Not All Acres Burned Are Bad Nor Due to Climate Change- White House Factsheet Misses Region 3 WFU Successes

Wooden Corral sustains no damage from the Pass Fire
Firefighters strategically used fire to reduce the existing fuel load as the Pass Fire approached the area, which saved the wooden corral structure.

So, wildfires used to be bad. Enter Smokey Bear.  But we wised up and discovered that we need to live with fire, and if we don’t want to have destructive wildfires, we need to manage fuels on landscapes including using prescribed fire and wildland fire use (see photo above). But as far as I can tell, if we’re not careful, we mix up WFU acres with “true” wildfire acres, and then use the total in statements about wildfires and climate.  And if we do, we’re back where we started, assuming all wildfires are bad. Let’s not do that.

Or we could use numbers of wildfires like the EPA..


Is number of wildfires an indicator of climate change? Seems like before you made that claim you would have to separate human ignitions from lightning..

We hear that (1) wildfires are caused by (anthropogenic contributions to) climate change.  And yet we know that not to be true, in a plain English sense of causality, as wildfires have long predated humans.  If we pushed back, we might hear (2) “wildfires are made more likely due several factors, one being an increased frequency in some weather conditions conducive to wildfires and those that make firefighting more difficult, some or all of which is due to anthropogenic climate change (AGW).” So how does 2, which I think most of us agree on, mutate into 1? Sloppy public affairs folks?

Here’s what the White House said on June 8

More than 100 million Americans are under Air Quality Index Alerts due to smoke drift from historic wildfire activity throughout Canada, which is facing one of its worst wildfire seasons on record.  There are over 425 active wildfires in Canada and nearly 10 million acres have burned, 17 times the 20-year average.  Since January 1, 2023, 19,574 wildfires have burned 616,486 acres across the United States.  Most current large fire activity in the United States is concentrated in the Southwest.

These latest events are another stark reminder of how the climate crisis is disrupting communities across the country. That’s why from day one President Biden recognized climate change as one of the four crises facing our nation, and why he made historic investments to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen community resilience.

So I suppose you can pivot from the Canadian fires to climate change but the US story is not exactly pivotable.    And here’s what NIFC said on June 22, 2023 about the US.

Since January 1, 22,052 wildfires have burned 636,031 acres across the United States. These numbers are below the 10-year average of 25,006 wildfires and 1,478,575 acres burned.(my bold)

But to further complicate things, some of these fires here (and in Canada) are being managed for resource benefits.. or whatever the current terminology is.. (thanks to the Hotshot Wakeup for info on the Pass Fire) so more acres (without destroying things of ecological or human value) are actually a good thing. That’s what our folks have trained for, and what we all want done. As far as I know.

The largest fire is the Pass Fire in NM that shows 55, 683 acres as of today.

The overall strategy on the Pass Fire is to allow the low to moderate intensity of the fire to play its natural role on the landscape as firefighters take appropriate actions to keep the fire within the designated planned boundaries while protecting private land, infrastructure, and natural resources. The Gila National Forest is a fire-adapted ecosystem. It is dependent on fire to play a natural role in restoring the landscape to more natural conditions while preventing the occurrence of extreme fires in the future.

So for this fire, the largest one currently on the board, lots of acres are a good thing, attributed to good management and possibly to some good luck with weather conditions.

NIFC on the 22nd had this one, the Pulp Road fire, at 15,642, I think it’s at 16K or more now.
This fire was an escaped prescribed fire by the North Carolina Forest Service. Escapes tend to be caused by other things than AGW, but perhaps AGW could play a role.. we’ll have to see what the investigation discovers. Anyway, for this one acreage over the target is a bad thing, but dubiously attributed to climate change.

The next largest is the 10,279 Wilbur Fire on the Coconino

The Wilbur Fire is being managed with multiple strategies to meet suppression and resource objectives. Those objectives include the release of nutrients back into the soil and the reduction of hazardous fuel accumulations. Objectives also include protecting critical infrastructure, watersheds, wildlife habitat and culturally sensitive areas from future catastrophic wildfires.

Again, more acres here are good.  I wonder if there’s a place where WFU acres are tracked separately from total acres, or how difficult that is to do. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a table that included:

Prescribed fire acres

Wildfire Use Acres

Unintentional Wildfire Acres

The sum of the above two (WUA plus UWA)  would be the total wildfire acres.

Then the Unintentional Wildfire Acres (or True Wildfire Acres) could be broken down by


Human  with subcategories that included:

Escaped prescribed fires

Escaped WFU fires.


Accidents by individuals

Equipment (powerlines etc.)

Or maybe that table already exists somewhere?

For now, it’s June, the season’s off to a slow start here in the US, and let’s celebrate the folks who are successfully using managed wildfire!

17 thoughts on “Not All Acres Burned Are Bad Nor Due to Climate Change- White House Factsheet Misses Region 3 WFU Successes”

  1. Interesting post, Sharon. It certainly used to be possible to track WFU acres versus Suppression acres. For one thing, they had different fire codes. I don’t know if that is the case today. For that matter, WFU is no longer an applicable term. They are fires managed for resource benefits. I imagine that a current fire manager could clear this up.

    I used to be the Fire Staff Officer on the Kaibab NF and we were very progressive with WFU. We made some mistakes but overall, I think we helped the forest a lot by returning fire to the landscape. The Gila NF has been really a lead forest in WFU for a very long time. They too have made some mistakes but have also returned the natural role of fire to their forest.

    So, you make an important point, that simply looking at total wildland fire acres should not be the metric if you are trying to look at the impact of climate change. If someone says that climate change causes wildfires, of course that is not a serious comment. Wildfires are caused by lightning and humans. A changing climate can certainly impact fire growth, I think that is obvious. This happens through fuel drying, warmer temperatures, lower humidities, stronger winds, etc. I think it is generally true that fire seasons are longer than they used to be in many places. It is common to have conditions for fire growth existing longer throughout the calendar year in lots of places.

    It is also true that fire suppression tactics have changed over the last couple of decades, for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is firefighter safety. This has created larger burn acreage. Many experienced firefighters who have been around a long time, have said that they are now seeing fire behavior that they have not seen before. I think there is reason to believe this but of course, that is largely anecdotal.

    To your point, simply looking at total wildland fire acreage and then stating that this is evidence of the impacts of climate change, is not a good approach and not accurate. This is a much more nuanced story but of course, most people don’t want to deal with nuance. Rather, they enjoy jumping to conclusions and some people then use them to support their viewpoint.

    • Wouldn’t drier conditions (more common on a hotter planet) also affect the likelihood of ignition (not just fire growth)?

    • I don’t think acres burned produces a meaningful measure for comparison over time. In particular because of the role of fire suppression – lots of fires would have burn more acres without suppression efforts. And you also have differences in the acres that are available to burn (mostly due to past burning or treatments). I’d lean toward fire severity as a better indicator. Even though it is harder to quantify, the frequency of expert reports of “unprecedented” fire behavior should mean something (and may correlate to some degree with acres that would burn without suppression).

  2. Hi Dave: I definitely agree that there is no logical connection between wildfires and “climate change.” I’m not sure what is meant by “the natural role of fire” in a forested area, unless we are assuming that people are part of nature. So far as western Oregon is concerned, fire season has been about the same for all historical time (about 250 years here), and likely for several centuries and more before. The frequency, extent, and severity of wildfires have greatly increased in this region in the past 35 years, as clearly predicted, but fuel build-ups and management decisions explain these changes, not “climate change” — which has apparently changed very little since the 1850s at least. Zero correlation to wildfires, although seasonal weather patterns are the major factor.

    • What I meant by the “natural role of fire” is that fire is being allowed to burn across the landscape. That is opposed to actively suppressing every wildfire, which I think could be characterized as “unnatural”. Certainly, people are a part of nature, but of course here in North America, that is only true for the last 10,000 years or so. Our forests, not just in the west but the entire continent, evolved with fire over the millennia.

      I have seen information that shows more fire starts in longer fire seasons, for many parts of the country. Maybe this has not happened in Western Oregon, but it has certainly happened in other parts of the country. Once again, there may be a variety of underlying reasons for this. More people doing careless things in the forests and starting more fires throughout the year? Who knows?

      As I said at the end of my last post, this is a complicated story. There are rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere, record high annual temperatures, extreme droughts, shorter winters, severe glacial melt, etc. All of these things have the potential to affect wildfire activity and behavior. Is all of this just part of the natural changes in climate that earth has gone through for forever? Maybe, but I hear people saying it is now happening at a pace that has never happened before, that they can tell.

      I still generally trust scientists to provide us with most of the answers on all of this. I do not trust politicians in the least and for the most part, dismiss almost everything they say because they have an agenda.

        • Actually, after I hit the post comment, I thought that I should have added that. Yes, history is rife with scientists who had an agenda and who have been proved wrong with the passage of time. Personally though, I have met and known many scientists that I respect and trust. I think FS Research has many reliable and talented scientists. I could probably count the number of politicians that I have respected and trusted on one hand, and that would take some pondering to come up with.

      • Dear Dave,

        You can “trust scientists” if you wish. But you should also think for yourself and try to verify some of what they say. The motto of the first scientific society, the British Royal Society, got it precisely right: “Take nobody’s word for it.” That short-circuited those who were using science for political and religious purposes and led to 400 years of human progress.

        It expressed the desire of the Fellows to make decisions based on experiments rather than tall tales from authority figures such as politicians and priests. That is the secret of scientific progress.

        Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)

  3. Thank you for taking down more climate hysteria from the Biden Administration.

    Wildfires are a fact of life, especially here in the Western USA and Canada, and especially when we dry out in late summer. Controlled early season prescribed burns are intended to reduce the severity of unintentional burns that occur when we really dry out.

    Increased atmospheric CO2 and wet Springs (like we had this year in Western Oregon) create great growing conditions. When the new growth dries out at the end of summer, we are in more danger than we would have been with poor growing conditions. The media always get this wrong.

    Wet Springs spell TROUBLE. Those of us who once lived in Southern California know that.

    The Columbia River Gorge was beautiful this May with all the new tall grasses. But a day later when I drove home, a vast area west of Boardman was charred by a human-ignited fire and spread by high winds.

    The solution for minimizing the damage from forest fires is better forest management, such as controlled burns, not climate hysteria from the White House.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

    • Huh. Your name at the top is “Anonymous”, yet you signed your name at the bottom of the post.
      How’s that autofill working for you?
      How many other times have you written things as “Anonymous”, and then disregarded someone else’s opinion because they are ‘anonymous’?

      You also failed entirely to comment meaningfully on the actual topic of this post. Please keep you CO2 nonsense out of public lands management discussions, it’s embarrassing for you. And if not, I’d love to hear you response to the actual scientific paper I linked to above, about how fire behavior is increasing and becoming more extreme in recent years, especially at night.

      • Dear Anonymous,

        Yes, I forgot to fill out my name and email before I posted my comment above. But that did not make me anonymous, because I added my name to the bottom of the post. I believe in responsible behavior.

        As to the article you referenced, it points out a typical problem in many measurements made over a long period of time. We tend to improve our measurement techniques, and therefore automatically introduce a sometimes severe bias. For instance, we now have much better ways of detecting tornadoes and hurricanes, making it seem like they are more prevalent. In fact they have been generally declining in frequency.

        As to CO2, what you call “nonsense,” you seem to want to attribute all increases in everything problematical to rising CO2 in the atmosphere. That is truly “nonsense.”

        You might find that you are better off to avoid anonymous posts, because you may be more constructive if you actually use your real name.

        Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)

  4. I think seasonality of prescribed burns is important, too. My own experience with prescribed burning was about 18,000+ acres over a 10-15 year period in which we never had a single escapement — and we did most of the burning during fire season. That’s when fuels are driest, along with the air, easiest to control, take less time, produce the least smoke, and leave the least residue (“fuel”).

    Efforts to broadcast burn in the spring in order to reduce potential escapements were a federal policy for some time that might still be practiced. Two problems: they tend to burn less efficiently and produce more visible smoke; and, mostly, they kill native seedlings and young wildlife that have adapted to historical wildfire seasons later in the year. Piles are fine to burn in winter or spring, but broadcast burning is most efficient (if done properly) during fire season.

    Question: for thousands of years people systematically gathered and used firewood, seasonally set fires to the landscape for multiple purposes, and were not too concerned with most escapements for those reasons. Plants and animals adapted to that pattern. Ridgelines and riparian areas typically formed “natural firebreaks” because people regularly traveled along them, gathering firewood and setting fires. Do foresters consider these historical patterns of use and vegetation to be “natural,” or not?

    • “Ridgelines and riparian areas typically formed “natural firebreaks” because people regularly traveled along them, gathering firewood and setting fires.”

      I’d like to see some (any) studies on this claimed causal relationship.


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