The Rim Fire did not “kill everything”

It’s time to replace the incorrect “forest fires kill everything” notion reflected in the LA Times article on the Rim Fire (9/24/13) with what actually happens. A burned forest is full of life-in-reserve. It will recover despite our hand wringing.

It was gratifying to read a clear explanation at the end of the article of the factors that led to the Rim Fire: past logging, climate, and to a minor extent, past fire suppression. It was also good to see mentioned that intense fires such as this are not abnormal. We only wish these points had been mentioned at the beginning. As a consequence, it is likely the main take away for the average reader will be that this fire “killed everything,” the soil was “cooked,” the charred trees have “no value,” and if we don’t do something soon, the landscape will “permanently convert to chaparral.”

Such statements are based on outdated perspectives, mainly that a forest has no value unless it can be logged. For example, charred trees have tremendous value as habitat-rich building blocks for a recovering forest. Despite the heat, the soil will be fine and the sediment that reaches the streams will introduce a rich variety of nutrients to the aquatic environment. To warn that “if we don’t intervene, it will convert to brush,” indicates that there is a clear misunderstanding about natural, post-fire processes.

How did the forest ever survive without us?

Photo below: the remarkable recovery since the 1988 Yellowstone Fires. The careers of a number of land managers were ruined because of the political pressure and hype about how the Yellowstone Fires were the fault of the fire service, past fire suppression, and that the park had been “destroyed.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Unfortunately, we haven’t learned. The misconceptions continue with the Rim Fire.

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