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Why Use Prescribed Fire?
  • Fire managers use prescribed fires - that is, fires that are intentionally ignited under predetermined conditions by trained fire personnel - to help restore and maintain ecosystem health. Fire managers have greater control over the impact of fire to the ecosystem on prescribed fires than on wildfires because they can time and plan the conditions for burning. As a results, prescribed fires are often used to achieve specific resource objectives, such as habitat improvement, fuels reduction, and overall range and forest restoration.
Fire's Role On The Landscape

•Fire has been a vital force shaping vegetation across the landscape in southwestern Colorado, particularly in the ponderosa pine, pinyon juniper woodland, and mountain shrubland communities. Much of this ecosystem evolved with fire, so it has become fire dependent - that is, fire is essential to sustaining the function and health of the biotic systems. Fire creates a dynamic vegetative "mosaic" or mix of successional stages, communities, and stand ages in the various plant communities. This shifting mosaic is essential to the stability of the system as a whole. Fire is also a critical element in the creation of wildlife habitats. Because fire affects habitat quality and diversity, it regulates the types and number of species in the ecosystem.

Fire's role in the environment


Fire Has Been Excluded

• Over the last century, fire has been excluded in many areas where it once played a critical role in maintaining ecosystem health. Traditional land management practices, such as grazing, logging and fire suppression, have changed the structure and composition of many plant communities and greatly affected many species occurring in Western Colorado. The resulting changes include an overall increase in the density of trees, particularly in the ponderosa pine, with relatively more saplings and pole-sized trees and fewer large trees. There has been an increase of ground fuels in the form of litter and fine woody debris. Trees such as pinyon pine and juniper have also invaded formerly shrub or grass dominated areas. Many of the remaining shrub-grassland areas are dominated by older age plants, and these areas have fewer native bunchgrasses and forbs. Non-native species such as cheatgreass and knapweed have out-competed native grasses in many areas. Prescribed fire ,in combination with chemical and mechanical treatments, such as roller-chopping or chaining gives fire managers the greatest control in helping restore fire to the landscape.


• The smoke from any wildland fire can be a significant source of air pollution because fire is a natural combustion process that releases air pollutant emissions. The amount and size of emissions depends on the size and intensity of the wildfire. Prescribed fires give managers the greatest control over the size and intensity of the fire because they can time and plan the burning conditions under which they ignite, and they can use ignition techniques that reduce emissions. Therefore, prescribed fires provide the greatest management flexibility in controlling smoke production and impacts in smoke-sensitive and high visibility areas.

Smoke from a prescribed fire

Fire managers must consider the potential impact to air in developing prescribed burn plans. They have to acquire a smoke permit from the State, and their burns can only be conducted if the established federal and state standards for air quality can be met or mitigated in an acceptable manner. Prescribed fires are conducted under favorable burning conditions; when smoke dispersal is good and the amount of emissions and direction of the smoke dispersal are monitored throughout the burn.

It is important to note that while prescribed fires do impact air quality in the short-term, they help reduce the risk of more long-term impacts from larger, more intense wildfires that can burn for longer periods. These uncontrolled wildfires typically cause greater air pollutant emission levels and occur under unfavorable smoke dispersion conditions, which ultimately result in more extreme and widespread air quality impacts.

Firefighter igniting a prescribed fire
Prescribed Fire Links
  Prescribed Fire on the GMUG National Forest
  BLM SW District Press Releases
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