FIRELINE: CONSESUS ON A BURNING ISSUE
The IAWF position on prescribed burning is clearly articulated in this edition of Wildfire magazine, staring on page 8.
• Identify and enhance community co-existence with fire and increase public understanding of the benefits of prescribed burning.
• Identify ecosystems most at risk to large, high-severity wildfire and prioritize those areas for treatment.
Months ago, once the association’s position paper on climate was complete (see Q4 2021), the IAWF board got to work developing a consensus document on applied fire.
Ensuring all voices involved in the paper’s development were heard, all regions’ issues were included, and all the language in the paper was consistent and suitable (bushfires in Australia, wildland fire elsewhere), was quite a feat – one that will serve IAWF members and stakeholders well.
During the development of the position paper, it became clear that the countries in which IAWF members live and work have vastly different policies about prescribed burning, and that some countries’ politics about applied fire are more complex than others.
While there is agreement among IAWF stakeholders about what needs to be done to reduce injuries, death and loss caused by wildfire, achieving the desired outcomes will be challenging regardless of location.
The stories on pages 16 through 38 that explain applied fire policies, programs and challenges in China, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Australia, the United States, and Canada, written by IAWF board members and their research colleagues, describe the political climates, background, and context around prescribed burning – or lack thereof. In some cases, prescribed burns that escaped and resulted in devastation have shaped government policy, and advocates have been unable to change opinions or regulations.
In China (page 16), in 2004 a prescribed fire in the Greater Khinganling Forest went out of control near the city of Heihe due to a sudden weather change. Since then, the central government has been shy about prescribed burning and local governments have set more policies to standardize the control of applied fire.
During the development of the position paper, it became clear that the countries in which IAWF members live and work have vastly different policies about prescribed burning
Yet there are active prescribed burning practices in China’s fire-prone habitat and forest ecosystem, and regulations are detailed, constantly updated, and varied in different wildland regions.
While many countries permit some prescribed burns, or are entering pilot projects, most lack national programs.
Parks Canada, for example, has a clear policy on prescribed burning (page 38), but Canadian provinces and territories differ in their approaches to applied fire on other land.
In Spain, advocates of prescribed burning have almost overcome the decades old “All Against Fire” mantra, but bureaucratic red tape has slowed progress.
Similarly, in Portugal (page 22), prescribed burning has been happening on some level for almost five decades, yet adoption has been slow because of the no-fire culture inherited from Central European forestry.
A pilot project in Chios is expected to be the starting point for prescribed burning in Greece, while in Australia, highfrequency burning is strongly opposed by environmentalists, and programs vary across the country.
In the United States (page 34), where the National Fire Protection Association’s Outthink Wildfire program is gaining traction and President Joe Biden spoke in October at the Summit on Fire Prevention and Control in support of applied fire, interest groups with loud voices and deep pockets challenge prescribed burning and often have the ear of elected representatives.
But there’s momentum, with the US Fire Service proposing a 10-year plan to treat 20 million acres, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act setting out funding for prescribed burning. Still, as writers Ron Steffens and Kelly Martins note, “Landscape prescribed burning will take years to build up dedicated, trained and experienced teams . . . ”
The IAWF clearly states its commitment to prescribed burning: to provide opportunities for research, knowledge, and experience sharing; to take a position on contemporary issues and advocate for prescribed burning policies; to work with Indigenous Peoples to support cultural burning; and to advocate for diversity in global fire management.
As long-time Wildfire columnist Mike DeGrosky so nicely articulates on page 46, the IAWF “has taken an informed position on a contemporary, important and at times controversial issue confronting wildland fire communities around the world, and communicated it globally.”