Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Model for Modern Fire Management?

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Joint Fire Science Program
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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.


Joint Fire Science Program. 2014. “Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Model for Modern Fire Management?” Fire Science Digest, no. 20 (November).