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Fire Management in the American West

Forest Politics and the Rise of Megafires

By Mark Hudson

Publication Year: 2011

Most journalists and academics attribute the rise of wildfires in the western United States to the USDA Forest Service's successful fire-elimination policies of the twentieth century. However, in Fire Management in the American West, Mark Hudson argues that although a century of suppression did indeed increase the hazard of wildfire, the responsibility does not lie with the USFS alone. The roots are found in the Forest Service's relationships with other, more powerful elements of society--the timber industry in particular. Drawing on correspondence both between and within the Forest Service and the major timber industry associations, newspaper articles, articles from industry outlets, and policy documents from the late 1800s through the present, Hudson shows how the US forest industry, under the constraint of profitability, pushed the USFS away from private industry regulation and toward fire exclusion, eventually changing national forest policy into little more than fire policy. More recently, the USFS has attempted to move beyond the policy of complete fire suppression. Interviews with public land managers in the Pacific Northwest shed light on the sources of the agency's struggles as it attempts to change the way we understand and relate to fire in the West. Fire Management in the American West will be of great interest to environmentalists, sociologists, fire managers, scientists, and academics and students in environmental history and forestry.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book has placed me in serious personal debt. First, I owe a great debt to Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee, who encouraged my interest in fire and whose passion for returning fire to the western woods was and remains relentless. His insights and perspectives on fire ecology and the “sociology of wildland fire” were a great inspiration, and he was extremely generous with his time, expertise, and resources...

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A Note on Methods

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pp. xi-xii

This book is based primarily on archival material from across the country. Materials from the University of Oregon in Eugene, the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, the Forest History Society in Durham, NC, Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, the National Archives in Washington, DC, the Federal Records Center in Seattle, WA, and the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul were...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-11

Humans have a tortured relationship with fire. We are, in the terminology of relationship pathologies, “control freaks.” We love fire if we feel we are in charge of it. Appropriately placed within the confines of the hearth, fire provides warmth and a sense of comfort, a shield both material and psychological against the encroachment of darkness. Fire in the right place and of the right scale is considered an...

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2. The Social Dimensions of Wildfire

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pp. 13-40

On December 11, 1987, during its forty-second session, the United Nations— taking a controversial stance in opposition to earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and other “calamities of natural origin”—declared the 1990s to be the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. Included in the long list of natural disasters to be “reduced” by the international community over the course...

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3. Forester-Kings?

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pp. 41-63

As Americans, and westerners in particular, started to hear about the “forest health crisis” and fires began to take on more spectacular proportions, a dominant narrative emerged to explain how it all went wrong. The specific mix of culprits responsible for the increasingly unmanageable behavior of wildland fire varies and in some cases is hotly argued. Two hundred years of fossil fuel combustion...

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4. Managing in the Wake of the Ax

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pp. 65-109

To address the unanswered questions posed at the end of Chapter 3 (namely, why was the Forest Service seemingly able to unilaterally and autonomously set fire policy, and why did it massage scientific research to support a policy of full suppression), we need to look at the political-economic context in which the USFS, and forestry1 more generally, was expected to operate in the United States. This inquiry is connected to...

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5. Out of the Frying Pan

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pp. 111-126

The thirty-three-year struggle for federal regulation, which began in 1919 with Forest Service employees and allied conservationists working through the Society of American Foresters (SAF) under Gifford Pinchot’s leadership, ended in defeat. The USFS leadership’s role had swung from one side of the issue to the other, eventually letting the struggle drop. Pinchot, Henry Graves, and William...

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6. The Weight of Past Weakness

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pp. 127-148

The idea that the state in a capitalist society or world system can be a contributor to a process of “greening” has been held out as one institutional plank in the larger fields comprised by ecological modernization theory (EMT) and as a pivot in the discourse of sustainable development. EMT advances the proposition that, in the era of ecological modernization, radical environmental change is independent...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 149-157

Th e landscape and ecology of the western United States, no less than smoke and ash, are products of fire. Humans have busily applied the torch and just as busily mobilized an arsenal of extinguishers. Our application and withdrawal of fire have been powerful elements in labor’s transformation of nature, and our choices about whether to burn or to douse have been shaped by the imperatives of production. Over the last...


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pp. 159-185


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pp. 187-205


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pp. 207-214

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320890
E-ISBN-10: 1607320894
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320883
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320886

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos, 8 line drawings, 1 map, 5 tables
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 757916926
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fire Management in the American West

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Subject Headings

  • Wildfires -- West (U.S.) -- Prevention and control -- History.
  • Forest products industry -- West (U.S.) -- History.
  • United States. Forest Service -- History.
  • Forest products industry -- Environmental aspects -- West (U.S.) -- History.
  • Forests and forestry -- Fire management -- West (U.S.) -- History.
  • West (U.S.) -- Environmental conditions.
  • Forests and forestry -- Fire management -- Political aspects -- West (U.S.) -- History.
  • Wildfires -- West (U.S.) -- Prevention and control -- History -- Sources.
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