Fire’s Impact

Most people have pretty negative feelings about fire, but I’ve recently gained a tremendous appreciation for it. During my last two internships I helped conduct prescribed fires, and for the first time I really understood the critical role fire plays in maintaining several ecosystems. Without fire, most grassland, marsh, and scrub ecosystems wouldn’t exist as we know them. I wanted to share this revelation with others, so I set up  monitoring points where I photographed three areas as they recovered from fires.

FireProgression_1
Pine flatwoods immediately after (top) and two months after (bottom) a prescribed fire at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida. The grasses and flowers in the bottom photo rely on fire to prevent trees and bushes from shading them out.

In general, when fire is suppressed, bushes and trees outcompete grasses and flowers. This decreases plant biodiversity, which in turn decreases animal biodiversity. Additionally, there are many plant and animal species (insects included) that rely on sunny, open areas to survive.

FireProgression_4
Pine Flatwoods before, two weeks after, and three months after a prescribed fire at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida. Note how much brush was cleared by the fire, which allows sunlight to reach the ground. Also note that the scorched pines returned to green in the third photo.

After participating in prescribed burns during my past two internships, I started to realize how similar fires are to living beings. They breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. They need food (fuel) to grow and survive. They can kill and nourish. They are born and die. And like all species, they can go extinct.  After decades of nation-wide fire suppression (led by our friend, Smokey Bear) combined with habitat fragmentation and human development, large scale wildfire has essentially vanished from the eastern and central North American landscapes that it helped create. I know that large scale fires simply aren’t safe or realistic with today’s human population; I just want to suggest a more appreciative attitude towards fire, perhaps our continent’s least appreciated extinct-in-the-wild species.

FireProgression_2
Two months after fire, palmettos, grasses, and flowers are becoming lush and vibrant once again.

1 thought on “Fire’s Impact

  1. It’s been a major education program to get foresters and the public to accept controlled burns because of the success of the Smoky The Bear campaign. They are also used in the west to reduce fuel loads…lots of small controlled burns rather that one BIG wildfire! But now there’s climate change.

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