If you are like me, you have watched with pain the terrible wildfires in the western United States. We tend to focus on the folks who have lost homes or barely got out with the clothing on their backs. However, the long-term effects of wildfires are not as bad as the human tragedy often caused by human mismanagement. Several research studies funded by the National Science Foundation have dealt with wildfire aftermath and recovery.
One study of charcoal from Wales and Poland tells the story of plants consumed by fire millions of years ago. Botanists say that instead of the grasses, trees, and flowers we see today, previous ancient land plants were under an inch tall. Some waist-high or knee-high plants existed, but much of the landscape was covered with tiny plants. At that time, the big plants were fungi that towered over all other plants. A well-preserved prototaxite fossil fungus shows that they stood 30 feet tall.
Earth’s atmosphere at that time had very little oxygen, unlike the 21% figure we see today. Fires would not occur because of the lack of oxygen. Modern studies show that a fire of any size isn’t likely below 16% atmospheric oxygen. Once the level exceeded 16%, fires occurred, and wildfire aftermath and recovery paved the way for the large plants we know today. Modern plants can generate large amounts of oxygen to sustain animal life.
In today’s wildfire aftermath and recovery, there are always “green islands” where a tree cluster avoids being burned because of the topography or nearness to water. A high percentage of seeds from these patches of unburned trees remain to germinate and grow. The creatures that would ordinarily eat the small trees are no longer there, so the plants survive to rapidly reforest the area. That means areas with “green islands” do not need human tree planting. Most human effort and resources can go to places with no “green islands.”
These studies help us understand God’s methods of preparing Earth for humans and the animals we need. Genesis 1:11-12 gives the same picture that the scientists are finding. It says that the first form of plant life was the grasses – “deshe” in Hebrew means tender grass. The second group of plants is “eseb,” meaning “naked seed,” – gymnosperms. That is followed by the tree bearing fruit containing its seed – angiosperms. The Bible tells us the order of progression from early forms of plants to the ones we depend on today. The Bible does not tell us how God did it or how long it took, but scientific research today gives us that information.
— John N. Clayton © 2022
Reference: National Science Foundation “Research News”