The challenge of restoring natural fire to wilderness
Document Type: Conference Proceedings
Author(s): David J. Parsons
Editor(s): David N. Cole; Stephen F. McCool; William T. Borrie; Jennifer O'Loughlin
Publication Year: 2000

Cataloging Information

  • fire
  • fire regimes
  • fire suppression
  • wilderness
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: December 13, 2016
FRAMES Record Number: 2848


Despite clear legislative and policy direction to preserve natural conditions in wilderness, the maintenance of fire as a natural process has proven to be a significant challenge to federal land managers. As of 1998, only 88 of the 596 designated wilderness areas in the United States, excluding Alaska, had approved fire plans that allow some natural ignitions to burn; and even those areas with active natural fire programs continue to suppress many natural ignitions. As a result, none of the four federal wilderness management agencies have been able to restore fire to a level that even approaches pre-settlement fire regimes. Although prescribed fire has been utilized in some areas as a means to compensate for the lack of natural fire, it has been questioned as an appropriate wilderness management tool and is prohibited for most uses in Forest Service wilderness. The questions must be asked whether it is practical to expect restoration of natural fire regimes in wilderness and if they cannot be restored, what are the options and implications for wilderness resources and values?

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (123 KB; pdf)
Parsons, David J. 2000. The challenge of restoring natural fire to wilderness. Pages 276-282 in: Cole, David N.; McCool, Stephen F.; Borrie, William T.; O'Loughlin, Jennifer (compilers). Wilderness science in a time of change conference-Volume 5: Wilderness ecosystems, threats, and management; May 23-27, 1999; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-5. Ogden, UT: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.