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The Outdoors Digest | BRIEFS

Rethinking fire aftermath

March 09, 2004|Gary Polakovic

Fires may be disastrous, but they don't necessarily require human care after fire crews have gone home. New research shows the natural disturbances are important to ecosystems and a leave-it-alone approach helps burned land recover.

After flames are extinguished, fallen timber and a tangle of branches, called snags, litter the forest floor. The debris provides shelter for plants and animals attempting to recolonize charred soil and get natural systems running again.

Some human recovery practices impede nature's work by removing those materials, according to an international team of researchers.

"Maintaining large areas where the natural disturbance regime operates unimpaired by human activities is an important component of any biological conservation strategy," said Fiona Schmiegelow of the University of Alberta, a coauthor of the paper.

Salvage logging, for example, removes plant matter that is key to the recovery process, the study says. Such logging practices have been employed in Oregon and around Lake Tahoe and are a feature of the Bush administration's forest-management plans. The practice attempts to recoup economic losses, but environmentalists often challenge salvage logging.

The new study concludes that salvage logging needs to be reexamined, large burn areas should be exempted and strict policies enforced when salvage operations are undertaken. The study appears in the Feb. 27 edition of the journal Science.

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Gary Polakovic

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