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.

Recent Fire Seasons: Among the Deadliest for Firefighters

While the number of fires was down in 2013, it was the most deadliest for firefighter in 20 years, reports USA Today. In 2012, there was a significant number of forest fires, burning more than 9 million acres of forestland and costing more than $1 billion in economic losses in the United States. Only 2006 and 2007 had more acres burned (9.8 and 9.3 million acres), since good record keeping started in 1960. In 2006, 285,147 acres of forest were burned in Washington State alone, primarily on federal land, resulting in one of the largest forest fire burn years since the 1902 Yacolt Burn. The University of Washington reports that the emissions released in 2006 from forest fires is equivalent to the emissions from 1 million cars.

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. "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. 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. All of these active fire management tools can make forest fires more manageable and reduce smoke emissions during burning.

Controlling Animal Damage to Maintain a Healthy Forest