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WATCH: Catastrophic Wildfires, Who’s Really to Blame?

WATCH: Catastrophic Wildfires, Who’s Really to Blame?

9/3/2015 9:49:00 AM/Categories: General News, Today's Top 5, People in Ag

Catastrophic wildfires have ravaged the western United States this summer. Over a billion dollars have been spent to date fighting out of control wildfires and the fire season isn’t even close to being over.  Many are questioning the management of these valuable natural resources that gone up in flames. So who really is to blame for the severity of wildfires? And, what is agriculture's role in helping tame their spread? To answer those questions, Northern Ag Network’s Lane Nordlund spoke with Dr. Clayton Marlow, a Range Ecology professor who teaches a Fire Ecology and Management class at Montana State University.


Dr. Marlow: I think, first and foremost, what has been missed is taking all the science that the Forest Service itself and its sister agencies through the Joint Fire Science program have developed and it has not gone to policy. For example, there is study after study that shows that prescribed grazing or targeted logging practices greatly reduce the spread and the severity of fires. I want to really repeat that the prescribed grazing and logging will reduce the severity and spread, it won’t prevent the fire, but it will make less catastrophic and easier to control. 

Many are making claims that much of the blame falls directly on the federal agencies, claiming gross negligence and mismanagement of our nation’s forests and rangeland by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management particularly this year as it deals with an unprecedented fire season as seen across the western U.S. this year.  Dr. Marlow shares his thoughts on what the problem actually is.

Dr. Marlow: Yes and no, I think that's a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I think that most federal agencies are very aware that there is unhealthy forests, and grasslands that are prone to catastrophic fires. The problem is we have a group of environment organizations that have learned to make money by suing the federal government. And they have so tied the hands of the federal government with lawsuits,  that the agencies can’t  1. Get to the project on the ground and 2, Don't have the resources to put it there because they are paying court costs. So rather than blaming federal agency, I think its a segment of our society that is to blame. Its important to note, that most of the plant communities in this part of the world, evolved from grazing and fire and when we remove both we make them very unhealthy and very vulnerable to climate change. 

Northern Ag Network Note:  A great follow-up to this interview is a presentation Dr. Marlow gave at the 2008 annual meeting of the Prairie County Grazing District where he discussed using livestock grazing as a positive force and using it as a tool to preventing and reducing wildfires.

Part 1: Discussion of the current perceptions of livestock grazing on public lands, and lead-in to how to address those concerns.

Part 2: Preventing wildfires through using livestock as tools.

Part 3: How to use cattle as tools to reduce wildfires.

Part 4: Animal species recovery through livestock grazing.



© Northern Ag Network 2015


7 comments on article "WATCH: Catastrophic Wildfires, Who’s Really to Blame?"


Mel in Whitehall, MT

9/3/2015 3:20 PM

Prevention by proper "use" is a big #1 on the list. The grazing of animals being a "passive" method. But, those timber sales were truly the lifes' blood of fire FIGHTING - due to the road system that opened up the back country to engines and water tenders!..

AND...that issue of allowing a court case to control our forests - not nature or good Management practices... Along with POLITICS in general always inserting 4 levels of "review" and/or 7 different departments needing their rice bowls filled BEFORE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN or get done!

Perhaps what truly should happen here is a simple bill thru congress that removes this ability from ANY FS/BLM lands in any state of the union? eh?... they can do this, there is precedent set at the federal/state levels in Alaska - for the pipeline. These "cozy deal agreements" behind closed court room doors should become a thing of the past...AND, all such deals over the past 30 years need to be listed as "can be retired" under the new law, if merit is found by "both parties" only. Something has to change, or we are going to be needing 5 BILLION USD to fight these fires with within 2 or 3 years... We never have enough equipment, planes, helo's, or trained people - such costs mega dollars... a bill thru congress and changes in how we do things "might" cost a few million per year more than now...perhaps even save a buck or two, eh?..


Lee Boyer

9/4/2015 6:55 AM

As always, Clayton is spot on with his comments!


John in Butte, Montana

9/7/2015 6:42 PM

I for one totally agree that the Federal Agencies like the US Forest service hold a large portion of the blame and responsibility for the magnitude of the Forest Fires in Montana

For one has anyone ever heard such a preposterous order not to use aircraft to fight the fires, what Federal Idiot came up with this one? The Forest Rangers that I know and have had the misfortune of dealing with for decades now sit on their butts more than they do anything else, they collect wages for doing nothing but complain that they do not have money do do anything , well get off your butts and grab a shovel and start digging a path in the forest you want, or start cutting the death trees up that block our trails, start doing anything but sit there on your butt doing NOTHING!


sharon marshall

9/14/2015 4:23 PM

They things said sure seem to be that which should be looked at.



9/4/2017 3:20 PM

I think that the Judicial system needs to get involved. Most the the Environmentalist's suits should ve dismissed without prejudice!!! It would save the FWP money, courts money and most of all the Taxpayer's money.


Robet Weber

9/4/2017 8:58 PM

This is all just a bunch of "blah, blah' blah... I hate to say it everyone, but these fires are being "set".. we have "never" managed the forests. And historically there has "never" been fires like we have been seeing. Yes, a lot of logging used to very prevalent, but they didn't really do any "managing"... now, THIS WILL LAY IT ALL OUT FOR YOU... YOU JUST HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF, AMOUNG THE MILLIONS OF ACRES OF FOREST IN MONTANA, WHY IS IT, THAT THE FIRES ONLY HAPPEN CLOSE TO HUMAN HABITATION????? ""NO" HUGE FIRES IN ANY OF THE IMMENSE WILDERNESS AREAS WHERE THERE AREN'T ANY PEOPLE... "HUH"? We're being duped folks. I don't have, or know the absolute facts, but most of us "aware" Americans' have extensive knowledge on the UN's agenda to move us all out or the "woods", to the big cities where they can control us. You might remember, or knew about it from “digging deep” that during the first GOP caused government shutdawn of Obama’s term, he put out the word to shut “all” Federally controlled public parks, monuments, memorials, and “also” put his own verbal word out, to.. “make them as miserable as you can”.. Yes, Obama did that. And, his Deep State may even be who is lighting all these fires.. “only around people”. It could also be the UN, and it's Agenda 21 is working overtime via their UN "ICLEI" offices pushing their "Wildlands Network" Agenda, among other things. This Agenda proposes to create a wild lands network of connected open forest/wilderness, that requires "MONTANA TO BE TOTALLY, AND UTTERLY RETURNED TO IT'S PRE-HUMAN INHABITED CONDITION - That's right.. JUST GOOGLE IT.. and you will read it for yourself.


Ruth Bacon

9/5/2017 11:28 AM

What do you mean, most were set by people. Most of those fires were set by lightning, and one of the reasons they spread out of control is because people cannot even get near them fast enough. This is especially true in the miles of forested wilderness that environmentalists are so damned afraid some human will leave a foot print in, cut a tree, or even pick up a dead branch. I know for a fact the large fires in Eastern Montana were set by lightning miles from the nearest ranch, and were spotted only when the smoke rose high enough.

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