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For more information on wildland fire management, visit: Prescribed Fire in Yellowstone

Forest Fires and Forest Health


Wildland Fires in Yellowstone: Fuel & Fire Management
Wildland fires are often natural occurrences and can be beneficial. However, federal agencies do try to manage the amount of fuel loading that occurs in national parks like Yellowstone. This means they try to control the amount of burnable material (dry biomass) that builds up in the Park. They have also established fire management policies on how to deal with wildland fires that occur in the Park.

The program of controlling the accumulation of biomass in wildlands in order to reduce the amount of available fuel is called fuel management. The idea behind this program is to decrease the intensity of a fire when it does occur. By decreasing the fire's intensity, fuel management reduces the amount of damage caused by wildland fires as well as the costs of fighting the fires.

One fuel management technique that has been used by the National Park service is prescribed burning. Prescribed burning involves allowing fires that are started naturally or those that are intentionally set under controlled circumstances to continue burning until they are naturally extinguished. Fires are allowed to continue burning by "prescription" only if they occur in areas where they can be contained.

After the Yellowstone fires of 1988, the federal prescribed burning policy was temporarily halted. In 1992, the National Park Service initiated a revised wildland fire management plan. Now there are stricter conditions under which fires are allowed to burn. Today the Park Service has a prescribed fire program in which fires caused by people are always extinguished. However, some natural fires in the park are allowed to burn. Under the current policy, a prescribed natural fire must meet the following conditions in order to be allowed to burn:

  • the fire cannot cross the wilderness boundary
  • the fire cannot endanger people's lives
  • the fire cannot endanger private property
  • the weather conditions and forecast must be favorable (not too dry or too windy)
  • there have to be enough resources available to put out the fire if it starts to threaten people, property, or resource values.

Another fuel management technique is salvaging timber. In this practice, selected trees in the forest are sold to private operators who remove them from the Park. Other ways to reduce fuel loading include pruning or using chemical herbicides. However, these methods of fuel management are not often used because they are very expensive.

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