by Patricia Lauber
In 1988, Yellowstone National Park had not seen any huge wildfires in over 200 years. Fire was managed in the park- manmade fires were put out, while naturally occurring ones were allowed to burn unless they threatened people or buildings. This book tells about the events during the wildfires of 1988, when an entire third of the park burned. It describes the dangers and benefits of wildfire, and how the park recovered.
Because it did. I was twelve when those fires occured, I had visited Yellowstone and I remember feeling devastated at the news. Reading this book puts it all in perspective- the land actually recovers fairly quickly from wildfire. Most animal species survived, some benefitted greatly (predators ate smaller mammals on the run, insects moved in to take advantage of dying trees, etc). The lodgepole pines, in particular, start to die back until fire revives the forests by allowing younger trees to thrive. Certain seeds will not germinate unless prompted to by high temperatures caused by fire. I was surprised to learn about the unique way aspen thickets grow- they send up shoots from root systems that are often interconnected throughout the grove. Aspen seeds are troublesome to germinate, and the young trees easily shaded out. So most aspen in the park did not grow from seed but instead exist because of stands that have been growing back from the root systems for hundreds of years. I think that\’s amazing.
This book is a bit old- I can tell from the quality of the photographs alone, although they are very nice. It\’s also a juvenile nonfiction book, which I didn\’t realize until I started reading it. As such, it doesn\’t offer a lot of in-depth information and poses lots of unanswered questions, because when it was written scientists were still studying the effects of the blaze and how the Yellowstone plants and wildlife recovered from fire. (In some cases, very systematically- blocking off sections that hadn\’t been burned, planting them with certain seeds or not, observing later to see what grew and didn\’t after the fire, etc.) It would be nice to know more of the answers, so it prompts me to look more stuff up online. A nice, fairly informative read I got through in one sitting.
Rating: 3/5 64 pages, 1991