The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi would like to express sincere regret and sympathy to families that have lost homes during the recent western wildfires. We hope that those affected by the fires and displaced by evacuations can soon recover and return to their normal lives.
While the recent outbreak of wildfires across the country has been devastating, it was not unexpected. Changing climate, drought and a century of suppressing natural fires has led to more frequent, uncharacteristically severe mega-fires and unhealthy forests with increasing volumes of flammable brush. As populations continue to build and expand into natural areas, more homes and communities are put at risk from mega-fires.
Though recent rains have kept major wildfires at bay in Mississippi, our forests and neighborhoods still face the threat of future major wildfires. For centuries, frequent natural fires and intentional fires shaped the forests of the southeast, but our forests and the areas around the forests are changing—creating potential conflict in the future. Decades of suppressing natural fires and under-use of planned, controlled burning has created unhealthy forests loaded with dense flammable brush.
Planned, controlled burning is a safe and cost effective alternative to devastating wildfires; good fires prevent bad ones. Numerous state and federal agencies, non-government agencies including The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners utilize controlled burns to improve wildlife habitat, increase timber value and reduce wildfire risk. Through careful planning and extensive training, fire practitioners choose the appropriate time, place and weather conditions under which a burn will be conducted.
“Controlled burns simulate the natural role fire played in shaping southeastern forests over thousands of years; longleaf pine forests are absolutely dependent on fire,” says Bryan Kreiter of The Nature Conservancy. “Safe and appropriate application of fire protects communities, improves wildlife habitat, improves hunting and recreational opportunities and increases timber value.” Controlled burning also reduces risk from destructive wildfires by removing built-up flammable brush. When dangerous unplanned wildfires occur on land managed by regular prescribed fire, they are less intense, produce less smoke, are easier to control and are safer for firefighters.
The cost of suppressing mega-fires is astronomical, but the cost of lost homes and lives is immeasurable. In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service spent more than a quarter of its budget managing unplanned wildfires ($1.4 billion). Increased funding for forest management and controlled burning, through programs like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, could greatly reduce taxpayer expense for fighting uncharacteristic wildfires, improve the health of our forests and protect our communities.
The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. More information at nature.org/mississippi.
Also visit www.visitmyforest.org and www.GoodFIRES.org.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.