25 years after 1988, Yellowstone reflects change wrought by fire

2013-08-04T00:15:00Z 2014-06-20T10:31:07Z 25 years after 1988, Yellowstone reflects change wrought by fireStory By BRETT FRENCH Photos By BOB ZELLAR french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

In 1988, almost 800,000 acres of Yellowstone National Park was burned in what was, at the time, one of the most significant wildland fires in American history.

Yellowstone is iconic, a symbol of the United States’ foresight in protecting wild places, animals and natural features, a land idealized throughout the world for its vast high-mountain wilderness, variety of wildlife and many geothermal features.

So when the park seemed to be turning to ashes in that unusual summer of fire, the entire world watched or read the news reports in awe, disbelief, fear and with a deep curiosity about what the future of the park might be. Yellowstone, it was feared, would be destroyed. The park would never be the same. A unique place symbolizing Americans’ ties to preserving wild places had been forever lost.

Jump forward to 2013, the 25th anniversary of those fires, and it’s evident that Yellowstone National Park continues to thrive, adapt and transform as it always has, and that part of that change has always included fire. The species of plants and animals that inhabit the park have long adapted to fire. Sure, there are changes, but Yellowstone is a dynamic landscape. Nothing stays the same. And fire will return, especially as summers grow ever longer, hotter, drier and contain more lightning strikes.

What seems evident is that although the Yellowstone fires of 1988 were dramatic, they were only a signal of what was to come. Last year in Montana alone, 1.1 million acres burned while the nation saw almost 8 million acres consumed by wildland fires. Firefighting costs for the Forest Service alone totaled about $1 billion. Already this year, almost 300,000 acres burned in just two of New Mexico’s 10 fires.

So wildland fire is here to stay on the Western landscape. More fires will burn in Yellowstone. But the burns are no longer viewed as catastrophic to the landscape. Different plants will sprout in the ashes, different trees and bushes will grow, but it is part of a natural cycle — one that people visiting Yellowstone National Park can see with their own eyes.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More from the Gazette

Drilling ebbs in the Powder River Basin as oil prices plummet

Drilling ebbs in the Powder River Basin as oil prices plummet

2 hours agoLoading…
Firefighter bargaining changes advance to floor

Firefighter bargaining changes advance to floor

12 hours agoLoading…

Wyoming ranks first in financial security

14 hours agoLoading…
Oil spill near Glendive latest in string of Casper company's pipeline breaks

Oil spill near Glendive latest in string of Casper company's pipeline breaks

January 31, 2015 6:00 am Photos

Photos

Loading…
Just chill: Your guide to ice fishing

Just chill: Your guide to ice fishing

January 31, 2015 5:00 amLoading…

Public lands transfer legislation advances in Legislature

January 30, 2015 7:00 pmLoading…

Bill would let state invest up to $50M for value-added products

January 30, 2015 4:41 pmLoading…

Report: Wyoming gun death rate among country's highest

January 30, 2015 4:36 pmLoading…

State Senate approves sports concussion liability bill

January 30, 2015 3:08 pmLoading…
Senate postpones Medicaid expansion vote

Senate postpones Medicaid expansion vote

January 30, 2015 1:42 pmLoading…
Government unloads scandal-ridden Teapot Dome oil field for $45M

Government unloads scandal-ridden Teapot Dome oil field for $45M

January 30, 2015 1:30 pmLoading…
New Wyoming race combines fat bikes, skis and snowshoes

New Wyoming race combines fat bikes, skis and snowshoes

January 30, 2015 10:43 amLoading…

Alleged drunk driver plows through Wyoming landfill

January 30, 2015 10:47 amLoading…
Cheyenne Central students take tree fingerprints

Cheyenne Central students take tree fingerprints

January 30, 2015 10:26 amLoading…

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses