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Fires, Floods, and Hurricanes…Hooray!

September 30, 2009

I know, I know.  One could be justifiably hung for commenting on what a beautiful thing a severe natural disaster is, especially when the event is unfolding and when human property and lives are at stake.  But let’s stop to look at the aftermath of natural disasters from an ecological perspective.  If we understood more fully that such events provide a special backdrop for the very existence of many plant and animal species with which we share this earth, we might begin to celebrate natural disturbance events and begin to live in a manner that minimizes our own peril while allowing the destructive forces to work their magic!

Most people are surprised to learn that some of the coolest plants and animals occur nowhere else but in places that have just undergone significant disturbance associated with severe storms, fires, and floods.  Where do you go, for example, to maximize your chances of finding Black-backed Woodpeckers or morel mushrooms or jewel beetles?  Severely burned conifer forest!  Where do young cottonwood trees flourish?  Along severely flooded and scoured river banks!  Where do the endangered Kirtland’s Warblers find the most suitable nest sites in north-central Michigan?  In severely burned jack pine forests!  And during winter in the Bahamas, where do the warblers find the most abundant source of fruits that they feed on?  In storm-ravaged coastal shrublands!

I hope you get the picture.  Now get out and enjoy some of the most remarkable plants and animals by visiting places that have recently experienced severe disturbance.  Your perception of the world will be forever changed and you will feel compelled to support, even demand, that our public lands be managed to support and maintain, not suppress or prevent, such disturbance events.  That’s the wave of change in thinking that is currently beginning to permeate our public land management agencies.  Land managers need our support as they begin to accommodate severe disturbance events in their management plans.  Read more about the ecology of disturbance and you will find yourself thinking more about the creative power than the destructive power associated with fire, wind, and water.

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