To suppress or not to suppress: Questioning the ponderosa pine model of forest fire management

For more than a century, US citizens have been urged to help suppress and prevent forest fires whenever possible. For the last few years, however, policies of fire suppression have been modified and questioned, as scientists and land managers have struggled to imitate historical fire patterns that may have existed in North America before European settlement. On Wednesday, August 8 a group of ecologists will gather during the ESA Annual Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin to discuss how those fire patterns may have differed in contrasting parts of the continent in a symposium entitled, "Fire suppression impacts in crown fire ecosystems." During the session, scientific evidence regarding fire in many different ecosystems will be considered and reviewed, and assumptions regarding prescribed burns will be questioned.

The session, which has been organized by Edward Johnson from the University of Calgary and Jon Keeley from the US Geological Survey, will examine the different ways fire moves through various ecosystems types. It has been well established, say Johnson and Keeley, that ecosystems dominated by ponderosa pine have a long history of frequent surface fires and infrequent crown fires. The successful suppression of surface fires by humans during the last century has led to a large accumulation of fuel, which has in turn led to an increase in damaging and uncontrollable fires in the crown areas of trees. In order to manage fire risk, land managers have adopted a method of planned or "prescribed" burns, whereby fires are purposefully set in areas where fire has not recently occurred. Ecologists refer to this as the "ponderosa pine model." While there is evidence that this model may be applicable to some open canopy forests, some scientists question the logic of applying it to all ecosystems. Several speakers at this symposium will present evidence regarding the ineffectiveness of using this model on other systems.

Keeley, Paul Zedler from the

Contact: Nadine Lymn
Ecological Society of America

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