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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Common Ground on the Role of Wildfire in Forested Landscapes of the Western US

Wildfire affects the health and well-being of people, yet the science behind its management grapples with uncertainties that have led to sometimes contentious scientific debate.

Diverging views over how “natural” high-severity fire is in conifer forests across the western U.S have, in some cases, impeded the effective integration of science into policy and management decisions. Such debates have sometimes promoted inaction, an inadequate solution for a sustainable coexistence between people and wildfire, especially given the growing threat of climate change.

This working group sought to identify and explain areas of common ground and divergence among fire researchers, focusing specifically on conifer forests. Their work is in support of informing high quality public discourse, policy, and management.

Download their final report

Download the research brief summarizing key areas of common ground


Key Findings

There is much common ground among fire researchers that can be useful to policy and management. Key, high-level alignments include the following:

  • Fire is one of the most essential influences on western forests and most landscapes need more fire.
  • Fires can produce more positive benefits and fewer negative impacts when they burn with an ecologically appropriate mix and pattern of low, moderate, and high severity.
  • Managers will need assistance and funding to create landscape conditions that favor more desirable fire behavior at broad spatial scales.
  • There is no single, silver bullet solution to managing wildfire effectively, yet trust and science are necessary.

In addition, the report highlights core research questions and datasets that are needed to make progress on the debates. It also focuses on policy and management decisions that do not hinge on resolving specific aspects of debate and provides recommendations for how to proceed on issues that do.


Supplementary Report Materials

The following materials help document the process by which the research team assembled and synthesized the information that contributed to the final report. The materials are listed roughly in chronological order; please refer to the Project Charter for additional details. Note that separation of draft review summaries into “science informants” and “stakeholder informants” was somewhat arbitrary, and the team integrated comments from all respondents into the final report in the same way.

The full report is also accessible via that Northwest Fire Science Consortium. Access it there >>


This project was generously supported by the The Wilburforce Foundation and by the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP). Founding grants were provided by Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, Angela Nomellini and Ken Olivier, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Header photo by Kari Greer