Sustainability science promotes place-based resource management because natural processes vary among ecosystems. When local science is limited, land managers may be forced to generalize from other ecosystems that function differently. One proposed solution is to draw upon the traditional ecological knowledge that indigenous groups have accumulated through resource use. Integrating traditional ecological knowledge with conventional resource management is difficult, especially when the two offer competing explanations of local environments. Although resource managers may discount traditional ecological knowledge that contradicts conventional resource management, we investigate the possibility that these disagreements can arise when nonlocal resource management generalizations displace place-based science. Specifically, we compare claims about wildfires made by Athabascan forest users residing in or near the Koyukuk National Wildlife Refuge and in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fire management plan for that refuge. We focus on two aspects of fire ecology and management: the drivers of landscape flammability and the feasibility of using wildfires and prescribed burns to achieve resource management objectives. The results indicated that some disagreements came from reliance of the federal fire management plan on generalized national narratives at the expense of place-based science. We propose that in some cases, conflicts between traditional ecological knowledge and conventional resource management, rather than indicating a dead end, can identify topics requiring in-depth, place-based research.