Monday, December 10, 2012

The Trees

There are several posts that have lived in my word doc all year, and my goal is to post them before 2012 is up. This is no exception.

2012 hasn’t been the best year for Colorado. The wild firers this summer, the movie theatre shooting this summer, recently the brutal murder of Jessica Ridgeway. I’m hoping 2013 is a better year for my lovely state. I’ve called Colorado home since I was six, and it breaks my heart to see so many people in the state that have lost so much. And are still losing- there is a fire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park as I type tonight in December.

When I was a freshmen in college I was talked into taking a class called environmental conservation. It is one of those classes that I have gotten more out of it after taking the class than I really did sitting through it. Unfortunately, the wild fires are another case of forgetting history.

Since the age of six I have called Colorado home. I love my state, and am proud to call myself a Coloradoan. Sometimes we make headlines, and this summer is no exception. Imagine my personal grief as I watch my beautiful state be consumed by fire, the landscape disappear, and hear the stories of loss coming out of Colorado Springs. It is hard.

Ten years ago, the worst fire Colorado had ever seen consumed 147,000 acres and burned for six weeks. The Haymen fire is the worst fire this state has ever seen. Ten years and one day later, the second worst fire Colorado has ever seen started just west of Fort Collins. It raged for 23 days and has consumed 87,250 of acres. I am talking about the High Park Fire.

Does anyone else find this ironic? That the newspaper one day reminds us of the Haymen Fire, and then two days later starts covering this new large fire? I surely do, and watching something simply consume an area I am intimately familiar with (I went to school in Fort Collins) while knowing this would inevitably happen sometime, is just disgusting.

One part of Environmental Conservation was about forests, and forest health. Information has been gathered from trees across the country, and what they showed is something remarkable. In Colorado, tree evidence showed that about every year, there would be fires that would burn through the forests.

But unlike what you are seeing in images today, these fires were quite the opposite. Since the fires raged often they were small, and were used as a sort of cleansing process to help kill off some trees and shrubs on the forest floor. But some trees would survive and grow larger. These fires reduced the number of trees in the forest, and actually helped the already existing trees since the forests were not overgrown.

Native Americans also used fire to help encourage diversity in the eco system. Despite common belief, these fired did help purge undergrowth.

In conclusion (what a tacky phrase… but it seems to be appropriate here) since we decided to fight fires completely, we have overgrown forests with trees that are really unhealthy since there are too many of them. We also have a really bad invasion of Mountain pine beetle that is killing off trees. And instead of removing the dead trees, we’re ignoring the problem entirely.

So it makes sense why the fires are so large: with little rain this year, unhealthy trees, and a lot of dead dry trees lying around to act as kindling, it does not take much to start a fire. And with the awful winds that sweep through this area, a bad situation turns nasty in a matter of minutes.

Like what happened June 26, 2012, when the fire in Colorado Springs essentially blew up, and swept through the town.

The problems of 2012 are no different than 2002; we had Beetle kill trees then, we have them now. We had overgrown forests then, we have them now. So why, if we know there is a problem, are we failing to solve the problem? Why if we know what can happen, what has HISTORICALLY happened, have we not tried to take that knowledge and change our future?

I don’t have these answers; I don’t think anyone does. But I can only hope that we can learn from our history to change what can happen in the future. What I do know is I drove by the High Park burn site in August, only two months after the fire swept through. There was a lot of dead trees, but there was also a little growth returning. Thankfully, nature can revive itself. However, I hope we can learn from these events to help keep our forests healthy.

~All of these were taking in August when I drove past the burn area. It broke my heart. It also broke my heart when I learned a friend's parents house burned during the fire in Colorado Springs. I really hope we learn our lesson, and fast.