We can do better at reducing catastrophic wildfire.

Proactive management can help to curb the dangers of smoke and carbon emissions created by forestland fires.

Forest fires are natural, but catastrophic wildfire shouldn’t be the “new normal.” The forests of Washington state are vital for their essential role in our economy and our environment.

While the natural cycle of fire can be beneficial in keeping fuel levels low in healthy forests, when blazes break out in unhealthy forests, we have all seen the magnitude of unnatural destruction that can occur.

We don’t have to accept catastrophic wildfires as the “new normal.”

Learn some of the important facts about wildfire.

Why are wildfires increasing?

Wildfire is natural — even beneficial — in our forests. We can’t avoid, though, the fact that we’re experiencing more frequent and severe wildfires in Washington and across the West.

As we search for ways to restore balance, it’s important to understand why catastrophic wildfires are becoming the new norm year after year.

We don’t want to lay out the welcome mat for tree-killing pests

Some evidence suggests that well-intentioned but errant decisions to put fires out too soon has led to imbalanced forest environments. The lack of a natural fire cycle can allow invasive tree species to infiltrate a forest and tip it away from a healthy equilibrium. Ultimately, unhealthy trees can become a home to destructive pest infestations — like the bark beetle — that can transform thousands of acres of living forest into dead, dry and standing fuel waiting for the next lightning strike.

Read about bark beetle infestations and wildfire in this report from the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources.

Not all forests are treated equally when it comes to removing excess fuel for fires

We all understand the basic relationship between fire and fuel: more fuel, bigger fire. In wildfires, the fuel is wood, so what is the responsible way to manage fuel stocks, especially in dry forests? How can forward-thinking forest planning help to manage fuel levels and reduce fire hazards? Scientific study has looked at the questions.

Read about work done on fuel treatments in dry forests in this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What does a healthy, fire-resilent forest actually look like?

One element of fire risk is forest health, but do you have a good understanding of what a healthy forest really looks like? Maybe not.

On the way to identifying smart ways to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, we all need to get a better grip on what makes a healthy forest.

A dense and lush forest may appear healthy, but in terms of fire hazard, looks can be deceiving.

The severity of a catastrophic wildfire results from many different factors, one of which can be how much fuel is available for a fire to grow quickly once it ignites. Managing the amount of fuel on the land in ways that benefit overall forest health is something that scientists have spent a great deal time of time studying.

Read about fuel treatments in this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What is the environmental cost of catastrophic wildfire?

After every fire, scientists and other experts attempt to turn some good from a bad situation by studying the effects of wildfire so that we can learn more.

What we know is that although wildfires are part of a natural cycle, a strict ‘hands-off’ approach can allow serious environmental damage to occur in ways that endanger delicate forest ecosystems.

See how much greenhouse gas emissions were produced from wildfires in 2015.

Hydrophobic soil: When fire is fierce enough to cause soil to repel water.

Soil has a very important role in every forest ecosystem, not only as a material in which trees and vegetation grow, but also as a ‘manager’ to smooth out uneven flows of water.

When it rains or when snow melts in the forest, healthy soil absorbs runoff which curtails erosion and prevents high volumes of sediment from clogging streams and lowering water quality.

But after catastrophic fires, the soil can become very unhealthy, waxy, and water-repellent.

Read about hydrophobic soil in this article from the University of Idaho.

Play Video

We should do better.

Here are the four principles for improving forest health.

  1. Fuel reduction — Strategic thinning and clearing away dangerous amounts of dry brush, followed by controlled burns, can drastically improve the health of forestland and reduce the risk of catastrophic fire.
  2. Early suppression — Fires are a part of nature; they can’t and shouldn’t be eliminated, but when the resources are ready and able to attack them quickly they can be reduced in size and severity.
  3. Prevention saves property, habitat and lives — Applying preventive measures on state, private and federally managed land encourages healthy forest conditions that help prevent runaway fires.
  4. Post-fire environmental recovery is key — By getting to work as soon as possible after fires, science tells us that we can retain the economic value of burned timber and do critical work to control soil erosion that can harm water quality, fish habitat, and create increased risk of landslides.

Add Your Name as a Supporter of Managing Lands to Reduce Catastrophic Wildfire