Policy Brief: Looking at Prescribed Fire through a Smokescreen


Our policy brief analyzes the current federal policy and regulations surrounding smoke emissions from prescribed fire that limit land manager’s capacity to conduct this management tool. History of our nation’s management of public lands show that decades of fire suppression has created an era of mega fires that produces vast amounts of smoke that not only affects nearby communities, but threatens greater areas with lasting health effects. This policy brief provides recommendations and alternatives to amending the policy and regulations around smoke management and emission standards set by federal government.

Fast Facts

  • Wildfire suppression spending is billions of dollars higher than spending on prescribed fire treatments annually
  • Smoke from wildfire and prescribed burns perceived differently in public’s eyes, “intentional versus natural”
  • Smoke from large wildfire events produce larger amounts of fine particulate matter than prescribed fire smoke
  • This fine particulate matter (PM-2.5) is correlated with severe respiratory health effects that creates billions of dollars in health care costs annually


  • Reallocate funding and budgets away from wildfire suppression to facilitate prescribed burning
  • Amend the Clean Air Act to ease regulations regarding the allotted smoke emission from prescribed burns
  • Reclassify smoke from prescribed fire away from wildfire smoke
  • Increase agency ability to conduct prescribed burns through increase incentive of resource sharing amongst agencies

Final Draft of Policy Brief:



Week 2 Blog!

This week’s blog post focuses on the cost of wildland fire suppression and the numerous issues that arise that constantly change the amount of money poured into this pit. The paper titled “Getting Burned: A Taxpayers Guide to Wildfire Suppression Costs” by Timothy Inglesbee highlights the numerous facets of federal wildfire suppression and the costs involved, as well as reasons explaining the current predicament. The Forest Service has exceeded its allocated budget for the past two decades and this trend is not projected to stop anytime soon as scientists and researchers forecast longer, hotter fire seasons.

The frequency of large wildfires is increasing which in turn increases the money poured into the respective suppression costs. These large fires account for over 90% of the annual fire suppression costs! However the large wildfires are not the only aspects to blame. Operational, socioenvironmental, and institutional factors have all been noted as contributing to the soaring wildfire suppression costs over the past decade. The increasing expansion of human development in wildland areas, coined as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), is one of the biggest concerns moving forward as private property protection is a large source of increased costs over the years. Coinciding with built up fuel loads, this is a major concern moving forward in regards to wildfire suppression.

The culture of aggressive fire suppression that started in the early 20th century has facilitated institutional factors present today that lead to costs rising in suppression. Inglesbee states that the “open checkbook” concept with money for suppression is always cited as an issue with managers that facilitates freedom to spend money with little incentive to contain costs and focus on cheaper solutions that are proactive rather than reactive. Inglesbee also writes that private contractors are becoming the main workforce in fire suppression, which is usually more expensive than federal crews and resources.

This paper was an eye opening read that really gave me some insight into what the critics are saying about wildfire suppression mentalities and costs involved in the federal agencies. It is clear that there can be large sums of money that can be saved, but there is also a drawback in local economies and beyond. I found it interesting that there could be motive behind federal land managers to provide reactive management of wildfires versus proactive management like prescribed burning and restoration activities on the landscape that could help mitigate wildfire risk moving forward. As a young naive natural resource professional about to work for the Forest Service, I feel as if I would want to perform these proactive practices to our landscape for overall forest and ecosystem health, but maybe as my time with the agency increases, I will be swayed to these reactive practices. The more I learn about these issues and perspectives surrounding wildfire management on public lands, the deeper I want to think about potential alternatives, plans, motives, and systematic faults that will continue to be present and if the new younger workforce will change.


“The Formative Years of Wildfire Policy” – Week 1

The history of natural resource management in the United States has a long story that involves learning from mistakes, new ecological perspectives, and changes in how our nation’s public land should managed for longevity in the eyes of fire.

Fire has always played a role in the evolution of humans ranging from land clearing for agriculture to fuel for cooking. It was only in the late 19th century that we realized that something had to be done regarding management of our nation’s natural resources, and to protect these resources from threats such as wildfire. Early legislation like the Forest Reserve Act (1891) and the Organic Act (1897) were the first steps in advancing the need for resource management and protecting our lands by suppressing wildfires. Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot soon followed with some of the most important acts that really set precedence for contemporary fire management by forming the Forest Service with Pinchot as its first chief. They renamed the forest reserves as National Forests, and set out to fight the wildfires that posed the greatest “threat” to our nation’s public forests.

In the 1920s, the Chief of the Forest Service Henry Graves described American forestry as 80+% fire management and suppression. When thinking of this critically now knowing everything I do about contemporary forest management, I would say some people could say this is still how federal forest management is. However the role of private forestry around the country has increased in production greatly since the 1920s, so if I were to throw out a current percentage of American forestry that is dedicated to fire suppression, I would say around 50%. As our climate warms further and the severity and length of our fire seasons increase, this percentage could be back near 80% in the next 25 years. This may be a “hot take” but it is interesting how things come full circle in this way of forest management.

There are a wide variety of different views on the role of fire in the western forested landscape. As myself and many other natural resource professionals essentially agree, it is important for the health of our ecosystems to reintroduce fire on the landscape in some way. Proper forest management can minimize the way these contemporary mega fires occur, and we can manipulate and use these management tools to promote a resilient sustainable landscape that can be enjoyed for future generations. I say this with public lands in mind as private forestry actively manages their timber lands which greatly minimizes the risk of wildfire. I believe it is up to natural resource professionals to “change the narrative” to the public on what wildfire means to the landscape. Education, outreach, and collaboration are all ways to facilitate policy changes that can assist in restoring resilient forested ecosystems in the western US.


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