5. Something wondrous
Dispatch from Erin in Sisters, Oregon...
Two wildfires are threatening homes here and covering the region with snowlike ash. Although they can be terrifying and destructive, fires are a necessary part of forest ecology. The remaining stands of ghost-white, barren trees form my favorite landscape.
These snag forests are among the rarest ecosystems in the West, both beautiful and ephemeral. Despite their outwardly dead appearance, they're teaming with life. Not long after the embers go out, rodents return to the region, bringing birds of prey and predators like pine martens and foxes. The open landscapes attract elk and deer. After a few years, stands of huckleberry, blueberry, and currant cover the ground. Snag forests can be more diverse and complex than the unburned woods that preceded them.
Over the last century, snag forests have become increasingly rare. For many years, the conventional wisdom held that fires were bad, harmed wildlife, robbed money from timber industries, and risked homes. The resulting fire management practices have left the West with what some call a fire deficit.