Gilead Fire area regenerating

Re: Natural disturbance can be good for environment

Last Sunday I finished my summer internship with the Wyoming Wilderness Association by going on the Gilead Fire regeneration and wildflower Hike in the Rock Creek recommended wilderness area in the Bighorn Mountains.

Given the recent wildfire-related events in Arizona and Colorado, the timing couldn’t have been better. My understanding of fire and its place in ecological communities was minimal. Through the instruction of a Bighorn National Forest employee, I learned about fire as a natural disturbance and, specifically, about the Gilead Fire in the Rock Creek recommended wilderness.

Fire, as a natural disturbance, is not a bad thing. It allows for the recruitment of young species, facilitates early seral species and provides opportunity for wildlife. It can benefit the age-class structural diversity of the Bighorn National Forest.

On the hike into Rock Creek I saw the incredible manner in which the landscape regenerates itself. The Gilead Fire and the response to the burn demonstrated both excellent management of the burn and the importance of fire as a natural cycle. The topography of Rock Creek recommended wilderness is rugged and difficult to access. Because of this, the Gilead Fire was dangerous and difficult to contain. Firefighter safety was of the highest priority, as was private property. But fire management was difficult, not because it was managed as a wilderness area, but because it was (and is), in fact, a wild place. The untrammeled nature of the area presents challenges that would exist regardless of how people choose to manage it. They are engrained in the very landscape.

It is important to take the chance, every now and then, to get outside and better educate ourselves about the natural world. When we hiked into Rock Creek on Sunday, the hillsides were covered with wildflowers. Those hillsides were completely burned only a year ago, and I never would have guessed it. From seeing the sites of the fire I have come to better understand the phenomenal ability of one of nature’s many cycles. The Gilead Fire of Rock Creek recommended wilderness provided the chance to understand that there are forces of nature that people have little control over. And sometimes, that’s OK. We should all take a minute to understand, appreciate and respect that fact, while being inspired by Wyoming’s natural and wild places.

 

Marielle DeJong

Sheridan