December 5, 2016

Burned Up

Stefanie Haeffele

Deputy Director, Academic and Student Programs
Summary

While the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies often supports these decentralized efforts, wildfire policy still assumes that the response is inherently governmental. In order to limit the unintended consequences of bad national policies, conservationists should move more responsibility to the local level.

Wildfires are currently burning in several southeastern states, threatening homes and businesses and resulting in poor air quality and health concerns for citizens. These fires come on the heels of a long, dry summer season that led to large fires in Canada and out west as well as a severe drought in the southeast. Such conditions affect farmers and urban dwellers alike. While dry and burning land destroys crops, smoke from fires also causes or exacerbates respiratory issues like asthma and reduces visibility.

Just like some other natural disasters, wildfires have been increasing in number and intensity. Many factors are to blame, the most obvious being climate change, urban sprawl and migration into more remote, mountainous or forested areas. However, previous wildfire suppression policies are also at fault.

That's right: There are bigger, hotter and more frequent wildfires because of policies that focused on quickly and efficiently suppressing them in the past.

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