Chief Moore Announces Prescribed Fire Pause and Review

Firefighters construct fireline on the Left Fork Fire in Utah which was caused by an escaped prescribed fire. Posted by the Dixie NF, May 12, 2022.




Thanks to Wildfire Today for posting thisHere’s a link to the Chief’s announcement.

FWIW this seems eminently sensible to me.  Here are some excerpts:

Today, because of the current extreme wildfire risk conditions in the field, I am initiating a pause on prescribed fire operations on National Forest System lands while we conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools and practices ahead of planned operations this fall.  …

In 99.84 percent of cases, prescribed fires go as planned. In rare circumstances, conditions change, and prescribed burns move outside the planned project area and become wildfires.

The review I am announcing today will task representatives from across the wildland fire and research community with conducting the national review and evaluating the prescribed fire program, from the best available science to on-the-ground implementation. Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning.   ..

The pause I am announcing today will have minimal impact on these objectives in the short- and long-term since the agency conducts more than 90 percent of its prescribed burn operations between September and May.

My broader question is that the Forest Service is not the only group that does prescribed burning and has them escape (see the North Fork Fire conducted by Colorado or the Bastrop Fire in Texas).  That may be why people (particularly those impacted by these fires) get an impression that it might be more than 99.84 percent, or that it can be a problem.  The distinctions that make so much difference to us in terms of “who is in charge”  may not make a difference at all in the mind of the public when they think about prescribed burns.

Personally I know evacuees from the North Fork Fire (not fire experts) who are very suspicious of burning at times when they themselves judge it to be too dangerous.

How can we increase public confidence in prescribed fire when the organizational responsibilities and requirements are so diffuse and unknown? NGO’s, States, Feds, private landowners and so on?  I am SO not a fan of national standards, but FAA does give the public confidence in the safety of air travel.

I don’t think it would be out of line to do a similar review on Wildfire With Resource Benefits, although it seems to me like it might have best been done over the winter.



12 thoughts on “Chief Moore Announces Prescribed Fire Pause and Review”

  1. This is only the beginning. The more air pollution you create the worse climate change gets. And go ahead and argue all you want that controlled burns lowers wildfire severity. We now live in times where wildfire severity is going off the charts and will continue to do so because we won’t reduce the amount of carbon we’re putting into the atmosphere no matter how much we thin our forests. Without reduction of atmospheric carbon it will get worse and worse.

    In the same way at the start of the pandemic when we had to rapidly adapt our hospitals to deal with a huge number of patients needings isolation, as well as ventilation, so too will we have to adapt our land management practices.

    One thing I’m eager to see happen is massive funding for portable electric powered woodchippers that can be hauled on electric quads or electric motorcyles so it’s easy to reduce ladder fuels and fine fuels smaller than 5″ in diameter so it goes right back into the soil where it will improve moisture retention as well as replenish topsoil.

    The insanity of slash burning in forests you’re trying to make more resilient to climate change needs to stop because it steals from the topsoil that needs it and puts it into the atmosphere that doesn’t need it!

    • So you are saying it is OK to doom the coastal plain longleaf pine and Appalachian oak ecosystems? Sans fire, these systems and the myriad of wildlife that depends on them are finished.

      • When the whole planet is catching on fire and frequency and severity of fire is going way up and off the charts do you really think a lack of prescribed fire means there’s no longer going to be fires anymore? Why so much nonsense in your thinking?

        Yet again you foresters pretend like if you aren’t the one doing it, then it won’t happen… That kind of egotistical recklessness flies in the face of hundreds of million years of forest evolution without a trace of human intervention. Truth is human history is the story of long-term deforestation and those of us who humans who genuinely protect the forest and the planet are demonized by your nonsensical way of thinking.

        • Deane, if they’re not prescribed, folks in the SE are likely to put them out.

          And our North American forests had interventions from Native Americans.

          And demonizing is something people actually do. It doesn’t happen passively just by thinking differently. Merriam Webster
          “to portray (someone or something) as evil or as worthy of contempt or blame.”

        • “do you really think a lack of prescribed fire means there’s no longer going to be fires anymore?”

          I don’t think that is what anyone is saying. I have heard many say that burning can be the most effective way to reduce the severity of future fires (and that may be important now in areas where people live).

  2. His management of Region 5 vis a vis fire and fuels was as a political weather vane. At least he is consistent.

  3. I think one of the problems is that the USFS does most of its burning in the Fall through Spring, rather than focusing on fire season. My reforestation crews did about 20,000 acres of prescribed burning in the 1970s and early 1980s without a single acre of “slop-over.” Also, I’m unaware of any of these areas being affected by wildfire in the subsequent 50 years.

    Almost all of our broadcast burns were conducted during “fire season” — in the summer, June to September. We were mostly on the coast, which is wetter, but when fuels were driest they were quickest, easiest, and safest to burn, with significantly less smoke. Smoke management regulations in the 1980s contributed to significant reduction in this practice due to related changing economics.

    Most escaped prescribed burns that I am aware of were mostly a result of poor site preparation and design, with operator inexperience also a factor. The shift from local workers familiar with the terrain, to migrant workers was also a change that contributed to risk and expense. Burning a poorly prepared or timed site can also result in significant fuels remaining after a treatment, putting it at higher risk of subsequent wildfire.

    My opinion, of course, is that the USFS should be doing a whole lot more snag salvage sales and prescribed burning and should be developing basic strategies to do so. Which could be reasonably accomplished — other than NEPA and ESA — in a few days or a week. The Columbus Day Storm was on a Friday in 1962, and by Monday — 72 hours later — USFS, BLM, ODF and industry had met and developed a basic salvage and reforestation plan moving forward. Work started immediately. Mt. St. Helens in 1980 took months and years of meetings, rather than days and hours. The 2002 Biscuit Fire plan never has been fully completed.

  4. I was a burn boss in three Regions during my career. I can tell you the hardest decision to make is to call off a burn! Resources are ready, spot weather forecast is at hand, targets – targets-targets, newspaper is coming out, etc., but either the “spot” has some issues, the test fire went too well, or smoke forecast is of concern. I once had a fire staff officer yelling at me to continue burning a unit (his excuse was targets), while the safety officer was advising me to shut it off. I shut it off!

    I really think the FS has went overboard on “checklist” performance and experience when it comes to burning. Just as Bob said, the locals, who know the country, have been replaced by burners and Line Officers who only exist in experience by their respective red cards and checkoffs. It is utterly tragic what has happened on Hermits Peak; I wish heads would roll but that’s not going to happen. We’ll call it another “learning journey”, or some other silly excuse for avoiding responsibility.

    The Agency Administrator (AA) position (I guess after you “grow up” from burn boss you can be an AA). Tongue in cheek; AA is a Line function, and celebrated by parading cadres of wanna be’s around a large fire. The prerequisites courses have been taken, so the parade counts for the needed experience to turn these folks loose to do good.

    If, accountability would somehow be built back into the system , we’ll be good. I have little hope of that ever happening in the “new” forest service..

  5. If we are ever going to get a handle on fire reintroduction and the necessary pace and scale to get out from under the current wildfire regime in the west,, we have to greatly increase acres burned. We have to expect that escapes will occur. Expecting perfection and halting progress if perfection is absent will never get us to move forward. Accept some risk or perfection, can’t have both.

  6. Here’s backlash against the backlash from an interesting place, suggesting that rural voters think prescribed burns are a good thing.

    Boebert countered the Forest Service. “Summer prescribed burns in some Western forests are another tool in the toolbox,” she said in a statement.

    An unexpected ally for prescribed fire? (Or maybe it’s more about never missing an opportunity to criticize the feds.)

    • Jon, I don’t believe politicians carefully survey their voters’ preferences before they issue statements.. I try to be skeptical but not cynical, but some politicians are more interested in getting (re) elected than governing.


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