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The DOJ delivers the Comey memos to Congress. Also on our rundown: More evidence that rent prices are out of reach in many markets; Wisconsin counties brace for sulfide mining; and the Earth Day focus this weekend in North Dakota is on recycling.

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Firefighting Policy Flip-Flop at Forest Service

PHOTO: The U.S. Forest Service is returning to its decades-old policy of letting some backcountry fires burn, instead of suppressing all fires. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
PHOTO: The U.S. Forest Service is returning to its decades-old policy of letting some backcountry fires burn, instead of suppressing all fires. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
March 6, 2013

CASPER, Wyo. - For decades, the U.S. Forest Service let small fires in remote areas burn naturally in recognition that fire was part of the natural landscape - and that by letting some fires burn, future large fires could be prevented. Last year, however, every fire was battled unless granted special status.

That's been recognized as part of the reason the Forest Service spent more than $1 billion fighting fires in 2012.

Now, the agency is taking the "fight all fires" directive off the books.

Timothy Inglesbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology (FUSEE), said it means flexibility in making decisions this season.

"Our response to fire has to be tailored to the conditions of the fire and our goals for the piece of ground it's burning on," he said.

The forest official who required that all fires be suppressed in 2012 had a goal of keeping all fires small.

Inglesbee said the blanket policy of "fighting all fires" last year meant millions were spent battling backcountry lightning-sparked blazes. Those kinds of fires had previously been allowed to burn, and will again this year.

"Which enables fire managers to use fire to benefit the ecosystem," he said, "especially those ecosystems that depend on or require wildfire to maintain their ecological health and integrity."

Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell issued the decision on the policy shift for the upcoming fire season.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY