Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research

Opinions About Fire

Citizens often express themselves on current issues though by way of letters to the editor of local media. Read these two recent, related letters concerning wildland fire to find out what others are arguing:


No intentional fires
Thursday, 28 May 1998

I came to Tucson to escape Southern California's smog. How disappointing to read that the U.S. Forest Service will be conducting controlled burns and subjecting the citizens of Tucson to increased smog this summer ("Intentionally set fires may bring back haze" - May 22).

I don't believe that a few government employees should arbitrarily be able to make an entire city suffer. How did the forest manage all by itself before the U.S. Forest Service came along?

The forests must burn
Monday, 1 June 1998

The letter ("No intentional fires" - May 28) was laughable. He complained about smoke from forest fires while wondering how the forests were managed before the U.S. Forest Service.

The short answer to that query is that they burned - and frequently. Given that the Star regularly publishes articles about the University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, informed Tucsonans know that tree-ring data tell a consistent story of frequent, low-intensity ground fires that burned in the past throughout Southwestern coniferous forests.

However, such fires have been rare since the late 1800s, probably because of the advent of grazing and the improved effectiveness of fire suppression since the mid-1900s. As a result, many Southwestern forests have been diagnosed as "unhealthy" because their current form (numbers and types of trees, fuel loading) and function (frequency and intensity of processes like fire) are not what they were in the past.

The Forest Service uses prescribed burning as one of many management tools for rectifying this situation. Unfortunately, where there's fire, there's smoke. Indeed, poor air quality resulting from prescribed burning is one of the most vexing issues associated with that management tool. Perhaps it's intractable: The forests will (must) burn, but we don't like smoke. There is no easy answer to this dilemma.

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, The University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85721 USA
Main Office: (520) 621-1608, Fax: (520) 621-8229
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