Many people consider fire a dangerous,destructive force and forget its benefits. Fire is not only a weapon anda danger but also a tool to help us keep our ecosystems alive andwell.
Without fire as a natural element in our ecosystems, theland does not improve, but actually worsens. A lack of fire creates aserious build-up of dead vegetation, which alters fuel arrangement andproduces changes in the vegetative structure and composition. In thepast, when fire was a normal part of nature, material that accumulatedon the ground was burnt naturally by lightning strikes or, morerecently, in a controlled fire started by forest managementcrews.
Now, fire’s bad rap has convinced some that itshould be prevented no matter what, and as a result there are largeamounts of dead vegetation on the ground, which increases therisk of self-ignited fires that burn with greater intensity and spreadmore rapidly because there’s more fuel. Another safer approach toreducing the amount of fuel is to use acreage for grazing but theultimate goal is to reduce the amount of vegetation on the ground, andfire is the quickest way to accomplish this.
There have been manyforest fires in the past few years, especially in California in 2003,that lasted weeks and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families. Tohelp prevent this scenario, plans have been made in three areas:re-introduction, education and planning.
Planning will focus onusing fire’s protective qualities as part of our natural resourcemanagement, developing fire management plans, and using a scientificbasis for an accurate plan of fire management. It would also ensure thatexisting plans are revised and updated.
The re-introductionaspect will ensure that fire is used to restore and maintain healthyecosystems while minimizing its undesirable effects and will work tocreate new and better tools to manage fires depending on their size andintensity.
The educational aspect will create a well-definedmessage explaining the current ecosystem status, risks, costs andbenefits from this fire management program. It will also developmandatory training so all forestry employees understand their roles. Theeducation program will try to get its message out to the public,allowing them to voice their concerns, too.
Ironically, firemanagement will save lives and restore ecosystems by starting fires.This is a great way to change the current status of our environment. Itis a quick and efficient method to clear fire-starting vegetationwithout waiting for it to decompose or bringing in expensive equipmentto move it elsewhere.
The plans made are just that - plans. Theyneed to be enacted. By now, some have been, but the concept of fire asa fire management tool needs to reach more people so that it will getdone.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.