USA –– Reacting to the unusually large number of devastating fires, the U.S. Forest Service has adopted a suppression-first wildfire fighting strategy.
Fires, whether natural or prescribed, won’t be used to improve elk and other wildlife habitat in wilderness and roadless areas of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests this summer.
Reacting to the unusually large number of devastating fires in the Southwest and drought conditions covering much of the country, the U.S. Forest Service adopted a suppression-first wildfire fighting strategy.
“Every fire is going to get some kind of suppression response,” said Bob Lippincott, fire management officer for the combined forests.
Firefighters will attempt to put out even the smallest of remote fires during initial attack. Doing so will preserve national firefighting resources that are stretched thin and help control firefighting costs, said Patti Koppenol, director of fire and aviation for the Northern Region of the agency at Missoula, Mont.
But the strategy won’t allow for the managed fires that have become common in the remote areas of the Clearwater Basin over the past decade.
In an effort to improve habitat for elk, the agency has been increasingly willing to allow fires far from human structures or valuable timber stands in areas with roads, to burn and play a natural role on the landscape.
But they don’t just walk away from them.
Instead they spend time on the ground and in the air watching the fires and making sure they don’t burn remote structures, such as fire lookouts.
Monitoring a large fire is expensive, but much cheaper than full suppression efforts — which can run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Koppenol said suppressing fires before they get large is cheaper yet and preserves resources. Although fire conditions in much of northern Idaho remain mild, she noted eastern Montana and the Dakotas are quite dry and fires have become active in Nebraska and South Dakota.
“In a way it’s about not getting overextended,” she said.
Even with the new strategy, there could be some fires given a light touch. Lippincott said if a fire escapes initial attempts to put it out and grows large, the agency could choose a strategy of protecting resources in its path but otherwise allowing it to burn.
“We are going to attempt full suppression where it makes sense. If that is unsuccessful we will do a modified (suppression response) or point protection plan depending on what is going on.