For many thousands of years, aboriginal peoples worldwide used fire to manage landscapes. In North America, the frequency and extent of fire (both human caused and natural) were much reduced after European colonization. Fire exclusion became the policy in the United States for most of the 20th century as the country became more settled and industrialized. Past fire exclusion has helped produce landscapes that are highly susceptible to uncharacteristically severe wildfire. An urgent challenge for land managers today is to reduce fire risk through several means, including prescribed burning, without harm to culturally significant resources or human communities. The Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) is supporting the development of methods and tools aimed at incorporating the traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples into standard science-based fire management. JFSP-supported researchers are also developing tools that provide a framework for organizing and sharing tribal knowledge with nontribal scientists and managers. Because indigenous knowledge and Western science come from such different cultural traditions, blending them is not a straightforward process. Even so, current partnerships among tribal leaders, agency and tribal land managers, and other stakeholders promise to move some landscapes closer to a resilient condition.
Image Source: Joint Fire Science Program