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Living with Fire: Fire Ecology and Policy for the Twenty-first Century

Sara E. Jensen
Guy R. McPherson
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp201
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  • Book Info
    Living with Fire
    Book Description:

    Fire, both inevitable and ubiquitous, plays a crucial role in North American ecosystems. But as necessary as fire is to maintaining healthy ecosystems, it threatens human lives and livelihoods in unacceptable ways. This volume explores the rich yet largely uncharted terrain at the intersection of fire policy, fire science, and fire management in order to find better ways of addressing this pressing dilemma. Written in clear language, it will help scientists, policy makers, and the general public, especially residents of fire-prone areas, better understand where we are today in regard to coping with wildfires, how we got here, and where we need to go. Drawing on abundant historical and analytic information to shed new light on current controversies,Living with Fireoffers a dynamic new paradigm for coping with fire that recognizes its critical environmental role. The book also tells how we can rebuild the important ecological and political processes that are necessary for finding better ways to cope with fire and with other complex policy dilemmas.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94251-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Uncertainty and Change
    (pp. 1-8)

    We live in a time characterized by rapid, comprehensive, and often overwhelming change. Social, cultural, legal, and physical landscapes are changing. Ecosystems, economies, and even the climate are shifting in unimaginably vast and complex ways. In such a world we, the authors, have noticed a marked tendency among human societies to deal counterproductively with these changes, to fail to cope with the uncertainty and variability that are inherent to our modern lives. This cannot be surprising, but we hope it is not inevitable.

    Near the end of the twentieth century, the futurist Alvin Toffler described some of the causes of...

  6. ONE Wildland Fire in the West: The Big Picture
    (pp. 9-34)

    Scientific understanding of wildland fire has grown exponentially during the past few decades. Fire ecology has developed into a viable field of study. Scientists and land managers increasingly recognize the complexity and uncertainty involved in fire management, and alternatives to fire suppression have gained popularity. Today we can identify three major methods for managing fire: First, we can suppress it directly, to the best of our ability. This is the method that has predominated since the mid-twentieth century. We also can manage it indirectly, by physically removing the fuels necessary for fires to ignite and spread. Physical fuel reduction is...

  7. TWO Fanning the Flames: Human Influences on Fire Regimes
    (pp. 35-60)

    Ask residents of the fire-prone American West where wildland fires come from, and you will hear the same answer again and again: one hundred years of fire suppression. This one factor virtually dominates the national debate over changing fire regimes, to the extent that many people consider the debate resolved. The general consensus is that fires are becoming bigger, more frequent, and more severe, and that federal agencies created this situation with their all-encompassing policy of aggressive fire suppression. According to this argument, fire suppression interrupted natural fire cycles, which has led to heavy accumulations of fuels in many forests....

  8. THREE The Failed State of Fire Suppression
    (pp. 61-74)

    In a compelling and insightful essay on collaborative management, the environmental law scholar Bradley Karkkainen offers three propositions about ecosystems that, he says, “I hope are uncontroversial.” The first states that “ecosystems are complex dynamic systems.” We aimed in the first two chapters of this book to show that this certainly holds true in the case of fire regimes, and that, as Karkkainen continues, they are “composed of many mutually interdependent parts operating in dynamic, co-evolutionary trajectories.” The functions of such a system are inevitably difficult to analyze or predict.

    A second proposition by Karkkainen is that most ecosystems have...

  9. FOUR Logging the Forests to Save Them
    (pp. 75-102)

    In the summer of 2002, conditions along the Colorado Front Range of the Rocky Mountains were ripe for a major fire. Unusually dry weather conditions had persisted in the area since 1998. In the winter of 2001–2002, a La Niña pattern in the eastern Pacific worsened the already low levels of precipitation and humidity. Dead fuels in particular were extremely dry, with some below 5 percent moisture content. After some brief, weak rains the first week of June 2002, the Front Range began to experience a weather phenomenon known as “summer blocking”: the normal summer circulation patterns were interrupted...

  10. FIVE Tools for Living with Fire
    (pp. 103-118)

    In 2005 the fire suppression bill for the five federal land-management agencies—the USDA Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs—totaled $875 million. Federal and state agencies conducted prescribed burns on 2,310,346 acres and allowed several hundred lightning-ignited wildland fires to burn another 489,186 acres. Wildland fires burned a total of 8,686,753 acres across the nation that year. The obvious goal of this massive effort was to prevent large, destructive wildfires, the kinds of fires that eat up timber, blacken scenic vistas, and...

  11. SIX Policy Solutions
    (pp. 119-136)

    In the policy arena, wildland fire is often depicted as a political problem, a conflict between ideologies or competing land uses. Agency officials accuse environmental activists of blocking what they see as urgently necessary thinning projects. Environmental activists accuse agencies of undermining environmental policies under the guise of fire prevention. Residents of the wildland-urban interface blame either or both, or they point to irresponsible logging and grazing practices. Urban residents wonder why exurban dwellers are still building wood homes in fire-prone forests. Recreationists get angry when fire restrictions interfere with their enjoyment of public lands. Logging companies see fire use...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 137-168)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 169-180)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-182)