We often hear about an area “recovering” from a wildfire. This implies that fire is unfortunate and unwelcome, a sentiment probably based on an instinctive fear. And it should go without saying — fires that burn structures or humans fit that description.
But vegetation fires in remote areas should be evaluated with different criteria. Yes, a fire can drastically change the appearance of a landscape. Most people visiting national parks, for example, would prefer to take pictures of a mature green forest than a recently burned hillside that is beginning a new fire return cycle. But those two ends of the cycle and everything in between are natural.
In 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park caused mostly by lightning burned 793,880 acres, 36 percent of the park, during windy weather following a dry spring and summer. Today I saw an article that was focused on to what degree the vegetation had “recovered” from those fires 30 years ago. The emphasis was how much the landscape looked like it did before the fires of 1988. One might say that a lodgepole forest that burned at the end of its 50 to 300 year fire return interval had recovered the day after the embers cooled.
The photo below taken in 2003 in Yellowstone National Park in an area that burned in 1988 shows the regrowth of the forest in just 15 years.
Below are satellite photos provided by the US Geological Survey of the Yellowstone area taken a year before, just after, and 30 years after the 1988 fires. The red areas are not the actual color of the vegetation, but represent the areas where the fires burned, as detected by shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and visible green sensors on a satellite. As the vegetation changes, light green areas start replacing the red and pink from the burn scar.