USFS didn’t change fire policy, just “guidance”

We wrote on March 10 that according to a February directive titled “Wildland Fire Response Protocol”, Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, changed the policy on “fire use” this year, to make it easier to use a less than aggressive suppression strategy on wildfires. In 2012 a two-page letter from Jim Hubbard, their Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, required that any fire strategy having fire use or restoration as one of the objectives must first be approved by a Regional Forester, due to a shortage of firefighting resources.

In an undated statement on the USFS web site that appears to have been posted on March 13, 2013 (the articles before and after were both dated March 13), Chief Tidwell said their fire policy has not changed, just their “guidance”:

Statement from U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on wildland fire policy

The federal wildland fire policy has not changed since 1995. Neither the direction issued last year nor my letter this year represented a shift in Forest Service policy for fighting fires. We always look at the conditions that exist around each fire season, our available resources, and then provide guidance to the field. It takes resources to suppress fires, and to manage them for resource benefits. We do have a set amount of expertise in this country but when we get a wildfire season like we did last year, we have to take some steps to manage just how much fire we can have on the landscape. So last year we asked forests to elevate decisions on wildfires to the regional forester. Based on this year’s projections, we no longer see that as a necessary step at this time.

In a related story, the Associated Press interviewed Chief Tidwell and reported that due to budget cuts there will be 500 fewer wildland firefighters working for the agency this year.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “USFS didn’t change fire policy, just “guidance””

    1. I think it may be at the discretion of the Chief to give guidance that is more restrictive than policy. I can see a less restrictive approach leading to litigation, but I doubt that even militant environmental groups would sue the USFS or other federal agencies for putting out fires that could theoretically be managed, especially when a more careful approach is justified by drought conditions, lack of resources, etc.


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