Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Why Is the West on Fire?

 

Let’s go back to the turn of the century. No, not the 20th/21st centuries, but back to the 19th/20th century. It was then that the National Park and National Forest services began, then quickly expanded later by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. The former set aside national wilderness as federally managed land for the public to enjoy, the latter as federally managed land to maintain wilderness, agriculture and the timber industry. That last part is important: The National Forests had an aspect towards maintaining the timber industry.

For about a hundred years, this had gone pretty well. The timber industry harvested in the national forests and replanted so they could go back around again. Several decades back, the industries overplanted figuring once the trees grew to maturity they’d have even more to harvest. The result are the dense forest lands I grew up with in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, one of the first engineering firms had several projects with the National Forest Service, and our contact was from the East. She hated Oregon forests because they were so dense. Well, this was by the timber industries’ design. Then we come to the late eighties/early nineties.

Environmentalism was on the rise, and in the Pacific Northwest one of the key designated villains were the timber industries. We were told that the industries just wanted to clear cut all of Oregon’s forests and leave nothing. The Spotted Owl was paraded around as needing the old growth trees. It didn’t help that almost a century later, no one remembered there was a distinction made between national parks and national forests – a fact the environmentalists exploited to their favor. Popular opinion against timber industries rose, and it didn’t take long to find a sympathetic judge to block timber harvesting.

This is already creating a problem. By overplanting, the industries were making forests unnaturally dense. They normally wouldn’t be this way, but since the plan was to remove most of those trees in their near future it wasn’t considered too much a problem. Except they didn’t anticipate being blocked from harvesting the trees they planted. As the trees choked each other out, that created more and more deadwood.

Here’s something fun, have you seen a rotting tree before? It’s not mushy like vegetables. No, it’s dry and crumbly. Now the timber industry typically had a plan for this as well. They would routine go through the forest and find deadwood and salvage it to be made into useful products. But guess who came in again? Right – the environmentalists again succeeded in blocking efforts.

Growing up, I understood Oregon to be a timber industry state. It was our main export. My dad’s dad worked at the lumber mill in Lebanon, Oregon. Last time I had been in that area, the mill had closed. The timber industries’ loss meant job losses down the line, furthering the decay of small towns like the one where my grandparents lived.

But beyond job loss, we can see the problem, I believe. Dense forests and dry, rotting deadwood are just a tinderbox waiting to happen. The federal government supposedly manages these lands now, but we can see how well that’s going. All it would take is one spark to get the fire started and it would be disastrous. And it is. The Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge turns out to be started by a teenager and his friends who were messing around with illegal fireworks. Just a spark is all it would take and it seems we got much more than that.

This is a prime example of good intentions paving the road to hell. Environmentalists who knew little about forest management relied on their own judgment and feelings as they vilified the people who understood and practiced forest management on a daily basis. The federal government is wholly incapable of maintaining the large swaths of land it lays claim to on its own. And now we had the results. And now my home state and its neighbors are on fire.

Just kidding. It’s really all the fault of Climate Change.

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  1. Judge Mental Member

    C. U. Douglas: Here’s something fun, have you seen a rotting tree before? It’s not mushy like vegetables. No, it’s dry and crumbly.

    It’s also the Rolls-Royce of kindling if you’re trying to start a fire from flint and steel, or by spinning a stick.

    • #1
    • September 6, 2017, at 2:30 PM PDT
    • 13 likes
  2. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. DouglasJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    C. U. Douglas: Here’s something fun, have you seen a rotting tree before? It’s not mushy like vegetables. No, it’s dry and crumbly.

    It’s also the Rolls-Royce of kindling if you’re trying to start a fire from flint and steel, or by spinning a stick.

    Now image several tens of thousands of acres with kindling.

    • #2
    • September 6, 2017, at 2:32 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  3. Bob Thompson Member

    C. U. Douglas: The Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge turns out to be started by a teenager and his friends who were messing around with illegal fireworks. Just a spark is all it would take and it seems we got much more than that.

    And it is now very easy to blame guns when people go target shooting.

    • #3
    • September 6, 2017, at 2:53 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Walker Inactive
    WalkerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is a prime example of good intentions paving the road to hell. Environmentalists who knew little about forest management relied on their own judgment and feelings as they vilified the people who understood and practiced forest management on a daily basis. The federal government is wholly incapable of maintaining the large swaths of land it lays claim to on its own. And now we had the results. And now my home state and its neighbors are on fire.

    How true. In California, CalFire and more enlightened Forest Service rangers were as frustrated as you. The Congress, in their wisdom, allocated funds to fight fires rather than manage forest fuels. So, the lesson was to wait for lightening storms to start the fires and then use the fire fighting budget to manage the rest. What was a thriving and employment rich lumber industry in California has dwindled to almost nothing, along with good forest steward management practices. A few years ago, the GAO published a report that indicated that even with better practices, including a lot more controlled burns, it would take forests in the northwest between 50-100 years to restore natural burn cycles to a more historic schedule. I haven’t seen any change in either the federal or State practices since then to make this prediction false. In California, burning is not only restricted during dry and windy days, but also in endangered species groves (speculative and loosely defined) during broadly defined nesting periods, and high smog days (even if elevations are well above the smog layer). Go figure.

    • #4
    • September 6, 2017, at 3:21 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Mendel Member
    MendelJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The theory I’ve heard much more often is that the unusual intensity of modern wildfires is primarily due to decades-long policies of suppressing any and all wildfires.

    Those policies stemmed from both a desire to protect developed areas, a desire to protect logging inventories, and a general assumption that “fire=bad”. The result is that the understory of forests was allowed to grow/accumulate to an unnatural degree, and it is this understory that pushes wildfires from being local, ground-level phenomena to tall flames which burn tree crowns and are able to jump from one region to the next.

    In forests with natural fire cycles, the understory would simply burn before it accumulated to a high enough degree to allow crown fires, thus forming a self-limiting process.

    So it is indeed the notion that man knows best that led to our current situation, but I’m not sure if it can be directly attributed to anti-logging stances as much as a general desire to overprotect nature from itself.

    • #5
    • September 6, 2017, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  6. J.D. Snapp Coolidge

    Since becoming vegan would’ve prevented Hurricane Harvey, would becoming vegan also have prevented all these fires?

    • #6
    • September 6, 2017, at 3:56 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  7. DrewInEastHillQuarantineZone Coolidge

    C. U. Douglas: Just kidding. It’s really all the fault of Climate Change.

    Boom.

    • #7
    • September 6, 2017, at 4:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Oh, C.U. this is so frustrating! Once again the idealists who have no idea of the facts and are operating on their feelings are causing destruction again. Your explanation makes sense to me, although I’d like to see what you think of @Mendel‘s comment. I have also heard that not allowing fires to burn was accumulating fuel for an even worse fire, and having grown up in So. Cal., I’m very interested.

    • #8
    • September 6, 2017, at 4:23 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. DouglasJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mendel (View Comment):
    The theory I’ve heard much more often is that the unusual intensity of modern wildfires is primarily due to decades-long policies of suppressing any and all wildfires.

    Those policies stemmed from both a desire to protect developed areas, a desire to protect logging inventories, and a general assumption that “fire=bad”. The result is that the understory of forests was allowed to grow/accumulate to an unnatural degree, and it is this understory that pushes wildfires from being local, ground-level phenomena to tall flames which burn tree crowns and are able to jump from one region to the next.

    In forests with natural fire cycles, the understory would simply burn before it accumulated to a high enough degree to allow crown fires, thus forming a self-limiting process.

    So it is indeed the notion that man knows best that led to our current situation, but I’m not sure if it can be directly attributed to anti-logging stances as much as a general desire to overprotect nature from itself.

    In general, yes, but in Oregon specifically there was a more focussed effort to remove the timber industries. Combined with the fire prevention methods you discuss, out just add up.

    • #9
    • September 6, 2017, at 4:40 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  10. Sash Member

    Does the pratice of putting out all fires for 100 years hurt in the North West too?

    Like you, the town I grew up in was a timber town in the Cascades of Washington State. But that was long long ago, now it’s a tourist town… the little town that could… made a new industry, but in the 1990s much of the surrounding mountains burned and still have not completely recovered their beauty.

    I also grew up in Arizona… and lived there as an adult, and some years back there were some major fires that were blamed by those who understood (not the climate change alarmists) that not allowing the underbrush to burn for a hundred years, allowed that brush to build up so that when fire came there was too much fuel and the fire got hot enough to burn the trees, good-bye forest.

    They misunderstood the role of fire in a natural forest.

    How can tree huggers be so wrong? They ended up ruining the forests they wanted to save. Irony.

    • #10
    • September 6, 2017, at 4:56 PM PDT
    • 17 likes
  11. Doug Watt Moderator

    Basically an area that is not logged is filled with dying trees, and trees that have fallen. Undergrowth is not removed and so there is a lot of fuel. Private land owners that log their land take better care of their land. They are more diligent on replanting.

    Click on the link to the Canyon Creek fire in Oregon, the Forest Service not only mismanaged the fire response they did not clear underbrush even though the funds had been allocated for that purpose.

    The terrain in the Columbia River Gorge is too rugged to allow logging or clearing undergrowth. There are some issues concerning the use of large aerial tankers, mismanagement issues, not that they cannot operate in the Gorge, they can.

    • #11
    • September 6, 2017, at 6:29 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Profile Photo Member

    J.D. Snapp (View Comment):
    Since becoming vegan would’ve prevented Hurricane Harvey, would becoming vegan also have prevented all these fires?

    Only if you eat wood instead of the fruit.

    • #12
    • September 6, 2017, at 6:53 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. Quietpi Member

    This. All this.

    The idea of “overplanting” was to account for natural attrition, then to make one or possibly two thinning entries, leaving the strongest trees at the best spacing. If there were two thinning entries, the second one could produce some merchantable products. The goal was to grow a healthy, disease-resistant, even-age stand that would reach maturity together, ideal for clearcutting and replanting. This type of stand is also the most resistant to damaging wildfire. It is critical to understand that proper clearcutting is by far the most effective means of obtaining the best and most timber from the least amount of land, with the least environmental impact, in the long run, on the land which was suitable. The timber companies and the U.S. Forest Service knew exactly what they were doing. This all started to change, abruptly, during the Carter Administration when, for the first time, the person appointed as the Chief of the Forest Service was a wildlife biologist rather than a forester.

    Then the delays, lawsuits, extra studies for every single timber sale too off like, um, wildfire. The rare and elusive Spotted Owl sometimes followed us through the woods as we were marking and cruising timber. I recall one pleasant lunch my crew and I took, with a Spotted Owl flitting from tree to tree around us. This was in a pure stand of the threatened and endangered tanoak (Facetious – tanoak is practically a weed species, anything but old growth). So much for being old growth – dependent. Then it was learned that the Northern Spotted Owl was merely a color phase of the common, eastern Barred Owl, which is naturally moving west, supplanting their smaller, less-aggressive relatives. So next they came up with the Marbled Godwit. Then a truly rare orchid showed up mysteriously in a stand slated for logging. It clearly had been transplanted there.

    Then there was the court ruling that no tree under 30″ diameter could be cut – thereby assuring blowdowns and massive loss of good timber, simultaneously proving what a bad idea it was for judges who knew nothing about forest management – managing the forests.

    I need to stop now. Blood pressure, you know…

    • #13
    • September 6, 2017, at 7:13 PM PDT
    • 21 likes
  14. MLH Inactive

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    Marbled Godwit

    It’s a shore bird for goodness sake!

    • #14
    • September 6, 2017, at 7:21 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge

    I live in Northern California. I can’t tell you the number of times that rain has been dried up by geo engineering. We were supposed to be getting hit with some showers tomorrow but already they installed a “cookie sheet” that will keep any rain storms from getting to us from the south.

    People in farming communities talk about this among themselves and often it is the subject of radio talk shows. My county is so remote and the nearby airfield is not heavily used. Yet we will have planes flying overhead and sometimes making U turns as we watch them, with their con trails expanding rather than vaporizing away.

    The forest management practices are not good, but I believe my friends who used to work forest service in the Eighties when they say that the new plans will be even worse. I mean, why fix something if it can be made even more FUBAR?

    • #15
    • September 6, 2017, at 8:36 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Quietpi Member

    MLH (View Comment):

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    Marbled Godwit

    It’s a shore bird for goodness sake!

    Yyyyup! And I would be happy to be corrected on this, but my recollection on this (from nearly 30 years ago) was that while the Marbled Godwit had been spotted flying into old growth redwood stands, no actual nest had yet been found.

    • #16
    • September 6, 2017, at 8:41 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Quietpi Member

    CarolJoy (View Comment):
    We were supposed to be getting hit with some showers tomorrow but already they installed a “cookie sheet” that will keep any rain storms from getting to us from the south.

    Yeah, I don’t buy this. I’ve heard it before. I did witness some attempts to cause precip via artificial means (cloud seeding), but I have never seen anything that would convince me that it has any effect whatsoever. Of the attempts I was aware, not one was followed by precip. This even though, before seeding is even attempted, the relative humidity must be near saturation to start with.

    The idea is that the various techniques will provide particulate nucleii around which water vapor will condense, to the point where it will fall (rain). When you consider the virtually undetectable increase in particulate matter already, naturally in the air, frankly the concept is absurd.

    Following weather patterns, you will find that predictions change virtually hourly, as do the wind patterns that bring – or don’t bring – precip.

    • #17
    • September 6, 2017, at 8:51 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Quietpi Member

    Correction: It’s the marbled murrelet, not the marbled godwit. It’s a small sea bird, member of the auk family. Literature says a chick was found by a tree climber in 1974.

    • #18
    • September 6, 2017, at 9:45 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. Henry Castaigne Member

    Can the spotted Owl only live in Old Growth forests? I was told in my youth that the Spotted Owl was endangered because it could only live in old growth forests. Is this true or false?

    • #19
    • September 7, 2017, at 12:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. DouglasJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Can the spotted Owl only live in Old Growth forests? I was told in my youth that the Spotted Owl was endangered because it could only live in old growth forests. Is this true or false?

    That’s turned out to be false.

    • #20
    • September 7, 2017, at 5:54 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  21. MLH Inactive

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Can the spotted Owl only live in Old Growth forests? I was told in my youth that the Spotted Owl was endangered because it could only live in old growth forests. Is this true or false?

    I’m going to go out on a limb (yup) and guess false.

    • #21
    • September 7, 2017, at 5:54 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor

    MLH (View Comment):
    I’m going to go out on a limb (yup) and guess false.

    Cute!

    • #22
    • September 7, 2017, at 6:01 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. MLH Inactive

    Quietpi (View Comment):
    marbled murrelet

    Even better!

    • #23
    • September 7, 2017, at 6:28 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    C.U.,

    Excellent informative post. Once again we see that environmentalists are dangerous idiots. They are chiefly concerned with their preening ideology. When they are grotesquely wrong, often the case, there is no admission much less an apology.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #24
    • September 7, 2017, at 8:10 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  25. Z in MT Member

    C. U. Douglas (View Comment):

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):
    Can the spotted Owl only live in Old Growth forests? I was told in my youth that the Spotted Owl was endangered because it could only live in old growth forests. Is this true or false?

    That’s turned out to be false.

    The best book on the Spotted Owl controversy and the forests of the North West is In a Dark Wood by Alston Chase. He is very fair on all sides, but basically comes down on the side of the people that were already in the NW communities before the enviro-hippies invaded.

    • #25
    • September 7, 2017, at 8:30 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  26. Z in MT Member

    Another issue for the inland West fires was the recent Pine Bark beetle epidemic we had about 5 years ago. Everything that is burning in MT and ID are stands of beetle kill trees that the enviro lobby wouldn’t let the firewood and furniture industry harvest – because large stands of dead pine trees with red needles is “natural”.

    • #26
    • September 7, 2017, at 8:32 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  27. RyanFalcone Member

    Similarly, here in Pennsylvania, the state game lands have been run for generations by folks who don’t know what venison tastes like. As a result, the same forest management practices being critiqued here are happening. The result is ironically a habitat that the larger game are fleeing as well as some smaller game. Yet we have more white-tailed deer than at any time in PA’s recorded history? Where are they? They are busying themselves eating petunias in suburban yards. Tough to shoot at an 10-point buck when it is lounging poolside in your neighbor’s backyard. A vehicle is the most likely weapon used against these animals today.

    • #27
    • September 7, 2017, at 8:57 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  28. Nick H Coolidge

    Z in MT (View Comment):
    Another issue for the inland West fires was the recent Pine Bark beetle epidemic we had about 5 years ago. Everything that is burning in MT and ID are stands of beetle kill trees that the enviro lobby wouldn’t let the firewood and furniture industry harvest – because large stands of dead pine trees with red needles is “natural”.

    If I recall correctly, the trees killed by the beetles weren’t all that suitable for harvesting. The beetles stained the wood and left it unusable for many of the normal products. It still would have been a good idea to remove more of the unaffected trees, denying the beetles the opportunity to spread, but Heaven forbid you cut down a live tree. And there are obviously costs to not removing the dead trees; we’re getting that bill now.

    • #28
    • September 7, 2017, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Hammer, The Member
    1. Mendel (View Comment):
      The theory I’ve heard much more often is that the unusual intensity of modern wildfires is primarily due to decades-long policies of suppressing any and all wildfires.

      Those policies stemmed from both a desire to protect developed areas, a desire to protect logging inventories, and a general assumption that “fire=bad”. The result is that the understory of forests was allowed to grow/accumulate to an unnatural degree, and it is this understory that pushes wildfires from being local, ground-level phenomena to tall flames which burn tree crowns and are able to jump from one region to the next.

      In forests with natural fire cycles, the understory would simply burn before it accumulated to a high enough degree to allow crown fires, thus forming a self-limiting process.

      So it is indeed the notion that man knows best that led to our current situation, but I’m not sure if it can be directly attributed to anti-logging stances as much as a general desire to overprotect nature from itself.

    I think both are true. Having spent time as a firefighter for the BLM, I’m generally of the opinion that the best thing we could do would be to eliminate that agency entirely. Let fires burn, let locals handle things.

    problem is, we needed to do that 50 years ago. At this point, we’d have to start by opening the timber industry back up…

    • #29
    • September 7, 2017, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  30. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSulJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In traveling the Black Hills last year I noted the same ongoing issues with the Forest Service – far far denser tree coverage than had occurred naturally just 150 years ago. General Custer surveyed the hills and brought along a photographer, and a modern photographer went through the area a couple of years ago and took photos from the same vantage points as Custer’s guy, and the older photos all have a notable absence of trees.

    The Forestry Service is now playing catch-up and doing controlled burns all over, but the area they have to cover is immense. I shudder to think of the possible conflagration, though, that is still possible all over.

    • #30
    • September 7, 2017, at 7:38 PM PDT
    • 1 like

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