Ideologies surrounding forest management and the protection of our western forests from fire continues to shift. These ideologies have shift fire policy many times in the last 140 years. In 1908, the Forest Fire Emergency Act was passed which gave emergency funding to Forest Service official to finance fire suppression. In 1910, A wildfire called “the big blowup” took place in the Bitterroot mountains which consumed 3 million acres in just a few days. This led to chief Henry Graves proclaiming that fire protection was 90 % of American Forestry. With concern about forest management and wild land fires, the Weeks act of 1911 was passed which enabled cost sharing among states, private land, and the Forest Service to fund wildfire protection. At this time, the Forest Service was convinced that if they had enough resources and people to fight fire, they could have prevented the fire of 1910. People at the time believed they could defeat fire.
Fire philosophy of the time was against using fire as a management tool of any kind. Fire exclusion and suppression was key to ensuring forest productivity and health. Wildfires continued to burn that gave way to policies such as Clarke-McNary Act of 1922 the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, the 10 am policy of 1935 (all fires to be suppressed by 10 am the following day), and the passage of laws which tripled the fire prevention authorization in 1944. After World War II, there was another increase in firefighting capital for fire suppression along with the addition of army surplus machinery like airplanes to assist in suppression efforts. Fire suppression was at its peak by 1960.
Until the 1960’s, fire philosophy of the time was against using fire as a management tool of any kind; this was evidenced by the thoughts and opinions of Chief Greeley in 1920. Greeley believed in to keeping fire out of the woods by making the forest as fireproof as possible. This was accomplished by reducing the number of man-caused fires by detecting small fires quickly with the use of patrols and lookout stations; the goal was to put fires out by using a systematic organization approach. Greeley believed that Ground burning gradually wipes out mature timber and effectively cleans them of young tree growth.
In 1963, the Leopold Report took place. This report identified the removal of fire as a problem as proposed fire restoration as a solution; this solution involved prescribed fire. Soon after the Leopold Report, the National Park Service overhauled their fire policy to allow certain natural fires to burn and started using prescribed fire as a management tool. Since 1963, prescribed fire has become a more socially accepted management tool and has been adopted by the Forest Service in the dry western pine forests. Recent science has shown that ponderosa pine forests evolved and depend on reoccurring fire. As a sapling, ponderosa pine develops a protective outer corky bark; this attribute allows saplings to survive very light-intensity surface fires. Mature ponderosa pine trees have thick, exfoliating bark characteristics that allow the species to reduce heating sensitive areas such as the cambial cells. The open structure of the ponderosa pine forest (Which reoccurring fire creates) also decreases the aerial continuity of fuels, which decreases fire-spread through tree crowns during extreme fire conditions. These western dry forest needs fire for the regeneration of species like the ponderosa pine. This ideology is vastly different from Greeley’s opinion and the best available science of 100 years ago.