A picture that dominates the back wall of Bill Romme’s office
captures a Yellowstone National Park wildfire in action.
The flames in the focal point of the photograph, however, only
begin to hint at the nuances of this necessary ecological
While firefighters desperately try to battle the raging
wildfires in California, scientists like Romme continue to study
the root of the phenomenon.
Romme, an associate professor at the Department of Forest,
Rangeland and Watershed Stewardship at CSU, has investigated in
detail the effects of the Yellowstone forest fires in 1988.
He is currently engaged in a project with the Nature Conservancy
of Montana in studying how efforts to prevent naturally occurring
forest fires in Yellowstone have changed its ecology.
“I think (fires) are just necessary. They are not really evil in
the natural forest,” Romme said. “They just kill old trees and
stimulate the growth of a new generation. From the forests’ view
point, fires are neutral.”
He said forest fires can have differential effects on wildlife.
The pine marten, a kind of weasel that dwells in wooded areas, lost
its habitat to the Yellowstone fires.
On the other hand the bluebird, which prefers open forests,
gained a habitat as a result of the fires.
Romme said that fires are not all the same everywhere.
Northern Coniferous Forests, such as those in Yellowstone, are
characterized by “stand-replacing” fires, which kill only
above-ground vegetation, allowing it to re-sprout from
“Even if you thin (the forest), you will still see big fires,”
said Romme, who opposes the “Healthy Forest Initiative,” which
calls for increased logging on public lands and national
Romme said that while such an initiative would bring fires under
control in the Ponderosa Pine Forest and similar woodlands, it
would not be applicable to higher elevation growth like in
“The fires in California are a catastrophe, not because of the
plants,” Romme said. “They are a catastrophe because of the homes
that have been lost and the people killed. This underscores the
danger of building your home in the middle of a forest.”
Studying the ecological occurrence of forest fires can be a
stimulating experience for students in the field.
Jonas Feinstein, a senior majoring in forestry who is currently
studying a fringe population of trees at Pingree Park, said working
in forest ecology gives him a good balance of field and laboratory
“It is an integral part of what you do in science – to collect
your data and analyze data,” he said. “I have been up (at Pingree
Park), related to the study about 20 times for a total of 25 to 30
days of actual study.”
Kathi Delehoy, assistant vice president for Research and
Information Technology, said Romme is one of the early
investigators in the forest fire field.
“He was one of the (first) researchers to start studying fire
and fire behavior,” she said.
She also said CSU has always supported conservation of a
sustainable environment, which is evident from its membership of
the Talloires Declaration, a commitment to environmental
sustainability in higher education.
“CSU (also) has among the finest programs in the world with
respect to natural resources,” Delehoy said.