the benefits of fire

forest fire
photo courtesy of NOAA

We have all read about them…the insane, previously unseen and completely out of control fires that are ravaging parts of America’s west. The lack of water has taken its toll. Reservoirs are tapped. Rivers are running dry. Famous people are illegally hoarding water. Lakes are at all-time lows. Northern parts of states are at odds with the southern parts. The state of Colorado wants its fair share of the Colorado River to stay in Colorado while Los Angeles keeps growing which means a higher demand for water. And then there are the scorching temperatures. The combination of drought conditions and high temperatures have resulted in widespread blazes which are often unpredictable and (unfortunately and unlikely) unavoidable – even with the best of land management plans (although there is always room for improvement).

This makes fires scary things to use human folks – as is the case with many things that we cannot control. This fear makes it easy to overlook the benefits of fire. However, the valuable role that they play in ecosystem health is undeniable.

Here are four benefits of fire in the health of our natural systems:

  • Fires clear underbrush which enriches the soil with new nutrients. This is known as nutrient cycling.
  • Fires help to eliminate invasive/non-native species.
  • Fires change the carrying capacity of forests by removing old growth, which is relatively unproductive, and opening up space for new and more varied growth.
  • Fires play a pivotal role in the perpetuation of various species. Hickory and oak trees, for example, have very thick bark which is able to sustain periodic fires. Furthermore, seedlings from these varieties their seedlings need nutrient-rich soil free of shade to thrive. In some locations, certain seeds require fire to germinate.  Fire also leaves behind acidic ash which is needed for the growth of native plants in places such as the sand plains.
photo courtesy of npr.org
photo courtesy of npr.org