HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
May 14, 2007, Herald Journal

Forest fire management


Tis the season for forest fires. It’s hard not to have empathy for those living near a forest fire and for those working to control it.

However, forest fires, especially those sparked by natural causes, are necessary to the natural ecology of the forest.

Each time I hear of a forest fire blazing across a landscape, I think of the poor critters scurrying to safety, the possible houses in its path, the over-worked firefighters and their safety, and then try to comfort myself with the knowledge that, in the long run, the fire will benefit that forest.

I remember taking a forest management class in college that detailed both the economic loss in wood products versus the ecological benefits from a forest fire.

It was one of the hardest classes I ever took. Calculating board feet production of certain diameters and types of trees was much more comprehensive than I imagined. That class alone steered me away from pursuing a forestry degree.

The ecological aspects of forest management were much easier to comprehend. It was stressed that forest fires cleanse the forest floor and lead the way to regeneration of plant life including new trees.

Wildland fire has great potential to change park landscapes more often than volcanoes, earthquakes or even floods, according to the National Park Service’s web site www.nps.gov/fire.

“Such forces of change are completely natural. Many plants and animals cannot survive without the cycles of fire or flooding to which they are adapted,” according to the National Park Service.

“If all fire is suppressed, fuel builds up and makes bigger fires inevitable. Under certain conditions, large, hot fires can threaten public safety, devastate property, damage natural and cultural resources, and be expensive and dangerous to fight,” according to the National Park Service.

In fact, the park service regularly carries out controlled burns of park land based on several factors such as the depth of leaf litter, age of forest, and other calculations.

Interesting information regarding controlled forest burns, as well as naturally or unintentionally ignited fires is posted on the National Park Service’s web site. Details such as the location, status, cause, acreage burned, resources committed, percent contained, estimated containment date, overview, vegetation affected, values to be protected, and park status can be viewed at www.nps.gov/fire.

“National Park Service policy stresses managing fire, not simply suppressing it. This means planning for the inevitable and promoting the use of fire as a land management tool. The goal is to restore fire’s role as a dynamic and necessary natural process,” according to the National Park Service.

Even knowing the future benefits, it can be hard to watch big, beautiful trees blazing. As I write this, miles upon miles of forest in the Gunflint Trail are burning, which is an area close to my heart. I love everything about that part of the state.

I would rather take a few trips to northern Minnesota each year than one tropical vacation. Well, I may not say that in January, but there’s definitely some kind of magnet about that area for me.


My 7-year-old asked why the bubbles in a root beer float turned dark brown. I said, “I don’t know,” to which he replied, “Didn’t you learn why in college – you should have.”