My Google news home page has a “Forest Service” section, which captures any article that has that phrase in it. Usually the article is about the U.S. Forest Service but it will also grab items about state or other national forest services too. Consequently, nearly every day there is a news item about fire somewhere in the world. Sometimes it’s about a wildfire currently burning or the aftermath of one; other times it’s about the progress of a prescribed burn or a notification that one is about to be getting underway. It makes fire seem ever-present.
With all that news about fire, one might ask if America has a fire problem. In his new book, America’s Fires: A Historical Context for Policy and Practice, Stephen Pyne says that America doesn’t have a fire problem — it has many fire problems. How this came to pass is examined in this newly revised and updated version of his classic work on the subject.
The policy of fire exclusion through most of the 20th century seemed successful at first but eventually led to larger, more intense, and damaging fires. By the mid-1970s, federal agencies had pulled back from the fire suppression model and embraced a mix of fire practices, including forms of prescribed burning and let-burn policies. The 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park placed fire issues (also discussed in a recent issue of Forest History Today) before the public in unprecedented ways, advertising the ecological significance of free-burning fire and the dilemmas of trying to manage it. Further complicating the fire scene is an increasing population, a growing wildland-urban interface, drought, invasive species, global climate change, and an incomplete institutional arrangement for managing the variety of fires that exist.
In this latest Issues Series book, Steve Pyne — the world’s foremost fire historian — reviews the historical context of American fire issues and policies that can inform the current and future debate. The resulting analysis shows why it is imperative that the nation review its policies toward wildland fires and finds ways to live with them more intelligently. Want to know more? Buy the book — don’t wait for the movie!