In nature, there is neither right or wrong — only consequences. The truth of that is demonstrated in After the Fires: The Ecology of Change in Yellowstone National Park.
The wildfires that swept
Yellowstone in 1988 were the first prime-time forest fires,
according to the book. Television viewers stared aghast at the
raging flames and blackened trees. But their visceral horror belied
the fact that major conflagrations are part of the natural process
at Yellowstone. After the Fires, a collection of
articles by different authors, chronicles the results of research
into fire’s long-term effects on the ecosystem, its plants
and its animals.
This technical book is not light
reading, but it offers interesting and sometimes surprising
information. Scenes from the Disney movie Bambi
notwithstanding, snow and drought have a greater impact on the
survival of wildlife, such as elk and bison, than do wildfires,
because fires are more localized than weather. And despite the
devastation wrought by the 1988 burn, the researchers conclude, it
caused no long-term reduction in wildlife populations. Likewise,
the effects on vegetation were generally neutral or positive. Even
where severe crown fires burned most of the lodgepole pine seeds,
researchers found that regrowth was sufficient to restore the
This research could have implications for forest
management. One chapter shows that natural fires create up to four
times the amount of coarse woody debris — snags and fallen
wood that nourish the soil as they decay — as timber
harvesting. Clearly, logging can’t entirely replace wildfire
as a means of maintaining forest health.
The book warns
that wildfires may become harmful if global warming causes them to
become more frequent. Otherwise, however, fire is a natural
phenomenon that is "sometimes unpopular" but offers "a fascinating
look into the forces that shape our natural world."
The restoration will not be televised
You can buy this book and help High Country News, too.
BookSense.com is an on-line family of independent booksellers in communities near you. When you use the link below to buy a book through BookSense.com, you'll not only support local booksellers, you'll also help us: Five-and-a-half percent of each purchase goes to High Country News.