21 Sep 2008, 9:17pm
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

Status quo will only bring bigger forest fires

by Royal Burnett, Speak Your Piece at the Redding Record Searchlight, September 21, 2008 [here]

Fire season is on the wane and now is the time to discuss fire issues. This is the third summer in a row where the citizens of Shasta County have been forced to endure long periods of hazardous air quality caused by ongoing forest fires. Wildfires are to be expected, but everything should be done to minimize the impact of those fires.

A large portion of the smoke that has burned our airways and caused our eyes to water has been generated from fires burning on U.S. Forest Service land. Tons of greenhouse gases were emitted. The USFS has demonstrated that it either cannot or will not put those fires out as quickly as possible.

The reasons are many; the USFS is a land management agency, not a fire department. Much of the land is in designated wilderness areas. Wilderness areas are huge, often roadless areas that can be enjoyed by only a small percentage of the population, those who backpack or horseback into the area.

Since machine use is prohibited in wilderness areas, special fire control tactics must be used. These tactics vary from forest to forest. On one nearby forest, fires that are lightning caused are allowed to bum while man-caused fires are extinguished. Another boldly says it has a “total suppression” policy. What they all have is a modified suppression policy that calls for a “light hand on the land.” These policies do not work in California, where homes and private holdings co-exist with the federal lands. It’s akin to sending your firefighters into the fray with one hand tied behind their backs.

In those designated wilderness areas, fires are allowed or encouraged by burnouts to burn to natural boundaries such as creeks or rock outcroppings. The construction of fire line is discouraged or minimized, often resulting in large, long-lasting fires. These fires cost millions of dollars, endanger nearby properties and communities, and cause widespread smoke pollution.

Early in California history, uncontained fire was recognized as a public nuisance and laws were passed to prevent a person from allowing a fire to exist on his land or spread to the lands of a neighbor, yet the USFS flouts these laws with regularity.

The USFS can be compared to a bad neighbor who doesn’t clean up his property. When the property catches fire, he doesn’t put it out; he uses it as a measure to clean up his land. While he’s doing that, his neighbors are exposed to choking smoke, health hazards and the risk of escaped fire onto private property. To make it even worse, he then expects the neighbors to pay for the cost of the fire.

The costs in recent years have been staggering. The Iron Complex, which threatened Junction City this summer, cost $74 million dollars. The Lime Complex, which threatened Hayfork and Hyampom, cost $60 million. Fourteen lives have been lost on these fires.

When these fires occur there is little or no follow-up fuel reduction, resulting in a more flammable forest condition, one that is fuel loaded with snags and dead and down material that will only make the next fire worse.

Do we want a huge unmanageable fire hazard that is used by a select few or do we want an accessible well-managed forest that can be used by many? Logging has been used as a forest management tool for timber stand improvement as well as for fuel reduction. Re-introduction of logging on federal lands would create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The keeping of status quo on our national forest lands will only result in bigger, longer-lasting fires. The USFS has no incentive to reduce fire size. Big fires equal big budgets.

It is time for the citizens of California to demand the federal government to act in a responsible manner, clean up its lands and put out its fires in a timely fashion.

Royal Burnett is a retired CDF wildland firefighter and a member of the Wildland Firefighters Foundation. He lives in Redding, CA.

23 Sep 2008, 5:41pm
by YPmule

Very well written piece, especially like the description of the “bad neighbor” how true!

The careful selective harvest of our natural resources, then restoring fire to the land should be the best management practice. Allowing fire to burn unnatural forests costs us all more then we are told.



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