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Author Topic: Fire, Humans and the Environment  (Read 4443 times)

Offline SquarishTriangle

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Fire, Humans and the Environment
« on: 14/11/2007 13:06:04 »
This might not be so much a question; rather a chance to talk (ie. vent) about the ecological significance of the natural phenomenon that is fire, and our relationship with it. Enlighten me with your views anyway.


The thought of a blazing bushfire/wildfire (depending on where you come from) is most probably accompanied with the thought that someone should put it out immediately. The latter is hard to dispute, particularly when a concentrated population (along with its properties and resources) is in the path of the fire.

However fire does have its role in the natural environment. Funnily enough, humans did not invent fire. Fires have long existed on the face of the earth, periodically reshaping and rejuvenating the landscape far before we even became close to making our little bipedal prints in the mudflats. Forests have burnt, only to be replaced by new growth of the next generation of plants. Indeed, many plants actually rely on the occurrence of fire to ensure the survival of their species.

Let’s look at the Australia’s vegetation for a moment. You might describe Australia as a rather dry country, and as you might expect, it is home to an abundant variety of drought-tolerant plants. Sclerophylls are a broad group of such plants. They have coevolved with periodic bushfires (and low rainfall, low soil nutrient conditions), giving rise to adaptations that not only assist plants to cope with fire, but enable them to make the most of the opportunities brought along by such an event. For example, the seeds of certain plants are only released from their woody fruits following a fire event. This means that in order for these plants to successfully reproduce and contribute to the next generation, fire must occur sometime after the plant becomes mature (produces fruit) but before it either stops producing fruit or dies. Consequently, the frequency of fire can have profound effects on the survivability of a species (depending on its life history). For some other plants, chemicals produced in smoke stimulate flowering and germination. The fire itself recycles the nutrients locked up in plant material and makes them, along with space, available for new plants that are about to embark on their endeavours to succeed in their habitat.

Indeed, some parts of the world will experience and depend on fire more than others. And with the human population spread so much across the world and imposing such an impact on the global environment, it is difficult to distinguish how many of the fires (unless deliberately lit) we see today can be classified as ‘naturally occurring’.

It is not surprising that humans might have a tendency to set up their towns close to where natural resources are abundant. Unfortunately, this also means that a fire occurring in a region of dense vegetation could likely impact on any nearby human settlement in the fire’s way, affecting property and lives. It has become a common strategy to use controlled burning on vegetation that may pose as a threat to people in the case of a large fire, on a schedule determined optimal to minimising fire risk.

I suppose what I would like you to consider is how appropriate human intervention on fires is. Is it reasonable to assume that all fires can be attributed to causes due to man (I’d say it’s fair we put out our own fires), and simply attempt to extinguish them all, even at the risk of compromising the biodiversity of the ecosystem? Is it justifiable to burn down the vegetation surrounding our cities in order to reduce our own risk of becoming affected by fire? Are bushfires as much of a ‘catastrophe’ as we tend to make them out to be, or simply an inconvenience that requires a little time, effort and heart to…well…germinate and grow again? …and anything else you might like to add.


 

Offline lightarrow

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Fire, Humans and the Environment
« Reply #1 on: 14/11/2007 15:51:58 »
I would agree with you for the most, however fires should be made in an extremely well studied and controlled situation, by extremely experienced people with high public authorization to do it.

Furthermore, apart from the high risk for people and house ecc., you  certainly wouldn't like that some stupid and criminal person destroy a forest that you own, for example.
 

Offline SquarishTriangle

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« Reply #2 on: 15/11/2007 07:45:50 »
Yeah that's true.
 

Offline Atomic-S

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« Reply #3 on: 21/11/2007 02:39:40 »
The issue of to burn or not to burn, came up some years ago in a magazine article, in which it was said that the forest managers were rethinking their previous policy of extinguishing everything that could be extinguished. A policy was promulgated to let nature take its course where "warranted", such as in designated wilderness areas. This however has been criticized as a waste of harvestable timber and also based on no scientific rationale (that is, managing "wilderness" differently that other forests.)  More recently, a devastating forest fire ripped through Summerhaven Arizona, burning most of the village to the ground. This and other blazes at the time became blamed upon misguided environmental preservation policies which had allowed a dangerous situation to build up in the forest. The resulting damage to the ecology was said to be excessive due to the excessive heat and destruction of biological values in the soil.
 

another_someone

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Fire, Humans and the Environment
« Reply #4 on: 21/11/2007 03:13:05 »
I am afraid my own view is that as humans our first responsibility is to other humans, and not to some abstract notion of environmental sanctity.

Certainly, within this constraint, there are still good arguments for and against controlled burning (I use the term controlled to mean that decisions are made as to whether or not to allow the fire to burn, and over what areas, rather then necessarily to mean that humans did, or did not, initiate the fires).

There is no question that dead timber needs to be cleared, and forests thinned, in order to protect human habitats.  Fire is one way of doing this, although others also exist, but may not always be cost effective over large areas, but may be economically beneficial in smaller, more accessible, areas.  There is also a case that certain trees actually need fire to germinate, but this should only be applicable in specific areas.
 

Offline daveshorts

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Fire, Humans and the Environment
« Reply #5 on: 25/11/2007 12:48:50 »
Doing controlled burns - not at the driest part of the season so they dont burn as hot or as uncontrolably is a good idea both for the ecology and humans in the long run - then any natural/arson uncontrolled burns will be much smaller,more controllable and allow wildlife to escape
 

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Fire, Humans and the Environment
« Reply #5 on: 25/11/2007 12:48:50 »

 

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