Every year it seems like there’s another disastrous wildfire in the world. In 2021, many million acres were burned in the world. Uncontrolled fires often started accidentally by people, rampage and decimate forests.
For most people, forest fire is synonymous with disaster. But there are some kinds of forest fires that actually benefit the environment.
A controlled burn is a wildfire that people set intentionally for a specific purpose. Well-thought out and well-managed controlled burns can be incredibly beneficial for forest management—in part because they can help stop an out-of-control wildfire. The technique is called back burning, and it involves setting a controlled fire in the path of the approaching wildfire. All the flammable material is burnt up and extinguished. When the wildfire approaches, there’s no more fuel left for it to keep going, and it dies out.
Controlled burns are also used to prevent forest fires. Even before human involvement, natural, low-intensity wildfires occurred every few years to burn up fuel, plant debris, and dead trees, making way for young, healthy trees and vegetation to thrive. That new growth in turn supports forest wildlife. Forest managers are now replicating this natural strategy when appropriate, starting manageable, slow-burning fires to make room for new life that will help keep the forest healthy in the long term.
The fire burns off tall, aggressive vegetation that isn’t as hospitable to wildlife, and makes room for new growth that attracts bison, birds, and prairie dogs.
This doesn’t mean all intentional wildfires are good – far from it. Many of the fires intentionally set for agriculture and land clearing are at best ill-advised, and at worst devastating. Slash and burn fires are set every day to destroy large sections of forests. Of course, these forests don’t just remove trees; they kill and displace wildlife, alter water cycles and soil fertility, and endanger the lives and livelihoods of local communities.
Many people died; millions of acres burned; already at-risk species like orangutans perished by the hundreds; and a smoke and ash haze hung over southeast Asia for months, reducing visibility and causing acute health conditions.
Our scientists think fire could be the best solution for revitalizing wild areas, we bring the right experts to the table to study the situation and come up with a plan.
All fire is risky. To minimize that risk as much as possible, controlled burns must be well-considered, well-planned, and ignited and maintained by trained professionals. The bottom line? Fire can be a tool for conservation, but only when used the right way.