Every year in early spring, Lane Green sets half of his property—100 acres of longleaf pine forest in the Red Hills region of the Florida Panhandle—on fire. Green, 73, has been burning this land since the time he learned to walk. His father would jury-rig a torch using a wire hanger and piece of cloth and tell him to drag it through the brush along the road—just as Green’s father had been taught before him, his granddad before him, and his great-granddad before him. When Green was young, his favorite time to burn was at night, when the air was cool, and the fire, creeping and crackling, looked as if the stars had been scattered across the ground.
Scientists and land managers almost universally agree that prescribed fire is the single best tool available to help mitigate wildfire risk. Landowners in the American Southeast use more prescribed fire than in any other part of the country. But across much of the American West—which has captured an outsize proportion of the public imagination around wildfire—scientists say land management agencies aren’t using fire nearly enough.