Why Forests Need Wildfires
Usually when we think of fire, we think of destruction. However, this is not an accurate or holistic understanding of the effects of wildfires on our environment. Forest fires actually have many positive effects as well. In fact, the benefits of a naturally occurring wildfire generally outweigh the negative effects, at least when the area affected is doesn’t threaten human-made structures or communities.
Wildfires Stimulate New Growth
Obviously wildfire inhibits some growth, but it stimulates a great deal of new growth as well. After a fire, some of the forest canopy has burned away and is less dense, which means it lets more sunlight reach the forest floor. This causes new growth of smaller plants and shrubs along the ground. Additionally, when plant matter is burned, the nutrients from it are present in the ash, which goes into the soil on the forest floor and helps new plants grow.
Some tree species, such as Jack pine and Lodgepole pine, actually require fire to reproduce. The cones from these trees need heat from fire in order to open up and disperse their seeds—the cones are sealed shut with resin, which melts when heated and releases the seeds.
Wildfires change the ecosystem in a natural and beneficial way that promotes diversity of animal and plant life. Stumps and burnt-out trees remaining after a forest fire provide a habitat for lots of different species that would not have lived there before these structures were provided. Plants that couldn’t grow in the area before begin to appear after a fire due to added nutrients from ash and more light from the increased sunlight exposure.
Forest fires also reduce the population of invasive species so that native plants and animals can once again thrive.
Fire Prevents Fire
Although it may seem counterintuitive, regularly occurring small wildfires actually prevent bigger, more destructive fires from happening in the future. If a forest doesn’t have a burn for a long time, dead trees and other fuel builds up, causing a much more destructive, out-of-control fire later.
Controlled burns are small fires set intentionally and managed by fire-fighting professionals for ecological benefit and to help prevent catastrophic fires in the future. Spiedr provides wildland fire suppression training to ensure that firefighters facilitating a controlled burn have the necessary expertise to maintain safety and control.