We agree with your Editorial (Nature 406, 661; 2000) in that the spectacular fires of last year should be a stimulus for improving management of forest ecosystems in the American west. In fact, through the leadership of the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, a new programme is being implemented to improve forest management, in view of fire and other hazards that endanger forest health.
However, we strongly disagree with your statement that the Forest Service “uses its money to pay its staff, not to conduct high-quality research into forest management”.
In reality the Forest Service, beginning in the 1920s under Rafael Zon, has exerted global leadership in forestry research. The ecosystem models used to manage fires in the west and to accomplish appropriate restoration are products of long-term ecological research, started decades before the value of such research was realized in the academic community or other scientific organizations. Five of the National Science Foundation long-term ecological research sites are Forest Service research sites, where such work has been taking place for many years.
Forest Service research is cost-effective. About 7% of the agency's budget, some $220 million a year, supports six research stations, the Forest Products Laboratory and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry.