I recall some years ago when I
worked in the U.S. Forest Service that
the fire risk around Rocky Mountain National Park had increased.
So, the Government decided to use
a prescribed, controlled burn when
wildfire conditions were not favorable
to reduce fuel content. This controlled
burning would do what nature had
been prevented from doing.
After this particular fire, it was also
expected that the conifer forest would
be changed into an aspen forest for
the next 75 years. In addition to the
natural firebreak provided by aspen,
the trees would provide food for large
game, grouse and even voles. Plus, the
golden leaf color would provide excellent scenic beauty in the fall season.
The only problem was that the wind
shifted soon after the fire was started
and the smoke flowed into Estes Park.
The number of complaints assured
that further prescribed burns would
Further, with the presence of so
many trees, often of the same age
group, insects are able to move into
the forest and spread very easily. A
comparison of the forests when Col.
Custer was in the West compared to today shows the huge density change in
our forests. With the mortality caused
by insects, the forests become standing
dead, dry timber that makes excellent
Of course, there is a lot of scientific
and political discussion about climate
change. We do know that in the last decade, the length of the wildfire season
has increased by three months; it runs
roughly from March through November now in the South and West.
Regional differences in the U.S.
Wildfires in the South, Midwest and
East are different than fires in the
West mainly due to the higher humidity and more rain east of the Mississippi
River. This means that the forests east
of the Rockies are full of hardwood
trees with leaves; hardwoods do not
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