News articles, travel blogs and university studies marvel at Yellowstone’s recovery from the devastating fires of 1988, a prominent and significant setting in the novel Drip Torch–but human activity may ultimately undermine nature’s resilience.
Today new conifers 18 to 20 feet tall crowd beneath black and gray toothpick towers that darkly remind Yellowstone visitors of the recent inferno. Viewing a single landscape, our hearts beat somberly for the charred remnants of vibrancy while we celebrate the speed with which nature can regenerate. The fires Jeremiah, Eileen, and the fictitious Six Rivers Hotshot Crew fought in 1988 comprise a natural part of the forest’s life cycle. Wildfires devastating vast acreages have occurred every 100 to 300 years; the lodgepoles around Yellowstone bear cones that release their seeds only when consumed by the heat a wildfire can provide.
But just as global warming threatens communities that have occupied low-lying coastal plains for millennia, increasing heat and drought will forever change the natural mechanisms of forest regeneration, according to recent studies. One analysis conducted by the University of California-Merced concluded that those 100- to 300-year cycles may shrink to as little as 30 years, preventing the conifers from ever completely recovering, ushering in a different ecosystem dominated by grassland, shrubs, and open woodland. Less snowpack combined with earlier and longer summers will establish a parched tableau onto which firestorms will become much more frequent visitors to Yellowstone and forests throughout the U.S.
Are we calculating today that the benefits of consumerism outweigh the ominous perils that we bequeath future generations?
Read a scene from Drip Torch that takes place during the 1988 Yellowstone Fires: