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Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, Klamath Falls, District 28  9/10/12

Barry Point Fire - Extreme loss of  timber, grazing, wildlife and watershed resources

Last Thursday, I toured parts of the Barry Point Fire near Lakeview. The wildfire consumed more than 145 square-miles of timber and grazing resources. The devastation is truly incredible. In places the fire was more than ten miles wide. It ran for about 30 miles, crossed the state-line, and burned more than 10 miles into California.

The fire was ignited by a lightening-strike on Barry Point in the Winema-Fremont National Forest. It was reported by a lookout in mid-afternoon at about one-quarter acre in size. Within minutes it had grown to several acres and began to crown.

State forestry had a pumper on the fire within fifteen minutes. It dispatched a total of seven pumpers, two helicopters, two water-scooping airplanes and two hand crews totaling thirty firefighters that same afternoon. The fire simply exploded away from them due to extreme fuel loads, tinder dry conditions and high winds.

The fire burned extremely hot, totally consuming nearly 40,000 acres of forest and causing up to 75 percent mortality on an additional 35,000 acres of forest land. High winds fanned flames several hundred feet high and caused burning debris to start spot-fires often half a mile in front of the fireís head. In total, it burned nearly 60,000 acres of federal forest, and more than 33,000 acres of privately owned lands.

Thankfully, there was no loss of human life, only a few minor injuries and no structures burned in the wildfire. However, the loss of public resources was immense. Additionally, more than fifty private landowners experienced significant loss of timber and grazing resources including livestock killed and injured as well as hundreds of miles of fencing destroyed. Collins Timber Company alone had more than 20,000 acres of timber plantations incinerated, mostly in California

I travelled with Lake County Commissioner Dan Shoun, Winema-Fremont Supervisor Fred Way, Oregon Department of Forestryís Greg Pittman, and several other state and federal forestry staff members. We met with a number of the affected landowners on their property and engaged in quite candid conversations regarding the fire and its aftermath.

All of the landowners we spoke with acknowledged that the fire behavior was often extreme and that atypical winds made it more difficult to control. They expressed their sincere gratitude to all those who worked so hard to help them finally control the wildfire.

However, the fact of the matter is that many are looking at the near total destruction of the value of their property, through no fault of their own. There is virtually no chance that they will be compensated for the losses caused by the fire that originated on federal forest land.

Federal, state and private foresters alike all expressed their deep concerns regarding the non-management of the federal forest resources that lead up to this disastrous event. That lack of management has caused extreme accumulation of ground and ladder fuels that virtually ensure a fire holocaust under dry and windy summer conditions. The foresters all agree that these virtually uncontrollable wildfires will continue to occur until those management policies are meaningfully changed.

Many of the landowners voiced what appeared to be valid concerns regarding how the fire suppression effort was prosecuted.

They pointed out numerous perceived lost chances to curtail or control the fire. Opportunities to help them build close-in fire lines and burn-out were disregarded and passed over. Several owners believe action on these opportunities could have saved both private and federal resources as well as potentially achieving containment at a much earlier and less destructive time.

One consistent observation was the general lack of timely communication between federal and state employees with private land interests. Affected landowners were not kept informed of planned fire suppression efforts either on private or public land. Private land was routinely trespassed. In some cases, private land was burned by setting backfires without either notification or permission. They believe that some of these set fires potentially endangered people and livestock.

Several owners expressed their perception that large blocks of forest and grazing resources were needlessly destroyed by igniting large backfires that did little if any good. They said there appeared to be reluctance by the federal fire team to get in close and stop the fire even during periods when the fire was laid down and moving slowly if at all.

Landowners felt their knowledge of terrain, access and wind behavior was routinely not only ignored but simply disrespected. Their privately owned fire suppression assets were too often neither solicited nor utilized in a coordinated manner.

Landowners are deeply concerned that the potential firebreak afforded by the four hundred foot wide cleared right of way above the Ruby Pipeline was not effectively utilized to stop the southern spread of the wildfire into California. In fact, two landowners observed that the federal fire overhead team made virtually no effort to stop the fire the night it crossed over that pipeline right of way. No one could tell us if the potential firebreak was even manned that night.

Many landowners conveyed concerns regarding their ability to find markets for their harvestable salvage timber. They worried about the cost of harvesting the timber and how much they would be charged to haul the salvaged logs over forest service roads.

They voiced the need to change current Oregon Forest Practices rules requiring replanting their harvested acreage. They pointed out that these costs may well exceed the value of the harvestable timber preventing them from even starting restoration efforts on their land.

Landowners also voiced concerns regarding their lost grazing resources and the delays that may be forthcoming in being allowed to resume the use of their federal grazing permits. Some commented on how quickly federal accommodations were made in Californiaís Region five to provide relief access to undamaged CRP and refuge grazing resources while no such accommodations were made or offered in Oregonís region 6.

The loss of private and public timber, grazing, wildlife and watershed resources is immense. Untold numbers of elk, deer and other forest animals were killed and ancient eco-system habit destroyed. It will be generations before that vast burned-out scar will be restored. Unfortunately, the Barry Point fire is just one of dozens of similar situations in Oregon and other western states.

Our nationís timber and grazing resources are routinely being wasted. At the same time our timber industry infrastructure is vanishing due to lack of access to public timberlands. Virtually complete management failure of federal land results in huge accumulations of grass, brush and diseased and dying trees. The predictable outcome is even more wildfires that will develop into uncontrollable holocausts that result in ever more generational losses of resources.

The status quo is simply unacceptable. I plan to work with Commissioner Shoun in his crusade to use the Barry Point fire as an example of how our state and federal policies must be changed and why common sense management must be restored.

Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon, no one will.

Best regards,

Doug
 

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              Page Updated: Tuesday September 11, 2012 02:11 AM  Pacific


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