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Learning from wilderness: The social dimension of fire management

Posted date: December 04, 2009
Publication Year: 
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: International Journal of Wilderness. 15(1): 34-36.


In 2008, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) began piloting a "new" concept in fire management: managing "fire as fire" on the landscape; no more black-and-white distinctions between "good" fire and "bad" fire. Instead, under the new direction, the USFS manages the fire based on what the land, the long-term objectives, the land management plan, the social-political situation, and the weather suggest. For example, the USFS staff may attack a flank of the fire that has a high probability of moving aggressively into a housing subdivision, but may only monitor the flank of a fire moving through public lands (wilderness or nonwilderness) that are ecologically in need of a fire. Interestingly, this intuitively straightforward way to manage fire represents a profound shift in organizational structure and culture, with implications for how to receive and allocate budgets that manage natural ignitions, how to coordinate and communicate with internal and external partners, how to understand and predict fire behavior, and how to weigh competing priorities and objectives in the decision-making process. Success hinges on the ability of a manager to safely, effectively, and efficiently manage a dynamic, high-stakes fire situation. The shift takes the fire manager out of the safe terrain of heroic figure doing battle with nature's forces to the trickier territory of shepherding a complex system.


Black, Anne E. 2009. Learning from wilderness: The social dimension of fire management. International Journal of Wilderness. 15(1): 34-36.
National Strategic Program Areas: 
Outdoor Recreation; Wildland Fire and Fuels