Scientists call for improved science in fire management

6 December 2007

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USA — In a letter to the Forest Service, more than a dozen scientists with expertise in biodiversity and fire have recommend a scientific review of the agency’s fire management plans in Arizona and New Mexico. The fire management plans “zone” the forests for fire management or total suppression. Because of changing climatic conditions and spiraling fire fighting costs, the scientists wrote to the new Southwestern Regional Forester calling for use of the best available science and consultation with state and federal wildlife agencies on the 11 fire management plans.

“Management policies and plans may have long-lasting impacts on this nation’s forests and their native biodiversity. Since activities related to fire and fuels management may be factors in the decline of some species, we believe that one of the great strengths of the 2001 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy is its prescription that each Fire Management Plan incorporate sound scientific principles that rely on the best available science,” wrote the 12 scientists. “We ask that you consider scientific information and principles directly applicable to fire ecology, fire management and biological conservation in the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Management Plans in the Southwestern Region.”

In response to the 1995 Federal Fire Policy and its revision in 2001, the national forests in the Southwestern Region developed Fire Management Plans. FMPs provide the underlying direction for fire management activities including fire suppression, prescribed burning, fuels reduction, post-fire rehabilitation and wildland fire use. In addition, the plans detail organizational and budgetary needs to implement an effective fire management program. But the FMPs in the Southwestern Region have not undergone any scientific review nor received normal approvals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Our goal is to ensure that federal fire management policy and plans support and maintain the viability of native plant and animal species. We believe that the use of the best available science and consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should be requisites for Fire Management Plans,” wrote the scientists.

Unlike the Department of Interior in the Southwest, the U.S. Forest Service has not completed an environmental analysis on any of its fire management plans nor requested formal consultation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of the potential negative impacts of fire suppression and the exclusion of fire as well as the potential benefits of allowing some fire back onto the landscape, the scientists are calling on the U.S. Forest Service to incorporate the best available science.

“It is time for the forest service to overhaul fire management and consider the benefits of fire in the forests of the Southwest as well as the potential negative impacts of putting it out at all cost,” said Bryan Bird, Public Lands Director at Forest Guardians. “The Forest Service spends millions of dollars snuffing fires that might actually being doing some good but we won’t know until the latest science is considered.”

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