What's in store for land ravaged by forest fires?

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 8:26am

Dark, dead trees with smoke clouding the air--this has become a common sight in the Ark-La-Tex since Labor Day, as fire crews work to control blazes that have destroyed thousands of acres. So when will we start seeing green again? Not for awhile, says Ricky Kilpatrick of LSU AgCenter.

"It'll be years before some of these largest forests look like they did before the fire." But the good news? He says trees are resilient. They will grow back--it'll just take some time. Dead trees must first fall and decay, providing nutrients for the next plant generation. Grass will come back first, followed by sprouts of new growth.

And the fires haven't just impacted the trees--but also the insects and small mammals who make their homes there. Dr. Beverly Burden of LSUS says it may be 20 years before all the species will return to the forest. That's because fires create a disruption in the ecosystem, killing insects at the bottom of the food chain. When they disappear, so do animals that depend on them as a food source.

So is there any good that will come of the fires? Dr. Burden says yes. In some cases, limited burning can be good for a forest. It destroys the overgrowth and allows more habitats for animals when they return. "So when things come back...they'll be more territories for the animals, there'll be more food for the animals, in the long run." The bad news? That's going to take decades.

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