Fire's Many Public Faces

So what's your reaction to "Living with Fire"? Has it changed what you think about wildland fire?

There are as many points of view as there are personal experiences. The comments presented here are based on what real people told researchers in a 1994 study of attitudes toward fire in the Bitterroot Valley.

For people whose jobs depend on the timber industry, the forest is a crop that must be protected. Fire wastes trees.

Many people who live in wildland areas moved there because of the views and recreational values. So smoke and dead stumps don't really sit right.

But after a few seasons of seeing what happens to the site of a prescribed burn, or even a serious natural fire, some folks see beauty in these new landscapes as well.

After more than fifty years of being told by Smokey Bear why you should prevent forest fires, why are we telling you now that fire is a crucial natural force in the ecosystem? Well, Smokey's message to be careful with fire when you're in the woods is even more important these days with so many folks building homes and living in the forest. But science, like the rest of society, is always changing, sometimes very slowly and quietly.

For more and more ecologists, managers, and wildlife biologists, the evidence overwhelmingly points toward the idea that a healthy ecosystem is a functioning ecosystem -- like a well-tuned engine, all of its parts are in good condition and able to do their jobs. Like a healthy person, a healthy ecosystem can recover from injury or disease. Fire seems to be just as important to some habitats as good food is for a person.

We can't be sure what we'll learn next, but we can be sure that we know more now than we did when Smokey Bear first made his debut.

We also know there's more to the story than biology. Laws, politics, and economics all influence what can be done. You live in, enjoy, and make use of our national forest lands. The ultimate decision about what condition the forests will be in to pass on to our children is yours. Which path will you choose?