While Climate Change is certainly an important issue to plan for, it should not dominate or distract from the conversation on how to manage public lands in the future. Under current climatic conditions, we have mismanaged our forests and prairies. By aggressively suppressing fires and not allowing thinning projects to come to completion, we have allowed particular species to dominate their environments and our forests have become overgrown, which, like any type of overpopulation, allows for disease to spread much more rapidly and with more devastating effect.
Because of the current state of our lands, we need to reintroduce fire on our terms – with a more aggressive program of prescribed burns during the calmer periods of the year. By introducing fire during cooler, wetter times of the year, we will eliminate the excessive fuel that causes devastating wildfires to occur without killing everything and the stronger plants will be given the space and resources to thrive.
We can also use mechanical means, such as thinning projects, to bring the forests back to a healthy state. The clear cutting techniques of the past have given these projects a bad name, but responsible, selective thinning can produce many of the same results that a prescribed burn does.
These pre-emptive moves will make these environments more resilient to fire under current climatic conditions as well as the conditions that can be expected as climatic changes occur in the future.
Unfortunately, the current legal and bureaucratic system does not allow for these necessary steps to be taken. It is impossible to calculate how many fires are prevented using these types of actions and so it is only when mistakes happen that these projects are brought to the public's attention. Currently, many beneficial thinning projects are delayed or stopped when unnecessary lawsuits are filed. Despite the fact that prescribed burns are done under near ideal conditions, the planning and management of these burns is unnecessarily complex and the teams that carry out these burns must be overly cautious in comparison to the reactive management of the wildfires that these burns might prevent.