We are frequently asked why we call our annual event the Fall Burn. Let me tell you why.
The state government, or farmers, may intentionally burn their fields, fence rows and ditches in the fall. These are controlled, or prescription, burns, intended for managing both competing and unwanted vegetation. The burn destroys weeds and unwanted growth while healthy trees and fence posts usually survive. The objectives of a burn include: (1) fuel reduction, (2) exposure of mineral soil for seedbeds for wind-disseminated species to regenerate, (3) control of insects, diseases and competing vegetation, and (4) the improvement of natural ecosystems, wildlife habitat and range forest(i). All these are good reasons for burns. T.R. Michels’ article, Habitat Management and Fire, states: “Prior to settlement by the Europeans, occasional fires were an integral part of many ecosystems, and native plants and animals had adapted to the occurrence of wildfires.”
However, sometimes the burn is unintentional and difficult to control. For example, during the summer of 2012 Colorado had areas where the forest floor was four feet deep with fuel—needles, leaves, logs and deteriorating plant life. When the forest fires started, they could not be extinguished and some forest floors burned and smoldered for weeks.
The United States forest and grassland management practice changed after the 1988 Yellowstone incident. Before the Yellowstone National Park fire, park managers had been instructed to put out the forest fire. After the fire, intentional and controlled burns were permitted as a critical natural process for new life, growth, development and regeneration. Some pine cones, for example, only burst at a certain heat level, initiating the spread of many seeds and creating new life and new forest growth. This is what we see throughout Yellowstone a quarter century later. The “burn” is about forest regeneration.
The purpose of the Sandage Center for the Study of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship’s Fall Burn is to consider the process of regeneration in our lives. Burning away the underbrush and unwanted growth provides the opportunity to regenerate the human mind, condition and spirit, just like the prescribed burn regenerates the ecosystems in the grasslands and forests.
(i) Habitat, Management and Fire.