Human Elements: Healing forests with fire

By studying how Indigenous societies use fire, ecologist Ernesto Alvarado is learning how we can fight wildfires.

Wildland firefighters execute a controlled burn in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. (Beatriz Costa Lima/Crosscut)

Ernesto Alvarado’s childhood was filled with fire. He learned of its danger and its promise while growing up in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert — how it could both destroy the things that grew on the land and bring them back. As a professor of wildfire ecology at the University of Washington, Alvarado now studies Indigenous cultures around the world, integrating and elevating their ecological knowledge to get a fuller picture of how ecosystems work.

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