Hundreds of wildfires to continue to burn the forests throughout the state of California. Firefighters are valiantly battling blazing flames stated by lightning in some of the most remote regions of northern California and last week it was revealed that the Rim Fire in and around Yosemite National Park was started by a hunter who built an illegal campfire. Is there any good that can come out of these millions of acres being burned when dozens have lost their homes and others their livelihood, though ?
According to a study done by the University of Oregon's Ecosystem Workforce Program, "...countywide employment and wages increase in some sectors during the wildfires, often mitigating the short-term employment disruptions wildfires cause."
While the burst in spending that comes from dozens, if not hundreds, of fire personnel living in small communities while fighting fires is all well and good, are there any other benefits to wildfires burning national and private forest lands? Many experts say that without fires, the environment and ecosystem would suffer; from their standpoint, wildfires are an essential part of a healthy forest.
Dean Federico Cheever, a Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Denver, stated in a 2010 9News.com interview,
fires are a natural part of western ecosystems. In fact, here in Colorado, a lot of our forested areas are considered fire-prone or fire-adapted. For instance, Lodgepole Pine and the ever-present Ponderosa Pines only seed when they burn, so they need fire to continue to exist.
Cheever went on to say that for the last century the National Forest Service's policy was to suppress every fire that started. This has caused an abundance of fuel to build up in the nation's forests, a situation that creates the possibility of catastrophic fires that are becoming more common. This is the same sentiment that was expressed by one of this Examiner's forest ecology professors at Humboldt State University nearly a decade ago.
Smaller, controlled fires are necessary to prevent disastrous wildfires that are becoming more common every summer and fall. Allowing small fires to burn in a controlled manner also allows certain plants to release their seeds so that more trees and plants can grow.
While Cheever does not reside in California, nor are Colorado forests the same as those in northern California, some of the same logic can be applied to the wildfires that burn out of control in the Golden State every fire season. Wildfires wreak havoc on those who live and work in the areas destroyed by these out of control blazes and the tragic loss of 19 firefighters in Arizona earlier this year can never be fully understood. However, realizing that fires are a natural part of a healthy ecosystem may help government decision makers to develop policies that will allow for smaller, more controllable fires in the future.