Learning To Live With Forest Fire: More Management, Says Science Panel

Sep 17, 2015

Fire fighters in Washington say the state’s largest ever blaze, the Okanogan Complex, is now nearly contained. Even so, the worst wildfire season ever has put new urgency into efforts to reform forest fire policies. A panel of scientists says it’s clear current practices are not working.

Writing in the journal Science, they argue for more focus on managing fires, rather than suppressing them – for example by allowing them to burn in some remote areas. 

One of the co-authors is Jerry Franklin, a professor of forestry at the University of Washington.

“We’ve had repeated instances where probably they shouldn’t have been attempting to suppress fire and they were – and people have died. Lots of money’s been spent. And so we definitely need to look at where we’re doing this and adjust our policy appropriately,” Franklin said.

He says more than a hundred years of fire suppression has transformed forests that were historically well-adapted to frequent low-level fires. 

Fire-resistant ponderosa pine has been crowded out by fast-burning species of fir that load the forests with fuel. The panel says millions of acres should be restored, using a mix of managed fire and mechanical thinning. Their paper cites current proposals before Congress as openings for policy change.

Copyright 2015 KPLU