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Posts Tagged ‘renewal’

Photo: Mike Laycock, National Park Service
Black-backed woodpeckers, such as this female, thrive in the aftermath of a forest fire.

Once again radio’s Living on Earth, has a holistic take on current events affecting the environment. Host Steve Curwood and environmentalists elsewhere have noted the fire-control success of indigenous people and long-ago subsistence farmers — fighting fire with fire.

In today’s story we learn how good fire management, though made more difficult by increased development, can benefit both humans and wildlife.

“The record-setting wildfires in the Western U.S. this year have had devastating consequences for the people who have lost their homes and businesses. But as Aaron Scott of Oregon Public Broadcasting [OPB] reports, many species of plants and animals depend on forest fires to create and maintain the habitat they need.

“AARON SCOTT: Ecologist Paul Hesburgh and Bill Gaines are taking us on a tour through a section of the Washington Cascades that was burned by the Tripod Fire in 2006.

“BILL GAINES: Paul, I’m not seeing a lot of woodpecker cavity activity. …

“SCOTT: The reason we’re looking for woodpeckers is that they are a poster animal for how scientists like Gaines and Hesburgh are reimagining fire. Instead of seeing fire as a negative thing that needs to be suppressed, they are finding it is essential to the well-being of many plants and animals. For example, burned forests may look barren to us. But for wood-eating insects and their predators, they are a feast waiting to happen. Gaines marvels at how woodpeckers just seem to flock in. …

“And they are far from alone. From aspen to morels, from blackberries to bees. There’s an incredible range of plants and animals that thrive in areas touched by fire. One of the best-known examples is the lodgepole pine, which grows what’s called serotinous cones.

“PAUL HESBURGH: And so every cone scale is held together by a drop of resin, and it takes the heat of a fire to melt that resin and cause those cone scales to open up.

“SCOTT: The cones shed seeds that quickly grow into dense stands of young trees. And these stands are one of the only hunting grounds for one of the country’s most adorable and threatened predators. The Canada lynx. …

“GAINES: We’re going to pretend we’re a Canada lynx. And what we want to find is our prize food, you know, a snowshoe hare.

“SCOTT: Gaines crouches down in stalks his way through the thick branches.

“GAINES: You can see here a scat from a snowshoe hare, so we know they’ve been here. Tells us this is good habitat for snowshoe hare and good habitat for lynx.

“SCOTT: That’s because these young pines are like a goldilocks zone. They’re just right, big enough to provide shelter for the bunnies with branches low enough for them to hide under. But as the pines grow taller and their branches no longer touch the ground, the bunnies and the lynx that hunt them have to go in search of new stands. …

Few northwest animals have evolved to live in thick, unchanging forests. Instead, most need an evolving clumpy mosaic of landscapes to meet all their needs. And the main driver behind that constant process of change and renewal is fire.

“HESBURGH: If you were to roll the film back a hundred, hundred and fifty years in history and take a look at a big landscape panorama, what you would see is places that were burned yesterday, places that were burned five years ago, ten years ago, that create this variety of habitats. …

“Where the forest is all grown up and blended. There are some critters still making a living in that landscape, but it has nowhere near the variety of the former landscape before it was homogenized.

“SCOTT: Today’s thick forests combined with a warming climate also set the stage for megafires. The result is two starkly contrasting landscapes and a dynamic far different from the one native animals evolved with. …

“GAINES: Lynx recovery is either made or are not here in this part of Washington. This is the largest population in the lower 48 states.

“SCOTT: And it doesn’t stop there. Fire has a crazy interaction with water by helping to thin out dense spreading forests, it actually leads to more water flowing into wetlands and streams. That encourages rich cool dining rooms for everything from bear to fish. No one is advocating that we let all fires burn freely, especially the human-caused ones. But a consensus is emerging that as crazy as it sounds, we need to restore regular fire to the land to help our fellow plants and animals survive.”

More at Living on Earth, here. Check out the original, too, at OPB in Portland, Oregon.

National Geographic, meanwhile, explains how “controlled” or “prescribed” burns can protect nature: “Controlled burns have become more important as fire suppression efforts have grown over the last century. Historically, smaller fires occurred in forests at regular intervals. When these fires are suppressed, flammable materials accumulate, insect infestations increase, forests become more crowded with trees and underbrush, and invasive plant species move in.

“Controlled burns seek to accomplish the benefits that regular fires historically provided to an environment while also preventing the fires from burning out of control and threatening life and property.”

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