Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sleeping Giant

"It's a sleeping giant!" the road guard told us about the forest fire we had come so far to see. "It is not out  by a long shot. We say we have it under control but there are still lots of hot spots that could spring to life with the right conditions. We will be here for a while yet and hope for a good rain to help out." 
This 7000 Ha. fire that has been burning for the past couple weeks began with a lightening strike. It burned right up to the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. It burned up the mountainsides to the tree line in many areas. Park rangers were able to save their own warden station and the hotel at The Crossing. Workers from the hotel complex were evacuated for about 5 hours and had to work in stifling smoke for a few days. All are now okay as long as the giant sleeps.
Smoke and Hot Spots
Wild fires are spectacular sights to see and the blackened mountainsides now seem so barren and dead. It is wrong to think of this natural occurrence as a disaster to the environment. It must be looked upon as rejuvenation, a rebirth of forest, in this case. Wildfires occur on prairie grasslands, shrub brush as we see in California and Australia as well as tundra and forest. They are quite harmful to wildlife such as nesting birds, amphibians and snakes or slow moving creatures like porcupines. Most of these critters would die from lack of oxygen which is consumed by superheated gasses ahead of the fire. Animals that are mobile enough to escape the firestorm must now find new territory to live in. This can be quite stressful for animals like bears who must now rustle over unknown territory for food. 
A Lot of Berries to Put a Bear to Sleep Safely
Wolves must now compete with neighbouring packs who are very territorial. It will not be an easy go for some of the wildlife displaced by this fire.
The Beginning, Not the End
The land itself can be permanently scarred, depending upon how intense the fire was. Rich duff layers and roots can be consumed by ground fires. This may cause erosion to occur during rainstorms as there is nothing for the water to soak into to delay the runoff. Also carried by the torrents would be ash and burned debris into neighbouring streams and rivers. Mother Nature has considered these temporary hardships for the long term benefits of the land.
Fire helps to control pests such as dreaded Pine Beetle who have caused the demise of millions of acres of pine forest across western Canada and U.S.A. Mature and diseased trees will now be converted into usable soil nutrients through ash and their long term decay. Invasive plant species and weeds are brought under control and a new forest begins. Pine cones need fire to pop them open releasing seeds that will create a new and vibrant forest habitat. Sunlight can now penetrate the burned skeletal trees allowing sun needy trees, shrubs, berries and grasses to grow. Soon animals will move in, animals not seen in this area for years. Grazing and browsing deer, moose and and elk begin then predators will follow. For years woodpeckers will enjoy a feast as bugs and insects will do their best to convert the burn scarred trees to dust. New birds will begin to nest in the woodpecker excavations and different birds will begin nesting in new shrubs and grass on the forest floor. 
Plants such as fireweed will flourish attracting insects and bees which will attract more insect feeding birds such as warblers, vireos and flycatchers.
This life generating recovery does not happen as quickly as the firestorm demolition did, but it is all part of a naturally regenerative cycle designed by Mother Nature herself for the long term benefit of all. It happens at Her speed, a blink of Her eye, not ours. It will be fun to watch and document this miracle while I am able.

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