Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wildfires continue

Gosh, it seems not too long ago that I listened to a presentation by an esteemed forester who chastised land management agencies for burning during the late summer and proclaimed that "historically, we didn't have lightning fires in Missouri in the summer." Driving any major highway, any rural road, well, traveling any distance in the Ozarks, one is bound to encounter a burned out roadside from a rogue cigarette or, as the case on Hwy 67, a muffler spitting sparks all along the road (27 fires caused by that muffler outside of Farmington). But last week's pop-up thunderstorms (combined with the crazy KB Palmer Drought Index ratings) spurred several more lightning-induced wildfires in the region, continuing the trend of lightning fires that have occurred all summer in this record breaking drought. One lightning fire in derecho damage burned over 1,000 acres, and the others, smaller in scale, were contained before they burned the whole county down. Growing season lightning fires occurred historically, and they're occurring now. The difference between historic growing season fires and the implementation of this process in today's damaged landscape is about 100 years, 100 years of grazing by domestic livestock, the interruption of the regular fire regime. Today, when folks implement growing season fires in impaired systems that have not seen this sort of intensity for many years, the fire damages the canopy, the soils, the entire ecosystem. Fire is not always a good thing, especially when you're dealing with horribly damaged systems (which is much of the Ozarks today). Growing season fires work well when you already have a flashy fuel in place, a quickly burning warm season grass structure. Dense, thick leaf litter that hasn't burned for 50 years does not represent the historic condition, so the historic fire regimes should not be implemented. All these Ozark wildfires? It will be interesting to see if anything besides fireweed comes up next spring.

This was sent to me through the post today, an image from the lightning-caused fire outside of Dora, a raging fire with a thunderhead nearby that may have thrown off more lightning:

If I understood the report correctly, St. Louis has broken the 1980 drought record for days with continuous temperatures above 103. The canopy throughout the Ozarks is browning out.

I've given up on my woodland sampling plots in much of the Ozarks. Tonight I'm trying to figure out mathematically how I can average this year's data with next year's data with a standard deviation to account for the incredible drought. Normally, warm spring rains follow prescribed fire season, spurring woodland flora to flourish, to spring anew. This summer, visiting some of the sites that burned last fire season has been reminiscent of visiting a radiation site where nothing grows but farkleberry from stump sprouts, and only meager sprouts. The Desmodiums are toast, and a lot of the sedges never flowered, so I'm stuck with dried sterile sedges. Oh, some of the sedges are easy (complanata, muhlenbergii, albicans, albursina, the easy ones) but in a woodland with such rich sedge diversity, I want to key them correctly and it's challenging to do so without flowering stalks and fruit. It's challenging for me, anyway.

Like the rest of the state, I'm hoping for rain soon.


Anonymous said...

Would you classify fireweed as invasive or native & would you recommend planting it in flower beds?

Allison Vaughn said...

There's the really pretty pink flower called fireweed, and then there's a weedy (native) fireweed (genus Erictites) that shows up in big clumps in damaged systems after a hot fire. The weedy one is not very pretty...

Travis said...

Erictites is sort of pretty, usually stands taller than me and has small yellow/white flowers that turn into tiny puffballs. the bees love them!