Check it out: The Need to Implement a Risk-Based Management Approach to Wildfires

By Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

A surface fire burning in the forest, with a firefighter watching and resting in the foreground
Fire crew monitoring a wildfire. Photo: Jim Bartlett, Team Rubicon/BLM for USFS, under CC BY 2.0.

Wildfire season is underway, with blazes in New Mexico and California in the news. So an article I came across recently seems particularly relevant. Researchers with Resources for the Future, a self-described “independent, nonprofit research institution,” make the (not new, but reinforced) case for using managed wildfires as a tool for mitigating future wildfire risk. They discuss how treating forests across the western U.S. is needed to mitigate the risks wildfires pose to resources of value. The authors start from three premises: (1) that past management combined with climate change have led to many western forests being primed for an increase in wildfire activity; (2) that treatments such as thinning forest stands, combined with fire, reduce wildfire intensity and rate of spread; and (3) that we are nowhere near allocating the resources needed to treat all forests in need of treatment. They posit that managed wildfires—unintentional and unplanned fires that, when they occur in areas where they present relatively little threat, are allowed to burn naturally—can lead to benefits in reducing the risk of future fires. Of course, there are conditions, caveats, and risks to using—and also to not using—managed fires.. Check out their article to delve into their reasoning for a risk-based approach to “letting it burn.”

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