Year Published: 2016
Description: Record blazes swept across parts of the US in 2015, burning more than 10 million acres. The four biggest fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred in the last 10 years, leading to fears of a ‘new normal’ for wildfire. Fire fighters and forest managers are overwhelmed, and it is clear that the policy and management approaches of the past will not suffice under this new era of western wildfires. In recent decades, state and federal policymakers, tribes, and others are confronting longer fire seasons (Jolly et al. 2015), more large fires (Dennison et al. 2014), a tripling of homes burned, and a doubling of firefighter deaths (Rasker 2015). Federal agencies now spend $2 to $3 billion annually fighting fires (and in the case of the US Forest Service, over 50% of their budget), and the total cost to society may be up to 30 times more than the direct cost of firefighting. If we want to contain these costs and reduce risks to communities, economies, and natural systems, we can draw on the best available science when designing fire management strategies, as called for in the recent federal report on Wildland Fire Science and Technology. Here, we highlight key science insights that can contribute to the public discourse on wildfire policy and associated management of forests, woodlands, and shrublands. This information is fundamental to decisions that will promote resilient communities and landscapes facing more fire in the future.