"Invasive Species Have Created A Cycle Of Wildfire In Hawaiʻi"

"Planting native flora could help prevent the island's next wildfire."

"In April 2016, a wildfire burned 2,000 acres of Minnewaska State Park, a nature preserve in New York’s Hudson Valley. The blaze, the largest and most destructive to hit the park in more than half a century, turned a verdant forest into a blackened wasteland. But by summer, the scorched land was regenerating. Green shoots poked out of the charred earth, and dwarf pitch pines — conifers native to the region — bristled with new growth.

The conflagration was an example of what forest ecologists like to call “good fire” — one that consumes underbrush and dead vegetation, opens the canopy to let light and water in, unlocks seeds tightly shut in pinecones, and clears out invasive species that crowd native plants. Many of the wildfires that have burned millions of acres across the United States and Canada in recent years have had this effect; they’re beneficial in the long term because these forests have evolved to coexist with fire. They’re built to burn.

Some forests are not built to burn. Earlier this month, wildfires tore through Maui, engulfing the port city of Lahaina, burning 3,200 acres of land and killing at least 115 people, more than any other wildfire in modern U.S. history. Maui was at a unique disadvantage: Two centuries of colonial occupation and large-scale transformations of the natural landscape have transformed large swaths of the island’s moist, native forests into dry prairie littered with highly flammable invasive grasses. A recent flash drought, a rapid-onset dry period connected to climate change, dried out these grasses and fueled the blazes."

Zoya Teirstein reports for Grist August 30, 2023.

Source: Grist, 08/31/2023