Effects of Wildfires on Forest Ecosystems

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Ecological Restoration of Forests and Fires
One of the most predominate ecosystems is the forest community. Covering about one-fourth of the land area on Earth, forests consist mainly of trees and other woody vegetation, growing closely together. The trees can be large and densely packed, as they are in the coastal forests of the Pacific Northwest, or they can be relatively small and sparsely scattered, as they are in the dry tropical forests of sub-Saharan Africa. Forests are complex ecosystems that also include "soils and decaying organic matter, fungi and bacteria, herbs and shrubs, vines and lichens, ferns and mosses, insects and spiders, reptiles and amphibians, birds and mammals, and many other organisms" (Audesirk, 2003). All of these components constitute an intricate web with many biological interconnections. A bird may depend on the upper branches of a tree for nesting, while the tree may depend on the fungi surrounding its roots to obtain water and nutrients. A forest performs a number of vital environmental services, such as cleansing the air, moderating the climate, filtering water, cycling nutrients, providing a habitat for animals and provides humans with recreation and beautiful scenery. Resources from the forest supply raw materials, such as lumber, paper products, greenery and pharmaceuticals. Some of the developing issues today concerning forests are fires and what we as a society can do to restore the natural ecosystems within the forests around our world. Many aspects are to be considered when looking at the ecology and bioremediation of forests such as, human activities, wildlife, endangerment and environmental changes. This paper will discuss the effect wildfires have on the forest ecosystem. Human beings cause most wildfires, directly or indirectly. In the United States lightning, the only truly natural cause is responsible for less than 10% of all such fires. In the West, lightning is the primary cause, with smoking (cigarettes, matches, and such) the second most frequent. Combined they account for 50 to 75% of all wildfires. In the "13 southern states (Virginia to Texas) the primary cause is arson; this combined with smoking and debris burning makes up 75% of all wildfires" (Perry, 1994). The other causes of wildfires are machine use and campfires. Machine use includes railroads, logging, sawmills, and other operations using equipment. Due to rapid increases in human consumption, reforestation has become important. In our past, when human population was low, people utilized the forest for gathering wild plants and game to obtain food. There was not a great deal for concern about the changes of the ecosystems of forests. Mature natural forests usually "produced wood at a rate of 14-28 ft, and this often exceeded the rate of harvesting firewood. However, with the adoption of agriculture, humans settled down and their populations increased, placing pressures on forests" (Perry, 1994). Not only did the demand for fuel wood increase, but forests were cut down to make room for agriculture. For example, in 1600 about 49% of the continental United States was covered with forests, but this had been reduced to 33% by 1900. In just 300 years, population pressures reduced forestlands by about 1 million acres. Since natural regeneration was not keeping up with the rate of harvests, the need for rapid reforestation became more apparent. During the late 1800s, concern was expressed about future wood supplies in the United States due to floods caused by deforestation and fires. Two solutions to these problems were proposed. One resulted in the creation of national forests where wood and clean water could be produced in perpetuity, the other "promoted artificial regeneration, the establishment of trees by planting or direct seeding" (Perry, 1994). Due, in part, to a combination of improved technology in both agricultural and artificial regeneration, the United States now has about the same amount...
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