For over 50 years, the Forest Circus has been telling us that wildfires are bad and should be extinguished. This is an understandable view because fires are big and scary and are bad when they get into houses (sometimes). However, this is wrong. Obviously when a fire is threatening lives and structures, we should put it out. But if it's burning through the forest we should leave it alone. Here's why:

  • Fuel Buildup Naturally in a forest, fires recur frequently. In some forests, such as Ponderosa pine or Sequoia forests, small fires would happen every few years. These fires just burned pine needles and brush, and thinned out trees that were close together. But someone came along and said 'oh nooo!!! a fire!!!' and put it out. Eventually the policy was to put all small fires out. Since these fires stopped happening, huge amounts of pine needles and brush built up. Trees grew close together, creating 'ladder fuels'. Now, sometimes a fire will happen under really bad conditions and spread into the trees before anyone can do anything. Naturally, fires almost never killed mature trees. But with all the fuels, it is now common. In fact, although prescribed burns were criticized for being the cause of the Los Alamos fire of 2000, it was actually the lack of fire for the 80 years preceeding this which caused the fire to be so severe. Prescribed burns are more important now than ever, albeit riskier, becuase if we dont burn the excess stuff off under controlled conditions, it will burn during a drought windstorm and cause conditions like those seen in 2000.

  • Plants Need Fire The plants growing in fire-prone areas have evolved with fire. Some actually need fire to signal their seeds to germinate. Others, such as the 'closed-cone pines', wont even release seeds if there isnt fire. Chaparral needs fire to come through every few decades and clear out the thick, woody brush so new plants can come through. Too much litter on the floor of a forest inhibits new tree germination. And, with fire supression, the rare severe crown fires kill everything. Also, there are much more species of plants in ares with fire than areas without.

  • Animals Thrive in Areas with Many Fires Most people think of fire and visualize thousands of fuzzy animals burning to death. It is possible that animals would be killed by fire, especially small insects which can't get away. But large fuzzy mammals everyone loves like deer and (yes) bears have seen in their genetic memory thousands of fires. And they are still here. Deer and other animals know how to instinctively avoid fire. And after a fire happens, there is a great deal of new tender vegetation for grazers and they often experience population booms. Some birds even fly towards fires on purpose to find insects fleeing from the fire and feast on them.

  • Money The US government spends billions of dollars on putting out fires far from any humans. Although I dont know the figures on other countries, I am sure many have similar figures. (ironically, since Mexico doesnt have the resources to fight all these fires, the Ponderosa pine forests in northern Mexico are in much better shape than those in the US.

    so.. the moral of the story is, smokey bear was wrong. I once saw a picture of him actually lighting fires, which was pretty cool. But he's useless.. everyone knows all he does is smoke weed anyway.