The Important Role of Forest Fires in Sustaining the Eco-System of ForestsApr 11, 2018
Forest fires, from the perspective of an observer, look like large-scale destruction. And, we are tuned to think that destruction is always bad. Attempts are made to control and prevent forest fires and they are not allowed to spread. While fires are very dangerous and need to be immediately attended to, forest fires are actually a natural phenomenon that is required to maintain the sensitive eco-systems of forests.
Forests typically go through various stages of development and require certain key environmental features at each stage. Different types of forests contain different species of trees and wildlife but all of them go through these natural stages of growth and destruction. The stages can be broadly classified as the early stage, the pioneer stage and the climax stage. Since fires are a naturally occurring phenomenon, many trees and wildlife species have evolved to take advantage of this and they thrive in the burnt forests. In fact, the seeds of certain trees can only germinate amidst a wildfire. The burning fire helps regenerate the forest soil. The first stage of the forest, the early stage, is possible only with the essential ecological changes that the forest fires bring along. This leads to grass and weeds growing from the soil followed by the growth of pioneer trees. After this, the taller trees grow and form a canopy in the climax stage.
Wildlife also goes through the same cycle of growth and destruction. Forest fires give ample scope for a unique eco-system to flourish. Burnt forests are the perfect homes for many types of birds and organisms. These lead to the entry of another set of eco-system that evolves according to the environment. Each stage of the forest becomes home to a unique wildlife.
Forest fires bring the essential soil nutrients to fore by clearing out dead wood and materials that will take a long time to clear out on their own and thereby hamper the growth cycle of the forests. So, when we control fires or put them out externally, this natural process gets disrupted and forests become stagnant. This affects the whole eco-system and the evolution of the wildlife. Also, when fires are controlled often, the dead materials in the forests pile up and pose a risk of breaking out into huge fires that might be impossible to control and ones that might threaten the nearby human communities as well because of their uncontrollable intensity.
Wildfires do affect the environment negatively in a few ways. They can pollute the air by releasing excess carbon dioxide; they can destroy habitats in the surrounding areas as well. These are things that we should be thinking about and be finding ways to manage. Natural forest fires are caused mostly by lightning that strikes when the forest is in the last stage of growth and hence does not occur very often. We should be careful to not let combustible materials start a man-made forest fire.
By carefully studying the nature of forest fires and understanding the importance, we can arrive at a solution to not fully contain the fires while also making sure that damage is not caused to human habitats by the forest fires.