Current forest fires positively and negatively changing ecosystem

Current forest fires positively and negatively changing ecosystem

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by Jamie Grey

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KTVB.COM

Posted on August 5, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 6 at 10:29 AM

BOISE -- In the first full week of August, fire season is still heating up in the forests with exceptionally dry conditions. Fires burning in recent, especially, active fire seasons will impact the ecosystem for decades to come.

The U.S. Forest Service says forest fires can have positive and negative effects on the ecosystem. Obviously, and negatively, flames and smoke can immediately burn the landscape, and disturb wildlife, and people who live nearby.

"But longerm we also know fire can have some effects and perhaps benefits. With the change in vegetation you might see more flowers, more grasses. There's a variety of habitats that is certainly out there for wildlife viewers ... for hunters in particular, they often times go to areas that have burned in the last four to five areas or recent years becuse they think there's a better chance of seeing an elk or a deer for example," said Dave Olson, Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest.

Weighing out pros and cons is part of what makes fire management complicated and controversial, with scientists and fire management experts studying the past before planning future fire plans - whether to fight early or strategically allow the fire to burn in some places.

"[Fire] creates a lot of different points of view about what's the right thing to do or the not so right thing to do with fire," Olson said. "So what we try to always establish I think in the national forests is that we know fire is a part of our ecosystem, we know fire needs to be managed in this country. Person-caused fires are always something we try to avoid because it's one less fire that has to be dealt with and we know there are effects of fire both plus and minus-wise."

Fire trends show that since the 1980s, fire patterns changed in the west.

"We started getting fires at higher elevations, which is part of the natural cycle but we were getting a lot of large fires all at once. So since the 1980s, we've got a lot of large fire scars that have developed across the forest," said Kathleen Geier-Hayes, Forest Ecologist for the Boise National Forest.

Those scars show more than half of the Boise National Forest has burned since the 1980s. Some of those areas are now actually used for fire management.

"These fires are now bumping up against those older fire scars and they're acting as a little bit of a fuel break where we get different kinds of fire behavior and then we're able to manage the fire more directly," Geier-Hayes said.

For example, the large Ridge Fire burning near Lowman recently merged into three previously burned areas, including where the Castro Fire burned in 2011. That merge has helped slow the fire and move it toward containment.

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