Chapter II: Critical Need

Fires Lead to Other Hazards

A Path of Destruction Becomes a Breeding Ground

Dead Pine
Fire doesn’t discriminate: Along with mature trees go the young seedlings.

Pinelands, many of which have been destroyed by fire, were once among North America’s vast timberlands. Today they cover only 2 percent of their original expanse. An exceptional source of biodiversity, pinelands are essential in providing habitat to more than 30 threatened or endangered plant and animal species. The superior quality of longleaf pine timber increases their economic value.

As flames follow a destructive path in a pine forest, they set the stage for often insidious varieties of insects to attack healthy trees. When drought conditions exist, beetle and weevil populations grow in fire-damaged trees, emerging in high numbers that feast on new seedlings or larger trees’ smaller branches. Such feeding dramatically reduces the quantity of new pines, leaving a region seemingly inhospitable to new tree growth.

Tornado Damage by Mike Theiss
In February 2007, winds estimated from 158 to 260 miles per hour broke trees like toothpicks, destroying in minutes what nature took decades to build. Photo © Mike Theiss.

Similarly, hurricanes and tornadoes have left a dramatic imprint on Florida’s landscape in the past decade. The United States leads the world in incidence of tornadoes, its infamous Tornado Alley having the highest frequency in the Midwest, and Florida following at its heels.

Winter tornadoes have become more common when the eastern Pacific Ocean’s waters are abnormally warm, referred to as El Nino conditions. In February 2007, tornadoes struck Lake, Sumter and Volusia counties in the early morning hours, obliterating both natural and metropolitan areas and killing dozens of people.

Next: Nature Needs Human Support