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Time Will Tell: Does Wildfire Damage the Prairie?

This article is from Issue Wildland Fire - Vol. 4 No. 1.

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Prairies are grasslands that are often used as forage for cattle. When a wildfire burns across a prairie, the grass is killed immediately and there is no forage for cattle. Because of this, many people thought that prairies were changed by fire. The questions the scientist wanted to answer are: 1) How does wildfire change a prairie? 2) How long does it take a prairie to recover after a wildfire? 3) In addition to immediately killing the prairie’s plants, does a wildfire affect the type of animals that live on the prairie?

Welcome to the Wildland Fire edition

Note to Educators

The Story of Smokey Bear

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science
  • People and Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Forest and Grassland Use (Educators)
  • The Value of Forests and Grasslands (Educators)
  • Vegetation Management (Educators)
  • Vegetation Protection (Fire, Insects, Endangered Species) (Educators)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Alaska
  • Intermountain
  • Northern
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Pacific Southwest
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Southern
  • Southwestern

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
There are many ways to investigate a question or problem. When a scientist decides to study a problem, he or she must make many decisions. One decision a natural resource scientist must make has to do with time. Over how long a period should the problem be studied? Should the problem be studied over an hour's time? For 1 week? Or, should the problem be studied over a period of years? The scientist in this study observed the impact of her experiment on the natural environment immediately after the experiment was over. She also observed the same natural area 1 year later. Then, she observed it again after more than 12 months. Do you think that the natural area had changed during the time that she observed it? Do you think that her conclusions about the experiment changed over that period of time? Why or why not?
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
One possible characteristic of an ecosystem is the ability to withstand a sudden crisis without changing very much. This characteristic is called resilience (re zil yentz). An example of a resilient (re zil yent) ecosystem is a natural sandy beach. When a storm or a hurricane hits, the beach may change its shape by losing or gaining sand. Overall, however, a sandy beach is resilient to storms and does not change very much in the long run. Another example is a flood plain, the flat land area on either side of a river. When the flood plain is not disturbed by human activities, in the long run it does not change very much when the river overflows its banks during a flood. The scientist in this study wanted to know whether a prairie is resilient to fire. Ecosystems are not the only things that may be resilient to a sudden crisis. What are other examples of resilience?
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Ecosystems

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (C)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure and function in living systems (C)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • Historic Perspectives: Understanding Fire
  • The Living Environment: Interdependence of Life
  • The Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry
  • The Nature of Science: The Scientific Enterprise
  • The Physical Setting: Processes that Shape the Earth
  • The Physical Setting: The Earth