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Pine Forest Bordering Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, 1 Month After A Prescribed Burn

Fire is destructive. Each year wildfires burn hundreds of thousands of acres of forest. They destroy neighboring homes and livelihoods. The news reports the threat of wildfires and shows powerful video footage of the flames. Each fire gets a name based on where it started. Then we get to hear about the fire as it moves forward. But what is often overlooked is the awesome expository and regenerative result, when the fire is out, after the news cycle has moved on to the next big thing.

Of course not every fire destroys life or property. Some are controlled burns that are purposely set on private or public lands for a number of land management purposes such as brush removal, fire prevention, or regeneration, to name a few. Fires can be a creative form of destruction. A growing number of hikers, campers, and other outdoors enthusiasts recognize the benefits of fires and are seeking these recently burned areas for recreation.

Some will look upon the remnants of a fire and see a matchstick wasteland while others see beauty among the ruins. The landscape appeals aesthetically, in a different way. Animals can be seen from great distances. Previously unseen vistas are now wide-open. Rock outcroppings are exposed. All kinds of previously hidden land features stand out in burn areas.

Nature continues reworking the landscape even as we look away. Seeds break the soil as they reach for the sun. Their roots creep just under the surface. Roots break rocks apart or wrap around and hold them together as they seek moisture from the ground. Rain falls on the scorched earth, weathering the surface. Water, a seemingly helpful resource, can cause problems too.

Storms can be a sudden danger in recently burned areas. Trails can get wiped out. Fires leave burned areas devoid of ground cover and vegetation which makes these areas more susceptible to flooding and mudslides. Loose rocks can be a serious hazard and mudslides can move large boulders. Hikers and campers should avoid drainages like creeks and streambeds even if they are dry or look safe. Anyone in such an area should immediately seek higher ground while staying off exposed ridges. Even slight winds can make burned trees hazardous. Fire weakens the stability of trees. Weakened trees can fall with no warning and make little or no sound as they do.  For all these reasons, hiking and camping in a burned area requires caution.

Two years after a fire, grasses, trees, and shrubs are reclaiming the forest floor.

It takes time for a forest to regenerate. Some take almost no time to begin the process. Others can take generations and even centuries to look as they did before. Though, they are never really the same as before. New growth is sensitive to foot traffic. Even small changes during regrowth have lasting effects on the landscape. Use a “Leave No Trace” ethic while enjoying these spaces. For all these reasons, recreationists should take special care when traversing areas affected by wildfires.

Check for fire restrictions or closures that may affect your plans. Talk with forest rangers that work in the district. They can offer valuable advice on campsites and trails. Rangers help you avoid potential problems and help you find those really special spots suited to your interests. Recreation areas need volunteers to repair signs, mark and clear trails, and rebuild. Ask if you can help. Even a little effort goes a long way.

Repairing a sign that burned down will help others find the trail.

Burned areas offer unparalleled opportunity to see landscapes as they are reworked by nature. It is a real pleasure to watch the seasons pass in these unique places. I hope you will get out and enjoy a fresh look at the land and enjoy the simple pleasures these beautiful areas provide.

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# Comments

  • Jeff Barber

    Very timely given the wildfires raging in the western US this month.

    Last week I was out in the Buffalo Creek (Colorado) area which has been ravaged by at least 3 different fires since the 1990s. This was my first time in the area since the early 2000s and what a difference 8-10 years can make! The aspen trees are coming back and all the charred remains have been washed away and covered with green vegetation. Very cool to see nature work its magic!

  • LightFoot

    A friend sent me this link to a ranger led public tour of the Million Fire burned area on Saturday, June 23 in the Rio Grande National Forest. The link says “The tour will include visits/walks to three areas to discuss what happened during the fire and to view how it has recovered over the past ten years.” http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/riogrande/news-events/?cid=STELPRDB5373528

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