Forest fires are nature's way of clearing old growth, which allows organic matter to decompose rapidly into minerals which - in turn - supply fuel for speedy plant growth.
Some trees cannot survive without forest fires. Lodgepole and jack pines, seeds germinate after they have been exposed to fire. Both have resin-sealed cones that stay on the trees for many years.
The heat of a fire melts the resin and the cones pop open. Thousands of seeds scatter onto the ground and some grow into sturdy stands of pine. Aspen vigorously sprouts from underground roots after a fire - good news for moose and elk that feed on the new growth.
Many plants and animals are adapted to fires and the conditions they create. After a fire, birds such as the woodpecker may actually increase their population many times over as they feast on bark beetles and other insects that colonize the newly burned trees.
Predators like the lynx benefit from fires that maintain the forest mosaic. They use mature conifers for cover and hunt in recently burned areas that support large populations of its favourite prey - the snowshoe hare.
Parks Canada says that forest fires seldom trap large mammals, although they do kill some small animals and birds. However, over the long term, most species benefit from the habitats created by fire.
The type of fire and how quickly the vegetation comes back determines how fast the animals come back.
Many areas regenerate quickly as grasses sprout within two or three weeks after a fire, to the delight of Yukon gophers.
Then, there is a rapid re-colonization by small mammals like snowshoe hares and birds such as the sharp-tailed grouse. These are quickly followed by predators like foxes, marten, and owls.
Yukon forest fires also trigger a type of fungus to burst into full bloom, thus producing a bumper crop of highly-prized mushrooms. Precious, expensive morel mushrooms make their mysterious debut.
Dried morels can sell for more than $100 dollars per pound, and mushroom pickers can be seen at the road sides searching for these treasured fungi.
Mycologists, scientists who spend their careers studying mushrooms, are not sure why morels are produced in such abundance after forest fires. It could be that the rich nutrients released by forest fires somehow trigger the crops.
Still, at the peak of the season, high quality morel mushrooms are flown out of the Yukon. Thus forest fires help ensure that a tasty bit of the Yukon ends up on dinner plates in expensive restaurants around the world.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
40 years ago, if you wanted to hear private radio in the Yukon you had to tune in radio stations from big cities in Southern Canada or the U.S. That usually took an expensive receiver, a copper wire antenna and some luck on a crisp cold night. But all that changed on November 17, 1969 when radio station CKRW hit the Yukon airwaves. Imagine that:40 years ago.
In December of 1968, Klondike Broadcasting was awarded a broadcast license beating out a bid by another local group headed by Vic Wylie. That spring in 1969, Rolf Hougen, president of Klondike Broadcasting, announced that “Comfall” the most northerly private radio station would be serving the public. He also described plans for a new building on Main Street to accommodate the state-of-the-art radio operation. Al Jensen would be the station’s first manager. For forty years, CKRW radio has reported on, participated in and added to Yukon culture. By keeping favourite features since the station’s beginning and adding hits of yesterday, today and tomorrow, online contests and cutting edge features, CKRW has always combined a modern flare with small-town charme. Through both the on-air programming and the website, CKRW continues to sponsor many local events, from music festivals to the longest sled-dog in the world, in keeping with the slogan “Your community radio station”.
Through the years there have been changes. On May 10, 2004, Klondike Broadcasting added an FM transmitter at Whitehorse to provide an FM stereo service to the city and surrounding area while continuing to provide service on the AM band to residents who weren’t able to receive the new FM signal. CKRW officially launched “The Rush 96.1 FM” on September 14, 2004. Today CKRW transmits to listeners in Watson Lake, Teslin, Haines Junction, Faro, Mayo, Carmacks and Dawson City and reaches outside the Yukon boundaries with transmitters in Atlin, British Columbia and Inuvik, Northwest Territories.
So, a big happy birthday RW and may you celebrate many more in the years to come.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin