Smokey the Bear and fire prevention — a PR success story, but not so successful on the ground. 350 Sacramento’s recent screening and panel discussion of the documentary film ‘Wilder than Wild: Fire, Forests, and the Future‘ walked me through burnt landscapes wrought by recent fires showing how and why past forest management practices have failed. This movie was my great unlearning of Smokey’s lesson that fire is like a gateway drug — hint: don’t believe it!
The mainstream philosophy that all fires must be suppressed is dangerous and backwards — and the movie illustrates this from various angles. Crucially, we must accept that human coexistence with nature in California means facilitating the fire that has sustained and shaped life in forests for generations before European colonization. Successful fire suppression is a myth, though popularly we liken it to a sustainable goal to strive for. Klamath Siskiyou and Yurok elders know what fire means to the natural environment.
In the film we hear a Yurok tribal member recount his family’s imperative to set fire to specific locations to rid their lands of excess fire fuel. Fire professionals know this, too, that a crowded forest floor is a liability, just as homes near overcrowded forests are susceptible in a land full of dry fuel. We are facing more intense megafires now because of the legacy of decades of fire suppression by our forest management agencies.
We have heard that climate change is making forests and timber drier. While true, there are reasons to reverse our current practices that caused forest overgrowth and crowded underbrush, much of which consists of invasive plants. There are ways to be effective and collaborative: organizations and government agencies are ready to reinstate traditional forest management practices to harness fire’s cleansing processes and they need public support.
The obstacle is mainly a PR problem, a strategy involving using fire is a difficult one to sell to a weary public, but if we are more shrewd than Smokey, we should pursue it as a goal: teaching and implementation of traditional ecological knowledge of forest and environmental management. While anything that produces smoke is likely to cause a pushback, we have to look at our landscape and understand that now more than ever, intermittent prescribed fire as a preventative and restorative measure is preferable to the wholesale burning of California by megafires.
We change the public narrative by sharing stories, having conversations, and hosting events like our recent virtual screening and panel on Wilder Than Wild, where over 270 people registered! You can click here to watch the recording of our panel!
Follow the organizations that organized this event on social media / email
- 350 Sacramento: Facebook | Instagram | Email list
- Sacramento Native American Health Center: Facebook | Instagram
- Ensuring Native Indian Traditions club at Sac State: Instagram
- Environmental Student Organization at Sac State: Instagram
- Sunrise Movement Sacramento: Facebook | Instagram
Also follow the Cultural Fire Management Council: Instagram
Host a screening of Wilder Than Wild in your community:
Written by Alex A.