burn' approach to wildfires creating a disaster for our forests
By DENNIS LINTHICUM Guest Writer,
Herald and News
Dennis Linthicum is the state
senator from District 28, which includes all or parts of
Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Deschutes and Crook counties.
it comes to forest policy the public sphere is often filled
with proposals that our wilderness areas need absolute
protection from human encroachment.
Locally, we see these same ideas flourish with claims that
expanding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument would
preserve biodiversity and protect these forests for
generations to come.
problem with this narrative is that current evidence runs
contrary to this utopian hope.
can I say that? Let’s play a thought experiment with our
let the “protect the wilderness” experimenters loose on a
million acres of Oregon forest. During the first year, there
would be hikers, campers and just everyday folks enjoying
the great outdoors.
a couple of years, the wilderness would become extremely
difficult to navigate without roads built and maintained by
loggers. In subsequent years only the hardiest would bother
to take the kids camping because of the danger and
difficulty in navigating the wildlands of an overgrown and
Fuel loads grow
Without any human intervention, thinning efforts or grazing
permits allowed, the fuel loads would build until lightning
storms cause a mega-fire that is typical for unmanaged
wilderness. The wilderness designation would dictate that
lightning caused fires would be permitted to play out, as
nearly as possible, their ecological role within a
wilderness area. Meaning, “let it burn.”
after several years, the remaining forests would be marginal
at best; wildlife habitat would be destroyed; streams and
watersheds would be polluted with ash, dirt and debris; and
downstream fish habitat would be fouled.
Tourism would see significant declines as people naturally
avoid vacationing in smoke-filled Oregon. The carbon
emissions from these mega-fires would harm our human
populations and healthcare costs for particulate matter
inhalation would be significant.
let’s take a million acres and manage it for sustainable
yield logging and maintain it in a way that would not only
supply lumber, but also recreation, benefiting the public
with areas for camping, hunting, hiking, picking berries,
winter snow sports, and just enjoying the accessible
forested land would be managed by the loggers. They would
harvest trees, thin forests, clear out brush, allow grazing,
re-plant and work to keep wildfires contained because the
forest would be their livelihood. They would cut, grade and
rock roads for access and the public would derive enormous
benefit from being able to recreate in these beautiful
would be sustained for generations, always giving the newly
planted trees time to grow into usable timber. Our summer
air would be breathable again and we would be able to enjoy
all the natural beauty of our state. Tourism would naturally
increase and inject prosperity into our communities as folks
far and wide would be confident that their vacation would
not be shadowed by smoke.
Additionally, as byproducts of sustainable-yield forestry,
there would be high employment in milling operations,
freight hauling, home construction, heavy equipment
operators, hydraulic engineers and designers and thousands
of other subsequent opportunities. This would generate
tertiary benefits through the direct creation of wealth from
the astute utilization of our natural resources.
realize my forest scenarios may be a bit extreme but you
need only look out your window to see the dire situation
from 20 years of improper and unrealistic forest practices.
Our communities pick up the tab and suffer the consequences
of this “let it burn” policy through the destruction of
assets, loss of watersheds and wildlife habitat, loss of
recreational opportunity and degraded forest resources.
Unfortunately, we are already living in the scenario
promoted by the “protect the wilderness” experimenters and
it is not pretty.
Fires get worse
until the 1980s, the average duration of wildfires was just
six days. The number of distinct fires or ignitions hasn’t
changed over time but wildfires, today, are much larger and
last much longer. Today, the average fire lasts 52 days, or
nearly two months. The Chetco Bar fire is estimated to
double the 52-day average, with nearly four months of burn.
winter was a record-setting winter for cold, snow and rain.
The drought is over; our reservoirs and dams are full;
rivers and streams are still flowing with snowmelt. Could it
be that these extraordinary burn rates are directly related
to policy and not to global warming?
overall solution is not complicated — in fact it’s simple.
Let’s allow balanced human wisdom, ingenuity, and expertise
a voice at the table to bring common sense and local control
back to our forest management.
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