Wilderness fire: suppress, or manage it?

Wilderness Fire decisions
Screenshot from the video below.

The video below produced by the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network is intended to spark discussion about managing fire for resource benefit on public lands. It features interviews with 22 fire practitioners, most of whom are very well known in the wildland fire community.

Here is a sample from the 12-minute film, spoken by Dick Bahr, National Park Service Program Lead for Fire Science and Ecology:

We have really good modeling now. … If you’re not comfortable with where it’s going to get or you’re concerned about what it’s going to burn up — do you take on the fire, or do you take on protection of what you’re going to do? And now the big shift is, we have now the opportunity, go put the money and the effort into protecting that point you’re worried about losing and let the fire do what it’s supposed to do…

You’re going to win a few, you’re going to lose a few. And it’s OK to lose, but you’ve got to learn from them.

One of the speakers mentions firefighter fatality statistics. Our article “Wildfire Fatality Trends” (January 15, 2016) addressed that topic.

Typos, let us know HERE. And, please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

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. Google+

18 thoughts on “Wilderness fire: suppress, or manage it?”

  1. Don’t think it’s” ok to lose”. There is are costs involved when losing, and then suddenly the unpredictable fire[s] get out of control and cost $$ as well as lives !!
    Suppress the fires!!

    1. I was once told as a rookie “you don’t start learning in fire till your losing,” Forty years later that advice was bang on.

    2. There are costs to suppressing as well. See: the current fuel loading in every national forest and park and every CF of a fire between the sierras and the Rockies. Full suppression has got us where we are and needs to stop.

  2. Get ready warriors , Boys and Girls …Smoke season is about to hit Big time! Do not under estimate this Fire season! Be Smoke ready and prepare for anything!🇺🇸. Lighting is now in Washington State!! Caution Warning Dang er! NEVER give up! ‘ICEMAN’…🇺🇸🚒🇺🇸🚔🇺🇸 Stay safe!!!

  3. Whatever authorities decide, they need to be upfront with the public about what the plan is. And not just some language about managing to focus on “values at risk” that’s buried in an agency Facebook post. It needs to be honest and specific communication with the public about why certain resources may not be utilized. Too often the public is unaware of the impact of land use status on firefighting tactics and objectives because agencies are not forthcoming about their motives and plans.

  4. Not just for fire in Wilderness, and not a dichotomy of suppress “or” manage. Manage includes suppression where and when necessary. Values at risk? Point-protection? Resource benefit? Big box? Firefighter & public safety? Think, be patient, have a plan, adapt and change as necessary. We know how to do this.

  5. Managing fires is a losing formula, look at the cost in human lives and citizens homes, livestock, pets and property. Look at the “Camp Fire”, the entire town of Paradise, CA, destroyed and how many lives
    lost, the last I saw was 600 still reported missing.

    Suppression is the only solution, every burn scar is also a potential flood.

    1. There is a big difference between wildland-urban interface in California and a remote tens-of-thousands acres wilderness in the northern Rockies.

    2. What does the Camp Fire have to do with managed wildfire? That example makes no sense and is simply disrespectful fearmongering.

  6. controlled fire has to be responsibly managed and can add alot of protection to an environment. Here in SC we try to burn major portions of our forest every 8 years…in patches that rotate…so no one habitat does not have cover or food for the animals… that leads to alot of new growth and tremendous deer and turkey populations. It has to be managed well and limited in size but it has brought great benefit to us in that we very rarely get any large fires.

  7. You’ve got to start somewhere. The Gila NF is a good example. They have a good situation there but it’s taken decades to establish. I say manage, but go slow. Start with late season fires in areas where you have a good probability of success and build from that.

  8. Again, people seem to think it’s a simple question of suppression versus management: the truth is that one of the main reasons that “management” has become prevalent is because of the disastrous legacy of full suppression that has rendered effective full suppression an IMPOSSIBILITY. The legacy fuel loading will continue to make full suppression less and less viable as time goes on unless we are sensible in allowing fire to move through the landscape when it involves manageable risk for property.

    There is no other option.

  9. As long as federal fire management & firefighters can stay in fire camp & make the big bucks with no real oversight on their inactions, their program goal is failure.

    1. I’ve never made “big bucks” or sat in fire camp doing nothing. What an unbelievably foolish comment this is.

      Out of respect for this website, that’s all I have to say to you.

    2. You should become a sawyer on a hotshot crew and then tell us all about staying in fire camp “making big bucks.” Big bucks…Federal firefighters…HA! That’s a good one.

  10. When GOV spend 1 million dollars to suppress cheat grass fires just in aviation with no urban interface…ya time to have a conversation and go back to the basics of firefighting…..but, doubt that will ever happen cuz leadership is really poor…yes, there is some truth to the fact about federal folks just wanting the money…agencies dump employees on fires to save money…so, ya it’s real and those that don’t believe that well look around..

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