Newspaper gets it right on wildfire

Smoke from Trapper Ridge Fire. Photo by John McCarthy.

The Daily Courier in Prescott, Az., published two pieces last week that could not make for better guides on how the press should cover the role wildfires play in improving the health of our forests and our communities.

Though it’s often a difficult concept to explain because people are understandably wary of wildfires, the truth is that some wildfires that don’t threaten people or property can actually be good things.

The Daily Courier reported on June 4 that Forest Service officials are not opting for the knee-jerk reaction of trying to suppress a wildfire in a remote area of the Prescott National Forest. Instead, they are making use of clearer policy guidelines the agency issued recently that make it easier for on-the-ground fire managers to choose to monitor a fire that doesn’t threaten communities. That kind of a fire plays a key role in restoring forests and clearing out underbrush that could cause much bigger fires later.

Three days later, The Daily Courier ran an editorial calling wildfire a friend of the forest. It addressed the age-old issue of human fear head on.

According to the editorial, “That fear has lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem and brought about the need for prescribed burns which help remove dead vegetation, invigorate plant and animal communities, promote a healthy watershed and return fire to its natural role in the ecosystem. These burns also reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

The Daily Courier’s coverage represents the latest evidence that the media and the general public are better understanding the views and policy changes The Wilderness Society has long championed. The Silver City Sun-News in New Mexico also published an article last weekend explaining the merits of the Forest Service making the same decisions on the Gila National Forest that the agency is using on the Prescott.

Fire isn’t a panacea for all of our forest woes and safeguarding lives remains job one. But the more the media moves away from sensational coverage of wildfires that don’t pose danger to communities, the better the public’s knowledge of wildfire’s natural role in the environment will be. That means more support for smart fire management and better prospects for more healthy forests — and fewer firefighters putting their lives at risk.