This summer marks the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Yellowstone fires – massive blazes that affected about 1.2 million acres in and around Yellowstone National Park. Their size and severity surprised scientists, managers and the public and received heavy media coverage. Many news reports proclaimed that Yellowstone was destroyed, but nothing was further from the truth.
I was there during the fires and returned that fall to view the aftermath. Burned forests extended for miles, with blackened tree trunks creating a stark and seemingly desolate landscape. But peering down from a helicopter, we were surprised to see that the fires had actually produced a mosaic of burned and unburned patches of forest.
I have studied the recovery of Yellowstone’s forests since 1989, watching landscapes of charred trees transition into lush young forests. Fires play an important ecological role in many ecosystems, and Yellowstone’s native plants and animals are well-adapted to historical cycles of disturbance and recovery. Today the burned landscape is dominated by thriving young lodgepole pine trees. [Read more…]