Wildfire Concepts Wildfire









Pursuant 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 foreign correspondents.

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

Fire Policy under Scrutiny, Policy Statement in Idaho News, Archived USFS Fire News, Sierra Club’s Fire Mgmt on Public Lands