In Montana's Gallatin National Forest this past summer, rays of sunshine filtered through pine trees, diffusing in the smoky haze produced by ravenous flames. While such scenes make for alluring photographs and dramatic headlines, a new study says that wildfires in national forests account for less than 15 percent of acreage burned this year to date.


According to a study from the Washington-based Pacific Biodiversity Institute, almost 50 percent of burned land is state, tribal or private, with an additional 35 percent under the Bureau of Land Management. Most of these fires have scorched deserts, grasslands, shrublands or sparsely forested areas, not the dense national forests that have been the center of recent political debate.


BLM staffer Don Smurthwaite is not surprised by the findings. Grassland and shrubland fires burn fast and furious, destroying large areas quickly, he says. But they are often controlled before the media can cover them. "There are more glamorous fires in national forests," he says.


The Pacific Biodiversity Institute study recommends the redirection of federal funding for wildfire management, which traditionally focuses on national forests, to tribal, state and local governments.


For a copy of the report, contact the Pacific Biodiversity Institute at 509/996-2490, or download the report at www.pacificbio.org/wildfire2001.pdf.