This story centers on Gila National Forest, but discusses a general, if temporary, policy this year: Whenever practical, the U.S. Forest Service is jumping on all fires as soon as they brew up. Why? Because it’s cheaper . . .
If lightning strikes in the New Mexico wilderness and starts a fire, the blaze would normally be little more than a blip on the radar of land managers who have earned a reputation for letting flames burn to keep forested lands from growing into a tangled mess.
This season is different. Now firefighters are trekking deep into the Gila National Forest with trains of equipment-carrying horses and one overriding goal: snuffing out all fires, no matter how small or remote.
The U.S. Forest Service’s decision is temporary. But after years of upholding fire’s natural ability to clean up the landscape, the agency’s about-face has drawn criticism from watchdog groups, some scientists and others who fear the agency might be setting the stage for an even more destructive season next year.