For Western landscapes, fire may be an agent of change
FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- State Highway 14 cuts a winding channel through the canyons of the Cache la Poudre Wilderness. Each hairpin turn opens onto a different landscape: around one, a hillside flush with lodgepole pine; around the next, a blackened slope where bare trunks stand out like so many toothpicks against the sky. Fire is as much a part of Western ecology as rain, thinning forests and purging old growth so that new trees can take root. But in the past several decades, something has shifted in that balance of destruction and regeneration, and trees are not always returning as quickly as expected, forest scientists say.