Three Things You Should Know About Wildfires

 In Environment, Public Lands

by Ian Nemelka

The West is on fire. Smoke from wildfires both in and out-of-state fill the valleys in an opaque blanket obscuring the mountains. Why is it that every fire season seems more severe than the previous? Before everyone starts blaming this, that, or the other, it might be best to put things into perspective. Here are three important things everyone should know about wildfires.

First and foremost, although we typically associate it with poor air quality, destroyed homes, and singed forests, fire is not a bad thing. Besides being a healthy and natural process, Native Americans utilized fire for thousands of years to clear land and alter the terrain. These days, however, the popular strategy is to completely suppress wildfires to prevent destruction of scenic forests and private property. This interrupts the chain of smaller, healthier fires and creates a tinderbox of built up fuels leading to the more severe “mega fires.”

Secondly, current wildfire management policy could use some improvement. Federal agencies are given an institutional blank check to fight fires but not to prevent them. To utilize effective wildfire prevention methods like prescribed burning and active land management, agencies must follow a burdensome set of regulations regarding environmental impacts, air quality, and cost.

This self-defeating practice often results in wildfires causing far more damage ecologically and financially than would have been incurred with initial prevention practices. Once they are started, these fires care little about rules and budget constraints. The current regulatory framework that land managers and fire fighters must operate under is in the way of effective fire fighting and land management.

This leads to the third and final point; active management is both environmentally friendly and cost effective. If fires are going to be completely extinguished before they envelope forests and private property, but also before they can do their job of cleaning the forest, there must be an adequate substitute. Incorporating more mechanized clearing, targeted logging, and prescribed burnings into fire management plans would allow federal agencies to not only to protect citizenry and private property but keep forests healthy and comely.

At Strata we will continue to research and study our forests and how we can become better stewards of these wonderful resources.

Find out more here:

Strata Op-Ed:

Paul Hessburg Ted Talk: The Age of Megafires