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Scientists Call For Reform In Forest Fire Management

prescribed burn
Ian Horvath/Coconino National Forest
file | agency
A drip torch stands tall at Anderson Mesa during a prescribed burn in Coconino National Forest.

The authors of a new commentary in Science magazine say forest managers should allow more naturally-ignited wildfires to burn. That’s already part of forest management in northern Arizona.
The article addresses the rising number of catastrophic wildfires in the western United States. The authors say that’s partly due to a longstanding policy of fire suppression. Instead of putting fires out immediately, they advocate for greater use of managed burns. 

Peter Fulé is a forestry professor at Northern Arizona University and a coauthor of the commentary.

“The idea of being proactive is that by making use of policy tools, such as the use of managed wildfire or other kinds of forest restoration, we can be ahead of the damaging effects of very severe wildfires,” Fulé said.  

Those tools are already in use on the Coconino National Forest, said fire officer Donald Muise. In the last year crews have treated more than 50,000 acres with managed and prescribed burns.

“Every lightning strike is a potential managed fire for us,” Muise said. “We don’t count on managed fires, but if we have the opportunity we’ll take advantage of that if conditions are right.” 

Muise said northern Arizona forests have the advantage of experienced fire crews and public awareness of fire management. Other national forests may not have those opportunities and resources.

Active Wildfires

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Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University.