Impacts of Wilderness Designation on Fire Suppression? Request for Information

Freelance photographer Joe Randall and his wife have captured some amazing photos of the Decker fire near Salida. The fire burned more than 5,000 acres as of early Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. Visit his Digital Art Co. Facebook page here. This fire was a Fire Use fire that began in Wilderness.

I’ve never seen this written about much before, but I could have missed it. A person on Wildfire Today mentioned that an area being in a Wilderness Study Area made suppression more complex. So I became curious about Wilderness designations and their potential impacts on fire suppression, especially since we have many acres proposed for Wilderness in a bill here in Colorado. I don’t know if Recommended Wilderness in Forest Plans have to follow the same rules.

So I googled and due to their always-mysterious search algorithms ended up with this specific write-up from the Pike and San Isabel National Forest (and Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands, but I don’t think they have any Wilderness).

It seems like you can do many of the same suppression activities, but you have to weigh the need against Wilderness values, and get approvals. I’m interested in whether other Forests have similar sets of guidance, and how these operate in practice.

At one time it seemed that letting fires burn was important for “naturalness”, but if climate is making fires “unnatural” then it’s not as simple.

As this pieces says..

Other reasons besides public sentiment may also perpetuate fire suppression. The small size of many wilderness areas results in natural ignitions outside of wilderness being suppressed before they can burn into wilderness, for example. With increases in settlement within the wildland urban interface, the risks of fire escaping onto adjacent lands, unnaturally intense fires burning as a result of unnatural fuel loads, and unacceptable smoke impacts to surrounding areas are also very real.

A person could say “natural” is a function of a)ignition source, b) weather/climate and c) naturalness of fuel loads. If we argue that both b and c are commonly unnatural, then it’s hard to argue that a makes much of a difference.

So here are my questions..
1. People who have been managing fires, have you seen instances in which managing for Wilderness fires worked or didn’t work? Did the Wilderness rules themselves or something about their implementation make it more difficult to suppress the fire out of Wilderness?
2. Does each Forest have a different policy, or it is pretty common across all Wildernesses?
3. When an area becomes RW, does the fire suppression policy move to Wilderness rules?

Thanks, everyone!

3 thoughts on “Impacts of Wilderness Designation on Fire Suppression? Request for Information”

  1. It’s unfortunate that only one person has responded to Sharon’s inquiry, because during a debate over a large Wilderness bill on the House of Representatives floor on February 25, lawmakers opposed to the legislation invoked loss of ability to manage wildfires as a key reason to oppose it. (The bill passed and awaits Senate consideration.)

    Go to this link, scroll down to the video segment beginning 05:22:09 p.m., and you can hear the hour of permitted debate.

  2. Thanks, Lourenço and Jon,

    I’m interested in how these directions are used in practice by suppression folks and still can’t find much, I’m going to expand my feeler network.


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