Burning down the house

  Under a new federal policy, fire managers will be allowed to put protection of natural resources ahead of property when they battle blazes on public lands. That policy is the major contribution of a new report issued jointly by the departments of Interior and Agriculture. "In the past people expected their homes to take priority," says Neil Sampson of Society of American Forests, who contributed to the report. "Now there will certainly be hostility." The federal agencies began work on the new report following the brutal 1994 fire season, when 4 million acres of public land burned and 32 people died. The 45-page report advocates a "holistic approach" to fire safety, stressing cooperation and communication on all levels, from the federal government down to individual homeowners. The report offers no single method for coping with fire, but recommends that fire managers use a range of tactics from prescribed burns to suppression, depending on conditions. Steve Frye, Chief Park Ranger of Glacier National Park, praises the new policy. "On the ground level," he says, "fire managers used to take unnecessary risks to save property. From our standpoint, this is positive change."

To obtain a copy of the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy and Program Review, contact the National Interagency Fire Center, Attn: External Affairs Office, 3833 S. Development Ave., Boise, ID 83705 (208/387-5457).

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