Yosemite and Fire

sentinel at Yosemite National Park

I’m intrigued by our national park and national forest fire management policies for several reasons. First, we’ve had a somewhat controlled and semi-discreet area for the policies to play out (the national parks and forests). Second, we’ve had a time period long enough to see some results from the policies (100 years, give or take). Third, we appear to have reached a consensus view in some circles regarding which elements of these policies were responsible for the results we now label as flawed or undesirable (fire suppression is one of the more obvious elements). I realize this is a broad brush recap of this issue, and that many grey areas and much disagreement still exists.

The 1910 fires acted as a triggering event for a wide range of fire management policies. Since then, a reconsideration of suppression strategies, management responses, and the overall decision-making process has occurred. We have the benefit of 100 years of hindsight and on-the-ground experimentation with regards to our fire management policies. Still, we have fires, and with the fires, we have disagreement over next steps. In the policy arena, a quick review of federal policy directives shows that we have already made some changes in how we manage for fire in our national parks and national forests. But is it enough? For the benefit of our parks, for the people who enjoy (and protect) them, for the plants and animals who need them (I’m talking to you, pika!), perhaps we should use the current focus on Yosemite’s fires to revisit and revise some of these policies.

Yosemite National Park, August 21, 2013. Image credit National Park Service + Yosemite Conservancy. Webcam capture by Westernlabs.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Kurt. First of all, thank you for supporting our little project here at ParksFolio. You’ve generously shared images that we would otherwise not have the ability to take on our own.

    You also have a very unique position on this topic given your recent work in Yosemite. The long history and the feedback that is derived from that span of time should influence the best version of fire management policy.

    As a frequent park visitor I instinctively want to protect all of it, seal it in a vacuum, and never allow anything to tarnish the perfect view. But there is also a more logical side of me that knows that certain critters and plants require the natural process that fire sparks (pun intended) to truly flourish.

    I want to know more about the official policy on fire management and have begun researching that. I think you’re right in suggesting that the recent Yosemite fire is a perfect backdrop for a new revision or at least evaluation of the overall policy that we have to shape future responses to fire in the Parks.

    Thanks again for the story.

    • Kurt Angersbach says:

      It’s totally my pleasure and I’m glad the images were helpful. Speaking of images, all credit for the webcam images goes to the amazing folks at Yosemite Conservancy and the National Park Service —they are the ones who put together the funding for the cameras and bandwidth, and who worked through the necessary regulations to get the infrastructure in place. They are also the ones who continue to contend with adverse weather and other difficulties in order to keep these images streaming year round!

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