The use of fire as a means for cooking, heating and hunting was one of the first major developments of human civilization. Fire is one of nature’s most essential agents of change, and mankind has often used fire in this capacity.
Fire can also be an important part of maintaining diverse and healthy ecosystems. Nearly every region in the country has some kind of fire-dependent plant or tree. Many plants have evolved adaptations that protect them as a species against the effects of fire, and some are even strengthened by it. When fires burn in intervals appropriate to their ecosystem, they consume leaf litter and other ground vegetation like dead wood. This can trigger a rebirth of forests, helping to maintain native plant species.
Ecosystems that are dependent on fire to thin the forest canopy and cultivate the forest floor are slowly transformed without enough natural fire. Sunlight-dependent native plant species are overtaken by those that like shade, and the whole ecosystem becomes less diverse, more dense from undergrowth, and littered with dead plant material.
Fire managers can reintroduce fire into fire-dependent ecosystems with prescribed fire. Under specific, controlled conditions, the beneficial effects of natural fire can be recreated, fuel buildup can be reduced, and we can prevent the catastrophic losses of uncontrolled, unwanted wildfire.
Regardless of the benefits of occasional natural fires under specific conditions, remember Smokey’s ABCs: Always Be Careful with fire. Smokey wants you to be responsible when you use fire. It is still wrong and irresponsible to play with matches, throw lighted cigarettes away, or use equipment without proper spark arrestors, or leave any kind of fire unattended.