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Exploring Wildland Fire

Bureau of Land Management
Environmental Education Electronic Field Trip

November 7, 2002




Why Study Wildland Fire?

This year (2002) has seen serious large wildland fires throughout the United States. A
One of many large fires that burned in the West during 2002
Fire is a powerful force of nature. In 2002, wildland fires burned millions of acres of the western U.S.
very dry spring and summer combined with massive fuels buildup in many areas created unusually large fires in many places. Although the number of wildland fires is actually lower than average this year, nearly 7 million acres have been burned—an area about the size of the State of Maryland. These fires have occurred mostly in the western United States. As a result, the 2002 fire season now ranks as the second largest in the past 50 years.

Many people were affected by the 2002 fires. In fact, over the past several years, many people have lost their homes to wildland fires. And too many firefighters have lost their lives. In recent years, we have come to recognize that fire is part of a balanced wildland environment. But as more people move into wildland areas—particularly as the population of western states continues to grow—the challenges of dealing with fire become more complex.

Fires are part of the natural process and will continue to burn, but people's homes can be made safer. Learning about FireWise protection measures is just one reason for participating in this broadcast. You and your students will also learn more about the role of fire in nature and find out about some plant and animal species that actually depend on fire to survive. You'll be able to see firsthand some of the consequences of excluding fire from areas that depend on it. When fires don't burn where they are needed, fuels in the form of dead trees and brush tend to build up. The result is often a catastrophic fire, such as the one that affected a large area of Arizona in 2002. You'll visit the site of the Rodeo-Chesdiski fire, where nearly 500,000 acres burned.

Preventing catastrophic fires is the main goal of fuel reduction efforts. There are several ways by which fire specialists reduce the amount of fuels in a particular area. Prescribed fire, a fire intentionally set by professionals, is one tool. Mechanical methods include cutting down trees and removing brush. Biological means are also used, including the employment of goats, sheep, and other grazing animals, as well as insects. Scientists continue to study which methods work best in which situations.

This is just one of many complex issues that the broadcast will address. Students will definitely come to realize why fire management is a very complex task with few clear-cut answers. They will gain a clearer view of the risks and benefits involved in some of the difficult choices that must be made. And in the next few years, as they become active participants in the decision-making process, students will be better able to make informed choices.

Last updated: 10-23-2009