Research: The Beauty of a Burned Forest

Dr. Richard Hutto summarizes his research into the ecological effects of severe wildfire as follows:

“The very fires often regarded as ‘unnatural’ and ‘destructive’ are the very fires that provide the best conditions for the most fire-dependent plant and animal species.

Land managers can’t create the magic through severe cutting—fire is critical. . . many people believe that the conditions present after a clearcut or following one of the newer green-tree retention or forest restoration cuts are basically the same as those present after a severe fire. They are wrong.”

“Conditions created by a stand-replacement forest fire are biologically unique at the very least in terms of the biomass of standing dead trees that remain, and to a much greater extent, in terms of ecosystem structure and function. While timber harvesting is a form of ecological disturbance, it is a poor substitute for firebased disturbance because it does not result in numerous, burned, standing-dead trees. Such trees are the most critical component of a biologically diverse postfire ecosystem and that single component contributes significantly to the production of unique successional pathways and unique wildlife communities that we see after fire. . .

Indeed, severe fires are routinely referred to as “catastrophic” events in the popular press regardless of forest type, and such terminology even appears in proposed congressional legislation drafted to deal with severe fire’s aftermath. . .

One of the most common management activities following forest fires is salvage logging [see Hutto’s photo, above]. Perhaps we need to change our thinking when it comes to logging after forest fires. With respect to birds, no species that is relatively restricted to burned-forest conditions has ever been shown to benefit from salvage harvesting. In fact, most timber-drilling and timbergleaning bird species disappear altogether if a forest is salvage-logged.

Burned forests, even severely burned forests, are forests that have been “restored” in the eyes of numerous plant and animal species and in the eyes of an informed public. The burned trees are essential for maintaining an important part of the biological diversity we value today, and are the foundation for the forests of the future.”

Read the full Hutto article here.

Read the full Crown of the Continent Magazine (Fall 2011) here.

This article published on April 18, 2012 • [Permalink]