Can Fires Prevent Fires?
California is ablaze as many are impacted by the wide-scale wildfires. Is it possible that fire can prevent these fires?
by Sriya Gundlapally
Controlled burning, or prescribed burning, is a practice where areas of forestry are purposefully burned for environmental benefits. The fires allow for more growth, renewed soil, and fewer fire hazards such as shrubs or dried leaves. It has been used by private landowners and wildlife management companies for nearly 80 years. Successes were seen in 2017, including eastern Humboldt County in California and near Klamath River. However, this process must be planned and executed flawlessly for the benefits to be seen.
Despite how controlled burning can turn out successful and prevent a lot of damage, there are numerous drawbacks. Many incidents where significant damage was done have also occurred. For example, a failure six years ago in Martin County, Florida occurred due to unforeseen winds. And more recently, a barn at Baugher Farm in Maryland burned down to ashes when the controlled fire went out of hand.
And that’s where the trilemma is presented. Should we focus on the benefits of controlled burning even if the drawbacks are inherently possible? Should they even be implemented more? Well, let’s find out.
Controlled Burning is Beneficial:
According to National Geographic, controlled burning rids a forest of “dead leaves, tree limbs, and other debris”, removing the fuels for the fire, which, therefore, prevents destructive wildfires. Controlled burning also lowers “insect populations” and “invasive plants” along with “[returning] nutrients to the soil” much faster than decomposition can. By adding open space, these controlled fires can boost the growth of new vegetation and allow for a renewed environment without hurting people.
As for people, they can use controlled burning in small areas on their land properties in order to reap the benefits for “livestock and wildlife” through increasing “plant diversity and structure,” as Moseley and Stevens, experienced researchers from Oklahoma at the Noble Research Institute, recently wrote. Additionally, controlled fires create a flat ground which is important to several species such as ground-nesting puffbirds for moving quickly and reaching food sources. Due to the preservation of biodiversity, scientific research can also be accomplished. Therefore, controlled burning provides these benefits when done in a safe, thoroughly planned way so as not to cause destruction or harm to communities of people or wildlife.
Controlled Burning Poses Threats:
As one can imagine, fires may not always act as expected. Careful and thorough planning is required to deploy this potentially harmful process. It is important to consider the possible drawbacks of controlled burning. To start off, fires, as usual, contribute to poorer air quality. As smoke is formed from the burning, it spreads into the air and can negatively impact the health of people and wildlife who live close to the area.
Additionally, since controlled burning is done to take preventive measures, multiple controlled fires may be needed. However, without careful planning, the local residents, buildings, and even entire communities could be negatively affected by the potentiality of out-of-control fires.
Communication and planning are crucial to the success of controlled burnings. Although there are harmful and potentially destructive drawbacks to using this method, there are possibilities for renewed environments too.
A neutral stance would include utilizing controlled burning fewer times per year to reduce air pollution from the fire or perhaps apportioning smaller land areas for controlled burning in order to prevent the larger-scale drawbacks and risk of hazards. With all of this in mind, this is the final question to ask: can fires prevent fires?