By Alison Berry
Forests evolved over millennia in the presence of fire, a vital ecological processfire returns nutrients to the soil and helps seedlings establish. In 1911 the United States Forest Service began to suppress all fires on American forests, resulting in dangerous accumulations of fuels. Conflagrations of increased intensity result and firefighting costs escalate, complicated by growing populations along the forest border, the “wildland-urban interface.” Dense forests are also more vulnerable to insects and diseases. A policy designed to protect forests and communities has instead endangered them. This paper examines the background and consequences of fire suppression, with recommendations for improvement.
Berry presented this paper to the International Society for New Institutional Economics in July 2007 at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.