1. Should public policy discourage residential expansion into rural areas of high fire danger? If not, should the owners of such residential property be required to pay, through taxes or other means, the increased cost of wildfire suppression focused on structures rather than long-term forest health?
and brushlands as precipitation, soil types, and other determinants of a forest community. But, like much human intervention in natural communities, unforeseen consequences are the most predictable result. Two historic kinds of human intervention in the natural forest fire cycles are most significant in limiting efforts to restore natural conditions.
First is our long history of fire suppression. As fire was controlled, undergrowth, which would otherwise have been consumed, flourished. As a result, fires are now not only more difficult to control, but the heat content and the "ladder effect" of young growth threaten stands of older timber that resisted damage from the earlier, faster moving fires burning close to the ground. Everything burns hotter, and the forest is often reduced to its earliest successional stage.
Second, and the most difficult situation to resolve, is the change in rural residential land use. Many people build residences in secluded forest surroundings, on widely separate parcels. When a wildfire gets rolling toward these isolated homes, the traditional approaches to suppressing forest fires—backfires (deliberately burning areas in advance of the fire) and allowing fires to burn to defensible boundaries, such as roads and streams—are not politically acceptable. Homeowners expect fire personnel to protect residences. But if fire-control forces were free of this responsibility, they could manage fires differently to promote restoration of natural, less dangerous conditions.
Public land management agencies have proposed several solutions to resolve the problem created by decades of a philosophy that all fires must be sup-
2. Should government agencies charged with wildland fire protection subsidize efforts to clear large areas around rural properties to limit the need for fire fighting strategies to concentrate on residential protection?
3. Even if the risk of escape and consequent property damage cannot be eliminated, should public agencies continue the use of prescribed fire as a forest management tool?
David E. Pesonen attended the University of California at Berkeley, working his way through college as a summer firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. He graduated with a degree in Forestry in 1960. He later returned to Berkeley as a law student, graduating in 1968. In 1979,he was appointed Director of the California Department of Forestry, one of the nation's largest wildland fire control agencies. He later served as ajudge of the Superior Court, then returned to law practice, retiring in 1996.
pressed promptly and the rising demand for homes built in the woods. One approach is to mechanically thin low-value undergrowth and subsidize this work by allowing commercial harvesting of valuable old growth, even though the old growth trees are fire-resistant.
The best approach is to use fire under controlled conditions to try to recreate natural conditions. Prescribed fire under carefully controlled conditions is cheaper and more effective than mechanical thinning and is increasingly applied in remote areas. But a few such fires have escaped planned controls and caused heavy property damage. As a result, land managers are unwilling to risk the occasional escape of such fires in the areas where this technique would be most useful.
There is no consensus among forest land managers on ways to resolve these issues. Political considerations often drive the search for solutions to the management and control of wildfires, triggered by reaction to losses of life and property, as much as by long-term biological and economic analysis.
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