Effects of Fire on Boreal Forests

October 25, 2023 By: Spencer Durrant

Photo: Ben+Sam/Flickr

Forest fires are nothing new to the landscape, but their impacts are being felt more and more acutely with each passing year. Fly anglers have a vested interest in forest fire science, because trout streams are one of the first victims of forest fires. Mudslides and flash flooding will dramatically impact a stream’s behavior and ecology, sometimes for years after the initial burn (as we’ve seen on the South Platte River in Colorado).

North America’s boreal forests (in taiga and sub-arctic environments) have burned a lot recently, which has focused research on what to expect as these forests recover from the burns. In an interesting article at Phys.org, scientists from Northern Arizona University have utilized satellite imagery to study boreal forests that have burned in the past 30 years.

The longstanding belief is that, after a boreal forest burns, the evergreen trees are replaced by more deciduous species. These deciduous trees sequester more carbon, cooling the local climate and reducing the risk for fire in the future. However, this new research proves that belief to be false. Boreal forests certainly become more deciduous after a fire, but they don’t stay that way. Gradually, the boreal forests shift back to coniferous trees.

You can read more about what this means for long-term forest health here.