Yellowstone Preview: The Dynamics Of Fire

Robert Smith checks in with Weekend Edition Sunday regular host Liane Hansen, who is on assignment in Yellowstone National Park. In a preview of her September series, Hansen talks about the evolving dynamics of fire protection in the park, and reveals what "a good Elk day" is.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Now let's take a moment to check in with Liane. She's on the road all this week. And Liane, I'll let you tell the listeners where you are.

LIANE HANSEN: Well, right now I'm in Canyon Village, which is pretty much smack-dab in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. Think of it as being a bit northeast of Old Faithful. Our guide has been Roy Rankin, who's a forest ecologist. And he's been taking us to some of the burn sites, not only from the 1988 fires, which we will be reporting on, but he has showed us places where there were fires in the 19th century, and showed us what was going on with all of the ecology after the fires. And I've got to tell you, this is a pretty resilient place.

SMITH: What are you hoping to learn from Yellowstone and the fires?

HANSEN: I think we want to learn more about forest fires. It was interesting that Roy said to us, even though he's been in this business for 30 years, they are learning something new about management of fires every day. For example, we learned that there are some paths that have been cut by bulldozers, and those will leave permanent scars in the park. Different kinds of vegetation grew on either side of the path that we were on. There was a tall lodgepole pine forest, very dark, high canopy on one side, and on the other side, a meadow with a few trees and some yarrow and some fireweed, some of the flowers that grow here.

But right in the middle, the path, the only place anything was growing is where the tires from the bulldozer didn't touch. And they are learning that when they have to cut a fire line, they have to go back and help that soil rehabilitate, because soil only burns a couple of centimeters. But if you disturb more of that soil, stuff won't grow back.

SMITH: Any personal reactions to the scenery and what you've seen so far?

HANSEN: Well, as Laura pointed out, driving...

SMITH: Your producer.

HANSEN: Laura Krantz, our producer, pointed out driving to our meeting with Roy, it was a good elk day. We saw several herds of elk. There was a traffic jam because a buffalo decided to take a walk on the road. But the most interesting thing was, we saw a yearling grizzly bear. I'm from the East. I mean, chipmunks, squirrels, that stuff I know. Grizzly bears? Not so much.

SMITH: We'll look forward to hearing more about this next week. Thanks for checking in.

HANSEN: Robert, my pleasure. Thank you.

SMITH: Liane will be back in the host chair next Sunday, and she'll have more on Yellowstone then. In the meantime, you could read her blog posts about Yellowstone on our "Sunday Soapbox." It's at npr.org/soapbox. You're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.

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