Forest Service resumes prescribed fire program, but some fear new rules will delay projects
A wildfire firefighter carries a ladder over a charred tree Tuesday, April 7, 2016, after battling a wildfire near Port Orchard, Wash., which destroyed about 50 homes. The fire has burned more than 900 square miles of remote, rugged terrain. (AP Photo/Jayne Kamin-Oncea)
The U.S. Forest Service is set to begin a re-start of its prescribed fire rule, an attempt to boost firefighting efforts and protect native vegetation, but critics say the move is just a delay and will not prevent the most destructive fires of the year.
The decision comes as a third major U.S. fire on Wednesday threatens the city of New Orleans, while thousands of firefighters are battling two fires spreading across Texas. One has charred more than 200,000 acres and has displaced thousands.
The wildfires, and the number of firefighters engaged in burning fires, have prompted a rethinking of the agency’s role in fighting forest fires.
The number of firefighters fighting fires is now up to 24,700 in Oregon, 3,800 in Washington, 1,700 in California, and 8,700 in Alaska. In Washington, they have already been fighting wildfires bigger than the old-growth Douglas fir forest fire that wiped out the iconic old-growth trees of the Columbia River Gorge.
The proposed rule change would be based on the recommendations of the National Research Council and Environmental Protection Agency. Critics say that the proposal is “a political smokescreen” and could take away firefighting tools, including aerial firefighting equipment, as the agency tries to get its funding slashed to fund other projects. They also charge that the U.S. Forest Service is not giving enough thought to the potential of a new fire season this summer, while the agency’s own data shows that more than 20,000 acres of new forest fires are occurring every year, leading to millions of dollars in damage.
Forest Service officials say they are taking action on the recommendation by the National Research Council and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The National Research Council and the EPA are both valid sources that we use when we evaluate and we’re going to use when we make important decisions about how we put out fires,” Thomas J. Monaghan, the chief of the agency’s fire management