Wildfire as a Natural Process
Wildfire is one of the most powerful and creative natural processes on our planet. For thousands of years, this force has been shaping the environment on a large and widespread scale. Plants and animals have evolved with, and many depend on, the role fire plays in creating a diversity of habitats.
In the past, natural fires swept through plant communities at intervals that provided conditions for many plant species to regenerate. Wildfire thins competing species, recycles nutrients into the soil and opens holes in the forest canopy for sunlight to enter. All of these are critical to forest health and natural cycles of growth and decomposition. Wildfires also benefit many animal species. With the increased forage that results after a fire, many animals low on the food chain experience increases in their populations; therefore species above them on the food chain also benefit.
Despite the evidence that fire is a necessary element in many forest ecosystems, over most of the past century people have feared and suppressed it whenever possible. Especially in the western United States , the accumulation of dead forest fuels during that time now presents extreme hazards to the health of the trees, soil, wildlife, to humans living in these areas, and to the taxpayer who has to fund the fighting of catastrophic wildfires.
Over the last century, people at Grand Canyon have logged, grazed, lived on the land and suppressed fires. Each activity had its own impact and these impacts can still be seen today. Since this land became a National Park, our needs and priorities for it have changed. We have learned a great deal about the long term impacts of our practices in the past and are trying to reduce them wherever possible. The Grand Canyon Fire Management Program views the wise use of fire as an important tool in the effort to reduce the impacts and restore balance to our ecosystems.
Fire can be utilized to shape the landscape and achieve large-scale resource goals that would otherwise be unattainable. Conversely, wildland fire can also adversely impact our resources, both natural and cultural. Wildland fire management supports park-specific resource management objectives, including a wide range of strategic options available to park managers that can be modified to adapt to the diversity of ecosystems found within the NPS.