• Sierra del Carmen

    Big Bend

    National Park Texas

Impacts of Fire Suppression

Impacts of Fire Suppression

The interrelationships between fire, plants, and animals in the Big Bend region began to drastically change in 1934. That year, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp was established in the Chisos Basin. The CCC crew leaders, like nearly everyone else in the country, believed that all fires were bad and had to be immediately suppressed.

The CCC boys did their assigned job well. They vigorously attacked each new fire and put most of them out before they burned more than a few acres. When Big Bend became a national park in 1944, crews of National Park Service firefighters continued the tradition begun by the CCC and courageously fought all fires that started in the park.

The successful suppression of most fires when they were still small had drastic long-term consequences that early park rangers failed to anticipate. Dead vegetation, which once would have burned up in regular, periodic fires, built up to extremely dangerous levels. Overstocked forests were far more susceptible to insects, diseases, and catastrophic fires.

Since dense canopies blocked sunlight from striking the forest floor, few herbs and shrubs survived in the understory. Lack of periodic fires reduced the vigor and quantity of meadow grasses available to deer. Due to slow decomposition, nutrients locked up in dead wood were recycled at a far slower pace than when fires burned through the forest. Due to fire suppression, Big Bend was becoming a very different ecosystem than what it had been prior to the CCC era.

In the early 1990s Big Bend experienced several of the largest fires ever known for the area. Six decades of fire suppression created excessively high fuel levels which made it much more dangerous and expensive to put out new fires.

Did You Know?

Butterflies

Big Bend has more tropical species (20+) of butterflies than any other national park. More...