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A history of wilderness fire management in the Northern Rockies

Author(s): Julia Berkey, Carol Miller, Andrew J. Larson
Year Published: 2021

Suppression of most wildland fire ignitions has defined fire management in the United States since 1935. These past suppression activities, along with climate change impacts and other factors, have resulted in longer fire seasons and increased frequency of large fires in many forest ecosystems across the western United States, thus resulting in a fire management crisis. But suppression has not been the default approach in a few large wilderness areas of the U.S. Northern Rocky Mountains: the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Instead, wildland fire has been managed over the last four decades to play a more natural role in these ecosystems. The fire management approach in these wilderness areas provides an excellent, and relatively rare, case study of wildland fire managed for resource benefit. This report recounts historically important fires managed in these wilderness areas and analyzes the development of wilderness fire management in the Northern Rockies from the pioneering days in the 1970s to the present. An improved understanding of this history, including the challenges overcome and lessons learned by managers in this region, could help inform fire management policies and decisions across the Nation.

Citation: Berkey, Julia K.; Miller, Carol; Larson, Andrew J. 2021. A history of wilderness fire management in the Northern Rockies. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-428. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 88 p. https://doi.org/10.2737/RMRS-GTR-428.
Topic(s): Fire & Wilderness
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
Hot Topic(s): Wilderness Fire
NRFSN number: 23925
FRAMES RCS number: 64829
Record updated: Dec 23, 2021