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Researchers Say We Need To Rethink Wildfire Management, And Burn More On Purpose

Lance Cheung
The Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew conducts a prescribed burn near Galice, Ore., in August 2013.

Colorado and Oregon researchers writing this week in the journal Science say there's an urgent need to reevaluate wildfire management practices, calling for more “collaborative governance” and more prescribed fire.

“Science tells us these are fire-adapted ecosystems and we have to get fire back on the ground, and that’s a key strategy for mitigating future fire and also for the long-term resilience of those ecosystems,” said Courtney Schultz, professor of natural resource policy and governance at Colorado State University.

Schultz co-authored the perspective piece with Cassandra Moseley, a research professor and director of the University of Oregon’s Ecosystem Workforce Program.

They describe barriers to reintroducing fire to Western landscapes, including “conflicting policy mandates within and across governance levels and jurisdictions,” but also identify promising developments and opportunities for policymakers. 

Schultz says it’s clear from her research that state-level collaboration is essential, and she’s noticing a number of innovations in this area. She points to the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado, where Schultz says land managers are planning prescribed burns on a larger scale than they have before, and the Montana-Idaho Airshed Group, which brings land managers, companies, and air quality regulators together to make prescribed burns possible without compromising air quality. 

“These activities hold promise for getting more ‘good’ fire on the ground because changes in practice will be elusive until multiple actors build agreement about fire management approaches outside of the emergency management context,” Schultz and Moseley write.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Rae Ellen Bichell was a reporter for KUNC and the Mountain West News Bureau from 2018 to 2020.
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