How the Smokey Bear Effect Led to Raging Wildfires

Christopher Joyce

Do good intentions always work out for the best? In the case of forestry approaches in southwestern U.S., Christopher Joyce argues that the answer is an unfortunate “No.” This first of a 5-part series on the challenges of mega-fires in the American southwest reveals how the focus on entirely eliminating forest fires has actually created greater harm due to excess build-up of fuel over time. This in turn has led to much less manageable mega-fires. With the absence of fires for over a century in many parts of the region, it has become increasingly more difficult to manage controlled burns. In the case of this recent New York Times article, some even question the efficacy of eliminating regular forest fires. Many homes continue to be built in close proximity to affected forests, further complicating matters. Consequently, even controlled burns increase safety risks for those nearby. Though the matter of forest-fire regulation may be difficult to navigate going forward, this situation does raise the question of whether we can remove risks of natural disasters in certain areas, or if we should alternatively focus on learning to adapt more strategically to these periodic phenomena.

Source: NPR

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