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Some say fires should not always be fought

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Some say fires should not always be fought
August 30, 2013 05:08PM
After the Fire: The Uncertain Future of Yosemite’s Forests
By Brandon Keim

For nearly two weeks, the nation has been transfixed by wildfire spreading through Yosemite National Park, threatening to pollute San Francisco’s water supply and destroy some of America’s most cherished landscapes. As terrible as the Rim Fire seems, though, the question of its long-term effects, and whether in some ways it could actually be ecologically beneficial, is a complicated one.

Some parts of Yosemite may be radically altered, entering entire new ecological states. Yet others may be restored to historical conditions that prevailed for for thousands of years from the last Ice Age’s end until the 19th century, when short-sighted fire management disrupted natural fire cycles and transformed the landscape.

In certain areas, “you could absolutely consider it a rebooting, getting the system back to the way it used to be,” said fire ecologist Andrea Thode of Northern Arizona University. “But where there’s a high-severity fire in a system that wasn’t used to having high-severity fires, you’re creating a new system.”



Let it burn? Yosemite park officials won't say that, but it's policy
Unless a naturally occurring fire threatens lives or structures, Yosemite and other national parks are likely to let nature run its course.
By Julie Cart
August 29, 2013

... Although the 4,900 firefighters here operate under a unified command, the park service has a very different firefighting philosophy from that of the forest service or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The portion of the Rim fire burning outside the park is fought aggressively by the forest service and Cal Fire. Bulldozers rip fire lines across the landscape, and crews fell trees and set protective backfires. Helicopters and tanker airplanes drop water and retardant.

"We want to send as much equipment to a fire as we can," said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. "Our goal is to put it out early and avoid having a large fire."

But inside parks, a policy often called "fire use" accepts fire as a naturally occurring process and often a useful tool.

Park fire managers suppress blazes that endanger people or threaten structures and resources. Fires in tourist-heavy Yosemite Valley, for instance, are "very, very controlled," said Tom Medema, Yosemite's chief of interpretation and education.

Re: Some say fires should not always be fought
September 01, 2013 10:38PM
Indeed, wildfire suppression policy is a complex issue. I don't know enough about the area the Rim Fire burned through, but it is possible it could provide long-term ecological benefit. The problem (albeit simplified) with constant fire suppression is that you get a build-up of combustable material, stuff that would otherwise be burned and recycled in "cooler" fires while allowing the big trees and such to survive. You keep suppressing natural wildfires and you get a giant tinderbox. Then when it does go off, whether from an anthropogenic or natural spark, WOOSH... everything goes in the resulting "hot" fire and the ecology is irreversibly altered. This underlies the shift in policy in some places from one of complete and utter suppression to one of wildfire management and even prescribed burns.

There is some nuance involved, obviously. For instance, the concern with invasive flammable grasses that take over areas after unsupressed burns, which make for hotter fires the next time around. The role wildfire plays in nature and how we should handle it is a fascinating subject.

"Fire Season" by Philip Connors is a great primer on the subject. Excerpt from a section briefly discussing the origin of Smokey Bear, just for a feel:

Philip Connors
[...] The little cub was an instant media sensation, a living emblem of the pernicious evil of wildfire and the benevolent hand of man. Smokey's admonition -- "Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires" -- would become one of the most recognizable slogans in the history of advertising, his friendly mug inseparable from the idea that fire had no place in a healthy forest. [...] His presence nowadays is more muted, his message updated with modern lingo: "Get Your Smokey On." Were he given the space needed to articulate it, his more honest assessment might read something like: "Remember -- Only YOU Can Prevent Your Cigarette or Campfire from Starting a Wildfire We Are Forced By Long-standing Protocol to Suppress with Every Available Resource so as Not to Encourage Promiscuous Pyromaniacs; On the Other Hand Some Fires Started by Lightning Ought to Be Allowed to Run Their Course, for Reasons of Forest Health and Ecological Renewal -- Fires We Call Wildland Fire-Use Managed for Resource Benefit..." [...]

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/01/2013 10:41PM by HikingMano.
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