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Case Study
Yellowstone Forest Fires
Forest Fires
I. How They Work
II. Fire Management
I. Map of Yellowstone
II. Yellowstone Fire
III. One Year After
IV. Six Years After

Earth Sys. Analysis
Yellowstone Fire Analysis
Sphere Analysis Tool

Six Years After
Hope Springs Eternal: Yellowstone National Park Six Years Later

BOZEMAN, MONTANA. September 15, 1995. Yellowstone Park officials and service operators are happy again. After a couple of shaky years, visitors are returning to the park in record numbers, many of them curious to see the rebirth of this once-ravaged park. "I always had hope," one hotel owner in West Yellowstone told me. "Geysers aren't the only thing springing up in this part of the world."

Speaking of which, the geysers and other geothermal features of the park were scarcely affected by the fires. Old Faithful continues to gush on a regular schedule. Chamber music is still played in Lake Yellowstone Hotel's Sun Room, fishermen still catch and release trout in the rivers, bears still attract hordes of amateur photographers, and the Yellowstone River Canyon still shines like gold in the sunlight. Only when you drive past, or hike into, stretches of blackened stumps — the remains of lodgepole pines — do you remember that almost half the park burned in 1988.

And, if you look more closely at these stretches, you see tens of thousands of young lodgepoles growing up beside the dead ones. Biologists estimate that it will take about half a century for the pines to reach full height and close the forest canopy, returning the park's forests to the conditions found prior to the fires. Areas where erosion is severe or where landslides occurred will take longer to recover, but within a century, all this forest will once again look like telephone poles topped with Christmas trees. The National Forestry Service continues to think about and adjust the policies which it uses to regulate fires. Now, three strategies are constantly being considered depending upon local fire conditions: suppression, let it burn, and intentional burning. Each strategy has its good and bad points, and considering the awesome force of fire, each can lead to devastation and tragedy and new growth.

Life goes on.

Review Questions

  1. According to biologists, how long will it take for the Yellowstone tree cover to return to what it was before the fire?
  2. Has life at Yellowstone returned to “normal”. If yes, how? If no, why not?
  3. What three strategies for fire management are now being used at Yellowstone?