July 3, 2022
The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) is launching an investigation after U.S. Forest Service-controlled burns that escaped caused the largest wildfire ever recorded in New Mexico.
The GAO is examining controlled burn policies at the Forest Service and other federal land agencies.
On May 20, USFS Chief Randy Moore halted all so-called prescribed fires on its land for a 90-day safety review. The New Mexico fire has burned more than 340,000 acres and is still not fully contained.
But many fire ecologists and forestry experts are concerned that this “pause” is only worsening the wildfire risk. Critics say it’s merely masking the agency’s dangerously incremental, outdated and problematic approach to intentional burns and fire mitigation, a policy that has failed to adapt to climate change and megadrought.
“A lot of the planning tools that fire managers rely upon for planning prescribed burns were built under a climate that no longer exists,” says biologist and professor Matthew Hurteau, who studies the intersection of climate change, wildfire and forest ecosystems at the University of New Mexico. “That’s a systemic problem,” he says.