A forest fire recently consumed the luscious grass and dwarf bamboo plants covering a part of Mt. Pulag, the highest peak in Luzon. Earlier last Saturday, a group of mountaineers was about to cook rice when their butane gas stove exploded. Panicked, one of them mindlessly pitched the stove away.
Of course, a wildfire broke out for eight hours, suspending trekking and hiking activities until we heard updates from the authorities. Almost two hectares of the grasslands was ravaged. Police said what happened was arson by negligence, a violation of the Fire Code of the Philippines of 2008.
The national park stretching from Ilocos Norte to the Cordillera Provinces is home to various species of flora, including the pitcher plant, which is endemic to the mountain. The rich biodiversity in the mountain may have been spoiled, but is it really bad?
Benefits of wildfires
It sounds counterintuitive but wildfires actually have some benefits to forests and grasslands. Regular low-intensity fires are considered good for their overall health as they rid the terrain of dead and unhealthy trees and flora that may be nursing diseases, beetles, and termites. And as fires burn up degrading plants, as well as dried leaves and grasses, nutrients return to the soil, thus stimulating new growth.
Wildfires help fauna, too. “Young-growth forests recovering from the fire are home to more diverse species, in both plants and animals. This is because the remnants of burned trees offer attractive habitats to birds and small mammals, and nutrients from burned vegetation continue to leach into the soil to fuel the birth of new plants,” according to Pacific Biodiversity Institute.
If the fire was removed from the cycle, “ecosystems began to get out of balance,” according to US Department of Interior’s National Park Service paper on the benefits of fire.
However, in Mt. Pulag’s case, it’s a circumstance brought about by the irresponsibility of visitors. The authorities of the national park surely know how to take care of the famous hiking destination in the north, and setting it on fire like this is definitely not one of their measures.
Header image courtesy of ABS-CBN News