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.
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.
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.