Let's rethink how we deal with forest fires

Decades of research have demonstrated that fire is an essential, basic process in forests, woodlands and grasslands around the world. Thus, the issue is not so much whether fire is here to stay - it is, despite all of our efforts to suppress it - but rather what kind of fire we will have on the landscape.
Decades of research have demonstrated that fire is an essential, basic process in forests, woodlands and grasslands around the world. Thus, the issue is not so much whether fire is here to stay - it is, despite all of our efforts to suppress it - but rather what kind of fire we will have on the landscape.

This year is shaping up to be another year of dangerous, destructive fires in the West. As we read the news of scorched landscapes, destroyed homes and loss of life, we naturally think of immediate actions that are needed: suppressing today’s fire and getting ready for what may happen tomorrow.

But it must occur to many of us: Should we be doing something altogether different about wildfire?

We now spend more than $1.5 billion every year in fighting wildland fire, which consumes one-third of the entire budget of the U.S. Forest Service. The annual area burned by wildfire in the West is four times what it was in the 1980s, as is the average fire size. In the 1960s, a fire that reached 5,000 acres was newsworthy, and a 10,000-acre fire was considered extraordinary. In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico burned 43,000 acres in its first 12 hours. Fires of a half million acres are no longer rare.

What’s more, these “megafires” include huge areas that burn with very high severity, where nearly all of the trees are killed, soils are scorched, and watersheds ruined. Unlike smaller, less intense fires, ecological recovery on these landscapes may literally take centuries. And under the current climate regime of increasing drought and high temperatures, many areas may never come back to forest at all.

Read more at the link below from this July 14 Arizona Republic op-ed written by Don Falk, associate professor, School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Date released: 
Jul 23 2013
Contact: 
Don Falk