“Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today said the agency has not changed course on when to allow backcountry wildfires to burn for beneficial purposes, though he did acknowledge that fewer backcountry blazes were allowed to burn last season than in previous years.
Tidwell’s remarks come weeks after he penned a letter and wildfire response protocol for 2013 that some observers interpreted as a change from an aggressive suppression strategy the Forest Service laid out last May (E&ENews PM, March 5).
They saw the new protocol as a break from a memo by James Hubbard, the agency’s deputy chief of state and private forestry, that required line officers to obtain approval from regional foresters before they let a fire burn for ecological purposes.
But Tidwell said the Hubbard memo was never a break in the agency’s decades-long wildfire strategy, nor was last month’s protocol.
“There’s been no change in our policy last year, the year before, this year — there’s been no change,” Tidwell said after a hearing this morning of the House Agriculture Committee. “For decades, we have managed fire in the backcountry for resource benefits. We will continue to do that. We will also continue to suppress fires where we need to.”
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(Written by Phil Taylor, E&E PM)