May 29, 2011

Fire and Landscape in Central Texas

It's not a Southern Rockies story per se, but we have similar situations here: "Texas wildfires made worse by changes on the state's vast landscape, scientists say."
A century and a half ago, Central Texas was a mosaic of grasses, some patches of trees and some sizable forested acreage, maintained in approximate proportions by fires every five to seven years.
A visitor today sees a wooded terrain, with dense junipers covering many hillsides and homes tucked among the trees. Fire is seen now only as the enemy in those places -- understandably, since a bad fire could be a disaster for people.
If I recall correctly, Texas folklorist and writer J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) told a similar story about an experience he had when riding as a young man (on his family ranch?) in southern Texas. 

He decided to take a break, so he tied his horse to a mesquite. Then he looked and saw an old iron picket pin in the ground nearby, left by some nineteenth-century cowboy or cavalry trooper.

And it occurred to him that only a short time earlier that spot must have been all grassland, for only then would a rider have needed to drive the pin in order to tether his horse. Ecological change in just two generations or so.


Anne Johnson said...

In Appalachia, meadows can turn to forests in 30 years. I've seen it happen on my family farm. The best view on the property is now obscured by a pine forest that wasn't there in 1975.

Other than losing a spectacular view, we have also lost bob whites and the other field-dwelling pheasants. In one generation.

Chas S. Clifton said...

True, I am sure, in fecund Appalachia. On the other hand, wildfire is not such a big threat there.

Peculiar said...

All the trees surprised me quite a bit when I first visited the central states. I was naively expecting the Great Plains, not the Great Scrub. I can sympathize with their nervousness about fire; seems like a good blaze could run almost infinitely in that country.