Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Controlled burns: Are they worth it?

Blake Hueneman in Mother Nature Network, via the Nature Conservancy's "Cool Green Science blog: On Aug. 26, a controlled burn (also known as a prescribed fire) got away from a federal fire crew in Yosemite National Park. The Big Meadow fire, which was planned to span one day and 91 acres, is being mopped up today after having spread across more than 7,400 acres of the park. The town of Foresta was evacuated for several days because of the blaze.

Like other escaped fires before it, this incident has raised awareness of a fact that every prescribed fire practitioner knows: No matter how careful you are, no matter how much training your staff have received, any time you light a match, there’s a chance that something will go wrong.

…Second, the decision to burn or not to burn is made on a place-by-place basis. Some areas are inherently more difficult to burn safely than others, and it’s also true that some landscapes will benefit from fire more than others. We burn where and when our calculus indicates that the benefits to biodiversity far outweigh the costs and potential negative consequences. So it’s a matter of striking the right balance, and I believe that the Conservancy as well as our partners are generally prudent in this regard. But again, as the Big Meadow Fire shows, not perfect.

Most terrestrial ecosystems in North America need fire — to one degree or another — to persist. I’ve never been to Yosemite, but it’s possible, maybe even likely, when all is said and done the Big Meadow fire will have a net positive impact ecologically, and improve habitat for wildlife such as mule deer and cavity-nesting birds.

…It’s important to realize that prescribed burning can have direct benefits for people as well as nature. For example, many ranchers know that a well-timed fire can improve forage for livestock. And some experts think proactive controlled burning might have prevented the deadly Station fire near Los Angeles…..

The effects of a June 2006 wildfire in the forest southwest of Sisjön in Gothenburg, Sweden. Shot by Martin Olsson, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are right - in the long run and big picture we will see the positive ecological benefits of this fire and the protection this has provided to the community of Foresta. For many years we have trained society to believe that fire is bad. Fire is a necessary part of our own existence. Look back on the amount of rain we received this spring compared to last spring. Did everyone forget how much worse last year's fire season was compared to this year?