Further Wildfire Management Discussion: Let’s Start With Framing the Issue

Many thanks to Jim Furnish for posting this piece and generating much good discussion and observations.  But there are many different claims within it, and so I think each is worthy of its own post and focused discussion. I’m hoping that posting them individually will lead to a more in-depth discussion.

But I’d like to start with framing the problem. I think later we’ll be able to reflect back and see how specific observations or research may be relevant or not based on each person’s framing of the issue.

I’ve written before about some people arguing that the issue is burning houses. At the time, (10 years ago) I said

In this case, the difference in framing is as simple as it’s not about the structures- it’s about the fact that people don’t want fire running through their communities. It is about all kinds of community infrastructure, stop signs and power poles, landscaping, fences, gardens, trees and benches in parks, people and pets and livestock having safe exits from encroaching fires. It is about firefighter safety and about conditions for different suppression tactics. That’s why fire breaks of some kinds around communities (not just structures) will always be popular in the real world. 

If we don’t agree on framing, then we are unlikely to agree on what science is relevant, and then the discussion devolves to “science-slinging.” But if we talk about our different framings it might help us understand each other. Each person can frame the issue their own way.. there is no right or wrong.  Policy actors strive to get their framings incorporated into policy, but that is a factor of political power, not morality or “science.”

My framing would be “how best can we work together protect our communities, watersheds, wildlife and so on from negative impacts of wildfires?” What have we learned from suppression experts, fuels experts, wildfire scientists, social scientists, communities’ and practitioners’ and Indigenous experiences and knowledge  that can be used to do better?

At the same time, others can have different framings and end up with similar policy options. That’s always encouraging when it happens. Here’s an example.

There’s a new group called Megafire Action with a mission to “end the megafire crisis within a decade.” That sounds very different from my framing.

Here are their


Enact policy to treat millions of acres of hazardous fuels in high risk areas
Pathway to achieve 50M acres treated by 2032

Address structural barriers to progress
Fix Forest Service workforce problems
Streamline burdensome regulations
Support sustainable forest product markets

Double the federal investment in wildfire science innovation
Harness the full potential of the scientific community

I’d go along generally with those options.. but the policy devil is always in the details.

What is your framing of the “wildfire management” issue?

3 thoughts on “Further Wildfire Management Discussion: Let’s Start With Framing the Issue”

  1. A good beginning would be for everyone to understand and yes, admit, that framing wildfire as a “crisis” and/or a “disaster” is subjective and expressed from a human-centric, dare I say “selfish” point of view.
    Wildfire is a necessary part of the multitude of ecosystems that support humanity and, however tangentially, every other life form on the planet.
    As a rule, humans dislike change. It follows that most of us don’t like wildfire because it causes abrupt change, far too fast for human sensitivities.
    My heretical view is, I am fond of wildfire because it allows a study of the many changes to ecosystems that follow.
    Humans are historically fearful of nature and have spent our entire existence attempting to insulate ourselves from it. The belief that we can protect ourselves from wildfire by making it “manageable” is not based on reality.
    Yes, we can protect some of our infrastructure, housing, and so on. But believing that can be accomplished by protecting forests from any fire that is not easily controllable is foolish and a fast track to the destruction of the very ecosystems that we depend on for life.

  2. Fix the current regulatory differences between NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the Northwest Forest Planning Act which currently enables multiple opportunities for litigation by law agencies to use differences in plans between the different acts to sue agencies and tie up management efforts while using the Equal Access to Justice Act to provide renumeration to the lawyers suing the federal agencies. Consolidate the four major plans into one usable plan that provides clear guidelines on how federal lands are to be managed and eliminates potential conflicts between the plans that are now limiting local agencies from active management for fear of litigation.

  3. I think you need to back up initially – to something more like “Reduce the undesirable effects of wildfire.” Or if you really want to frame it as specific problem – “These effects of wildfire are unacceptable.”) How and with whom to “work together” is part of a solution. Prioritizing which effects are most undesirable is part of a solution. Certainly treating millions of acres could be a solution (but framing the problem as a “megafire crisis” does little to identify what the problem really is). And so would moving things out of harm’s way, and reducing atmospheric carbon. But to find your way to solutions, you’re going to have to drill down to a lot of problems within the problem. I guess that’s where you’re going next.


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