The worst of Washington’s wildfire season seems to be over, although stubborn blazes still burn in parts of the state. With the memory of two consecutive years of record-breaking catastrophic fires still fresh, researchers are not hesitating to offer scientific insights on changes to forest policy that could help us break out of a destructive cycle of fire.
The recent phenomenon of catastrophic fires is a product of policies that have allowed fuel to accumulate in areas such as national forests, according to a report authored by a panel of scientists including University of Washington Forestry Prof. Jerry Franklin and published in the journal Science.
The panel says that a return to managed burns and more active management is the key to restoring a natural balance and reducing the risk of catastrophic fires in the future.
Ironically, fighting fire is a big part of what has caused the dramatic increase in wildfire size and severity, the panel says. More than a hundred years of fire suppression has transformed many forests into tinderboxes ready to explode. In the past, frequent low-level or moderate burns would take out smaller trees, encourage the growth of more fire resistant species and reduce the fire risk, says UW Forestry Professor, Jerry Franklin. …
They advocate for proactive use of managed fires to reduce risk in certain areas, coupled with educational efforts such as have proven successful in Australia to ease public concern. And they say prescribed burns in remote forests could be timed when the weather and wind directions are favorable, for example. In places closer to where people live, fires could still be suppressed and mechanical thinning used to get the landscape back to a more natural, fire-resistant state.
Franklin says millions of acres of forests that were historically well-adapted to fire have become fuel-laden and dense with highly flammable trees. Franklin says many of those trees now need to be taken out.
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