Managing Wildfires

November 2, 2012 • Volume 22, Issue 39
Can they be controlled in a warming world?
By Jennifer Weeks

Introduction

Firefighters battle a brushfire in the Meadowlands (Getty Images/Michael Bocchieri)
Firefighters battle a brushfire in the Meadowlands in Carlstadt, N.J., on April 11, 2012. Drought, low humidity and strong winds were blamed for a rash of wildfires throughout the country this year. (Getty Images/Michael Bocchieri)

Record-setting heat and intense drought have made 2012 one of the worst wildfire seasons in a decade of intense fires. Climate change, residential development in fire-prone rural areas and the impact of past firefighting policies have combined to put many areas of the United States at risk, especially in the West. Federal agencies spend more than $2.5 billion yearly to control wildfires, and the cost is rising. Scientists widely agree that fire plays an important ecological role, and federal land managers are working to reintroduce fire in controlled settings to regenerate forests and reduce combustible brush that can cause wildfires to burn out of control. Public officials are under heavy pressure to fight fires that threaten homes, but few are willing to make homeowners bear more of the costs to protect their property. Using fire-resistant building materials and clearing brush around homes can reduce fire risks. Some advocates want to go further and bar new development in fire-prone areas.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Environmental Protection
Dec. 02, 2016  Arctic Development
Apr. 22, 2016  Managing Western Lands
Jul. 18, 2014  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Sep. 20, 2013  Future of the Arctic
Jun. 14, 2013  Climate Change
Nov. 06, 2012  Vanishing Biodiversity
Nov. 02, 2012  Managing Wildfires
Nov. 04, 2011  Managing Public Lands
Aug. 26, 2011  Gulf Coast Restoration
Jul. 2010  Plastic Pollution
Feb. 2010  Climate Change
Jan. 09, 2009  Confronting Warming
Dec. 05, 2008  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Nov. 2008  Carbon Trading
Oct. 03, 2008  Protecting Wetlands
Feb. 29, 2008  Buying Green
Dec. 14, 2007  Future of Recycling
Nov. 30, 2007  Disappearing Species
Feb. 2007  Curbing Climate Change
Dec. 01, 2006  The New Environmentalism
Jan. 27, 2006  Climate Change
Oct. 25, 2002  Bush and the Environment
Oct. 05, 2001  Invasive Species
Nov. 05, 1999  Saving Open Spaces
Jun. 11, 1999  Saving the Rain Forests
May 21, 1999  Setting Environmental Priorities
Mar. 19, 1999  Partisan Politics
Oct. 16, 1998  National Forests
Jun. 19, 1998  Environmental Justice
Aug. 23, 1996  Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes
Mar. 31, 1995  Environmental Movement at 25
Jun. 19, 1992  Lead Poisoning
May 15, 1992  Jobs Vs. Environment
Jan. 17, 1992  Oil Spills
Sep. 20, 1991  Saving the Forests
Apr. 26, 1991  Electromagnetic Fields: Are They Dangerous?
Sep. 08, 1989  Free Market Environmental Protection
Dec. 09, 1988  Setting Environmental Priorities
Jul. 29, 1988  Living with Hazardous Wastes
Dec. 20, 1985  Requiem for Rain Forests?
Aug. 17, 1984  Protecting the Wilderness
Jun. 15, 1984  Troubled Ocean Fisheries
Aug. 19, 1983  America's Disappearing Wetlands
Feb. 22, 1980  Noise Control
Nov. 16, 1979  Closing the Environmental Decade
Oct. 13, 1978  Toxic Substance Control
Feb. 27, 1976  Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits
Nov. 28, 1975  Forest Policy
May 30, 1975  Wilderness Preservation
Dec. 20, 1974  Environmental Policy
Nov. 14, 1973  Strip Mining
Dec. 01, 1971  Global Pollution
Jul. 21, 1971  Protection of the Countryside
Jan. 06, 1971  Pollution Technology
Jun. 19, 1968  Protection of the Environment
Oct. 30, 1963  Noise Suppression
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Forests and Rangelands