REDUCING THE RISK OF CATASTROPHIC WILDFIRES
Reintroducing fire to fire-dependent ecosystems, in a safe and responsible manner, is one way to prevent catastrophic wildfires.
Fire is a natural and beneficial part of a healthy ecosystem. Catastrophic wildfires, on the other hand, can endanger fish and wildlife species, compromise air quality, and threaten the safety of Washington’s communities. While only one percent of wildfires become catastrophic, these forest fires are responsible for more than 90% of the total acreage burned. The greatest threat of catastrophic wildfire today is in U.S. National Forests, where years of fire suppression practices in the 20th century has allowed our federally-owned forests to reach dangerous fuel load levels. Because fire ignores ownership boundaries, private forest landowners across the state are collaborating with the local, state, and federal governments to develop programs for increased funding for fire fighting and prevention, as well as to research and adopt best fire management practices.
Record Wildfire Season
Washington experienced another record fire season in 2015 in which 1,005,423 acres have burned in 1,541 fires. Of these, 1,084 were human-caused fires and 457 were lightning-caused. Early fire prevention and suppression to keep fires small is the best way to reduce the damage of these mega-fires.
The destruction from catastrophic wildfire can be prevented by using a variety of fire management tools, allowing fire to return to fire-dependent ecosystems in a safe and responsible manner.
Active Fire Management Tools Can Save Our Forests
Scientific research shows that proactively managing forests can restore ecosystem health and improve habitat quality by using a variety of fire management tools. Selective harvesting, thinning treatments, brush removal, and pruning are practices used by foresters to thin out forests crowded with too many trees, branches, and undergrowth. In areas with an over-accumulation of fuels, a combination of thinning small trees and clearing brush followed by controlled burning can be the most effective method to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. “Prescribed fires” are managed fires used to intentionally clear out heavy vegetation under trees, prepare new seed beds, and dispose of excess wood debris on the forest floor. All of these active fire management tools can make forest fires more manageable and reduce smoke emissions during burning.