Western forests have a ‘fire debt’ problem

That’s the title of the article as republished in High Country News. It originally appeared on The Conversation with this headline: “Planned burns can reduce wildfire risks, but expanding use of ‘good fire’ isn’t easy.” The article is aimed at the general public, but some passages are interesting to forest-management geeks like us. Lots of links to sources.

In our research on forest restoration efforts, we have found that some national policies are supporting larger-scale restoration planning and project work, such as tree thinning. But even where federal land managers and community partners are getting thinning accomplished and agree that burning is a priority, it has been hard to get more “good fire” on the ground.

As one land manager told us, “The law doesn’t necessarily impede prescribed burning so much as some of the more practical realities on the ground. You don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough people, or there’s too much fire danger” to pull off the burning.

In particular, fire managers said they needed adequate funding, strong government leadership and more people with expertise to conduct these operations. A major challenge is that qualified personnel are increasingly in demand for longer and more severe fire seasons, making them unavailable to help with planned burns when opportunities arise. Going forward, it will be particularly important to provide support for locations where partners and land managers have built agreement about the need for prescribed fire.



2 thoughts on “Western forests have a ‘fire debt’ problem”

  1. Not all western forests are the same. I think this has to be seriously considered. Yes all forests will burn, but not all forests benefit from it.
    We already spend over half of the FS budget on fires, are we to spend the entire budget on fire?
    The “fire is good” philosophy has already cost us billions of dollars, destroyed millions of acres of old growth forests, and turned our summers to the season of smoke and do not enter.
    Putting the fires out when small and burning in the fall or spring might be a worth wide trade off.

  2. I found two of the links particularly interesting: Prescribed Fire Policy Barriers and Opportunities

    I ran into Chief Christiansen last year at the Retirees’ Rendezvous in Asheville, and she said that she thought that this paper was very informative and recommended it to me. Kudos to the authors for that! I also liked the tone of the paper which I might call “no enemies here, just folks working toward solutions.” I also thought it was interesting that some states had air quality approaches that work against prescribed fire (which they are fixing) and the Interior West states appear to be ahead of the game on that.

    The other link is to this DNR publication- it’s really detailed: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/rp_2018_forestry_resiliency_burning_pilot_program_report.pdf

    Actually I found all the links pretty interesting.


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