Are Prescribed Burns The Silver Bullet Suggested For Wildfires?

“Outside-the-box thinking on prescribed burns, from the founder of Wild Horse Brigade.


NOTE: this article was sent to us, and written by, Willian Simpson on January 5, 2022. It is published here with permission from the author. Feature photo is of the the deadly 2018 Klamathon Fire approaching Camp Creek.


The Question stands: Are some County and State elected officials going to continue selling American Citizens the myth that ‘Prescribed/Controlled/Cultural Burns are somehow a Silver Bullet for reducing catastrophic wildfires?


Empirically speaking, the data we have prove that prescribed burning by any name is not only very costly, it’s led to some of the largest and most expensive wildfire disasters ever!

As we have already seen time and time again, ‘prescribed burning’, also known as ‘controlled burning’ is extremely dangerous, deadly and financially costly in many ways even when used by highly-trained professionals.

The most recent use of prescribed burning by professionals at the United States Forest Service (USFS) turned-disaster was experienced in New Mexico, where two prescribed burns went-wrong, joined together, and became the largest and most costly wildfire disaster in the history of New Mexico.

From the Washington post:

“In a statement, the Forest Service said that what began as a controlled burn in the Santa Fe National Forest in January, meant to clear away vegetation and prevent catastrophic wildfires in the future, turned into a “sleeper fire.” It overwintered beneath the ground, continuing to burn slowly until it re-emerged in early April.

Fueled by strong, gusty winds, the Calf Canyon fire escaped firefighters’ attempts to contain it.

On April 22, it merged with the Hermits Peak fire, which also began as a prescribed burn set by the Forest Service that grew out of control. In the month since then, the combined blazes have destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced thousands of people.”

When it comes to ‘prescribed burning’, ‘controlled burning’ or as it’s now being rebranded as ‘Eco-Cultural Fire’ to confuse taxpayers into thinking it’s somehow safer fire, playing with fire, regardless of who’s doing it or where, results in disaster, time and time again.

An excerpt from a 2015 article from Outside Magazine titled, When Prescribed Burns Go Wrong, clearly shows that the disasters that stem from prescribed burning, are being repeated over and over, as are the evolving explanations and excuses for the disasters:

“Tom Scanlan’s house burned down on an early spring afternoon in March 2012. Just days before, the Colorado State Forest Service had set fire to the dangerously overgrown forest near the Lower North Fork of the Platte River, about 40 miles outside Denver. The controlled burn was supposed to stave off a future blaze; instead, warm temperatures and high winds fanned a wall of flames that torched 1,400 acres, left three people dead, and destroyed 23 homes—even those like Scanlan’s with defensible space. “They did a number of things wrong,” says the 69-year-old former aeronautics executive, “but the biggest thing was setting that fire in the first place.”

Each year, more people like Scanlan move into the so-called wildland-urban interface. Ten million new homes were built in these exurban areas between 2000 and 2010; over 30 percent of America’s housing stock is now in the WUI. That means a growing number of people risk evacuation, property loss, and death when these kinds of accidents occur.

In March of this year, high winds and temperatures rekindled an extinguished burn in Red Lodge, Montana, forcing 500 skiers off the local ski area; another burn, in Victorville, California, quickly exploded into a 70-acre wildfire that required evacuation of 25 houses. The fires aren’t always so small. In 2000, the prescribed Cerro Grande fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico, torched over 280 homes. While residents have sued government agencies over burns gone wild, it’s hard to prove negligence; it’s more common to receive a small payout through emergency funds. (Those affected by the North Fork fire that destroyed Scanlan’s home received approximately $18 million from the Colorado government.)”

There are many more examples of prescribed / controlled burns gone-wrong and causing death and costly disaster. It’s evident that any arguable benefits of these intentional fires is far outweighed by the adverse results of these prescribed burns.

Think about what is being sold, that;  burning fuels in the winter that didn’t get burned by a wildfire somehow makes the landscape safer…  The giant BUG in that ointment is the fact that grass and brush are annual fuels, and come-back onto the landscape in full force by late spring – early summer and dry quickly and stay dry longer thanks to climate change.

So what, exactly is accomplished by winter prescribed burning?

The answer is; very little, other than spending boat-loads of tax dollars and risking more devastation being inflicted upon the people, homes, forests, wildlife and watersheds.

*The most important questions goes unasked; why?



It seems that there are people who are directly or indirectly monetizing annual wildfires who are not interested in asking the single most important question in regard to the evolution of wildfire.

*Why now is the landscape suffering from over-abundant annually-occurring grass and brush wildfire fuels buildup?

The answer to this most-important question is not climate change, nor is it a lack of logging trees.

The answer and reason for the now massive buildups of annual grass and brush, which are the key fuels in over 60% of all wildfires, is that our native species herbivory has collapsed due to mismanagement. Prodigious grass and brush fuels that grow annually, even in spite of climate change, are the root cause of catastrophic wildfires.[See Refs below]

There is an important tool being intentionally sequestered by some elected officials in favor of the lucrative enterprises related to wildfire suppression (aka: firefighting).

That tool is a Plan known as the Natural Wildfire Abatement and Forest Protection Plan.

The winners from implementing this Plan include:

1. Timber Industry
2. Forest and wildlife enthusiasts
3. Fisheries
4. Hunting Industry (benefits all game animals)
5. Livestock Industry
6. Insurance Industry
7. Climate Change/Crises



My TED-like talk about Wildfire & Wild Horses at the 2022 Mustang Summit (30-min. talk)


3-min. Primer on ABC NEWS story about the Natural Wildfire Abatement and Forest Protection Plan:



*Are Wild Horses a ‘Native Species?

*Here’s what the world’s leading Equine Paleontologist (Dr. Ross MacPhee – Curator at the American Museum of Natural History) told the world at a transcribed lecture in New York:

*The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California recognized wild horses as native species, explaining that BLM “establishes Appropriate Management Levels (“AMLs”) for populations of native species – including wild horses, burros, and other wildlife – and introduced animals, such as livestock.” In Defense of Animals, et al. v. U.S. Dept. Interior, et al., No. 12-17804, *6 (9th Cir. May 12, 2014). On Sep 28, 2011 (See Craters AR at 16698. Memorandum Decision & Order) The court addresses “sensitive” species pursuant to BLM’s 2001 Special Status Species Policy. This Policy requires that “sensitive” species be afforded, at a minimum, the same protections as candidate species for listing under the ESA. It called on BLM managers to “obtain and use the best available information deemed necessary to evaluate the status of special status species in areas affected by land use plans . . . .” See Policy at § 6840.22A. Under the Policy, those land use plans “shall be sufficiently detailed to identify and resolve significant land use conflicts with special status species without deferring conflict resolution to implementation-level planning.”

Wild Horse Fire Brigade Org (and link-minded supporters) believes that existing wild horse management is flawed and exorbitantly costly due to law from 1971 that predated consumer-driven land-use demands, and is based upon science that is now clearly obsolete and that contradicts core wild horse management premises.

Further, Wild Horse Fire Brigade Org believes that it is no-good for wild horses and livestock to remain commingled in areas virtually devoid of the natural predators of wild horses, and where they are deemed to be in conflict with consumer-driven land-use demands.

And as such, horses should properly be humanely relocated to other available wilderness areas where they provide proven benefits to taxpayers and other stakeholders and where they will not be in conflict with land-use demands; relocated to wilderness areas that are both economically and ecologically appropriate, ending the problem.

Putting fire onto 12-million acres of public lands in California for instance, is not only prohibitively expensive and required virtually on an annual basis, published peer-reviewed science proves:

1. Prescribed/Controlled/Cultural Fires do not sequester carbon compounds into the soils as is the case with herbivores; and, sends more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. EIN NEWS:

2.Even low intensity wildfire (and prescribed/controlled/cultural burns) damages soils, especially when done repeatedly.

California’s current population of deer is collapsed and down approx. 3-million animals that were previously annually grazing approx. 3.6-million tons of annual grass and brush which remains on the landscape annually. Any fire in areas that are habitually overgrown and stocked with abnormally high levels of fuels will burn catastrophic hot, regardless of who is using applied fire in an attempt to reduce annual grass and brush fuels.

Statement by ODF District Forester Dave Larson:

Good afternoon Bill,

I have read several articles that you have written regarding the hazardous fuels conditions in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument/Soda Mt. Wilderness that surround your property. I appreciate you bringing this issue forward and your willingness to provide potential solutions to the current conditions in our forests. The Oregon Department of Forestry provides fire protection through a long term agreement with the BLM and does not have land management authority on federal ownership. Because of the mixed ownership, these lands are intermingled with private lands and I too have great concerns about the buildup of forest fuels on the landscape. This buildup of fuels are making it increasingly difficult to control wildfires and keeping these fires to the smallest size possible. We need to continue to work with our federal partners to find solutions to achieve a more fire resilient landscape. There are a number of potential options available to land managers that can help us be successful in getting to this goal. I would like to see further research and development in the utilization of grazing as a potential fuels reduction tool. Having worked in wildfire for almost 30 years I have personally witnessed how grazed lands in combination with responsible prescribed fire can reduce the intensity and fuel loading on the landscape. Your idea of using wild horses as a potential fuels management tool may be a viable option to consider and I would be in support of the BLM investing in further research. As a fire manager responsible for 1.8 million acres of forestland, I appreciate anything that we can do to maintain a healthy forests for all to enjoy. 

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to be of assistance.

Thank you,

Dave Larson
District Forester 
Southwest Oregon District 
Oregon Department of Forestry


Negative effects of low-severity fire on soil structure and organic matter

Date: September 10, 2018
Source: Desert Research Institute
Low-severity wildland fires and prescribed burns have long been presumed by scientists and resource managers to be harmless to soils, but this may not be the case, new research shows. According to two new studies, low-severity burns cause damage to soil structure and organic matter in ways that are not immediately apparent after a fire.
2) After The Fires – Hydrophobic Soils. University of Idaho F5 – Hydrophobic soils – F5-After-the-Fires-Hydrophobic-Soils.pdf
Aside from property and aesthetic loss, this can include situations where highly erodible soils are exposed by burning the organic material on the soil surface. The burning of litter and organic material can reduce infiltration, increase surface runoff and erosion, and lead to hydrophobicity, or hydrophobic soils.
3) Importance of maintaining cover crops in wilderness for ground water during drought.  PLOS:
We found that introducing perennials (grasses, agroforestry, managed forestry) or cover crops led to the largest increases in infiltration rates (mean responses of 59.2 ± 20.9% and 34.8 ± 7.7%, respectively). Also, although the overall effect of no-till was non-significant (5.7 ± 9.7%), the practice led to increases in wetter climates and when combined with residue retention.
My 8-years of studying how wild horses engage in carbon-cycling into soils while concurrently reseeding soils with the undigested seeds of native flora via their dung, a function that is not seen in ruminants that digests virtually all of the native flora seeds they consume, supports the critically important fact that wild horses are exceptionally equipped to naturally manage wildfire fuel loading (grass and brush) and maintaining the grass and brush preventing prodigious annual buildups, and reseeding the cover crops required for maximum infiltration of annual precipitation, and also, maintaining the life-cycles of flora required by co-evolved fauna that are dependent upon the native flora for their sustenance. The co-evolved fauna requiring proper cover crops include game animals (mammals and birds) as well as insects / pollinators.
It’s settled-science that ruminants (deer, cattle, sheep, goats) digest virtually all of the seeds they consume, and therefore, end the life-cycles of plants and grasses that they use for forage. Wild horses do not, as is disclosed in several peer-reviewed published studies on the germinablity of seeds in horse dung.
The loss of native cover crops is disastrous for critical wilderness areas and leads to the degradation of forests and wildlife, since the net loss of native cover crops results in the decline of game animals (deer, elk, quail, grouse, chuckar, pheasant, doves, etc.) (and non-game) and pollinators / insects.
The net loss of native cover crops in fire-stricken wilderness (and areas subjected to prescribed/controlled/cultural burns) also leads to catastrophic erosion which costs American taxpayers hundreds of $-millions annually.
The post fire erosion is devastating on fisheries as a result of sedimentaton of spawning beds for endangered salmonids and trout, and results in collapsed fisheries.
KRISWEB  Sediment In Streams
Excess sediment can profoundly effect the productivity of a salmon or trout stream (Cordone and Kelly, 1961). In a healthy stream, young salmon and trout hide in the interstitial spaces between cobbles and boulders to avoid predation . In streams that get extremely cold in winter, young steelhead may actually burrow into the streambed and spend the winter in flowing water down within the gravel. The area of the stream where flowing water extends down into the gravel is also extremely important for aquatic invertebrates, which supply most of the food for young salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. If fine sediment is clogging interstitial spaces between streambed gravel, juvenile salmonids lose their source of cover and food.
Salmon, steelhead and coastal cutthroat trout are also very susceptible to sediment pollution because they build their nests in the stream bottom. The eggs, buried one to three feet deep in the gravel redd, rely on a steady flow of clean, cold water to deliver oxygen and remove waste products. In coastal streams the eggs usually hatch in about 30 days, depending on water temperatures. Eggs hatch into alevin and remain in the gravel another 30 days or so, living on the nutrients in their yolk sacs. As they develop into fry, the yolk is used up, and the fry must  emerge through spaces in the gravel to take up life in the stream. During the 60 day period when eggs and alevin are in the gravel, major shifts of the stream bottom can kill them (Nawa and Frissell, 1993.)
Koski (1966) and Tappel and Bjornn (1983) demonstrated that increased fine sediment in spawning gravels caused decreased survival and emergence of salmonid eggs and alevin. McNeil and Ahnell (1964) found fines less than 0.85 mm (0.833 was actual sieve size) to have the highest impact on salmonid spawning success. Particles of less than 6.4 mm are recognized as having the potential to infiltrate redds forming a layer in the stream gravels which sometimes prevents emergence of fry (Lisle, 1989). Kondolf (2000), in a review of the literature, found that when fines (<6.4 mm) exceeded 30% that it reduced salmonid emergence and survival by 50%. Chapman (1988) showed different responses to similar levels of fines from various field studies (Figure 5 from Chapman) and noted that laboratory experiments might not duplicate redd dynamics.
Studies conducted in redds in Olympic Peninsula streams in Washington found that if more than 13% fine sediment (<0.85 mm) intruded into the redd, almost no steelhead or coho salmon eggs survived (McHenry et al., 1994). Barnard (1992) showed that fine sediment levels inside and outside coho salmon redds varied substantially in Freshwater Creek, a tributary to Humboldt Bay. Fines (<1 mm) averaged seven percent inside redds and 13% outside them, with no inside redd measurement in excess of 13%. 
While salmon have the ability to substantially lower fine sediment in the redd pocket during redd construction, if fine sediment levels in the stream bed outside the redd are high, there is a potential for fines to intrude into already constructed redds during high flows (Kondolf, 2000). Because the redd  is a depression in the stream bed, it creates Venturi forces, drawing water down into the gravel. Fine sediment in suspension during storms may be sucked down into the redd. 
Lotspeich and Everest (1983) noted that pore space and permeability were key variables in the quality of salmonid spawning gravel, and suggested using the central tendency of particles (FREDLE Index) as a standard. They postulated that, because of varying head diameters, coho salmon have less success emerging as fry than steelhead trout when fine sediment levels in redds are high. Barnard and McBain (1994) suggested that measuring permeability itself might be a quicker, and more cost effective, method of measuring sediment impacts on salmonids. McBain and Trush (2000) concluded that measuring permeability defined “the variability in spawning gravel quality with better resolution and at lower cost than substrate composition analysis, but the relationship between permeability and salmonid egg survival is less well known.”
Suspended sediment in the water column causes turbidity. Sigler et al. (1984) found that turbidities as low as 25 nephlometric turbidity units (ntu) caused a reduction in juvenile steelhead and coho growth. High turbidity during winter likely impacts the feeding ability of juvenile salmon, steelhead or cutthroat trout, and the longer the duration of high turbidity the more damage is likely to fish and other aquatic organisms (Newcombe and MacDonald, 1991). Higgins (2002) noted measurement of turbidity in excess of 25 ntu for weeks at a time in Freshwater Creek (Humboldt County) in the winter of 1999, after widespread logging in the watershed upstream in a relatively short duration.
Coho and chinook salmon do not have the leaping ability of steelhead and are, therefore, confined to low gradient reaches. These reaches were formerly the most productive spawning and rearing areas, with an ample supply of good gravel and large wood. High bedload transport can bury low gradient reaches, making them much simpler and less productive salmonid habitat. These formerly productive low gradient reaches become wide and shallow and recovery of fish habitat may take decades (Frissell, 1992). Lisle (1981) noted that recovery of streams with high gradient proceeds much more rapidly following large flood events.
V star chart
Knopp (1993), in a study of 60 northwestern California streams, found that intensive land use management was correlated to loss of pool volume.  In the chart from Knopp (1993) at left, Elder Creek, an unmanaged watershed, had roughly 7% of its pool volumes filled by sediment while logged streams sometimes were over half filled (>0.50 V*). During the year they spend in freshwater, coho salmon prefer deep pools that form around large pieces of wood. High sediment transport can fill pools and cause reduction or loss of essential salmonid juvenile rearing habitat (Frissell, 1992). Brown et al. (1994) noted that optimal coho habitat is comprised of pools at least one meter deep (39 inches), and Reeves (1988) found that yearling and older steelhead juveniles needed pools at least three feet deep for successful rearing
[1] MANAGED TO EXTINCTION? A 40th Anniversary Legal Forum assessing the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act; TRANSCRIPT: ROSS MACPHEE, Curator, Division of Vertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH):
[2] Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife:
[3] The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California recognized wild horses as native species, explaining that BLM “establishes Appropriate Management Levels (“AMLs”) for populations of native species – including wild horses, burros, and other wildlife – and introduced animals, such as livestock.” In Defense of Animals, et al. v. U.S. Dept. Interior, et al., No. 12-17804, *6 (9th Cir. May 12, 2014). On Sep 28, 2011 (See Craters AR at 16698. Memorandum Decision & Order) The court addresses “sensitive” species pursuant to BLM’s 2001 Special Status Species Policy. This Policy requires that “sensitive” species be afforded, at a minimum, the same protections as candidate species for listing under the ESA. It called on BLM managers to “obtain and use the best available information deemed necessary to evaluate the status of special status species in areas affected by land use plans . . . .” See Policy at § 6840.22A. Under the Policy, those land use plans “shall be sufficiently detailed to identify and resolve significant land use conflicts with special status species without deferring conflict resolution to implementation-level planning.”
[4] Land Held Hostage: A History of Livestock and Politics; Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D. Citation by: Professor Thomas L. Fleischner, Ph.D“The most severe vegetation changes of the last 5400 years occurred during the past 200 years. The nature and timing of these changes suggest that they were primarily caused by 19th-century open-land sheep and cattle ranching.”
[5] Foods of wild horses, deer, and cattle in the Douglas Mountain area, Colorado. Hansen, R. M., Clark, R. C., & Lawhorn, W. (1977). Journal of Range Management, 30(2), 116-118.
[6] Evolution of wild horses and cattle and the effect on range damage
[8] Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores: “By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape”.  William J. Ripple. Et. Al.
[9] Rewilding: Jozef Keulartz. “The removal of large herbivores has adverse effects on landscape structure and ecosystem functioning. In wetter ecosystems, the loss of large herbivores is associated with an increased abundance of woody plants and the development of a closed-canopy vegetation. In drier ecosystems, reductions of large grazers can lead to a high grass biomass, and thus, to an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Together, with the loss of a prey base for large carnivores, these changes in vegetation structures and fire regimes may trigger cascades of extinctions (Bakker et al., 2016; Estes et al., 2011; Hopcraft, Olff, & Sinclair, 2009; Malhi et al., 2016).”
[10] Wild horses: Are they being managed to extinction? William E. Simpson II;
[11] Cattle Grazing Effects on Macroinvertebrates in an Oregon Mountain Stream; Rangeland Ecology and Management 60(3), 293-303, (1 May 2007) James D. McIver and Michael L. McInnis;[293:CGEOMI]2.0.CO;2
[12] Dr. Cassandra Nunez – PhD:  Published research
[12a] Lingering effects of contraception management on feral mare (Equus caballus) fertility and social behavior.
[13] Influence of ruminant digestive processes on germination of ingested seeds
[15] Public lands bear the ecological brunt of livestock grazing:
[18] Project to Reform Public Land Grazing in Northern California
[19] Large herbivore can reduce fire risks

On Natural Selection of Wild Equids via Co-Evolved Predators:
Knopff KH, Knopff AA, Kortello A, Boyce MS. (2010). Cougar Kill Rate and Prey Composition in a Multiprey System. Journal of Wildlife Management 74(7):000–000; 2010; DOI: 10.2193/2009-314. Downloaded at:

French, Brett. (2010, December 9). Ferocious appetites: Study finds mountain lions may be eating more than previously believed. Billings Gazette. Retrieved from:
Turner JW Jr and Morrison ML. (2001). Influence of Predation by Mountain Lions on Numbers and Survivorship of a Feral Horse Population. The Southwestern Naturalist. Vol. 46, No. 2 (Jun., 2001), pp. 183-190. Available at:
Greger, Paul D. and Romney, Evan M. (1999). High foal mortality limits growth of a desert feral horse population in Nevada. Great Basin Naturalist: Vol. 59: No. 4, Article 10. Available at:
French, Brett. (2004, August 12). Lions blamed for deaths of Pryor foals. Billings Gazette. Retrieved from:

For more posts like this, in your inbox weekly – sign up for the Restoring Diversity Newsletter

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.
  • Yikes! This is a self promotion piece that lacks any real understanding how wildfire is an essential part of our ecosystems. Without it many species of pine would be unable to propagate.

    Wildfire suppression is expensive. Studies on prescribed fire vs fire suppression have found fire suppression is about 4 times more expensive than prescribed fire. Prescribed fires in ponderosa pine forest can make those ecosystems resilient to wildfires for 3 to 5 years. The southeastern US uses prescribed fire regularly to restore native long leaf pine ecosystems and returned nutrients locked in downed trees and tree branches back into the ecosystem.

    He then goes on to suggest that introducing horses to wilderness areas will be the solution to wildfires? Wow that’s nuts! Fire is a natural part of most ecosystems in the US. Horses are well understood to not be native to the US. Horses wreak havoc on native ungulate species, displacing them from water sources and eating vegetation that native species are dependent on.

    • The author Bill Simpson responds as follows:

      “My guess this is from a rancher who doesn’t understand the physics or thermodynamics of wildfire; essentially, the difference between ‘normal wildfire’ that occurred back when (20th century) we had about 5-million more large-bodied herbivores in the western U.S.  Today, they are gone and now, missing those 5-million large herbivores (deer, elk and wild horses) we have insanely abnormal grass and brush fuel-loading, which when burning (wildfire or RxFire) burns abnormally hot and destroys all fire-evolved conifers because this new abnormal fire is even too hot for them.”

      My own comments are these:

      • Here is a recent scientific article that discusses the origins of American horses:
      • Let us think about the definition of “Native” holistically: Horses are COMPLEMENTARY not COMPETITIVE with the wildlife, plants and water of North America for the simple reason that these coevolved over the last 60-million years, and are interdependent (symbiotic). Obviously, animals that evolved in North America over 60-million years, and which may have been hunted out by early Native Americans only 5,000-years ago – or never completely hunted out at all – are still native.
      • Cattlemen, hunters and horse advocates want the same things, and are natural allies.
      • Speaking as a rancher in overgrown and fire prone Idaho forests, I will tell you that lack of animal impact is the root cause of forest decline. Like cows and goats, horses will open forests and increase food for wildlife, provided they are properly managed.
      • There is lots of discussion on this in the blog.

      Thanks for writing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *