Did you get the memo? You know, the one from the U.S. Forest Service honcho Tom Tidwell that reverses the total fire suppression policy that was, essentially, a reversal of a 17-year policy that allowed some fires to burn. Confusing? Yeah, it is. Long gone are the days when the clear-cut message of Smokey Bear played out at the policy level. But wildfires really were never as simple as Smokey first made them out to be almost 70 years ago and things have gotten more complicated since. Here's a very quick primer explaining why:
Keeping it "natural"
As long as there have been trees in North America, there have been forest fires. Humans came along several thousand years ago and increased the frequency of fires, especially in the West, by using mostly low-level burning to manage the land. That made the wild lands even more fire-adapted. Then, a mere 200 or so years ago, came the Europeans with their total fire suppression idea and fires were outlawed and stopped at all costs. That naturally turned the fire-adapted landscapes into a bunch of ticking time bombs. Now when fires finally ignite (by lightning, accident, or arson), they can be far hotter and more devastating. Oops.