Why Burning Rocks

Since all we did today was clean up a native flower bed, I'm gonna take this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite topics: prescribed burning. Although many people think of fire as a purely destructive force, its actually necessary for many ecosystems to exist and thrive. For example, Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) cones are sealed with resin until fire melts it away and releases the seeds. This plant not only withstands fire, it needs it to reproduce! How cool is that? Also, Wikipedia rocks.

In our current system, the North American Prairie, fires have historically been started by lightning and have kept the system as a Prairie by burning off the cypress trees. Once Westerners came (ironically from the east), we started suppressing fire all the time. This let the cypress trees take over, which you would think was a good thing except for the fact that they tend to grow in single species stands which have way lower biodiversity than the prairie itself. In the last few years, ecologists have realized that since we can't just let wildfires run, well, wild, we have to recreate the fire regimes of the past by starting the fires ourselves. These prescribed burns are usually really controlled, with fire breaks built before they start. They keep invasive species out, help regeneration and allow you to reseed an area without having to clear it with, say, a leafblower.

But perhaps one of the coolest and weirdest aspects of these systems that need fire is the surprising fact that they might actually store and sequester just as much carbon when they are burnt than when they aren't. You would think burning a grassland or cypress forest would be a net release of CO2, but you'd probably be wrong (silly you). This is because as long as regeneration is allowed or even encouraged, the fast flush of new growth quickly makes up for the carbon that was lost by sucking it up to build stems and leaves and roots. Of course, this is a really, really new area of research, so I could be wrong (silly me). Anyway, I've got to go to bed ridiculously early so I can start ridiculously early like the "real" adult I'm becoming.


anayram said...

this is mind boggling and bending and flexing

carbon never ends to amaze me...

anayram said...

(silly nature)