Nature Photography, LLC
July / August, 2014
It's Show Time!
Colorado beckons as we get back to our beloved Rocky Mountains. Come join us for a weekend (or two!) of fabulous Rocky Mountain highs as we join dozens of other talented artists in this year's Aspen and Beaver Creek Art Festivals. Stroll the festivals, enjoy a gelato, and of course, take a hike! If you are like me, you don't really need an excuse to head to the mountains, but we're giving you one anyway. Come say hi!
12th Annual Downtown Aspen Art Festival
Saturday and Sunday, July 26th & 27th, 2014
10:00 am to 5:00 pm both days
Wagner Park (Monarch St & Durant Ave)
27th Annual Beaver Creek Art Festival
Saturday and Sunday, August 2nd & 3rd, 2014
10:00 am to 5:00 pm both days
Beaver Creek Resort
76 Avondale Lane
Forest Regeneration Post-Fire
The effects of a major forest fire, even one that touches no man-made structures, can be awe-inducing, touching off feelings of utter devastation and destruction. One need only remember the immediate aftermath of the massive Yellowstone fires of 1988 to feel the ache in the pit of one's stomach. Or, as it is once again wildfire season, you may only need to go for a short drive to see the blackened skeletons of previously lush forests and grassy fields, depending upon where you are. (Please stay a safe distance from any actively burning fires. There is no need to add to the danger to yourself or anyone who may come to rescue you by getting too close. And remember that wildfires can jump large spans quickly, especially in dry, windy conditions such as we have in Washington State right now. Roads and rivers are not guaranteed fire breaks!) But the devastation wrought by fires is never permanent. Nature always comes back. Indeed, fire has been a part of the natural regeneration cycle of forest and grasslands far longer than mankind has been around trying to control the blaze.
Fire serves several key functions in the forest ecosystem. It can reduce or remove entirely the duff, which is the accumulated layer of dead leaves, tree fall, etc. that covers the forest floor. This enriches the soil by returning nutrients to it, while simultaneously clearing space for new seeds to sprout. Fire also destroys some or all of the crown, the foliage at the top of the trees that makes the forest "roof." This allows sunlight to penetrate to the forest floor, which can help some of those new seeds to sprout. Wait, you say, doesn't the fire destroy those seeds? How can they germinate? Those answers, like fire itself, are complex.
Many seeds are buried deep in the duff layer and in the soil below the duff. The duff insulates the seeds and the soil from both cold weather and heat – including fire. If a fire is not too hot or is fast moving, much of the duff layer can remain intact, replete with lots of eager-to-sprout seeds that now have access to a great deal more water and sunlight. If a fire is slow moving and very hot, however, it can burn the entire duff layer, destroying any seeds within it, and exposing the underlying soil to temperatures that may be so hot that many seeds within that soil are also destroyed. Rarely, though, are all of the seeds destroyed. Some plant species (raspberry, plum, and chokecherry, among others) have evolved seeds that count on fire to germinate them: their seed coats are extremely hard and need the intense heat of a fire to break them open. Other species, like the jack pine, have cones that are sealed by a resin that protects the seeds. Fire melts the resin, allowing the cone to open and the seeds to disperse, often with the assistance of a hungry critter or a blowing wind. (Hypothetically, even if every seed in the forest were destroyed, it would not take long for new life to begin sprouting. The rich soil created by the fire would soon find itself hosting myriad seeds deposited by winds, birds flying overhead, and rodents. They are nothing if not natural seed dispersants.)
Seeds that are still on trees when a fire occurs may nonetheless survive the blaze. The ponderosa pine has long needles that insulate the cone buds to a certain degree from fire. (On conifers, the longer the needles, the greater the chance the buds will survive.) The tough "scales" on a live cone serve as additional protection from heat, as anyone who has ever tried to burn a green pine cone can attest. They only become easily flammable once open and dry, long after the seeds have dispersed.
Depending upon the type of forest, trees can regrow even without the involvement of seeds. Some trees, such as aspen, have an extensive root system that connects all of the members of a stand of trees together. These trees are actually all part of a single living organism, not separate trees, though they appear to us on the surface to be individual trees. When this type of tree burns, the root system is often left unharmed, and new "suckers" shoot up quite rapidly, replenishing the stand in short order. This is also why it can be very difficult to remove such species from an area where they are not wanted. Even if you cut down every "tree," unless you kill the root system, suckers will continue to sprout.
Other trees may survive the fire, though much of their foliage is gone. Along with extensive root systems, thick bark can help protect trees. Between the inner bark layer and the sapwood is what is known as the cambium, a layer constituting the vascular system of the tree's trunk. A healthy cambium is critical for the tree's survival. The thicker the layers of inner and outer bark, the more protected the cambium is. While some tree species have a naturally thicker bark than other species, the age of the tree is important, too. Older trees, with their thicker bark, tend to fare better than younger trees. (Any connection to people "growing thicker skin" is, I'm sure, purely coincidental.)
Okay, so the plant life takes care of itself, I hear you saying. What about the critters? Let's start at the bottom: bugs love burned forests! They have a ton of food, especially those species that are wood-boring or that find the taste of rotting plants particularly appetizing. Life is grand for a wood-boring beetle after a fire! Except for all of the beetle-larvae-eating wildlife that moves in shortly after the beetles do. Many species of birds flourish in burned-out forests precisely due to the fact that they have an abundant food supply and many new nesting holes created by the fire. These nesting holes also create new homes for small animals such as mice, squirrels, and chipmunks. Larger holes, fashioned by hollowed out, fallen logs, create good homes for medium-sized critters such as raccoons and foxes. All of these eventually draw predators such as wolves, wildcats, and birds of prey back into the regenerating forest.
Elk will eat the bark of burned lodgepole pine trees, but not the bark of healthy pines. Live pines produce chemicals that make their bark unpalatable to elk, while fire destroys these chemicals. Fire also makes the bark more digestible, increases its protein levels and concentrates some minerals. Perhaps more importantly, burned bark is a very easy source of food. Wild animals, particularly in winter, cannot afford to work hard to find food. Their calories must be well-spent, not wasted. Burned forests provide a winter buffet for elk trying to survive the lean season. In the spring and summer, elk and other ungulates such as moose and deer benefit from the improved shrub growth after a fire, and their populations often amplify markedly in the years after a major burn.
Bears, also, can benefit from burned areas. Though they are often thought of as vicious carnivores, bears are actually omnivores whose diet consists primarily of berries, grubs, and flowers. Fires regenerate berry bushes and flowers through the mechanisms described above, and the dead trees are grub heaven for bears. Not only are fire-killed trees full of larvae and grubs of all kinds, they are also easier to pull apart than live trees, allowing access to the feast just below the surface with minimal effort. Like elk, bears are in this for survival, and the easiest food sources tend to be the preferred ones.
This is only a short overview of how a forest regenerates itself after a fire. Depending upon the type and location of the forest, the details will change, sometimes dramatically. Nonetheless, fire is often an important component of the life cycle of a healthy forest. It constitutes both an end and a beginning, a transitional phase that allows the forest to restore its nutrients and reset its balance. In the end, the forest will be healthier for it. Even in Yellowstone.
July / August Specials
Get 10% off of unframed, 10x15 prints of "Lounging Around – Lion Cub" and / or 8x12 prints of "Renewal by Fire – Fireweed" when you order from our specials page. As with all of our unframed prints, these prints are eligible for our No Hassle Returns.
It's hot out there! July and August are typically the most brutal months, heat wise, in the northern hemisphere. But humans aren't the only critters that have to deal with the heat. Here are some fun bits about how temperature affects a few of our fellow creatures.
· Toucans regulate their body temperature by controlling the blood flow to their rather oversized beak. The large surface area allows heat to escape quickly. When they sleep, toucans tuck their beaks beneath a wing, effectively becoming their own blanket.
· Similarly, elephants regulate their body temperature through blood flow to their large ears.
· Wonder how hot it is, but don't have a thermometer? Do you have a watch – and a cricket? Count the number of chirps the cricket makes in 15 seconds, then add 37. You now have the approximate temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.
· Water temperature affects how long sea turtles can hold their breath. Colder water allows them to hold their breath longer – sometimes for hours.
· Temperature determines whether an alligator hatchling will be male or female. Above 93° F means all the hatchlings will be male; below 86° F, they will all be female. Temperatures in between will result in a mixed brood. So there is some truth to "cold-blooded women," at least in the alligator world.
· Think various types of hibernation only occur in winter? Think again. In very hot, arid environments, many creatures go into a state of torpor characterized by inactivity and low metabolic rates similar to winter's more well-known long sleep. In summer, this hibernation is known as estivation.
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CITY ESCAPES Nature Photography, LLC