The Fires of Life

Image of giant sequoia by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Forest fires are fearsome things.

They can lay waste to hundreds of square miles of mature trees and displace wildlife. If they spread to areas of human habitation, they can raze buildings to the ground and devastate communities.

And yet, fires can play an important role in nature. Trying to suppress them too drastically can have a negative effect on the ecology of the forest.

It can backfire, so to speak.

Take the giant sequoia, native to inland California. This majestic tree can live for thousands of years and grow to a height of almost 300 feet.

You’d think that protecting groves of sequoias from fire would help preserve them. But sometimes when we interfere with the natural cycle of fire and regrowth, we do a forest no favours.

The suppression of fire during the last century by U.S. land management authorities actually hobbled the sequoia’s ability to survive. Its seedlings can only grow into mature trees if competing plants are regularly eliminated by low-level forest fires. (The sequoia’s spongy bark helps protect it against fire.)

Not only that, the cones of the sequoia require the intense heat of a forest fire in order to open up and release their cargo of seeds. If the surrounding ground has just been cleared of competing vegetation by fire and enriched with the resultant nutritious ash, the seeds are given an additional leg up to grow.

So the sequoia can only grow to its impressive grandeur with the help of fire.

Perhaps the same is true of us.

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