The ongoing wildfires that are currently burning, or that have already burned this summer in Washington State and all across the western United States, may be a shock to some people, but isnÔÇÖt this what some of our appointed public land managers and many of our elected officials have been allowing to happen for quite some time by not properly managing these public lands that belong to all of us?
At last count when I wrote this article on 9/8/06 there has been more than 8.5 million acres that have burned nationwide, with Washington State leading the pack with 310,966 acres that have burned so far this year, and not far behind is Nevada with 279,395 acres, Idaho with 231,400 acres, and Montana with 218,050 acres. Does anyone see a pattern here? Western states with a huge amount of public land that is not actively managed for forest health is the basic problem. This is exactly what has been predicted would happen by many, and now that it has happened, some of the individuals that have allowed this to happen by implementing poor forest management practices seem to be in disbelief.┬á
What is the main ingredient in this recipe for disaster? Well, we can start with public land that has been set aside and mostly unmanaged in designations such as so-called roadless areas, Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA), and congressionally designated wilderness. These designations allow very little common sense forest land management practices. Add to this mix the dry weather, the fact that many of these forests have large areas of beetle killed trees, and the fact that logging is virtually non-existent these days in our national forests to not only thin out these dense forests, but to also remove the dead and diseased timber that will become the explosive fuel for the next round of devastating forest fires. Much of the lands in our forests have agency designations that flat out ban all forest thinning and logging programs.┬áTake a look at the most recent information at http://www.nifc.gov/fireinfo/nfn.html and see for yourself how bad the fires are this season.
As you may recall, our Washington State Governor, Christine Gregoire, submitted a request to the Department of Agriculture last February to revive ClintonÔÇÖs illegal Roadless Rule for the forest lands in Washington State. This is after California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Oregon Governor, Ted Kulongoski, had already previously filed suit to bring back the old Clinton plan released just as he left office in early 2001. ClintonÔÇÖs original Roadless Rule would have put most of the 58 million acres of so-called Roadless areas, of which approximately 2 million acres are within Washington State, off-limits to most logging.
Governor Gregoire stated at a news conference last February at Recreational Equipment Inc.’s Seattle headquarters that “Joining this lawsuit is our last effort to defend Washington‘s quality of life and our economy” and ÔÇ£We’ll do whatever is necessary to prevent the federal government from destroying this national legacyÔÇØ. She must be very proud of these statements and her decisions on how she would like to see our states public lands managed, now that close to 311,000 acres have burned in Washington State, and we are nowhere close to the end of this yearÔÇÖs fire season. Although the forest conditions that led to these current forest fires can not be blamed on Governor Gregoire’s recent actions just yet, down the road if she is successful in locking up the 2 million acres of so-called Roadless land in this state, she can certainly be blamed for how many of those acres burn in the not to distant future.
On August 23rd Governor Gregoire declared a state of emergency due to all of the wildfires burning in our state. Do we really want to lock up these remaining unburned roadless areas to burn another day? And as if our GovernorÔÇÖs actions arenÔÇÖt bad enough, Representative Jay Inslee had already introduced a bill (HR3563) in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 that would enact ClintonÔÇÖs illegal Roadless Rule for all of the 58 million so-called roadless areas throughout all national forests across the United States.
Forest Service Chief, Dale Bosworth,┬árecently unveiled a ÔÇ£new planÔÇØ September 5th during an aerial tour of the beetle infested areas of Grand and Summit counties in Colorado. This plan will supposedly make it easier for the Forest Service to attack the bark-beetle epidemic in the west more quickly. Chief Bosworth states that ÔÇ£We’ve made great progress under the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) and have improved the health of millions of acres of forests and rangelands across AmericaÔÇØ. U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary, Mark Rey, who accompanied Chief Bosworth on this tour, states “The large stands of beetle-kill trees seen today in Colorado pose a threat of severe wildfire, placing numerous communities at riskÔÇØ. So what is the problem with this plan and their statements? It is the fact that at the same time the USDA and the Forest Service say they have things under control, and are taking aggressive actions to prevent these catastrophic wildfires, the Forest Supervisors of our national forests all across the western United States are proposing to lock up and leave millions of acres of our public lands unmanaged as RWAs. These areas will be treated just like the 106 million acres of currently designated wilderness in the United States that Congress has already enacted into law, and these areas will be off-limits to sound forest management practices where logging and thinning will not be allowed. These areas will be left for nature to take its course of action, which recently has been beetle killed forests and huge devastating wildfires.
I can only hope that the fires this season in Washington State, and other states across the western United States, are a wakeup call to our elected officials and appointed public land managers that support the various hand-off designations such as wilderness designations, RWAs, and ClintonÔÇÖs illegal Roadless Policy, and that they will comprehend the need to properly manage our forests. We cannot continue to lock up our forests and leave them to nature, unless of course, we do not have a problem with a good portion of these forests burning to the ground each year.