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  • Fire as a Natural Force
  • The 1988 Fire
  • The National Fire Plan
  • Yellowstone Fire Facts


    Fire As a Natural Force

    Scientists have been studying the role of fire in Yellowstone since the mid 20th century and they continue to discover new information. The history of fire in this park and its benefits explain why Yellowstone's managers believe fire is an essential natural force.


    The National Fire Plan

    During the 2000 fire season in the United States, almost 93,000 wildland fires burned close to 7.4 million acres and destroyed numerous structures. Subsequently, recommendations were developed on how to reduce the impacts of fire on rural communities and ensure sufficient firefighting resources for the future. That report, now known as the "National Fire Plan", identified five key points that continue to emphasize interagency approaches.

    The House and Senate approved an appropriations bill that included $101 million for National Park Service projects and activities identified in the National Fire Plan, including those in Yellowstone.

    The Fires of 1988



    The 1988 fires created a mosaic of burns, partial burns, and unburned areas that provided new habitats for plants and animals and new realms for research. What scientists have learned:

    • Fertile soil with good-water holding capacity and dense, diverse vegetation before the fire recovered quickly.

    • Grasslands returned to pre-fire appearance within a few years.

    • Many of the burned forests were mature lodgepole; this species is recolonizing most of the burned areas.

    • The first seedlings of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, and whitebark pine have emerged.

    • Aspen reproduction has increased because fire stimulated the growth of suckers from the aspen's underground root system and left behind bare mineral soil that provides good conditions for aspen seedlings.

    • Some of the grasses that elk eat were more nutritious after the fire.

    • Bears graze more frequently at burned than unburned sites.

    • The fires have had no observable impact on the number of grizzly bears in greater Yellowstone.

    • Cavity-nesting birds, such as bluebirds, had more dead trees for their nests; birds dependent on mature forests, such as boreal owls, lost habitat.

    • No fire-related effects have been observed in the fish populations or the angling experience in the six rivers that have been monitored regularly since 1988.

    • Vegetation growth has slowed erosion in watersheds that had erosion and mudslides after the fires, such as the Gibbon River.


    Yellowstone Fire Facts

    • Large fires burn through forests of Yellowstone every 250 - 400 years.

    • Large fires burn the park's grasslands every 25 - 60 years.

    • Plants in the park, such as lodgepole pine and aspen, are adapt to fire.

    • Lightning starts as average of 22 fires each year.

    • 80% of naturally started fires go out by themselves.

    • Suppressing fire reduces the number and variety of plant and animal species.

    • Until the 1970s, park managers believed they had to extinguish fires to preserve park resources.

    • Scientific research changed these beliefs and in 1972, Yellowstone began allowing most natural fires to burn.

    • Between 1972 and 1987, 234 fires burned nearly 35,000 acres - most in two dry years, 1979 and 1981.

    • The 1988 fires brought management changes and new opportunities for research.

    • Yellowstone now follows the National Fire Plan described above.

    Please check these links for more information on Yellowstone Fires
    Bullet 1988 Fires Bullet Current Wildland Fire Info

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