Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies

Committee Chair

Mark Sundeen

Commitee Members

Phil Condon, Ana Maria Spagna


wildfire, trails, fire ecology, natural resource management, Washington state, memoir


University of Montana

Subject Categories



Our national conversation about wildfire is shifting. As wildland fires become larger, more frequent, more severe, and more expensive—and as climate change and land-use patterns drive the trend toward more fire—we’re scrambling to find a different paradigm for engaging with fire. Scientists now call this age of increasingly extreme burning the Pyrocene, and we’re just beginning to grapple with its impacts on the way we work, play, and live on the land.

As a longtime trail worker for the U.S. Forest Service, I’ve spent hundreds of days clearing trails in burned forests. In Trailing Fire, I draw on these experiences to show how we have yet to reckon with wildfire’s longer-term effects on outdoor recreation, and to explore what that means for how humans connect with wild spaces.

As outdoor recreation surges across the country, putting public lands in the spotlight and prompting important conversations about equity, inclusion, and access in the outdoors, federal recreation budgets keep shrinking, forcing smaller crews to keep up with the impacts of exploding use. Meanwhile, more fire means trail-maintenance workloads are growing, as the effects of severe burns persist for years, if not decades. While approaches to preparing for and fighting wildfire are changing at both a policy and community level, federal land managers have no comprehensive strategy for addressing the impacts of fire on recreation and trails. And that’s a problem, because recreation provides a portal through which vast numbers of Americans connect with wild spaces. Extreme fire regimes, by limiting access to the outdoors, threaten opportunities for understanding fire’s historic and future role in our shared landscapes.

I illustrate these complexities by sharing vivid stories from my years of restoring burned trails, at the same time tracing my evolving understanding of reciprocity between communities, landscapes, and the fires that shape them. Trailing Fire weaves personal narrative with ecological and political context, offering an intimate and original perspective on living and working in the Pyrocene.

Included in

Nonfiction Commons



© Copyright 2022 Claire Kilchrenan Thompson