For this week’s blog post I listened to Remembering the Yellowstone Fires, a radio segment produced by NPR in 2008; and watched 2 videos – Cohesive Strategy Stakeholder’s Perspectives, produced by the US Forest Service and the WFSTAR training video that recounted the South Canyon Fire Tragedy of 1994. After listening to and viewing all of these programs, I thought a statement made by a Forest Service partner in the Cohesive Strategy segment touched on a central theme apparent in all of them. He said that we as a society must manage the short-term risks to the safety of our communities and firefighters, while we manage the long-term risks presented by wildland fire. The long-term risks, of course, being the damage and death caused by catastrophic “mega-fires” if forests are left untreated.
The story of the Yellowstone Fires represented the short term risks associated with a new fire use policy adopted by the National Park Service in 1972. In 1988, Federal land managers allowed small lightning fires to burn – thus managing them for resource benefit. This allowed fire back into the ecosystem after nearly 100 years of exclusion. They knew that a resilient forest adapted to frequent, low intensity fires would present a lower risk of large, destructive wildfires in the future. Unfortunately, due poor public understanding and slanted media coverage, the risk they took resulted in public outrage and negative impacts to fire management policy for years to come.
The Cohesive Strategy video discussed the FLAME Act of 2009 and the “Cohesive Strategy” policy that focused on short term risks of engaging firefighters and other community members to reduce fuel loading in order to reduce the long term risk of catastrophic wildland fire. As described by a Forest Service partner in the video, the Cohesive Strategy represents a paradigm shift in the way that agencies engage with partners in order to tackle the forest health problems. It allows for transparency and teamwork in land management decision-making in the hopes of preventing public mistrust of forest managers, as seen during the Yellowstone Fires.
The WFSTAR video recounted the tragedy of the South Canyon Fire where 14 firefighters died. The video was a stark reminder of the long-term risk of a continued aggressive fire suppression policy. If land managers are able to develop and implement a fire policy that can bring our forests and wildlands back into a healthy condition, perhaps less lives will be lost while engaging in firefighting activities.
Forest Service. (2018, January 23). Cohesive Strategy Stakeholders Perspectives.[Video file] Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy06f0YZPt8
NPR. Remembering the 1988 Yellowstone Fires. [Audio File] Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94126845.
National Interagency Fire Center. (April 23, 2014). 2014 WFSTAR: Pt 1, 1994 South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain. Retrieved April 10, 2020 from , from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1463&v=PqWa7QhhkMg&feature=emb_logo