Over the past 20 years, there has been an ongoing discussion on how humans should react to the wildfires occurring in Yellowstone National Park. As Steinberg explains, deciding whether or not to engage in suppressing wildfires is a very controversial topic with important environmental implications. On September 15, 2015, there was a spruce fire recorded in Yellowstone, reaching approximately 2,000 acres. (Campbell) My focus regarding the blaze is focused on how we, as moral humans, decide whether or not to interfere with the natural activity. Do park authorities focus on economic factors, like park revenue, to sway their opinions? Or, because Yellowstone was established to be preserved in natural order, do authorities allow nature to take its course? I speculate both.
Yellowstone was established in March 1, 1872. (Staff, History.com) Until the 1970’s, the National Forrest Service extinguished all fires in hope to preserve the parks resources. Eventually, the Forrest Service realized that allowing some fires to burn has ecological benefits. Some of these benefits include reduction of fuel build up (to prevent larger fires), more diversity among tree species, and more natural environment for certain species. (Salerno) Today, the NPS (National Park Service) is focused on restoring fire’s role as a natural process. The fire management program has two primary goals. The first is to ensure the safety of firefighters and the public in all situations. The second is to allow fire to plays its ecological role in the park to the greatest extent possible. (United States. National Park Service)
There are many unrecognized benefits from the fires that some people are not aware of. Fire promotes habitat diversity by altering existing habitats. By removing forest overstory, different plant communities have become established. In turn, these plants prevent grassland from becoming forests. Fire also restores nutrient levels in soil, while reducing the amount of dead wood debris scattered across the forest floor. One of the most important results of the fires is its impact on the iconic “lodgepole pine”. (United States. National Park Service) This pine is the dominant tree species in Yellowstone, is fire-dependent, and thrives despite the poor quality soil. These, tall, skinny, limbless trunks were a Native American favorite for building lodges and teepees. Additionally, without fires, the resins inside the pinecones would never release seeds. This means, without the fires, the lodgepole pine may no longer be around. (Hansen)
The National Park Service has made it clear that their current stance on the fires is to allow nature to take its course. That is the underlining point of preserving the natural environment in the first place. With that noted, the NPS manages fires to fulfill their natural role with the ecosystem. If a wildfire appears to become a threat to human health and safety, the park staff will suppress them. (United States. National Park Service)
Authors note: Yellowstone is supposed to be untouched nature, preserved by humans. Do you think it is morally or ethically correct to engage in preventing a natural activity such as wildfire?
The initial article that sparked my interest in the recent fires.
Campbell , Julena. “Spruce Fire Now Over 2000 Acres.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Some basic info on the history of Yellowstone
Staff, History.com. “Yellowstone Park Established.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Fundamental ideas the NPS has regarding how to deal with fires
United States. National Park Service. “Fire Management.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Fires keep iconic species of trees around
Hansen, Liane. “Yellowstone Fires: Ecological Blessings In Disguise.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.