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Managed fire: is it worth it?

Chips Fire, Aug 12, 2012
Chips Fire, Aug 12, 2012

The Chips Fire burns in the Feather River Canyon, kindled by brush and snags left from the Storrie Fire.

Redding Record Searchlight – 8/12/2012 –

Once again we residents of Shasta County are subjected to air pollution due to smoke from a government managed fire. The culprits in this case are the U.S. Forest Service in Plumas County and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The first culprit is the Chips Fire on the Plumas National Forest.

In 2000, the Storrie wildfire burned 52,000 acres in the Feather River Canyon on the Plumas National Forest. The area burned was spotted owl habitat and no salvage logging was permitted. The area regenerated into scrub brush of various types and thousands and thousands of snags. Dead timber litters the ground.

Now the area is burning again and the Forest Service says it is too dangerous to send firefighters in around those snags. This fire will burn for months. It will cost millions of dollars for the Forest Service not to put this fire out. They will wring their hands and say they are doing all they can while they live in deluxe fire camps and eat catered meals. As of Friday, more than 1,000 people were committed to fighting this fire and containment is not expected until August 31. No control date has been projected.

Fountain Fire area 15 years later

Because no salvage logging or replanting was allowed after the previous fire, scrub and snags create extreme fire hazard .

Why are the national forest lands are so mismanaged? The Forest Service has a policy of managing fires for resource benefit, but has allowed the creation of huge snag patches full of scrub brush. By their own admission those managed fires have increased the fire hazard in our timberlands.

The second culprit is Lassen Volcanic National Park, and the National Park Service’s acts are even more egregious.

On July 27, a lightning strike started a fire near Summit Lake, well inside the park. National Park Service officials decided that since lightning is natural event they would “manage” the fire for maximum resource benefits. They assigned some manpower to keep the fire under control and let it burn through the forest understory. The fire had grown to 140 acres on August 5, when the wind came up. The park’s contingency plan was inadequate and the fire soon grew and escaped the park. As of Friday, the fire had burned more than 9,000 acres with no containment or control in sight.

The park attempted to “manage” wildfire with minimal manpower while most of California and the West is in a severe drought condition. The Energy Release Component, which is a yardstick professionals use to calculate how hot and how fast a fire will burn, is in the extreme range. In fact that index is rapidly approaching the highest levels ever recorded in the northern Sierra.

The Reading Fire

The Reading Fire burns out of control, a result of fire mismanagement.

These “managed” fires usually escape control during the worst of times, when the fire danger is highest. They compete for scarce resources like air tankers and hand crews when they are most needed.

Why are the national forests and parks attempting to “manage” fire during the peak of fire season when we are in a declared drought? The Reading Fire is a self-inflicted wound. At the very least, the Lassen Volcanic National Park should be fined for air pollution and forced to pay suppression costs out of its operating budget

The ecologists tell us we are in a time of climate change, warming and drying. When we allow hot fire to burn through timber stands that are already drought stressed, the timber kill is phenomenal. Those timber stands will regrow with brush and may take up to 100 years to re-establish with timber. Some areas will simply convert to brush or other less desirable species.

The ecologists are fond of saying that California is a fire climate and it is not a question of if it will burn, but when. We can choose when it burns. We can burn the understory in our forests and parks in the milder burning conditions that happen in the fall. We can burn them with a fire that is set under conditions to prevent conflagrations. Those same fires would require an environmental study to mitigate adverse effects, unlike the managed fires were are experiencing today.

The managed fire program has been in effect in Northern California since at least 1987 under several guises — let burn, prescribed fire, managed fire and several others. The ecologists told us this was to restore our forest to a healthy condition. I have yet to see the benefit.

I see thousands of acres of burned timberland that is so snag-infested its owner, the U.S. Forest Service, deems it too hazardous to fight fire.

I see a crippled tourist industry that exists at the whim of forest and park managers. I see streams that can no longer support trout because the shade has burned away. I see choking clouds of smoke that descend on the residents of our valleys. I see forests that are more flammable than before they were “managed.”

Where is the benefit?

Royal Burnett, a retired battalion chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, lives in Redding.

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