Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, showing a fire-maintained forest floor.
Please observe the floor of this woodland.
Without periodic fire, this floor would be heavily obscured by brush and low to mid-level hardwood trees competing with these pines that are more fire-tolerant. Another way of explaining this is that periodic fires greatly effect the floor by removing dead plant material and killing plants that are intolerant of fire's high temperature. Fire kills ALL plants, including these pines. But the pines have a higher survival rate than the plants that associate with the pines in these fire-dependent systems. A few reasons for the pine's tolerance of fire are that the pines have thicker bark and once they get into the mid-story of the forest they are removed from lethal temperatures of most fires. So that once a pine here survives a series of fires over the years, and is able to reach into the mid-story, it is all but guaranteed an eventual place in the canopy and a very long life. Of course, this is a National Forest and so at some point that tree could be marked for harvest.
Ironically, it is here in Lincoln National Forest, that Smokey Bear was born, the living symbol of the Forest Service's campaign to prevent forest fires.
The reason for the irony is that the natural process of photosynthesis and death of living plants, ensures a continual build-up of forest floor fuels, which, in turn, makes fire inevitable.
Natural fire is periodic, beneficial (in these fire-dependent systems) and inevitable. Fire is beneficial to the extent that these systems evolved in a fire regime. So, to maintain the association of plants that you see here.......fire is necessary. Nothing else will work to maintain what you see here....NOTHING.
Without periodic fire, catastrophic fire would be inevitable, because a fuel accumulation is a natural result of the ongoing photosynthesis process and eventual ignition is inevitable. Fire cannot be prevented in these forest systems in southern latitudes with long growing-seasons; it can only be postponed, so that government crews can burn the floor under controlled conditions and according to a controlled-burning management plan.
Earth is an oxygen-rich, carbon dioxide- rich and photosynthesis-driven Planet. The animals use oxygen to burn fuel (respiration) and expel carbon dioxide as waste. The plants uptake the carbon dioxide...combine it with sunlight and basic soil nutrients to photosynthesize. A by-product of the plant growth resulting from photosynthesis is oxygen and dead plant material.
Plant Succession is the natural process that assures that eventually, over a long period, an old-growth forest will develop where there once was just a single blade of grass. But that is an explanation that is better done with a different image.
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