The Scientific Value of Fire in Wilderness. New research published in Fire Ecology

Ookow (Dichelostemma congestum) and a insect, in the North Fork Wilderness on the Mad River Ranger District in Six Rivers National Forest. In the background you can see manzanitas regenerating after the 2020 August Complex Fire. USDA Forest Service photo by Danielle Bauman-Epstein

Wilderness areas are important to scientists and managers who are working to understand fire, because wild lands can serve as natural laboratories. Varied management practices, including allowing some naturally-ignited fires to burn, contribute to differences in the way that fire plays out on the landscape. ALWRI’s Sean Parks and colleagues at the University of Montana reviewed over 200 research papers which explored different management approaches to fire burning in wilderness areas.

The resulting review paper, published online, yesterday, in the open-access journal, Fire Ecology, identifies major scientific contributions from the study of wilderness fires, including self-limitation of fire; the effects of active fire regimes on forest and aquatic systems; barriers and potential solutions to wilderness fire management; and the effect of fire on wilderness recreation and visitor experiences. This study highlights geographic and bioclimatic areas where more research attention is needed, and suggests under-represented wilderness areas as candidates for future research. The paper also identifies priority topics for prospective wilderness fire research, including the past and potential role of Indigenous and prescribed burning; the effects of changing climate and fire regimes on ecosystem processes; and how to overcome barriers to wilderness fire management.

The full paper is available to read and download.