New Forest Service research confirms that today’s wildfires moderate future fires

“The research results clearly indicate that wildland fire regulated the ignition and spread of later wildfire in all study areas.” This might tend to produce a “duh” response, but apparently nobody had really studied it.  Here is the Forest Service overview of their research project.

Here is what I found most interesting – the Forest Service recognizes that, “Those responsible for managing wildland fires often face extreme pressure to quickly extinguish blazes due to short-term impacts such as smoke pollution or lost timber resources,” and “Parks’ research serves as a reminder that wildland fire, under the right fuel and weather conditions, can act as an effective fuel treatment to improve forest health and prevent future blazes from becoming large, costly and more dangerous” (my emphasis).

It should also be a reminder that when the Forest Service designates an area as suitable for timber production, and bases timber targets on that, it creates an incentive to put fires out, which increases the likelihood of more costly, dangerous fires.  This cause and effect relationship needs to be disclosed in the environmental analysis for forest planning, where the timber suitability decision is made.

7 thoughts on “New Forest Service research confirms that today’s wildfires moderate future fires”

  1. Yes, “duh.” Much more than “smoke pollution or lost timber resources” — the mantra of firefighting has long been protect people, property, and then resources, in that priority order. Yes, timber is one of the resources, but so is water (see “Partnership Aims to Protect Water Supplies,” which I posted recently –, wildlife habitat, etc.

  2. Yup, there are reasons to fight fires, but when the forest plan voluntarily adds another one, the Forest Service should own up to it.

    • This would be something to ask an IC.. within the last 10 years, have the value of timber resources influenced firefighting strategies and/or tactics? On what fires? In what ways? Is anyone out there an IC or could ask one?

      Also, there is a question of “why do we need to study what everyone knows?” Yes, if an area’s burned over it won’t carry a fire as well. Is it not true unless there’s a study (e.g. fire retardant)? Or should taxpayer $ be prioritized to find out things we don’t already know?

      • We’re onto a bigger question there, of how do forest plans interact with the “values at risk” considered in fire planning. I think the forest plan should establish where the values at risk are that we are going to protect from fire, despite any ecological needs that would benefit from the fire. And analyze forest plan effects accordingly. (And wouldn’t this help figure out where and how to fight a fire?)

        • I think that’s what they do in WFU amendments like the GMUG’s. I don’t know how many forests have WFU or other kinds of fire amendments, or dealt with those issues in revision. On the other hand, conditions may change faster than the 20 or so years of a forest plan so you might want something more flexible.

          • Agree the risk of fire might change, and it needs to also be taken into account for suppression decisions, but the values at risk are a forest plan decision that should be independent of current conditions.


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