Policy ForumEnvironmental Science

Reform forest fire management

Science  18 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6254, pp. 1280-1281
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab2356

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Summary

Globally, wildfire size, severity, and frequency have been increasing, as have related fatalities and taxpayer-funded firefighting costs (1). In most accessible forests, wildfire response prioritizes suppression because fires are easier and cheaper to contain when small (2). In the United States, for example, 98% of wildfires are suppressed before reaching 120 ha in size (3). But the 2% of wildfires that escape containment often burn under extreme weather conditions in fuel-loaded forests and account for 97% of fire-fighting costs and total area burned (3). Changing climate and decades of fuel accumulation make efforts to suppress every fire dangerous, expensive, and ill advised (4). These trends are attracting congressional scrutiny for a new approach to wildfire management (5). The recent release of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (NCWFMS) (6) and the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS's) current effort to revise national forest (NF) plans provide openings to incentivize change. Although we largely focus on the USFS, which incurs 70% of national firefighting costs (7), similar wildfire policies and needed management reforms are relevant throughout the United States and fire-prone areas worldwide.