NPR on allowing fires to burn

The lack of aggressive action during the early days of the Chimney Tops 2 Fire that burned more than 2,000 homes in Gatlinburg, Tennessee has ignited discussions about allowing some wildfires to spread under predetermined conditions.

National Public Radio explores how four national forests in California are modifying their fire strategy. (Less than 4 minutes.)

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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 “NPR on allowing fires to burn”

  1. Thanks Bill for posting this. Tricky management with a catch-22. My reply/comment is in regard to the NPR radio piece as well as your post on slash pile burning South Dakota:

    The GSMNP at one time in Cades Cove gathered dead-fall wood for slash pile burning. Yet if I’m not mistaken; and someone correct me if I’m wrong, it didn’t amount to anything. As I write this, I don’t recollect an ignition of the piles – should have looked the other day. This approach of slash piles maybe more feasible than prescribed burns with the potential to moderate intensity burning -especially when sensitive trees are in the path. Though the opinions vary, some foresters say that certain acorn producing oak trees cannot tolerate prescribed burns beyond one or two burns at the most. If that is the case, then the very trees government agencies are trying to protect would be more prone to disease and eventually die. In turn, wildlife would be negatively impacted with the loss of these vital food sources.

    Briefly off the topic: removing more exotic wild pigs from a rampant hog population would help to balance the scales; and yes, we can expect to hear some “cherry picking numbers” on this. Yet the evidence is way too obvious in the front country along the roads. Take an off trail venture and the evidence continues to mount as these evasive bulldozers rob native wildlife of food sources and spread the risk of parasitic infections to our native wildfire. These beasts could very well ravage the Park before wildfire does.

    Nonetheless, the NPR radio piece covered some of the dilemmas for forest managers and firefighters. Yet one thing wasn’t mentioned about removing fuels – simple human harvest. This subject is nothing new to the industry; but over the years, the talk of timber harvest has been put on the back burner. The apparent obsession with fire is the ultimate solution for some managers; and yet when wood is burned, it is wasted and not used for human consumption.

    Of course, I’m probably going to get attacked that fire propagates certain vegetative species and logging/harvest is destructive to the environment, etc. etc. True, and I’m not arguing that; for fire should still be used as a method to manage the understory, but not solely. However, the “new age” of forestry/fire management has also proven to be destructive, not just to the environment, but to people and their homes.

    Beyond areas that are not feasible to mechanically remove dead timber, managers still need to keep fire methods on the table; and I’m sure they will. On the flip side, and although the environmental agenda rejects chain-saws and logging roads, “sometimes” this approach, if done wisely, allows “usage of the wood” through removal, and clearly avoids air pollution and the potential for devastating wildlife.

    Dead-fall timber can be used by local folks for firewood as well as host of other projects. Once harvest is complete in removing some of these fuels, roads can be seeded for wildlife foods as well as creating fire breaks and travel corridors for wildlife. Of course, this method for the public is permitted by the USFS; but ought to be pursued on a larger scale with the increase of dead fallen timber and excessive understory. It would take an act of Congress to achieve this in a National Park beyond front country roads.

    I guess this all boils down to if state and federal authorizes can achieve a “balance” and avoid catering to the special interest groups. Of course, I have the utmost respect for fire personnel who has to call the shots. I certainly do not want to make the decision when it comes to using fire.

    My first prescribed burn was for simple economic reasons. Burn off 40 acres and advocate pine regeneration for quick turn around timber harvest. I’ll never forget the local mountain employees who were low on the totem pole commenting: “Winds are too steady. Get ready boy, you gonna experience your first wildfire.” Yep, it unfolded and took 5 to 7 days to complete the mop-up. From that point on, I had no desire to become a fire manager – way too much responsibility. Call it what you like, when we take “fire” into our hands, we run the risk of Playing God. This is more than a simple tool to manage our natural resources.

    One thing should continue to weigh in on the conscience for those folks calling the shots: what are the consequences and will the natural elements work in harmony today? If not, then fire management runs the risk of taking human life and property as well as negatively impacting the environment. May God grant wisdom as to when, where, and how managers use this force; and not allow environmental ideologies to dedicate forestry/fire management to the extremes that we are now experiencing. The results have been catastrophic.


  2. I like its tricky. To burn or not to burn. This program could have been broadcast in the 1970’s. Same story different century. Its to late to return to those days were the Native Americans and Mother Nature took care of the wildfire issue. Or was anyone around who cared? I have a solution. If a fire isn’t contained in the first burning period, back off and let her rip. Quickly we will find out who has done their property wildfire preparation and who hasn’t. A new policy and a new public awareness of what could happen. Thing about it, isn’t this what is already happening. This approach would expedite the forest cleansing; return much of wild lands to before suppression. Other than that approach the alternatives are just p…… the ocean. Smokey’s new motto “Be prepared pilgrims we are going to let her rip”. Too radicle?


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