Prescribed Fire: Balancing Public Health and Land Management Goals

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Fire is a critical component of many natural disturbance regimes in the southeastern United States; however, a century of fire suppression policies has disrupted many such regimes and severely degraded ecosystems throughout the region. Today land managers use prescribed fire to restore ecosystems, but the sudden increase in burning has raised concerns over public health. Smoke from fire adds fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to the atmosphere, which is linked to a myriad of negative health outcomes. This study seeks to identify areas with high smoke sensitivity across the southeastern U.S. and quantify the costs and benefits of using prescribed fire in these areas. Combining a variety of ecological, epidemiological, and economic models using geographic information systems, I found that using prescribed fire does negatively impact public health. Nonetheless, this impact is dwarfed by the negative impact of wildfires, which are more likely to occur if fire is excluded from fire-dependent ecosystems. I recommend land managers continue to use prescribed fire for maintaining ecosystem functions, but to minimize smoke dispersion over local and regional sensitive areas.





Oakley, Daniel (2022). Prescribed Fire: Balancing Public Health and Land Management Goals. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.