Preventing Wildfires

November 6, 2020 • Volume 30, Issue 40
Can better forest management solve the problem?
By Barbara Mantel, Brock Hall

Introduction

Western wildfires are becoming larger, hotter and more frequent, and the fire season is lasting longer than ever before. So far this year, more than 2.5 million acres have been scorched across Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Idaho and another 4.2 million acres in California — a record for the state. The largest California wildfire in history is still burning, having consumed more than 1 million acres. Experts say several factors are causing this devastating trend: a warming climate that produces drought conditions and high winds that spread fires rapidly across the land; increased human development near wildlands; and century-old fire-suppression policies that create denser, more-flammable forests. But establishing new fire prevention policies presents a challenge to communities near forests that are struggling to balance safety with population growth. Scarce workers and resources have inhibited efforts to thin forests of flammable debris, brush and saplings. Meanwhile, some conservative politicians, including President Trump, question the scientific consensus on whether climate change is exacerbating the problem.

Photo of a wildfire engulfing a building in Boulder Creek, Calif., in August. (Getty Images/Los Angeles Times/Kent Nishimura)
A wildfire engulfs a building in Boulder Creek, Calif., in August. Wildfires, which have become larger, hotter and more frequent in recent decades, have scorched more than 8.6 million acres in the United States so far this fire season, leading to evacuations, high-risk rescues and millions of dollars' worth of damage. (Getty Images/Los Angeles Times/Kent Nishimura)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Environmental Protection
Nov. 06, 2020  Preventing Wildfires
Jul. 10, 2020  Circular Economy
Nov. 29, 2019  Climate Change and Health
Sep. 20, 2019  Extreme Weather
Dec. 07, 2018  Plastic Pollution
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:
Air Pollution
Climate Change
Congress Actions
Forests and Rangelands
National Parks and Reserves
Natural Disasters
Regional Planning and Urbanization
Regional Planning and Urbanization