Why Forest Fires help Ecosystems and Forests

Although forest fires cause problems, or even tragedy, for humans, they are essential in the maintenance and development of forest ecosystems.  Government actions, such as the Healthy Forests Initiative, are being taken to reduce forest fires but the effects of this will be mostly negative, as they will prevent the beneficial services of forest fires.  Small, natural forest fires are best for providing the necessary services of forest fires.  Large, often human-caused, forest fires can be intensely destructive of natural species and habitats and are not beneficial to the ecosystem.    

When natural forest fires are suppressed, certain forest characteristics develop.  One of these characteristics may be an over-population of insects and pathogens.  Forest fires serve to control these populations, which, at too great a size can be detrimental to the health of the other organisms that make up the forest.  Another characteristic may be lack of nutrients, as forest fires help to release nutrients from slowly decaying organic matter.  Perhaps without the aid of occasional fires, these nutrients would not be released fast enough to support the organisms that rely on them.  Suppressing forest fires does not reduce the risk of a large, destructive fire; in fact, it increases it.  Small forest fires clear out flammable ground material and if these fires are suppressed, this material builds, providing ever-increasing amounts of fuel for a crown fire; a crown fire can be intensely destructive to vegetation, wildlife, soil and human structures and does not provide the benefits of a small fire.

Other biomes, in addition to forests are kept healthy by small fires, an example of which being grasslands.  Without fires, dead plant material accumulates; this prevents new grass from growing as quickly as needed, which keeps food from the animals that depend on the fresh grass.  When there is a fire in grassland, old or dead grass is cleared out and this allows new grass to grow.  This is a good way for nutrients to be released and spread and a good way for the grass to renew itself most effectively.

The legislation of the Healthy Forests Initiative may have both negative and positive effects.  One negative effect likely to result from these implementations is the loss of habitats for wildlife.  Many species rely on the larger trees and brush for habitats and food; once these resources are cleared away, these species are at a serious disadvantage.  According to the Healthy Forests Initiative legislation, a positive effect may be the increased protection of endangered species whose very existence could be compromised by a fire.  Assuming that these species do not rely on the resources being harvested, this legislation will protect the habitats and food sources that are necessary to the continuation of that species.  Overall, this justification is weak compared to the many benefits of forest fires.