Long-term Ecological Impacts of the Rim Fire
The following is an excerpt froma story published this week in the Calaveras (Calif.) Enterprise concerning the Rim Fire which still burns in Yosemite National Park but is approximately 80% contained. The story was written by John Degrazio who lives in Sonora and owns YExplore, an adventure company that operates in Yosemite National Park. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many ecologists predict the impacts from this fire will be felt for decades and most agree, with changing climate conditions, fires like the Rim Fire will become more commonplace without proactive measures that promote healthy forests. The forests of the Sierra Nevada remain wholly unhealthy due to overgrowth that has been encouraged by a fire suppression policy for the greater part of the last century.
Old-growth forests contain trees that can typically withstand the heat of a natural wildfire. There is a reason that giant sequoias can live 3,000 years without human intervention. Unfortunately, when westerners began managing the forests, fire suppression was the main focus of their efforts. This suppression has allowed aggressive growth of many conifers that now overcrowd the sequoia groves and pose a greater threat to their sustainability. Since about 1970, resource managers realized this error and further understood that many of the repercussions of suppression caused severe vegetation accumulation that led to the circumstances leading to the Rim Fire.
The Forest Service has learned how to more effectively manage the nearly 40,000 square miles of the Sierra Nevada in the past few decades, but it is fighting an uphill battle. Projects have been created to thin large areas of the national parks and forests, but remaining fuel loads and congressional budget cuts have minimized their effectiveness.
Unfortunately, not many trees are left standing in extreme fire incidents, which means severe loss of habitat for the area’s wildlife. Animals that were able to escape the flames have been traumatized and those less fortunate perished. There are reports of distressed black bears suffering from burns, while some have left the forest and have appeared near residential areas.
Another major concern is the effect of this fire on endangered great grey owls (Strix nebulosa) that inhabited the area that was in the heart of the burn. This could be a major loss to this area that was seeing a resurgence in population of the predatory bird. All other wildlife, including foxes, fishers and many other species, will also suffer from devastating losses.
Click here to read the entire story.