The park now manages fire as a critically important natural process that is allowed to resume its original role in crafting and influencing the plant and wildlife communities of the national park. The task is to manage the natural process of fire in ways that avoid negative impacts on resources and do not threaten human life and property.
For example, strong winds are common in Big Bend. A prescribed fire is postponed or suppressed if high winds are forecast for the park region. The National Park Service is also concerned about smoke and how it impacts human health and air visibility. Winds sometimes shift direction after a prescribed fire is started. If those winds bring large amounts of smoke to areas of high human use, the fire is put out.
The cost of using a prescribed fire to reduce an overload of flammable material can be as low as $48/acre. Putting out a wildfire with excessive amounts of dead wood could easily top $800/acre. Thus, a well-planned program of prescribed burns could cost only 1/16th the price of traditional firefighting.
In some sections of the park we may apply prescribed fire as a tool to eliminate or reduce exotic species such as tamarisk and buffel grass and to encourage native species like mesquite trees and desert grasses. Fire-adapted native plants germinate or sprout immediately after a fire and may replace exotic vegetation. For example, the roots of mesquite are rarely killed in a fire. Even if the entire above-ground portion of the tree is consumed by flames the plant can sent new shoots up from the surviving roots.
Restoring Fire in Big Bend
The new policies and attitudes towards fire management will restore and reinvigorate Big Bend's plant and animal communities to more natural conditions. Proper fire management will also enable us to more easily contain future fires that threaten human life, property, and precious resources.
Did You Know?
The Johnson store and home at Johnson's Ranch was the largest adobe structure in the Big Bend in the late 1930's. It was from this building that Elmo Johnson ran his sucessful trading company and managed the Army Air Corps landing field on his property. More...