You may see coverage of a wildfire in a Western state and think “total devastation and destruction”…but that’s not the whole story, and not how you should think about wildfires. Fire has been a natural part of our ecosystems and habitats for millions of years now, and is caused by a variety of factors including weather and human actions. Fire is an ecological driver, meaning that it helps balance and maintain our ecosystems over time, and also promotes new growth during recovery periods.
It is easy to assume that our main goal is to stop and prevent all fires, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, it is best not to stop the fire, but instead to work with the fire to keep our forests healthy and balanced. When forests don’t experience fires for many years, whether natural or planned by humans, they can become thick and scraggly with underbrush and dead trees. Forests that are improperly maintained have large “fuel” loads that can cause any fire to quickly become large, hot, and devastating. Forest maintenance can include thinning out or removing trees, or also prescribed burns, where special steps are taken to intentionally start a small and controlled fire to remove some of the underlying fuel. When combined, these measures can actually allow us to work with the fire and reap the longer-term benefits of a healthy and balanced forest.
This video explores what makes fire in the West unique and demonstrates the importance and benefits of healthy fire to forest ecosystems.