Pages

Jump to bottom

4 comments

1 Tsuga  Sat, Mar 29, 2014 7:35:42pm

OMG. Incompetent journalism. Facepalm turned up to 11.

First, there was no mention in the video that of the thirteen major fires that burned in Yellowstone that summer, eight were human-caused, and under the park’s natural fire policy were fought from the very beginning. Some of these fires actually started outside the park and were fought upon discovery. These fires were hard to stop due to conditions that summer, even when they were fought from the start. This was not mentioned by the media at the time and was not mentioned in this video 26 years later. For shame.

Second, a lot of the total acreage “burned” was either not burned or was burned only moderately with many trees surviving. Gross fire acreages quoted here and elsewhere are misleading.

Photos and footage of wildfires always focus on the big flames and the severe damage, not the lesser flames and lighter damage. This is true in nearly all media presentations of wildlife. The media just can’t help it. So the result is an impression that the entire burned acreage was utterly destroyed, contrary to what actually happened.

Third, the discussion of underbrush building up due to fire suppression in Yellowstone is a classic misconception that gets endlessly and uncritically repeated. The thing is, this issue *is* a huge problem in a lot of western forests and is a major contributing factor to the severity of so many western fires over the last few decades. I’ve been really worried about this fuel buildup in many of the forests I love and know, ever since I first became aware of the problem over 40 years ago. (Note: most of the “underbrush” in question is a mixture of dense stands of saplings and dead tree materials like needles and branches, so “underbrush” is really a misnomer in this context.)

The forests that do have this problem are forests which are adapted to occasional or frequent low-intensity “surface fires” that burn off debris and excess plants on the forest floor while generally not harming fire-resistant species of large trees. In these forests, fire suppression causes tremendous and very dangerous fuel buildups that can lead to the entire forest burning down when it would not have done so under natural conditions.

That’s why, when Yosemite National Park reformed its fire policy in the early 1970s, they continued suppression of all fires in those parts of the park with severe fuel buildups until such time that controlled fires could reduce this hazard. These days, most areas in Yosemite that formerly had dangerous fuel buildups are now capable of at least potentially handling a wildlife without burning down to the ground, and the vast majority of the area within the park that burned last year did so without being destroyed (though it was a different story in parts of the adjacent Stanislaus National Forest).

However, that does not mean that every forest in the west has this problem or that every serious forest fire here is fueled by overgrowth of undergrowth. There are a number of forest types in the west that are not tolerant of surface fires. In these forests, even low-intensity fires will tend to seriously damage or kill mature trees due to their thin bark and/or tendency to easily “torch” even when mature.

The forests in Yellowstone that burned were pretty much those kinds of forest types, primarily lodgepole pine, subalpine fir/engelmann spruce, and intermediate mixtures of the two types. These forest types are extremely vulnerable to fires and can not tolerate even occasional surface fires without at least a fair amount of mortality of mature trees, which actually creates more fuel subsequently. Note also that there are no ponderosa pine forests, the best known western forest type adapted to frequent fires, anywhere in the park.

Thus, it’s simply ecologically ignorant to portray the Yellowstone forests as needing natural fires to ‘clear out underbrush’. That’s not how fire works in Yellowstone. Note that the one person to state this underbrush canard in the video was Alston Chase, hardly a reliable source on environmental or ecological matters.

The severity of the 1988 fires in Yellowstone was due to exceptional fire conditions, including severe drought and a freak windstorm (triggered by very unusual behavior of the jet stream) that massively enlarged the fires in just one day’s time. Interestingly, subsequent research has shown that a similar amount of acreage burned in the park area in the late 1700s, albeit over several decades rather than in one year, and long before any fire suppression anywhere in the west.

The park is just too wet in all but the driest summers for fires to get very large there, which did lull the Park Service into complacency prior to 1988 as indicated in the video. However, given that park forests are inherently flammable, there will always be a risk that exceptional fire conditions will return to the park in a given year, again resulting in seemingly catastrophic fires.

2 palmerskiss  Sun, Mar 30, 2014 12:46:26pm

re: #1 Tsuga

thank you for supplying the extra information on this :)

3 Tsuga  Sun, Mar 30, 2014 4:26:14pm

re: #2 palmerskiss

You’re welcome, palmerskiss. Sorry to rain all over your post, but inaccurate presentations of what’s going on in western forests have led to a lot of people barking up the wrong tree regarding potential reforms. The media still can’t get it right after all these years.

Unfortunately, in today’s complex world and with our busy lives, we tend to take presentations like this one at face value (absent a specific reason to suspect their veracity) because we really don’t have the time to be well-informed about everything that’s going on out there. I’m sure I’ve been misinformed about various issues that I’m not knowledgeable about. Sigh…

4 palmerskiss  Mon, Mar 31, 2014 12:53:42pm

re: #3 Tsuga

You’re welcome, palmerskiss. Sorry to rain all over your post, but inaccurate presentations of what’s going on in western forests have led to a lot of people barking up the wrong tree regarding potential reforms. The media still can’t get it right after all these years.

Unfortunately, in today’s complex world and with our busy lives, we tend to take presentations like this one at face value (absent a specific reason to suspect their veracity) because we really don’t have the time to be well-informed about everything that’s going on out there. I’m sure I’ve been misinformed about various issues that I’m not knowledgeable about. Sigh…

no reason to be sorry- i am glad you noted the nyt’s inaccuracies. i post these retro-reports because they are usually pretty good primers on issues that happened in the u.s. before i moved here (i grew up abroad) - i am in no way a wildfire expert - so i am thankful for the info :)


This page has been archived.
Comments are closed.

Jump to top

Create a PageThis is the LGF Pages posting bookmarklet. To use it, drag this button to your browser's bookmark bar, and title it 'LGF Pages' (or whatever you like). Then browse to a site you want to post, select some text on the page to use for a quote, click the bookmarklet, and the Pages posting window will appear with the title, text, and any embedded video or audio files already filled in, ready to go.
Or... you can just click this button to open the Pages posting window right away.
Last updated: 2021-06-05 2:51 pm PDT
LGF User's Guide RSS Feeds Tweet

Help support Little Green Footballs!

Subscribe now for ad-free access!Register and sign in to a free LGF account before subscribing, and your ad-free access will be automatically enabled.

Donate with
PayPal
Cash.app Shop at amazon
as an LGF Associate!
Recent PagesClick to refresh
YUNGBLUD (With WILLOW) - Memories (Official Music Video) YUNGBLUD (with WILLOW) - Memories (Official Music Video) Stream and download “Memories (with WILLOW)” : yungblud.lnk.to watch more official YUNGBLUD videos: yungblud.lnk.to SIGN UP to YUNGBLUD's Mailing List: yungblud.lnk.to subscribe to YUNGBLUD: yungblud.lnk.to connect with YUNGBLUD online:visit the official ...
Thanos
1 week, 3 days ago
Views: 839 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 3 •