(Irresponsible) humans started nearly 1/2 of the 73,110 wildfires on U.S. Forest Service lands in past decade

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Seems like you can’t talk about national forest management these days without also talking about wildfires. As an environmentalists I’ve gotten used to being blamed for wildfires no matter what the truth or the reality really is. Heck, environmentalists were even blamed by Montana Senator Steve Daines for this summer Roaring Lion Fire on the Bitterroot National Forest…even though that fire was started by some irresponsible teenagers and a lawsuit against a proposed timber sale and roadbuilding project in the area was filed – not by any environmental group – but by a local homeowner/property owner who happens to be a former U.S. Forest Service smokejumper and the owner a wood products manufacturing company. Go figure.

From the Missoulian:

In the decade between 2006 and 2015, humans started nearly half of the 73,110 wildfires on national forest lands.

Campfires were responsible for one-third of the 33,700 human-caused wildfires in that decade. Those fires burned over 1.2 million acres.

This year saw 8,500 acres burned in the Roaring Lion fire outside Hamilton. Four young people were charged last week with negligent arson, a felony, for allegedly leaving the campfire that started that wildfire, which destroyed 16 homes and cost $11 million to fight.

“It’s a significant issue for us,” said Jennifer Jones of the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management office in Washington, D.C. “We have a finite number of fire personnel and equipment. The more that we have to allocate to fight human-caused fire, the fewer we have to fight the fires we can’t prevent, which are those caused by lightning.”


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8 Comments

  1. All part of the Preservationist’s “Whatever Happens” program. To some of us, firestorms from dumb humans is a constant. For others, it is an accepted afterthought, with those people accepting all fires as “natural and beneficial”. Still, even others insist that all fires not caused by humans are good, while all man-caused fires, including accidental ones, are bad. All too often, the results are exactly the same.

    Additionally, if you look in the comments sections of newspaper articles about wildfires, you’ll see the loonies who insist that wildfires be left to burn, free-range, regardless of the severe impacts on humans, or even the causes. Many people also love to blame the victims of wildfires, for living where they live. Other love to blame Smokey Bear, for his iconic message.

    I think it is important to show all the bad impacts of wildfires, including how long it takes for recovery, as well as the damages done by re-burns, as we have seen so often in the Sierra Nevada, and Oregon. Yes, we COULD mitigate wildfire problems but, some don’t want that, and will sue to get their way.

    • Yep, this is just totally “All part of the Preservationist’s ‘Whatever Happens’ program.”

      Whatever, Larry….I do, however, see plenty of comments from “loonies” about wildfire.

      • I do believe that we are seeing more and more high-level angst about today’s wildfires and their steep increases in costs. I’m all for increased public awareness of ALL the site-specific issues, and the need for not having a one-size-fits-all ‘compromise’ that doesn’t do anything about “pace and scale”. If we let the funding issues go on for longer, I predict a much larger pendulum swing, towards more intensive forest management. Any solution HAS to include other sub-issues, including increasing the size of the Forest Service and building new milling infrastructure, with solid economic mandates. Otherwise, any efforts will be for nothing, and we’ll still be under the ‘Whatever Happens’ program.

  2. Maybe Smokey had it right.
    I find it interesting that the more we spend on fires, the more acreage we burn. You would have to admit since about 1990 we have had a lot more wildfires, about the same time the FS decided fire is good for the forest, with the Northwest Forest plan. They can try to blame it on the fires suppression of the previous 80 years, but really it is not 80 year old growth brush that is burning up. It is more likely the brush accumulated from the last 25 years of the almost do nothing forest management. Admittedly some wildfires just happen that can’t hardly be stopped. But it seems like many fires are helped along at great expense to the forest and the taxpayer.
    I had a firefighter sum it pretty well I thought when asked how we could do a better job of stopping these wildfires. “Less bureaucracy and more resources.”
    It seem possible that wildfires of the last 20 years have killed as many old growth trees as the logging of the previous 20 year did.

  3. Matt

    From both of our days fighting wildfires, we are aware of the role of greed/desperation in intentionally set fires so that people without a job could sign on to make money fighting the fire that they’d set.

    We also know the role of carelessness/ignorance in fires unintentionally set by humans.

    I am very certain that woods wise environmentalist would not be guilty of either charge.

    The only way to stop either, means completely closing all federal forests from human visitation. Nether of us wants that.

    Now for the only place where most foresters find fault with some environmentalists:
    – In either case of man initiated fire, the only way to minimize the impact of these man caused sets is to minimize the odds that they will quickly turn into catastrophic fires. To do that requires admitting that minimizing fuel build up on the ground is a first step towards slowing or stopping the spread . The second step is to reduce the proximity of trees to each other to slow/stop the spread so that the fire can be stopped when or where appropriate. In addition, one size fits all policies outlawing all well planned and executed clear cuts and roads no matter the needs for the forest at the landscape level are shortsighted. These inappropiate policies eliminate important firebreaks and limit the ability to get resources quickly to the fire and stop it before it creates it’s own winds and turns into a catastrophy.

  4. Here’s another example of how the extreme ‘loonies’ who oppose active management think, plucked from a Facebook posting about preservationism and more (and more and more) donations.

    “I hope the earth just kills off everybody that is hurting it. As a matter of fact, that is going to be my daily prayer from now on. Morons.”

    Welcome to the new world order???!?

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