Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wildland Fire Law and Policy

The year after I graduated from college, I had the pleasure of spending a year serving in the AmeriCorps National Civil Community Corps. We worked in teams on different community service projects in different parts of the country. I happened to be on the “fire team.” This meant our thirteen person crew could be called away from a tutoring, trail building, or habitat restoration project to lend a hand should a wildland fire arise. We called ourselves the “Lucky Thirteen.” Sure enough, that summer I found myself hauling my 45-pound pack alongside experienced firefighters in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, digging line through the night in an effort to contain flames.

The experience forced me to face the conflicts between forests and human life and property. However, what I did not realize at the time is how well fire demonstrates the sheer complexity of the interaction between human landscapes and ecosystems. Fire can impair ecosystems and scatter wildlife, displacing human sustenance, recreational, and other needs. Yet fires also have fostered and shaped the evolution and development of many organisms. For instance, one species of pine tree produces cones that are so tightly sealed that they can only be opened—and thus their seeds dispersed—by the heat that fire brings. These types of complexities have set up important and difficult policy debates on how the law can best serve public and private objectives.

Fueled by high winds and record temperatures and drought last fall, the most destructive wildfires in the history of Texas—which covered an area the size of Connecticut—have reinvigorated these debates. I am pleased to announce that Texas Wesleyan’s new Journal of Real Property, for its inaugural symposium, has assembled an impressive group of scholars (listed below) to address many of the outstanding questions surrounding wildfire law and policy. The event will take place tomorrow, March 23, 2012, and the journal will publish the panelists’ articles this summer.

-Tim Mulvaney

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