Wildfire control in the American Southwest
Posted: Sat Jul 06, 2013 9:35 pm
This article is probably old hat to a lot of you around here, but thought it was a nice overview of the challenges presented by decades of wildfire suppression in the American Southwest. Might be a good reference when talking to non-tree people about the issues.
http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.17/good-po ... -wildfiresFire is, of course, vital to just about every Western ecosystem. And historically it has come in many shapes and sizes, leaving behind mosaics of green and black. Some areas remain untouched, while in others, the flames keep low to the ground, burning lightly. Elsewhere, the fire may storm through the crowns of the trees, killing many of them. Certain types of forest, like spruce-fir and mixed conifer, naturally burn in such stand-replacing fires, while drier, lower-elevation forests, like the ponderosa that covers much of the Southwest, are adapted to frequent light or moderate fires.
But as any fire ecologist will tell you, the amount and type of fuels, and the conditions that influence fire size, have changed drastically over the past century. Logging removed large trees and left flammable thickets; livestock grazing reduced the grasses that once regularly carried fires, thinning new trees and undergrowth. Meanwhile, land managers snuffed out every wildfire they could. Add climate change, which is making most of the West hotter and drier, and epidemics of tree-killing pine beetles, and conditions are prime for large, severe wildfires.