FORESTS FALL SICK WITHOUT FIRES

Forest is a key factor in maintaining a favorable environment for people's lives, social and economic development of the state. In Russia, forests occupy half of the country's territory, and this is a quarter of the world's forest cover.

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It is believed that one of the main causes of forest death is forest fires. Only in this country, from ten to thirty thousand of them are registered annually. According to reports of the Federal Aviation Safety Agency “Avialesohrana”, as of May 6 this year, 43 forest fires were operating on the territory of the Russian Federation on an area of 44,181 hectare, more than the whole of Krasnoyarsk!

Fires cause tremendous damage - vegetation, animals, people die. It is impossible to overestimate the environmental consequences: a huge amount of polluting particles, gases, organic compounds and other substances harmful to the environment enters the atmosphere. The level of air pollution increases, smoke spreads over hundreds of kilometers, which is bad for people's health. In 2019, when a wave of fires passed around the world, the American actor Leonardo DiCaprio commented on this problem on his Instagram: “The Arctic Circle suffers from a huge number of forest fires. The foci in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska are smoking, and this can be seen from space. The World Meteorological Organization stated that these fires released as much carbon dioxide (CO2) in a month as all of Sweden in a year.” (https://www.instagram.com/p/B0jPoPzFNr0/?utm_source=ig_embed).

It is practically impossible to put out the fire, which covers hundreds of hectares of forest. You can only stop it, limit it, keep the fire on, and try to eliminate the causes of its occurrence.

But there is another side to forest fires. The fact is that all the ecosystems of our planet have evolved in the presence of fire. Each community of plants and trees, each species individually for millennia developed their own adaptation mechanisms and adapted to the fire. For example, Siberian pine has a thick bark, a deep root system, a trunk highly purified from branches, so that the flame does not spread into the crown.

Another example is reforestation. Birch and aspen, which quickly die from fire, and seemingly not at all adapted to fires, will be the first to occupy the liberated territory. It seems that the tree died, but a root shoot develops from a stump of birch, a root has come off from an aspen, it has opened, has gone outside, therefore the shoot germinates quickly! The ability to form offspring from sleeping buds on the roots, rapid rooting, has the initial “settlement” of the burned-out forest with these species. And the seeds of these rocks are spread over long distances, thereby contributing to the large-scale settlement of the "liberated" territories.

Why do forests need fires? On the one hand, forests die during fires, and on the other, fires can be considered as an important natural factor in the formation and renewal of plant communities. Fires prevent the spread of harmful organisms - insects, fungi; they cleanse the forest from clutter, etc. It is interesting that almost all larch and pine virgin forests of the taiga zone were formed on forest burns

Fire suitability of the forest system can be characterized through the “fire regime of the territory” and assessed by two parameters - the inter-fire interval and the inherent burning rate. For example, pine stands are relatively easy to tolerate grassroots runaway fires. So, with a quick spring fire, last year's dry grass is burned, the fire does not go deep into the moist layer of the dry litter. The combustion rate is usually low, the stand is slightly damaged. Subsequently, young shoots appear, the yield of mushrooms and berries increases. Such fires occur in pine trees on average once every 25-45 years. If in such a forest there has been no fire for more than fifty years, the forest begins to hurt, its clutter leads to more severe mounted fires, when the fire spreads to the crowns of trees.

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Of course, not every fire becomes a blessing to the forest. Many conditions must coincide: climate, type of ecosystem, topography, intensity and duration of burning, desired inter-fire interval. Otherwise, the fire leads to disastrous consequences. “Fire needs to be taken very seriously and responsibly. Now they can do harm even in cases that were previously considered safe. Plantations are lost, the burning interval of which is within the framework of the historically established fire regime and low intensity. The reason is climate warming and therefore drier soils. In addition, we continue the pioneer development of forests, exploring forests further north. Therefore, it is important to develop a system for monitoring forest fires and early response, to study the influence of various factors on the fire regime, to improve fire fighting and fire prevention technologies, ”said Sergey V. Verkhovets, Director of the Institute of Forest Technologies of Reshetnev University *. “That is why at our university we are actively developing such a field of science as forest pyrology, i.e. science of forest fires. We actively interact with Russian and foreign colleagues. Now the system of regional forest fire centers and Aviation Forest protection divisions is intensively developing, for which we train qualified personnel.”

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Sergey V. Verkhovets, Director of the Institute of Forest Technologies of Reshetnev University *

 

* Reshetnev Siberian State University of Science  and Technology