Poll Shows Changing Attitudes Toward Wildfire

Hot spot at end of day during Trapper Ridge Fire, Idaho. Photo by John McCarthy.

It’s one of the most difficult environmental concepts to understand, yet the word is starting to get out: some fires are good things. A look at a recent poll conducted by a coalition headed by The Wilderness Society and The Nature Conservancy revealed that the American public better understands that fire, under the right conditions, helps restore forests and protect communities and firefighters alike.

  • Three-fourths of people agree that “some fires in natural areas are beneficial.”
  • Two-thirds of people understand that “putting out all fires in natural areas can create conditions that will make later fires burn faster, hotter and more out of control.”

The message is starting to resonate with the media, too.

The 2008 fire season produced an array of media reports and editorials from the Denver Post to USA Today that leaned away from the sensational coverage fires had been known for — and toward level-headed stories recognizing the importance, ecologically and economically, of evolving all-out, all-the-time firefighting to case-specific fire management — including using fire as a management tool.

National and local media also focused on the need for Congress to provide a new, permanent source of funding to agencies responsible for suppressing fires (primarily the Forest Service). The percentage of the Forest Service’s budget spent on fire suppression has skyrocketed during the past 10 years — forcing the agency to take money away from a host of vital programs and services.

“People get these issues” says TWS National Fire Program Lead Tom Fry. “We’ve made great strides in approaching fire in a more common sense fashion over the last few years. But we have a long way to go.”