Enough is Enough: Situational Assessment at the Policy Level: Adapting to a New Reality

SITUATIONAL ASSESSMENT AT THE POLICY LEVEL:  ADAPTING TO A NEW REALITY

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By Jerry Williams, former National Fire & Aviation Director, U.S. Forest Service, retired.

Not since the turn of the last century have wildfires been worse in much of the West.  In an era when firefighting budgets cannot seem to keep up, it is incomprehensible and contradictory that wildfires of this magnitude are occurring with such frequency.  However, over the past several years, the onset of drought, the deteriorated condition of many western forests, and a surge of largely unconstrained growth at the wildland-urban interface have converged, resulting in catastrophic, record-setting wildfires.  On a growing number of wildfires, we are past the limits of firefighting effectiveness and beyond the margins of firefighter safety.  We seem to be crossing an important threshold, in terms of “acceptable loss.”

When we look back at many of the more recent highest cost, highest loss wildfires in Montana and elsewhere across the West, several observations deserve our attention:

We are at an important crossroads.  Do we attempt to match increasing wildfire threats with yet greater suppression force or do we take stock, adapt to a changed circumstance, and more comprehensively modify our wildfire protection strategies ?  Some important questions beg an answer:

As much of the West continues to move into a hotter, drier climate cycle, the need intensifies to more urgently adapt regulations, policies, plans, and practices to a changed circumstance and a new reality.  Perhaps it is time to pause and — much like we ask of our firefighters – re-assess the situation before we go much further.  At this point, the consequences of doing what we have always done may be pushing a potentially bad position that is not well accounted.

For PDF click here Jerry Williams Op Ed

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