Life after death: A visit to a Colorado wildfire burn scar
Adam McCurdy stops along the trail and points to the ghost of a former forest on a nearby mountainside.
State of play: The human-started Lake Christine wildfire decimated this landscape outside Aspen in the summer of 2018 — torching 12,000 acres and burning for more than a month.
- Five years later, the ground is still covered in ashen gray trees with black-charred trunks, standing reminders of the destruction.
Yes, but: McCurdy sees beauty and life.
- The forest and climate director at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies points to the green growing from the black soil, the stands of young aspen trees, the scrubby gamble oaks and clumps of pink wild roses.
Why it matters: This is an education mission, on the eve of the typical start of Colorado's wildfire season, to prove what the public still sees as controversial: Fire can be good.
What he's saying: "We've removed fire from a lot of ecosystems, and that's had a lot of negative consequences," McCurdy says. "Fire is a natural part of the Western ecosystem."
Zoom in: The landscape left behind is more biodiverse and resilient with stands of mature trees that survived and new growth amid fire-scarred trees. All of them are important for the ecosystem, creating habitats for more plants and animals, he explains.
- Beetles are drawn to the charred trees. They are a food source for woodpeckers, like the red-naped sapsucker that pecked at a tree near the trail, which in turn leave large holes where songbirds nest.
- "You really need to visit to see it and to understand everything that is going on," he says. "I've been coming here since 2019, and every year it's a different place."
Yes, but: Climate change is making wildfires more intense and widespread, moving into populated areas and producing bigger plumes of unhealthy smoke. And it takes longer for forests to recover from hotter burns.
The bottom line: "We don't have enough fire … but we have too much fire in some areas," he says. "And both can be true simultaneously."
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