Are prescribed fires an effective tool to prevent wildfires?

June 24, 2022

Yes, but there’s still more to learn.

Fire is a natural part of the environment and plays a vital role in managing and maintaining many ecosystems. Planned, or prescribed fires, are an important tool used to mimic the type of low intensity fires that would naturally occur in forests and prairies.

But, while prescribed burns can mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires, there are a number of social and political factors that limit their use and effectiveness. As changes to temperature and precipitation patterns increase due to climate change, prescribed fires play an important role in reducing the additional fuel that creates larger, more intense wildfires. The effects of climate change and other human activity, such as development, can also make prescribed fires a more difficult tool to deploy.

Fire science—particularly around prescribed fires—is still an area where scientists are developing evidence.

Key Takeaways

  1. 1.

    Prescribed fires are an important tool in forestry management that helps mitigate destructive wildfires.

  2. 2.

    Climate change is making both wildfires more destructive and creating new challenges for deploying prescribed fires.

  3. 3.

    Social and political factors—from legal liability to public policy—impact the use and effectiveness of prescribed fires.

  4. 4.

    Scientists are gathering evidence through research to understand how best to employ prescribed fires.

Additional Resources

U.S. Department of Agriculture: Prescribed Fire and its Effects on Forested Ecosystems

Smokey the Bear: Prescribed Fires