H. Sterling Burnett

This year it’s the sight of thousands of firefighters, police, political dignitaries and others gathered for a memorial service for 19 firefighters killed in a single deadly incident. Last year it was images of more than 34,000 people being forced to flee their homes before walls of flame from 12 separate fires, once again in Colorado. Year after year it seems the news is flooded with tragically horrific stories of wildfires during the spring and summer seasons that burn millions of acres, destroying property and costing lives. And year after year politicians like Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pontificate about climate change as the cause of wildfires – shame on them!

Wildfires are an entirely natural phenomenon. However, the size, intensity and harm caused annually by the past two decade s’ forest fires have been greatly enhanced by human activities and inactivity – federal mismanagement of our national forests are to blame. The success of the Smokey the Bear program over multiple decades of suppressing wildfires resulted in overgrown forests. The simple fact is, when forests aren’t allowed to burn periodically, fuel -- trees and brush – builds up which results in more fires burning at hotter temperatures. By-contrast, Pre-Columbian forests were intensively managed by Native Americans in the East and Northwest who used fire and timber harvesting to manage wildlife populations, provide building materials, and allow farming. The great herds of migrating Buffalo and the regular burning of the plains, both natural and set by Native Americans, provided new grass for the bison and suppressed most tree growth on the Great Plains and plateaus of the Mountain West.


H. Sterling Burnett

Dr. H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a non-partisan, non-profit research institute with offices in Dallas, TX and Washington, D.C.