The U.S. Forest Service is resuming its practice of deliberately setting fires to clear bushes and small trees from woodlands across the country after a three-month hiatus to assess the risks of uncontrolled wildfires in increasingly harsh climates, the agency said on Thursday.
The prescribed fire-fighting program was suspended in late May in the midst of a devastating federal government-instigated wildfire near Las Vegas, New Mexico that engulfed more than 500 square miles (700 square kilometers) in outlying communities in the South. from the Rocky Mountains.
Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said the prescribed burns would require new safety measures, such as a same-day permit, to keep up with changing weather and ground conditions.
He said the Forest Service will adopt a mandatory tactic based on a thorough analysis and public consultation process that includes a more robust scientific analysis of the burning plans and a final on-site assessment of the possibility of human error due to fatigue or inexperience. .
Fire permits and other communications will be standardized to avoid errors, amid efforts to learn from the small proportion of prescribed fires that elude control.
“This is our due diligence and I can’t overstate it,” Moore said of the new precautions and tactics. “Every time one of these fires happens, like in New Mexico, you know, we lose credibility and credibility in the communities we serve, and so we have to do the right thing.”
Moore said the agency will not give up on deliberate arson, which he sees as an important tool in reducing the buildup of combustible materials on forest floors and grasslands.
“Our climate is changing and we have the science to back it up,” Moore said. “We need to quadruple the amount of work we do. We really feel that if we want to change this landscape between thinning the forest and prescribed burning, we really need to increase it. And we need to do it in a safe way that really inspires public trust.”
By the end of the year, the agency also wants to expand training not only for Forest Service employees, but also for members of the local community who can be certified to be directly involved in fighting wildfires.
To increase accountability, Moore said he would soon appoint a specific member of the Forest Service at the national level to oversee the implementation of the new requirements and prescribed burning tactics.
Many non-federal forestry experts say mandated burns should be accompanied by better controls and new scientific tools to model fire behavior.
Owen Burney, director of the John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center at New Mexico State University, said the Forest Service can increase the credibility of prescribed burns with independent oversight from outside, not just Forest Service administrators.
“I don’t think the Forest Service should be self-serving,” Harrington said. “What they need is outside consultants.”
Expected changes to the prescribed burning program will also focus on economic development and the possible introduction of new composite building materials made from small diameter trees and wood particles, products that can stimulate better forest management and create local jobs.
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