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Forest Fire Examples

Forest conservation efforts have resulted in state and federal laws that protect national forests from timber cutting. To keep the forests in their natural pristine state, roads in the forests have been prohibited. Whenever forest fires are started by lightning, they are put out as quickly as possible. All this seems logical. But there is an unintended consequence.

Lightning has been starting forest fires for centuries.

Our national forests are now overgrown with trees and brush. Much of the forest floor is covered in dead brush and timber from insect destruction. In other words, the national forests are loaded with fuel, and fires, once they start, burn excessively and rapidly. A combination of severe drought, high temperatures, and strong winds created explosively combustible conditions that resulted in the massive fires in Colorado and Arizona in the summer of 2002. 

Firefighters  cannot control these fires, because they are so big and because there are not enough roads to get into the forests to build firebreaks. Not only are the trees destroyed, but the animals and birds that live in the forest are either killed or driven out of their habitats. The problems are made even worse because more and more people who love the forests want to build homes there. So now, shortsighted forest management policies not only create more devastation of the forest when a fire does start but also increases the destruction of expensive homes.

Yellowstone National Park's 2.2 million acres had a serious fire in 1988.  The forest managers let the fire burn itself out. The forest was devastated.   But the forest regenerated itself in a few years. And now it is much more resistant to uncontrollable fires because there is very little deadwood and brush for fuel.

The lessons we have learned include that it is a good idea to allow limited timber cutting in forests. Likewise, we should allow loggers to build roads in forests, which have the benefit of providing access to firefighters if and when a forest fire breaks out.  Here for more on forest management.

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