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Fire Management in the American West

Fire Management in the American West: Forest Politics and the Rise of Megafires

Mark Hudson
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 214
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  • Book Info
    Fire Management in the American West
    Book Description:

    Most journalists and academics attribute the rise of wildfires in the western United States to the USDA Forest Service's successful fire-elimination policies of the twentieth century. However, in Fire Management in the American West, Mark Hudson argues that although a century of suppression did indeed increase the hazard of wildfire, the responsibility does not lie with the USFS alone. The roots are found in the Forest Service's relationships with other, more powerful elements of society--the timber industry in particular.   Drawing on correspondence both between and within the Forest Service and the major timber industry associations, newspaper articles, articles from industry outlets, and policy documents from the late 1800s through the present, Hudson shows how the US forest industry, under the constraint of profitability, pushed the USFS away from private industry regulation and toward fire exclusion, eventually changing national forest policy into little more than fire policy.   More recently, the USFS has attempted to move beyond the policy of complete fire suppression. Interviews with public land managers in the Pacific Northwest shed light on the sources of the agency's struggles as it attempts to change the way we understand and relate to fire in the West.   Fire Management in the American West will be of great interest to environmentalists, sociologists, fire managers, scientists, and academics and students in environmental history and forestry.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-089-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Humans have a tortured relationship with fire. We are, in the terminology of relationship pathologies, “control freaks.” We love fire if we feel we are in charge of it. Appropriately placed within the confines of the hearth, fire provides warmth and a sense of comfort, a shield both material and psychological against the encroachment of darkness. Fire in the right place and of the right scale is considered an indicator of progress, a seed of human civilization. When a small pile of sticks is set ablaze outdoors within the confines of a ring of stones, most of us are drawn...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Social Dimensions of Wildfire
    (pp. 13-40)

    On December 11, 1987, during its forty-second session, the United Nations—taking a controversial stance in opposition to earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and other “calamities of natural origin”—declared the 1990s to be the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Included in the long list of natural disasters to be “reduced” by the international community over the course of the decade, along with plagues of locusts and floods, was wildfire. But is wildfire really a “natural disaster?”

    We might do well to question both the adjective and the noun in this characterization of wildfire. Regarding the noun, the social content is...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Forester-Kings? Fire Suppression and the State
    (pp. 41-64)

    As Americans, and westerners in particular, started to hear about the “forest health crisis” and fires began to take on more spectacular proportions, a dominant narrative emerged to explain how it all went wrong. The specific mix of culprits responsible for the increasingly unmanageable behavior of wildland fire varies and in some cases is hotly argued. Two hundred years of fossil fuel combustion and the associated carbon dioxide emissions resulting in climate change must take some of the blame. Climate, however, reacts with an altered landscape to produce current fire patterns. Primary responsibility for the production of that landscape, and...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Managing in the Wake of the Ax
    (pp. 65-110)

    To address the unanswered questions posed at the end of Chapter 3 (namely, why was the Forest Service seemingly able to unilaterally and autonomously set fire policy, and why did it massage scientific research to support a policy of full suppression), we need to look at the political-economic context in which the USFS, and forestry¹ more generally, was expected to operate in the United States.

    This inquiry is connected to yet another unanswered question within the dominant narrative of fire. While there is a great and, given its history of reductionism, fairly reasonable vilification of scientific management as the paradigmatic...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Out of the Frying Pan: Catastrophic Fire as a “Crisis of Crisis Management”
    (pp. 111-126)

    The thirty-three-year struggle for federal regulation, which began in 1919 with Forest Service employees and allied conservationists working through the Society of American Foresters (SAF) under Gifford Pinchot’s leadership, ended in defeat. The USFS leadership’s role had swung from one side of the issue to the other, eventually letting the struggle drop. Pinchot, Henry Graves, and William Greeley—in particular the latter—had been pivotal in entrenching the principle of cooperation, through which they hoped to induce private owners to adopt practices of sound forestry as they understood it. Pinchot was the first to abandon this hope, and he did...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Weight of Past Weakness: Prospects for Ecological Modernization in Fire Management
    (pp. 127-148)

    The idea that the state in a capitalist society or world system can be a contributor to a process of “greening” has been held out as one institutional plank in the larger fields comprised by ecological modernization theory (EMT) and as a pivot in the discourse of sustainable development. EMT advances the proposition that, in the era of ecological modernization, radical environmental change is independent of radical social change. Arthur Mol and Gert Spaargaren suggest that “within principally the same modern institutional layout (a market economy, an industrial system, modern science and technology, a system of welfare states, etc.) we...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion: The Chronic Parolee
    (pp. 149-158)

    The landscape and ecology of the western United States, no less than smoke and ash, are products of fire. Humans have busily applied the torch and just as busily mobilized an arsenal of extinguishers. Our application and withdrawal of fire have been powerful elements in labor’s transformation of nature, and our choices about whether to burn or to douse have been shaped by the imperatives of production. Over the last century, the pattern of fire has been a rebellious reflection of the drive to profitably exploit forests—for timber, yes, but, more important, for profit. Fire—a complex process with...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 159-186)
  13. References
    (pp. 187-206)
  14. Index
    (pp. 207-214)