Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fighting Fire With Fire -- And Science.



An out-of-control wildfire in Colorado that’s already killed two people and destroyed more than 20 buildings has renewed the debate over the use of intentionally set fires.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper issued a temporary statewide ban on all prescribed burns until officials investigate how this fire was allowed to spread outside the planned acreage southwest of Denver.

Prescribed burns, while used routinely in recent years, continue to be a source of controversy when accidents or poorly conducted exercises result in property damage or loss of life.

The tragedy came during the height of controlled burn season in Nebraska, a time of year when columns of smoke on the horizon are a common sight across the state. The practice has been aggressively promoted by agriculture and conservation advocates as an effective way to cleanse the land of old grasses, plants and trees that can take over valuable acreage from crops or livestock.

Over the past two decades, plans for controlled burns have been developed using a blend of new science and knowledge handed down by farmers and Native Americans, who have used the practice for more than a century.

Last week, a dozen ecologists and firefighters from all over the country had the chance to put the art and science of fire into practice during a two-week long clinic in Nebraska hosted by The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy, a non-profit group emphasizing the preservation of environmentally-important land and bodies of water, promotes the use of fire when appropriate to help eco-systems.