We examined how destructive wildfire affected progress toward becoming fire adapted in eight locations in the United States. We found that community-level adaptation following destructive fires is most common where destructive wildfire is novel and there is already government capacity and investment in wildfire regulation and land use planning. External funding, staff capacity, and the presence of issue champions combined to bring about change after wildfire. Locations with long histories of destructive wildfire, extensive previous investment in formal wildfire regulation and mitigation, or little government and community capacity to manage wildfire saw fewer changes. Across diverse settings, communities consistently used the most common tools and actions for wildfire mitigation and planning. Nearly all sites reported changes in wildfire suppression, emergency response, and hazard planning documents. Expansion in voluntary education and outreach programs to increase defensible space was also common, occurring in half of our sites, but land use planning and regulations remained largely unchanged. Adaptation at the community and local governmental level therefore may not axiomatically follow from each wildfire incident, nor easily incorporate formal approaches to minimizing land use and development in hazardous environments, but in many sites wildfire was a focusing event that inspired reflection and adaptation.
Using the Forest Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a relevant test case for systemic investigation, this paper argues that fundamental changes in how the fire management community thinks about, learns from, plans for, and responds to wildland fires may be necessary. The intent is to initiate a broader dialog around the current and future state of wildland fire management.
Often missing or underdeveloped in wildland fire research is a clear sense of the link between contemporaneous political possibility and the desired ecological or management outcomes. This study examines the disconnect between desired outcomes and what we call the “politically possible”. Politically possible policy solutions are those that recognize how compromise, stakeholder engagement, and the distribution of costs and benefits combine to structure political acceptability. Better attending to the politically possible in wildland fire-related research can, in turn, inform our understanding of the cause, effect, and the potential solutions to fire management challenges. A lack of awareness and attention to the politically possible can create divisions or barriers to realistic action.
View fact sheet.
Managing wildfire for resource benefits and ecological purposes refers to a strategic choice to use naturally ignited fires to achieve resource management objectives.
It’s not the way we fight wildfires in the West that’s the problem. The problem is the way we manage our fire-dependent forests.
Since 2000, 154 wildfires in the region have cost over $20 million each to control. Many of them cost several times more. Together, these costliest fires, which were less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all Western wildfires in the period, cost more than $9 billion to fight. If you factor in property losses, natural resource damage and environmental impacts, the true costs skyrocket, but they are rarely measured or accounted for. What can’t be ignored is that these unprecedented wildfires tell us we need a much better land-management strategy.
Stephen Pyne is Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. This is an abridged version of a piece that appeared on The Conversation; to read the entire piece, go to theconversation.com
View report and highlights.
Conditions such as dense vegetation and drought have resulted in more severe wildland fires in recent years, and some communities are experiencing the devastating effects of these fires. Federal agencies can collaborate with nonfederal stakeholders to reduce the risk of wildland fires. This is a key aspect of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. The Government Accountability Office recommends that federal agencies work with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council—which provides oversight and leadership for the strategy—to develop measures to assess progress toward achieving the strategy’s goals.
This Association for Fire Ecology position paper is an organization-wide initiative with two objectives: to determine the prevalence of these two issues throughout the profession, including management, education, and research; and to provide a set of principles and actions that are strongly recommended for implementation in order to foster organizational cultures of respect, equity, and parity.
This report makes the case that forest restoration should be at least equal to other land management priorities because large-scale restoration is necessary for the sake of forest ecosystem integrity now and into the future. Another proposal is to switch the “default” rule in federal planning documents that currently have to “justify” managed wildland fire; instead, U.S. federal agencies should be required to disclose the long-term ecological impacts of continued fire suppression.
This synthesis examines the fundamental spatial and temporal disconnects between the specific policies that have been crafted to address our wildfire challenges. The biophysical changes in fuels, wildfire behavior, and climate have created a new set of conditions for which our wildfire governance system is poorly suited to address. To address these challenges, a reorientation of goals is needed to focus on creating an anticipatory wildfire governance system focused on social and ecological resilience. Key characteristics of this system could include the following: (1) not taking historical patterns as givens; (2) identifying future social and ecological thresholds of concern; (3) embracing diversity/heterogeneity as principles in ecological and social responses; and (4) incorporating learning among different scales of actors to create a scaffolded learning system.
- « Previous
- Next »