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Controlled burns can have positive effects on forests

Controlled burns can have positive effects on forests
Posted at 10:35 AM, Sep 25, 2020

As wildfires rage across the western part of the country, firefighters are doing their best to contain the flames and prevent further devastation. Most of the fires are burning in areas that haven't seen a wildfire in a long time, making the loss of life and land even worse.

"It's been difficult. This is becoming all too common. Another record-breaking, severe, unprecedented fire season here in Colorado. And this was the largest forest fire in the White River National Forest history," said Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, speaking about the Grizzley Creek Fire.

Fitzwilliams says not all wildfires cause complete destruction. In fact, many provide some crucial ecological benefits. Take the big horn sheep who live in the forest.

"Their defense mechanism is those big eyes on the sides of their heads so they can see predators coming. And so, they will abandon a habitat when there's too many trees and too much brush and so in many areas of the canyon, this fire improved big horn sheep habitat," said Fitzwilliams.

The Grizzly Creek Fire also burned the top of a canyon, helping the habitat for elk and deer. A silver lining to the Grizzley Creek Fire, which also charred creeks that provide drinking water for an entire town in Colorado and was unexpectedly slowed by an early snowfall in the area.

At Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in Central California, fire officials conduct what they call "prescribed burns."

"A prescribed burn is literally us giving a prescription to the forest," said Mike Theune, Fire Information Officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Prescribed burns are slow and steady, clear out unnecessary brush and naturally revitalize a forest, he says.

Theune and Fitzwilliams say, for more than 80 years, fire services across the country used to put out any and all fires, even if they occurred naturally, such as from lightning.

"[In the] early 1900s when forest service came into view and smokey bear and we thought we needed to put out all the fires and we did. And we did a great job of it and Smokey Bear was the best spokesperson we could ever ask for but what that did is significantly change the landscape as far as the density of vegetation," said Fitzwilliams.

"We need to restore that ecosystem to what those natural levels are and one of the ways we can do it is through a very measured and very managed scientifically based approach to prescribed burning," said Theune.

Theune says not all national forests in the country need prescribed burns as there are some states that deal with too many forest fires. National parks and forests officials say it's important to evaluate each individual ecosystem's needs in order to preserve their beauty for years to come.