30 Sep 2008, 8:33pm
Private land policies Saving Forests
by admin

Field Fires Versus Forest Fires

The Governor wants to ban the burning of grass seed fields in Oregon. On the other hand, Gov. Kulongoski is all in favor of burning forests. Yet forest fires produce more smoke per acre, and ten times (at least) more forest acres burn every year in Oregon compared to grass seed fields.

The Governor’s stupidity, hypocrisy, whatever you want to call it, was explored in a recent guest column in the Salem Statesman Journal. We post it in full:

Grass Seed Field Burning Makes Sense

by John Thomas Jr.

What are the benefits of grass seed farming, including field burning? Besides producing agricultural income for Oregon, that is?

In summer, urban sewage solids are dumped on grass seed fields as cheap disposal and fertilizer. Only non-food cropland can be used. Grass seed fields are that critical cropland.

Thousands of elderly are on their farms, living out their lives, renting their land to grass seed growers. Confiscatory taxes keep them from selling the land, and grass seed growers are a godsend and economic relief for aging farmers.

To not burn straw means it has to be baled and removed to bale compression stations, and prepared for export to Asia. The whole process is powered by fossil fuels. Straw that can’t be fed still has to be baled and stack burned during winter rains, sacrificing soil and land.

Without stimulation by fire, many grasses (most native grasses) can’t be grown. Perennials have a shorter field life, which means more ground is worked more often, producing that dust haze seen all fall. After straw is removed, fields are flail mowed to accelerate decomposition, which produces fungus spores in great amounts. And uses more fuel.

To keep grass seed farming economically viable, plant breeders select grasses that will, among other traits, produce prodigious amounts of pollen to ensure a bounty of seed, now that plants are not stimulated by burning.

Residues no longer removed by fire feed voles, slugs and other insects. A robust pest population is now controlled with pesticides instead of fire. And more trips across the field, and more fuel burned.

In summary, no field burning results in more fuel use, more pesticide use, more respiratory distress agents produced. More equipment is needed, and that equipment moves more often on our roads, burning more fuel. Ground has to be worked harder and more often, using more fuel and producing more impacts on air quality. The cure has become worse than the disease.

When California wildfire smoke reached Eugene during the Olympic Track Trials, DEQ got hundreds of complaints about field burning of which there was none ongoing. As a result, Eugene lawyers and Gov. Kulongoski are attempting to halt all field burning by 2011. Quite a reaction to a non-event!!

Meanwhile, Wildland Fire Use, the Federal fire policy that allows land mangers to let fires burn at their discretion, a policy that has never been vetted by National Environmental Policy Act procedures as required by law, has wildland fires burning until winter snows in Oregon, putting out vast amounts of smoke every day. The WFU policy is supported by environmental groups, and health impacts have never been addressed. In 2007, wildland fire produced more greenhouse gases and particulates than ALL human sources in Oregon. All human sources. Cut wildland fire by half and you cut air pollution in Oregon by 25%.

Gov. Kulongoski does not speak out against that smoke and those health impacts. Of course, the second issue would be how burning 300,000 acres and untold amounts of timber and wildlife habitat is considered “good for forest health” when burning 50,000 acres of grass fields is a pox on mankind? Is it that farmers are Republicans and public land managers are Democrats? Or is it just a greedy governor poseur strutting for more political money from his Green supporters?

1 Oct 2008, 7:14am
by Tim B.

Not to mention that the Original inhabitants of the Willamette Valley burned the grasslands nearly every year and were the major reason for the attractive, tillable land that drew Europeans to the area in the first place. (I have read historic accounts from the fur traders, who occasionally had to travel from Vancouver to N. California, and who wrote that one had to be careful about traveling that way in late summer because there may not be any grass to feed one’s horse due to the Native prescribed burning).

I saw a real ironic piece on the Eugene TV news the other day; park department officials were doing an “ecological burn” in an area where native grassland restoration is underway. The treatment of this event was totally positive, with no mention of the health effects of smoke as is typically of the TV news when they cover field burning. Instead, lots of gushing about the ecological benefits to native species. Aside from the admittedly smaller scale, it sure looked like your typical field burn to me.

Folks need to understand that the same “ecological” reasons for native prairie burning apply to commercial grass seed cultivation, too. The main reason grass seed is grown in the Willamette Valley is it the ideal climate for perennial grasses and the fact that they do not need to be irrigated. Native perennial grasses grow throughout the winter in the Willamette Valley, and are also fire adapted. As Mr.Thomas so aptly states, grasses only thrive when the same conditions under which they evolved are applied.



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