Fire is an essential force that has shaped life around the globe. But in many ecosystems today, the role of fire is severely out of balance, threatening to devastate both human and natural communities.
For people and for nature, fire can be beneficial, benign or destructive. Different ecosystems have developed different responses to fire, which determine whether fire is usually helpful or harmful.
Fire-dependent ecosystems are resilient to the repeated fires that tend to be part of these ecosystems. Many plants and animals in these landscapes depend on fire to reproduce. Examples of fire-dependent ecosystems include the boreal forests of North America, Europe and Asia, the pine forests of the American West and Mexico, and the vast plains, grasslands and savannas of North America, Africa, Australia, South America and East Asia.
The New York Nature Conservancy is working to restore natural fire regimes in several areas throughout the state.
In the fall of 2005, the Eastern New York Chapter teamed up with other local groups such as the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership to conduct a series of prescribed burns in the Mohonk Preserve outside of New Paltz.
On Long Island, the Fire Team is responsible for developing a cooperative, community-based, partner oriented fire management program that supports the Conservancy's goal to restore fire and fire-dependent ecological processes at viable sites. This effort requires the understanding and support of public agencies and other partners for prescribed burning and other fire management practices.
In many places the role of fire is changing dramatically, often as a result of human actions, and often with a detrimental impact on the surrounding landscape and human communities.
Many fire-dependent ecosystems have been fire-starved through policies of fire suppression. One serious result has been the unnatural buildup of dense stands of flammable trees and thick carpets of dead wood and leaves that have led to unnaturally intense fires like those in Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon in 2002.
Allowing fire to play a role in places where it is ecologically beneficial, and keeping fire out of places where it does not belong will reduce the impacts of altered fire dynamics.January 24, 2011