During your travels through Redwood National and State Parks, you will notice most ancient redwood trees have been charred by fire. Some redwoods have even been hollowed out by fire, but these "Chimney Trees" are very much alive. This tells us that fire has been a part of old-growth redwood forests for thousands of years - and that the redwoods are very resistant to low intensity fires.
Depending on where you are in an old-growth redwood forest - a fire would have been part of that habitat every couple of decades, or every couple of centuries.
Some of those burns on redwood happened because of lightning strikes, some from American Indian-ignited fires of past centuries. It is our understanding today that humans had used fire in redwood forests for thousands of years. The American Indian method of managing plant communities with fire contributed to ecosystem health by clearing brush, opening up space and light, recycling nutrients, and encouraging new growth. Wildlife too benefited from the results of small fires in the forest floor or by keeping prairies open.
This traditional use of fire ended abruptly in the mid-1800s when Euro-Americans settlers arrived in great numbers in this part of California. This new management practice forced a century of fire suppression and altered landscapes across the area.
Fire ecology today is a science that uses data and records to understand the imapcts, role and history of fire in any area. Beginning in the mid-1950s, resource managers in Everglades and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks began the practice of using prescribed fire to maintain landscape and habitat health.
Redwood National Park first used prescribed fire in the early 1980s and it is the long-term management goal for Redwood National and State Parks to selectively use fire to restore diverse park lands like prairies, grasslands and some forests back to healthy conditions. Additionally, we have almost 70,000 acres of young, second-growth forests that are crowded with trees like Douglas-fir. Without treament, these once-logged forests will remain unhealthy habitats for wildlife, and there's no space or light for young redwoods to grow tall and thick. In these situations, prescribed fire is a tool we will use in our on-going ecosytem restoration programs.