Understanding Forest Ecology: Fire, Water, and Bark Beetles
For more than a century, the U.S. Forest Service has worked to prevent and suppress wildfires. In recent decades, however, we have learned that fire plays a beneficial role in maintaining the ecological stability of many landscapes. (Watch Video)
Healthy, thriving ecosystems are less vulnerable to extreme wildfires that can devastate watersheds, destroy wildlife habitat, and risk lives. Healthy ecosystems can adapt to climate change, invasive species, and insect infestations. Unfortunately, keeping fire out of wildlands has left forests and grasslands crowded with flammable vegetation. Climate change has made fire seasons longer and droughts and insect infestations worse. Whole landscapes are now vulnerable to devastating, extreme wildfires.
The U.S. Forest Service is working with partners to restore healthy, resilient, fire-adapted ecosystems. Restoring ecosystems includes thinning crowded forests and using prescribed fire on two to three million acres each year, which can help prevent the buildup of flammable vegetation that feeds extreme wildfires. Assessments of more than 1,400 fuel treatments since 2006 have shown that they are effective in reducing both the cost and damage from wildfires. In certain locations, when conditions are right, we will even manage naturally caused wildfires to perform their natural role in controlling fuel buildup, rejuvenating vegetation, and restoring ecosystems that benefit from fire.
Thinning, prescribed fires, and managing naturally caused wildfires to achieve natural resource management objectives can help prevent extreme wildfires with minimal impacts to air quality while smoke from extreme wildfires may pose significant risks to public health and safety.