The Fire That Saves

CA Dead Trees

Patches of dead and dying trees near Cressman, Calif., in 2016. CreditScott Smith/Associated Press

“100 Million Dead Trees Prompt Fears of Giant Wildfires” is the headline of an article in today’s New York Times that examines how interrupting the forest’s natural state – its inherent ability to “use” fire to its advantage – has created the potential for unsurpassed devastation:

Mark A. Finney, an expert in fire behavior for the U.S. Forest Service and an author of the study, says California forests are much more vulnerable now because, paradoxically, they have been better protected. In their natural state, forests were regularly thinned by fire but the billions of dollars that the state spends aggressively fighting wildfires and restrictions on logging have allowed forests to accumulate an overload of vegetation.

“We had forests that were very resilient to weather variations and insect disturbances in the past — maintained by frequent fire on the order of every year, or every few years at the most,” Mr. Finney said. By putting out fires, “we’ve changed completely the fire component of these ecosystems,” he said.

The same is true for many people. Instead of allowing for and learning from change we protect against it in all its forms. When we open ourselves up to what is shifting in our lives – and the shift is always going on – we build a resilience that serves us well when the inevitable big changes come. The alternative is to suffer a drought of adaptability and to eventually be fully consumed by something we could have learned to contend with.

Are you over-protecting and making yourself vulnerable to a devastating fire? Or are you learning – one small burn at a time – to thin out the undergrowth of your personal ecosystem by learning to notice, accept and learn from the truth of continuous change in your life?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

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