The Role and Management of Fire in Aquatic Ecosystemsby USDA Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Although fire can be a real threat, for millennia, fire also has been a shaper and keeper of many natural communities whose origins, evolution, and survival may be closely linked to and even depend on the
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For the past century or two, we have considered the sight of smoke and fire in our wildlands contrary to the health of forests and aquatic ecosystems.
Although fire can be a real threat, for millennia, fire also has been a shaper and keeper of many natural communities whose origins, evolution, and survival may be closely linked to and even depend on the ecological force of fire.
The presence of wildland fire across the country has changed dramatically in recent decades, as have the ecosystems in which fire occurs. Large fires in the West and rising concerns about forest health have ignited efforts to recover ecosystem patterns and processes and to reduce the risk of “catastrophic” fires through active forest and fire management.
At the same time, we have increased our attention to the conservation and restoration of the Nation’s fish and aquatic species and their habitats—efforts whose goals may sometimes seem to conflict with forest restoration and fire management goals.
Are fire and water as “contrary” and incompatible as the tarot of ancient elements suggests? Is fire always a threat to fish and other aquatic species, or can fire actually benefit aquatic communities? What kind of management is appropriate to address wildland fire, and when might the management of fuels and suppression of fire be worse for aquatic ecosystems than fire itself?
Vigorous current debate over such questions reflects the complexity of fire and the systems affected by it. In this, we explore the role of fire in aquatic ecosystems, with an emphasis on forested watersheds in the Western United States. We look at the ecological influence and impacts of fire on water, watersheds, and aquatic species; examine some management challenges and the debates in which they are enmeshed; and sample research and policy needs for effectively addressing fire, forest, water, and fish-related issues in the future.
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