March 22, 2019 / Comments (0)

Burnt Offerings

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. – Parashat Tzav

It’s spring, and that usually kicks off the season of controlled burns.  We’re not really going to talk about burnt offerings here, but there’s an analogy between what we offer up to the Divine and what we do to preserve our wilderness.

Judaism places particular emphasis on trees.  In Midrash, when G-d shows Adam and Eve the Garden, they are specifically shown the trees as representing creation.  In additional parts of the Midrash, trees are continually emphasized as the key component of creation.


Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel

During February, in Cades Cove, within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a prescribed burn reduced shrub and tree intrusion, helped reduce exotic plants. 440 acres of burn will help keep meadows open for the habitat of wildlife.

In a sense, the “burnt offering” of prescribed fires is necessary for trees to thrive. Longleaf pine and wiregrass habitats are vital for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Fire burns the shrub that grows beneath trees and affords predators access to nests.

Wiregrass itself requires fire for it to flower, and trees, including many pine species, actually require fire to germinate successfully.

Here in Maine, we’ll see prescribed burns to help with habitats for bobolinks, savannah sparrows, and meadowlarks. We also burn to keep out invasive species like Japanese barberry and autumn olive. Burns also open space for milkweed, very important for monarch butterfly larvae.

For the backpacker, it does mean trail closures and detours, but this is a small price to pay for a key component of effective wilderness management.

Last modified: March 22, 2019

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