Letter: Burn, baby, burn | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Burn, baby, burn

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies would like to commend the U.S. Forest Service and the firefighters from the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Unit on Sunday’s successful prescribed burn on Basalt Mountain. The 1,100-acre operation remained well within the targeted area, considerably reduced potential wildfire fuels and will improve habitat for elk and other wildlife.

Many of our local forest ecosystems are fire-adapted, meaning they rely on periodic fire to reproduce, generate species and age-class diversity, and maintain resilience to insect and disease infestations. However, decades of fire suppression have led to greatly increased fuel loads in our forests, which make it impractical to allow natural ignitions to burn freely.

Land managers have several tools in their arsenal to combat this issue. While mechanical thinning is quite effective at removing excess fuels, especially adjacent to homes where prescribed fire is more risky, it is more costly and does not pack the ecological benefits of fire. Research shows that when excess vegetation burns, nitrogen and other nutrients are released into the soil, helping new plants grow. Some species, such as lodgepole pine, even require bare soil for their seeds to germinate, and fire is the best way to help that process along.

Prescribed fire also produces a mosaic of vegetation patterns across the landscape, creating a diverse habitat for plants and animals. Many shrubs rapidly re-sprout following fire, providing valuable forage for wildlife. At the same time, the patchy nature of prescribed fire leaves critical cover in place for small animals and nesting birds.

When executed under proper conditions, prescribed fire is an essential component of maintaining forest health. In 2014 alone, there were 17,044 prescribed fires in the United States, treating close to 2.4 million acres. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies supports the continued use of prescribed fire in the Roaring Fork Valley and looks forward to partnering with the U.S. Forest Service on similar projects in the future.

For more information on the health of our local forests, please visit http://foresthealthindex.org.

Jamie Cundiff

Director of forest programs, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

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