Yellowstone Forest Fires
Forest Fires in Yellowstone National Park

Forest Fires in Yellowstone

The effects of wildfires in Yellowstone are evident in just about every corner of the park. Natural processes are continually at work in Yellowstone and wildfires play an important role in reshaping the landscape. To the casual observer these fires may appear to be incredibly devastating but they are actually very beneficial to the topography of the park and they help to further develop new ecosystems that become more diverse over time.

To completely understand many of the natural processes that take place within Yellowstone you have to think in geological time, the scale of which can be enormous, and what will seem like a lifetime to us—and often is—will only be a tiny blip on the grand geologic scale. These recovery cycles for many plant species affected by fire will vary greatly and it may take only 20 years for grasslands and smaller shrubs to recover and up to 300 years for some pine forests. No matter how long this regeneration process takes, wildfires are another important player in the park's evolutionary cycle and some plant species benefit greatly from wildfires. Lodgepole pines for example, which account for 80% of the forests within the park, are 'fire-adpated'. Their cones are naturally sealed by a very sticky resin and only the intense heat from a forest fire will open the cones and release the new seeds. Fertilized by the ashes from these wildfires the newly deposited seeds will become the next generation of forests.

During the summer of 1988, in one of the worst fire seasons in Yellowstone's history, more than 750,000 acres of the park's 2.2 million acres had been completely burned. Forty two were caused by lighting strikes and another nine were human-caused. While the effects of these wildfires are still clearly visible throughout the park what we are beginning to see now is just how resilient and well prepared nature is at dealing with these catastrophic events. One thing is certain, both fire and volcanism will continue to change the landscape in Yellowstone National Park for a long time to come.

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