trees. Results show that forested areas previously burned every 11 years on average in the warmer and drier lower elevation forests such as ponderosa pine. On the other end of the spectrum, fire occurred only every 133 years for sub-alpine forests where it takes much longer for fuels to accumulate and dry.” (Warnert 11). If we want to be more involved in the promotion of healthy ecosystems within our forests, understanding the complexity of natural fires is a great start.

Park rangers are the unspoken heroes when it comes to the protection of forests from uncontrolled fires, but they also serve as the overseers of the natural resources found within the forest. These rangers educate those visiting the forests on how to prevent forest fires, they are normally the first ones to respond to a forest fire, and they work with local agencies like firefighters to fight forest fires. “Park rangers are the law enforcement officials of our state and national parks. They protect and preserve parklands, keeping park resources safe from people who might try to damage them deliberately or through neglect.” (Buddies 2). Unfortunately, sometimes they also serve as search and rescue when fires are out of control. This is why the education that the rangers provide regarding the prevention of and protection from fires is so critical. It is this very education that may save a person’s life.

We know forest fires can cause traumatic devastation to human, animal, and plant life. According to a scholarly article, “Forest Fires Alter the Trophic Structure of Soil Nematode Communities”. (Butenko, Gongalsky, Korobushkin, Ekschmitt, Zaitsev 1). Whether it be a fire created by nature or uncontrolled fire we now have better insight into the positives that forest fires can have on our ecosystem. It is our responsibility to protect the naturally occurring process that nature creates and to remain aware of the regeneration process so that we do not disturb it.

References

Warnert, Jeannete E. "Sierra forests need to burn more often." ANR Blogs. N.p. 23 May 2013. Web. 05 May 2017.

Butenko, Konstantin, Konstantin Gongalsky, Daniil Korobushkin, Klemens Ekschmitt, and Andrey Zaitsev. "Forest Fires Alter the Trophic Structure of Soil Nematode Communities." Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 2017. Web. 05 May 2017.

Lombardo, Crystal, Marc Zorn, and Andrew Gazdecki. "You searched for pros and Cons of Forest Fires." Vision Launch. N.p., 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 05 May 2017.

"Report: Wildfires & Air Pollution, A Hidden Hazard." Climate Central. N.p. 25 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. Managing Michigan Wildlife: A Landowners Guide. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI. Web. 05 May 2017.

Bowman, David. "Explainer: back burning and fuel reduction." The Conversation. N.p. 13 Nov 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

"Wildfires Information and Facts." Information and Facts. N.p. n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

Warnert, Jeannete E. "Sierra forests need to burn more often." ANR Blogs. N.p. 23 May 2013. Web. 05 May 2017.

"Park Ranger." Science Buddies. N.p. n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.

Credits:

Created with images by skeeze - "wildfire forest fire" • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region - "Fire Tree" • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region - "Prescribed Burn at Perbix Waterfowl Production Area of the Minnesota Valley Wetland Management District" • USACE HQ - "Park Ranger guides students along Calaveras River"

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