Let Nature Take Its Course

Critics say Forest Service battles too many fires

The New York Times reports that critics of the U.S. Forest Service are calling for the agency to allow more wild fires in unpopulated areas to burn without intervention as an ecologically sound method of clearing downed timber and brush while preserving resources for more threatening blazes.

“For the Forest Service, fighting fires is instinctual, not rational,” says Andy Stahl, executive director of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), an agency watchdog group consisting of former and current Forest Service employees.

Stahl cites the example of two young firefighters killed in the line of duty during last summer’s Idaho blazes.

“Why did [the Forest Service] choose to fight that fire in the first place?” Stahl wonders. “It was in the middle of a roadless area next to a wilderness area. There were no homes or communities that stood to be harmed. Fire was the best thing that could have happened to the ecology.”

Last fall FSEEE filed a lawsuit seeking to require the Forest Service to conduct its first official review of its firefighting strategy. The suit, still in its early stages, calls for a study to address questions like whether more fires should be allowed to burn and the impact of firefighting on health and safety.