(Don't) Let it burn

  • USFS
  • The Rapid Creek Fire, started by lightning July 29 in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness, grew rapidly from a quarter acre to more than 1,000 acres, before meeting up with the Elbow Pass Fire nearby. Both are being suppressed.


This summer, Forest Service firefighters are stomping out wildfires they might have let burn in other years. A 'temporary' policy change requires local foresters to get permission from their regional supervisors for anything but full suppression, owing to fears that the current hot, dry conditions could cause remote fires to rage out of control. And too many large, expensive firefighting efforts might break the agency's reduced budget.

Critics say this could delay the ecological restoration of many fire-deprived Western forests and resembles the agency's pre-1995 full-suppression policy. They also note that the budget conditions that led to the decision are unlikely to change soon and may actually get worse, meaning that the temporary policy might become permanent. Firefighting dollars have always been variable, but since the recession Congress has given the agency less each year. "If you're looking to push fire management in a new and ecologically enlightened direction, it is not a positive sign," said Greg Aplet, a forester for The Wilderness Society.

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