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Debate on forest fire policy.

Debate on forest fire policy

As forest fires left their mark on over 5 million acres of U.S. land last year, several groups called for a return to the pre-1972 policy of totally suppressing all forest fires in parks and wilderness areas. This worried ecologists who believe naturally lit fires can often benefit an ecosystem. However, judging from testimony before Congress last week, the nation will not revert to total fire suppression in the wilderness.

In their testimony before a joint hearing of the House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands and the Agriculture Subcommittee on Forests, Family Farms and Energy, several different forestry organizations and wilderness groups supported the main tenets of the current national fire program, although they added that the policy needs revision. Some groups also questioned whether park and wilderness area managers have been correctly implementing the "prescribed natural burn" policy. This policy allows managers of wilderness areas and natural parks to permit certain naturally lit fires to burn, as long as those fires do not endanger people, property or natural and cultural features. The policy also authorizes managers to set intentional fires to decrease the risk of uncontrollable future wildfires (SN: 11/12/88, p.316).

In general, the groups supported the findings of an inter-agency Fire Management Review Team that submitted its report late last year. Among its conclusions, the team suggested that agencies reaffirm and strengthen their prescribed natural fire policies. This assessment did not receive good marks from all, however. The National Forest Products Association, a group of forest land owners and forest product manufacturers, criticized the findings of the review team, saying it ignored the limitations imposed by the effort to decrease the federal deficit. A staffer with the National Parks subcommittee said this hearing will affect how Congress decides to allocate money for firefighting efforts in the 1990 budget.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 11, 1989
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