Every fall, television screens across the country light up with reports from out west on wildfires and the mass destruction they cause. Stories of burned houses, relocated families, death tolls, and square miles of damage are thrown left and right. While these are terrible effects wildfires have on humanity, many don’t realize that wildfires are essential, natural events that are crucial to the ecosystems out west.
Wildfires are the landscape’s way of hitting reset. It’s as if the ecosystem is reborn. While from the outside it may seem as though the landscape will never have life again, after the fires pass it takes very little time for new growth to spring up. With the new growth comes a completely new ecosystem dynamic, inviting new organisms into the space.
Take a mature forest for example. Along with mature trees, the forest would house organisms specific to the habitat type (wolves, rabbits, deer, bear, owls, tweety birds, etc.) While this ecosystem works, it does take its toll on the land. The trees are constantly draining nutrients from the ground, the animals are feeding on the plants and each other, and as time goes on the resources get depleted. Now say at this point in time a wildfire rips through that forest. There’s no more tall, strong trees, no more graceful deer, no lumbering bears, no singing birds, the area is desolate. Soon enough though rains come and bring moisture to the dry earth, winds blow and grass seeds are spread throughout the dirt. They take root and along with them comes other small microorganisms, these guys slowly start replenishing the soil with nutrients the trees had drained from it. I could continue with how each new addition to the environment allows yet another new organism to come to the party, but I think you get the idea.
When you look at wildfires in this light, they are simply a necessary event that brings new life to an area. It’s when human life is affected that they become an evil natural disasters. We insist on expanding our living area into areas we know are fire prone. In order to build such houses we must clear land, which in turn not only destroys habitat but also allows fire to spread more easily than if it had a dense forest to burn through. We need to be more mindful of where we place ourselves. We are spreading like wildfire. If we do not take into account the effects our actions have on our environment, we will be the ones making the earth desolate.