Friday, November 03, 2017

Fires of the Future Are Here

Essential reading for the next century of fires.
The relationships between humans and forest fires are becoming increasingly complicated and harrowing. I was fortunate to begin learning about some of the counterintuitive parts of this relationship -- most notably that suppressing fires eventually makes them more likely -- from an excellent landscape ecologist with whom I studied briefly just a year after the famous Yellowstone fires. Since then, I have been able to draw on collaborations with forest ecologists and on David Foster's excellent text Thoreau's Country as I explore this increasingly important topic with students. I have even had the good fortune of working with a couple of students with forest-fire expertise.

This has all been very much on my mind, as my Land Protection class once again coincides with a particularly damaging fire season in the western United States. I was therefore very interested to hear a recent Living Lab Radio interview with Firestorm author Edward Struzik. He had a wide-ranging discussion of forest fires, including the both causes and effects related to climate change with Heather Goldstone (sometime visitor to our campus) and reporter Elsa Partan.

The discussion is both a clear summary of some of the ecology I already understood and a source of several insights that were new to me. One of these is the odd distinction we make between fire and other kinds of disaster, in terms of what we expect of emergency responders. In reality, Struzik suggests, we should no more expect firefighters to stop wildfires than we should expect them to stop a hurricane. The threat looks like the sort of thing firefighters are trained and equipped to combat, but the difference in scale is so vast that it is a difference in kind.

On the same day I heard Struzik's interview, NPR's Morning Edition offered a short version in its story: Want Less Wildfire? Prescribe More Fire, Ecologists Say.

This blog includes several other posts on the topic for those who wish to learn more: Wild Fire Anniversary (2010), Hot or Not (2012), Frontier on Fire (2015), Thoreau at 200 (2017), 

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