Catastrophic wildfire destruction has reached record proportions in Washington State even as fires spread into Oregon and California with many being ignited by lightning. Anyone claiming that the real cause for increases in Western and global catastrophic forest and grassland fires is primarily caused by drought, lightning, global warming, arson, terrorists or carelessness, is either grossly uninformed or flat out lying.
Global fire ecology research the past 60 years has now proven that light fire in temperate ecosystems and catastrophic fire in boreal ecosystems, is a natural rejuvenating process. So there I said it, Smokey the Bear lied when he has claimed for decades that fire is bad for the forest and that all forest fires should be prevented.
Yes Smokey has changed his message slightly under pressure from fire ecologists to, Only You Can Prevent Wildfire but he is still a long ways from saying, Only You Can Use Fire wisely. In fact in some areas such as below Tallahassee Florida in Crawfordville Florida, Smokey still stands by the side of the road with the sign Prevent Forest Fires! The sad fact is that Smokey, the United States Forest Service, BLM and Park Service leaders are still reluctant to control burn on a large scale using prescribed fire to simulate natural fires in light fire ecosystems.
Adding insult to injury, the situation has been made even worse because of this entrenched culture of fire exclusion still in the public mind from years of Smokey the Bear propaganda. Environmental lawsuits and EPA smoke regulators are hindering small timid attempts to use prescribed fire by a weak, grossly underfunded and under manned, emerging fire management culture.
For instance, the Giant Sequoia are being endangered by environmental lawsuits stopping prescribed fire and thinning needed to get these ecosystems back to a more natural state and to protect them from catastrophic fire. The public is so dumbed down by decades of stupid Smokey the Bear fire exclusion policy, that when the land management agencies realized that they needed to use prescribed fire to protect the Spotted Owl, the environmentalists themselves stopped them and the whole ecosystem burned to the ground destroying the Spotted Owl habitat In regards to the EPA, sure prescribed fire smoke is going to affect people with asthma but what about the huge amount of smoke caused by catastrophic fire and lack of prescribed fire? What about the combined loss of global light fire ecosystems and the destruction in lives and property by the inevitable catastrophic fire?
In addition, when these government agencies have used prescribed fire or allowed lightning caused fires to burn as in Yellowstone and Los Alamos, the fires have gotten out of control. Incompetence and negligence have put even more public pressure on agencies not to use prescribed fire to save our endangered light fire ecosystems and protect lives and property from catastrophic fire.
What is most unnatural and ecologically disastrous is to suppress and exclude catastrophic fire in boreal ecosystems as in Alaska, Northern Canada and Siberia ecosystems. In these artic regions excluding catastrophic fire causes these ecosystems to degrade along with the plant and animals dependent on these ecosystems like willow, moose, bear and wolves. Even worse, is to exclude light fire ecosystem friendly fires in moderate climates. This turns them into either into catastrophic fire systems in arid regions or into low fire ecosystems in wetter regions causing an appalling lack of biodiversity and many endangered species like the Red Cockaded Woodpecker.
What has been most devastated by European inspired fire exclusion and failed policies of fire suppression globally, is the legacy of billions of acres of light fire native managed ecosystems with a park like appearance built by native peoples using fire wisely before European colonization. What most people don't realize is that when the native peoples of the world were devastated by disease and war, their diverse light fire ecosystem legacy to future generations were these light fire ecosystems they had built over tens maybe hundreds of thousands of years. So the real cause of the conflagrations destroying lives and property and ecosystems globally is a failure by government and private land management agencies to learn from native peoples how to use fire wisely, creating more, rather than less biodiversity in nature.
To learn more about the importance of fire in nature, my book Fire in Nature, A Fire Activists Guide is free on its website. If you read this important new cutting edge book you will learn more than you ever wanted to learn about the importance of fire in nature. :-) In the Western United States and Australia the book might even save you and your home from catastrophic wildfire, as you and your neighborhood learn to mitigate the danger from catastrophic wildfire.