Low intensity fires are important in some forest types to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Fire clears the forest of woody debris providing room for new plants to grow. Some plants are dependent on occasional fires to be able to reproduce. Fires result in a flush of new growth, which provides food and habitat for many birds and animals. Fire is an important component of the forest ecosystem. Fire also is important in the release of nutrients from woody material. Phosphorus, potash and other essential nutrients are found in the ash left from fire and are nature’s way of fertilizing the new plant growth.
Naturally occuring forest fires are a vital part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem, despite the death and destruction that may occur as a direct result of the fire itself. Elk and deer rely on low-lying plants like shrubs and grasses for food, and these plants suffer as the forest around them grows higher and blocks important sunlight. A forest fire increases the availability of sunlight, which allows these low-lying plants (and by extension deer and elk and other animals) to flourish. There are also several plant species that require the intense heat of a forest fire to germinate successfully.
Most people don’t realize that natural forest fires are nature’s way of pruning the forests. Sometimes these fires can occur from lightning strikes or other causes, but they will generally only burn parts of the forest to make way for newer plant life and trees. Dry, dead wood and forest floor vegetation are removed, and creates ash that can act as a fertilizer that returns many nutrients back to the soil. Without this natural pruning, forest can become too thick, and the trees begin to overcrowd each other to the point that no one tree gets enough water, nutrients, or sufficient root space.
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