Monday, June 6, 2016

Shifting the Paradigm to Managing Fires for Their Natural Role

The Bert Fire, June 2016, near Flagstaff, AZ.  Photos: Jonathan Barrett, Kaitlin Webb and Art Gonzales, Kaibab National Forest. 

The paradigm around managing wildland fire is beginning to shift.  The vision of the Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is to safely and effectively extinguish fire, when needed; use fire where allowable, manage our natural resources; and as a nation, live with wildland fire.  In order to fully realize this vision, stakeholders must acknowledge their risk and be willing to take some risk in the short-term for the longer term benefit of landscape resiliency, fire adapted communities and a safe and effective wildfire response. 

This vision, and its inherent acceptance of risk and willingness to take some risk, has been employed in the Southwest for well past a decade. The Bert Fire is underway now and managers are taking advantage of the right conditions to engage this strategy - protecting what's valuable (the community of Valle 10 miles away, and other cultural and economical assets to the east and north), and managing the lightning-caused fire so it can play its natural role on this landscape.  WITH public support!  

The Bert Fire is at just under 2,000 acres today and firefighters are actively "herding it around" to get the most benefit from it - reducing the encroached juniper and using the low intensity fire to clean up the areas in between.   

Long-term benefits: keeping firefighters safe (by herding the fire around instead of using direct suppression tactics), improving the health and resiliency of this landscape, creating resilient landscapes near communities for their future protection as well as creating fuel breaks for adjacent lands, and improving wildlife habitat. Let's also not forget that this level of response (a local Type 3 Incident Management Team rather than a more expensive Type 2 or Type 1 Team) keeps costs down and positively contributes to the overall bottom line of yearly suppression costs. 

Short-term risk: All of this while it's going to reach 90 degrees today with very low humidity.  Bert Fire managers carefully assess these conditions all day and night, to be sure that mitigation activities, such as strong containment lines to the north and east, are in place.  But it's not just fire managers who are taking the risk. The public continues to be supportive of these activities, and the subsequent smoke in the air, knowing that the long-term gains above are worth a little smoke now. 

I will continue to monitor the status of the Bert Fire because what I'm hoping to report is that this fire allowed the Kaibab National Forest to create XX,XXX acres of resilient landscape, protect nearby communities, keep firefighters safe and improve wildlife habitat. (I'm hoping that the general media will pick it up as a success story as well, instead of the more typical negative headlines we see when fires spread across thousands of acres. As we see with the Bert Fire, this is not always devastating, but quite beneficial).  

And very Cohesive Strategy.  :)

Check out progress of all large fires nationally (and how they're being managed) at

6/7/16 addition:  The folks on the Kaibab National Forest forwarded this link to another successful managed fire that had great public support.  Link here

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