Using fire to protect Yosemite's ecosystem

July 30, 2008 1:32:19 PM PDT
As the Telegraph Fire rages outside of Yosemite National Park, rangers inside the park are looking to keep such devastating fires from happening inside the park. They've actually been starting fires to maintain a healthy forest.

"This is an area that naturally has quite a bit of fire in it," says Ranger Adrienne Freeman.

In 1990, lightening-fueled fires roared through Yosemite destroying 66 buildings and homes and charring 24,000 acres. The area is now on the road to recovery. Tall, bare trees stand as a monument to the power of the 1990 fire.

"Often times lightening will strike here, it will burn a few acres and go out. This area is very close to homes. In order to protect them, we reduce the fuels around them using burning, which is a natural part of this ecosystem," says Freeman.

In some areas, the forest has re-grown dangerously dense. In order to prevent a repeat of the 1990 fire, the park service is managing forest and at the same time, creating a more diverse, healthy forest.

For years, the National Park Service would try to put fires out when they started. But lately the park has let natural fires burn. Rangers also started smaller fires to stimulate the growth of plants.

"One of the things that's incredible about the power of nature is how quickly it regenerates. Here we have a live oak -- obviously it was killed during that fire -- but here we already see this really intense sprouting which will lead to new trees, and it's been barely two months," explains Freeman.

The result will allow older trees to continue to grow while providing sunlight for a greater diversity of plants.

Last year, the park service burned an area near the entrance of Yosemite Valley.

"When you have a really thick area of conifers you don't get a whole lot of re-growth from trees like this," says Freeman.

These days you can see how big of a difference a little sunshine can make. New trees and plants are sprouting from the scorched earth. Ultimately the goal is to restore the natural balance to the forests of Yosemite and provide the next generation with a landscape similar to what we see today.

Native Americans who called Yosemite home would routinely set fires. Years of putting fires out dramatically changed the landscape of Yosemite Valley. Seventy-five percent of the valley used to be meadows, today that amount is forest.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.


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