Fire does a forest good when it burns periodically.
When fire suppression prevails, the result can be white-hot flames and catastrophic wildfire that destroys trees, vegetation and root structures, annihilating wildlife habitat.
Fire ecologists analyzed historical tree scars to determine northern California forests historically experienced fire every four to 15 years.
Unfortunately, more recent history shows decades of intentional fire suppression resulted in dense brush, downed woody debris and forest stands so thick that the sunshine can’t reach the forest floor, thwarting the growth of natural vegetation necessary for elk and other wildlife.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and U.S. Forest Service instituted a prescribed burn program in the Green Mountain area near Shasta Lake dating back to 2003 that continues to this day.
They combined resources totaling more than $883,000 to improve nearly 20,000 acres of habitat for elk, deer, turkeys and other wildlife on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
The area is extremely popular, luring more than three and a half million people annually for outdoor activities ranging from hunting and fishing to camping and boating.
Crews used prescribed fire to burn back overgrown shrubs and conifer encroachment and promote healthy black oak stands good for species ranging from elk to bald eagles to the Shasta salamander.
Those fires clear the understory of dead materials including built-up leaves and pine needles while aiding in the soil nitrogen cycle, spawning the growth of native grasses and forbs.
And that’s good news for improving forest health and resiliency, reducing the propensity of insect and disease outbreaks, and enhancing wildlife habitat.