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Fire in the Forest

"Forests contain a large proportion of the carbon held in all terrestial ecosystems, and therefore wildland fires can produce a significant amount of GHGs, which in turn contribute to climate change... This means that as the climate changes there would be more fire and more GHG emissions, which would further accelerate the rate of climate change."

Fire in the Forest
by Peter Thomas and Robert McApline 
Cambridge University Press, 2010

This scientific text for the general reader reviews the effects of forest fires and attempts to manage them throughout history, from the earliest humans to modern-day debates over prescribed burns and wildland fire suppression. Questions about the ecological effects of fires, the causes and consequences of climate change, and the limits of fire control efforts are discussed by a team of four environmental scientists and fire management experts.

"There is a growing feeling that for forests to retain as much of their biodiversity as possible, forest management should increasingly emulate natural disturbances - the so-called natural disturbance hypothesis," the authors explain in a section on the use of clear-cutting to reduce the threat of fire. "Some trees can be left standing to visually resemble the structure of an area burnt by wildfire."

Some forest managers aspire to produce "natural-looking, species-rich forests" without the inherent dangers of fire; others question whether clear-cutting has the same ecological benefits of fire and accuse its proponents of seeking justification for felling more timber.

While not taking sides on such issues, the text concludes with a call for more "systems-thinking" and for people to view themselves as "part of nature, rather than apart from it," respecting the role of wildland fires in a healthy ecosystem and taking responsibility for their stewardship.

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