Beginning in late fall and lasting through spring, fire managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park set prescribed fires in areas where lightning- or human-caused fires used to be a regular event. When the Park was established in 1934, land managers around the country thought that fire suppression—putting out each and every fire in the forest or grassland—was the best thing to do. Since then, we’ve come to understand fire as an essential regular process in ecosystems. Fire managers are conducting a special five-year plan of prescribed fires around the park now, to reduce the fuel load (dry leaves and plant material in the forest that wouldn’t be there if the forest had been burning regularly). All over the country, we are seeing the results of uncontrolled fires in areas where the regular fire cycle has been disrupted: huge, destructive fires result when too much fuel accumulates, and they often destroy trees, nutrients in the soil, and human and animal life. Regular smaller fires regenerate trees and other plants, and are important for certain animal species as well. Read more about prescribed fires (and the control of arson fires) in an upcoming "Dispatches."
Return to Resource Roundup: January, 2009.