The wildfires that make the news are vilified for good reason. These out-of-control burns pose threats to people’s lives and property. Often, they are also dangerous to natural ecosystems. Though some of these fires are caused by arson or by careless people, others occur because of the inevitable build-up of plants in areas that have not been allowed to burn for one reason or another. If these areas were allowed to burn naturally, the resulting fires would actually benefit the surrounding environment. However, if allowed to build up, they can cause uncontrollable conflagrations. We would often be better off letting nature take its course. Let’s examine some benefits of natural wildfires.
As mentioned before, if we allow wildfires to happen naturally, they become a part of the natural order of things. These fires can burn large areas, but they promote biodiversity by consuming species that have overstepped their bounds. This process is similar to natural selection. For example, if an animal is transported into an ecosystem where it has no natural enemies, it may grow unchecked and wreak havoc on the environment. If fires don’t burn certain plants, they can profligate and overwhelm other plants.
Fires also are useful because they break down vegetation that will eventually enrich the soil with its minerals. This allows the soil to support a more diverse array of plant life, which in turn supports more animal species. Again, the downside of allowing an environment to stagnate is that one species or another may become too dominant and crowd out other species. This is not, in itself, such a bad thing. However, by doing this, the successful species can unintentionally get rid of the food chain below it, thereby depriving itself of a food supply in the future. If we don’t allow fires to happen, we work against nature.