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Don’t blame national forests for America’s massive wildfires

Popular Science: “In July 2021, lightning struck a tree on a rocky ridge deep in a national forest in California near the Nevada border. The US Forest Service decided that it was too risky to tackle at that spot, and that scarce firefighters would be more useful on other blazes—36 burned through California that month. Twelve days later, winds pushed the fire downhill, where it ended up burning 14 homes. The Forest Service sent firefighters, helicopters, and tanker planes to what became known as the Tamarack Fire on the day the winds changed, but local politicians blamed the agency for “allow[ing] this wildfire to burn in lieu of immediate full suppression” and called for more aggressive tactics. National forests often get the blame for wildfire conditions in the West, says Christopher Dunn, a fire ecologist at Oregon State University. But more importantly, the Tamarack Fire isn’t representative of the fires that threaten most Westerners. According to recent research co-authored by Dunn, and published in the journal Scientific Reports, fires beginning in national forests are “a rare occasion. Instead, “those ignitions are more likely to come off private land and move into national forest or into communities,” Dunn explains. That finding could have profound implications for how the US develops national policies to manage fire—beginning with a 10-year wildfire crisis strategy released by the Forest Service last fall. “It might make sense to do work in the forest to protect the forest, but if our goal is to protect communities, we have to do this work right around home,” says Courtney Schultz, the director of the Public Lands Policy Group at Colorado State University, who was not involved in the research…”

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