to the media’s traditional role, wildland fires tend to be sensationalized
and the aspects of fire ecology are rarely reported.
In 1988, the fires in the Yellowstone area were more covered
than the larger fires in the Scapegoat Wilderness or Glacier National
Park where more lives were lost, presumably because of the cultural
recognition of YNP (based on visitation numbers).
National media did not begin coverage of the “Yellowstone fires”
until the North Fork fire entered the park on July 22nd
and headed toward Old Faithful. Every major newspaper, radio, and television
network in the USA was represented, as well as many magazines and
When the news of the fires began to be covered by the press, most
people were unaware of the natural fire policy in effect at YNP;
even the President at the time (Reagan) admitted he had no knowledge
of it until it was pointed out to him in September.
Americans seemed to associate fire with the Forest Service’s
Smokey Bear campaign, which seems to have left the impression that
all fire is bad. “The alarmed
reactions of media, politicians, and the general public to the Yellowstone
fires indicated the widespread misunderstanding of the role of fire
in wildland areas” (Franke 2000).
Fireball above Cooke City.
From Ekey 1989.
For many people, fire is as destructive in a national
park as it would be in their backyard.
As an ever increasing number of people have backyards near
wildland areas (see image above), this will affect their reaction
to the scenes they witness on their TV screens, or the policies
implemented in the adjacent wilderness areas.
Bath (cited in Franke 2000) reviewed data gathered from
more than 4,500 respondents to his survey regarding attitude toward
fire. Interviewed visitors
who had seen the effects of the fire had the most favorable attitudes
overall; Montana and Idaho residents who had not seen the fire effects
were the most negative. Although most respondents disagreed with the statement “all
fires in Yellowstone National Park should be suppressed regardless
of how they start,” those who had seen the fire effects tended to
disagree more strongly.
News / Social Links
under Scrutiny, Policy
Statement in Idaho News, Archived
USFS Fire News, Sierra
Club’s Fire Mgmt on Public Lands