New Vision of Wildfire Preparation
NEW YORK, Aug. 2 /U.S. Newswire/ -- At the annual meeting of
the Society for Conservation Biology in New York City, five
prominent scientists released a set of principles for wildlands
fire management that synthesize new scientific knowledge on the
subject. The scientists are among 36 from 22 universities,
government agencies, and private organizations who co-authored
articles published in a special section in the August issue of the
scientific journal Conservation Biology.
The scientists are calling for approaches that focus on long-
term restoration of the integrity of forests and rangelands, and
prepare for wildlands fire using targeted risk reduction measures.
The new vision for fire preparation recommends actions in three
land management zones.
-- Wildlands-Urban Intermix Zone are areas near communities,
which typically have many roads. The new vision recommends an
emphasis on fuel treatments and wildfire suppression to protect
-- Restoration Matrix Zone are areas farther away from
communities, but on which significant management activities occur
and which can have a variety of road densities. The scientists'
propose a management emphasis on restoration of healthy forest
conditions and high biological integrity. In these areas, fuels
treatments and prescribed fire would be used, but only as needed
to protect significant resource values that otherwise would be at
risk from uncharacteristic fire.
-- Wildlands Zone are more remote areas that are mostly
unroaded and on public lands. The proposal recommends
actions that would restore fire as a natural landscape disturbance
agent. In these areas far from communities, fuel
treatments and fire suppression would have a low priority.
"Fire is a force of nature that sculpted much of the western
landscape," said Jack Williams, a professor at Southern Oregon
University and Science Coordinator of the Southern Oregon
Institute for Environmental Studies. "Over the past several
decades the effects of past management decisions, drought, and hot
weather dramatically increased the intensity and extent of forest
fires in the West. Current management often fails to protect
homes and impairs the long-term productivity of the land. The new
vision we offer today offers a strategy that outlines a more
effective way to live safely with wildlands fires."
"Fire behavior in much of the west has changed since European
settlement," noted Dominick DellaSala, a forest ecologist and
Klamath-Siskiyou Regional Program director with the World Wildlife
Fund. "Fire suppression and the establishment of dense tree
plantations have resulted in increased fuel accumulations.
Logging and road building have replaced fire resilient forests
with a landscape more susceptible to fire. Livestock grazing has
replaced native grasses that once carried fire along the ground
with exotic weeds and shrubs that more readily transfer fire into
treetops. Changing climatic conditions have produced more
droughts, stressing forests and rangelands."
"Successfully preparing for wildlands fire has become even more
critical as people increasingly build their homes in the woods,"
noted Cindy Deacon Williams, an ecologist and Conservation
Director with Headwaters. "Forests cannot be fire-proofed but we
can prepare for fire by restoring the integrity of our wildland
forests and rangelands. Targeting efforts to reduce the risk of
fire in the wildland-urban intermix area, where risk to lives and
homes is greatest, and for those of us that live in the woods must
act responsibly and ensure our homes are built and our landscaping
is designed to maximize the likelihood of surviving a fire."
"Western forests are comprised of naturally diverse and complex
plant communities," said Jerry Franklin, a professor of Ecosystem
Studies in the College of Forest Resources at the University of
Washington. "As a result, fuel loads, wildfire intensities, and
fire regimes vary greatly across the landscape. Because different
forest types have different fire regimes, they require
fundamentally different fire management approaches than those
currently practiced by federal forest management policies and
programs. To be effective, land managers must adopt a new vision
for wildfire preparation that recognizes the important ecological
differences and social priorities between one place and another."
"Our post-fire response also needs significant change," said
Chris Frissell, an ecologist and senior staff Scientist with the
Pacific Rivers Council. "Logging of burned trees is virtually
always damaging to soils, streams, and plant and animal life, and
commonly disrupts the natural recovery of the landscape. Active
seeding and replanting following fire generally is unnecessary, as
natural regeneration readily occurs in most circumstances, and can
result in the accidental introduction of non-native weeds and the
establishment of dense fire-prone tree plantations. Timber
harvest and many associated traditional post-fire management
actions do not help recovery and should not be considered
"restorative actions" for post-fire landscapes. They typically do
more harm than good, risking the health of the land, the quality
of the water, and the ability of the area to support fish and
Copies of the August 2004 issue of Conservation Biology can be
obtained by contacting Blackwell Science Publishing by writing
them at 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148-5018 or calling 1-888-