Lessons from fires of the past can help the West’s residents prepare for wildfires to come—and help our forests become more adapted to an era of fire.
Forestry scientists at Washington State University study wildfire and its impacts on the land, both bad and good. WSU Extension Foresters share current understanding about fire and how to reduce its ravages, helping rural landowners safeguard their homes, property, and natural resources.
“The more we use fire as a land management tool, the less we need to be afraid of it,” says Mark Swanson, associate professor and faculty leader for WSU’s Forestry teaching and research program. “Native Americans were masters at using fire to reduce forest density and fuels. We profoundly need to learn from them.”
For nearly a decade, Swanson has been part of a multi-institutional team studying the effects of an unusual fire in California’s Yosemite National Park. In 2013, the Rim Fire burned more than a quarter-million acres on the west slope of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, entering Yosemite, where managers had used prescribed fire for decades to reduce fuels.
Last year, Swanson launched WSU’s new Wildland Fire Ecology and Management course, which prepares young forestry professionals to become entry-level wildland firefighters. The first batch of 25 students awaits certification this spring.
Students learn standard tools, concepts, and practices, from understanding forest and weather conditions to digging a fire line and building an emergency fire shelter.
“We’re trying to prepare our students to be safer in a world that will be more dominated by fire,” Swanson said.