Forest Service Stops Controlled Burns Amid Drought. Now, Scientists Say It’s the Wrong Move

Aug 12, 2021

There's no doubt that any fire in our forests can be a cause for concern, especially during a drought. But the truth is, prescribed burns have played a major role in managing the health of forest ecosystems for a very long time. However, the very agency that prescribes these burns has decided to suddenly limit fire management in our forests– including prescribed burns.

  

And as KSFR’s Bryce Dix reports, this move is alarming many scientists, who are now saying that introducing fire into forest ecosystems is crucial now more than ever in reducing the severity of future fire seasons.

Matthew Hurteau is a forest ecologist and professor with the University of New Mexico. He’s one of 41 scientists whose name is signed at the bottom of a short, 2-page letter addressed to U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. 

Their ask? To restore fire management to forest ecosystems and allow more flexibility for the rest of the fire season.

“We’ve had a great monsoon season so far, and conditions are going to be perfect for burning this fall. And if we don’t allow [fire] managers to have that tool in their toolkit, we can expect more bad fire seasons like we are currently having.” 

Hurteau explained that intentionally burning forests when there is a significant amount of moisture in the air (so, now) is ideal to prevent fast-moving, destructive fires from sweeping through watersheds or towns.

There are other alternatives to using fire to manage forests– like mechanical thinning or mastication. 

“And those are expensive, on a per acre basis," Hurteau said. "There’s a lot of places where you can’t operate heavy equipment because the slopes are too steep and stuff like that. Really, the best tools that managers have at their disposal for dealing with this fire hazard are prescribed burning and managing natural ignitions.” 

This massive group of scientists is hoping that the Forest Service takes notice of their request and decides to revert their decision in how forest ecosystems are managed across the country.

 

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Read the letter here