“If a wildfire isn’t hurting anyone, let it burn.” This idea has gained supporters, particularly as public recognition grows for the need to restore the natural role of wildfire in forest ecosystems. In protected areas like wilderness and national parks, land managers often follow this principle, allowing naturally ignited fires to burn unless they threaten other values, including air quality and scenic views. Research ecologist Don McKenzie notes that with climate change projections, the annual area burned by wildfire is expected to increase across the western United States and Canada. If that happens, smoke will increase too. With colleagues, McKenzie simulated smoke dispersion patterns and found that regional haze from fires in Washington, Oregon, and California will significantly degrade visibility in national parks and wilderness areas to the east, including Glacier National Park in Montana and the Bob Marshall and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Areas in Montana and Idaho. This will likely have the effect of making it more challenging for land managers to reestablish naturally ignited wildfires as an ecological process.
For more information: How Will Climate Change Affect Air Quality in Parks and Wilderness?