Forest Fires, Clearcuts, Mitigation

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Lane County Code admits clearcuts are more flammable than intact, older forests

The "Wildfire Hazard Severity Rates System" in the Lane County Code states that older forests are less flammable than young forests. It's a very interesting admission, especially from the timber capital of Oregon.

The physical characteristics of a proposed development which have the most impact on fire severity have been identified along the top of the chart. Four dangers of fire hazards are shown below each criterion. The left column provides a numerical rating for each fire hazard. Place the appropriate rating number in the blank at the bottom of each column. Add these five ratings together to determine the point total. The impact level determined by the point total can then be read from the box below the chart.

Rating Slope Aspect Response Time from Forestry Dept. Vegetation Response Time from Rural Fire Dept.
1 Flat 0-5% North 15 min. Old Growth Timber 5 min.
2 Gentle 5-20% East 30 min. 2nd Growth Timber 10 min.
3 Moderate 20-40% West 45 min. Brush and/or Reproduction 15 min.
4 Steep 40% South 60 min. Slash/Grass 20 min.

Forest Fire
By Josh Schlossberg

The increasing prevalence of drought and higher temperatures caused by climate change suggests that, in the near future, more and more fires will be burning in our forests. The best way to ensure our forests are resilient to climate change and increased wildfires and insects is to stop commercial extraction and road building, which weakens the health of forests and increases the likelihood of ignition in the first place.

The most important action people can take to live with the inevitable presence of wildfire is to protect homes from burning and prevent lives from being lost. Aside from not building in the fire plain, the only effective way to accomplish this is to manage an area 100 feet around the house, taking such proactive fire-safe measures as: mowing high lawns, pruning low-hanging dead tree branches and replacing wooden roofs with metal ones.

Whereas cities such as Ashland are taking proactive measures to protect homes and lives, Eugene has yet to move forward on this important health and safety issue. An obvious solution would be to increase federal and state (county or city?) funding to pay the costs of making home firesafe (materials and labor) and to maintain and strengthen land use laws that prevent people from creating new housing developments in the forest.

Wildfire has been a natural and essential element of western forests for thousands of years. Some tree species depend on fire to burst their resinous seed cones for new growth. Wildfire rejuvenates a forest, killing some trees to open the forest canopy to allow sunlight for new growth, creating standing dead snags that wildlife of several species depends upon, which also shade new seedlings sprouting up in profusion after wildfire. Dead trees eventually decompose, adding nutrients to topsoil to enrich future growth.

Until the late 1800’s western forests experienced almost entirely natural wildfire cycles (save some limited burning by Native Americans) – with the intervals between fires ranging from a few years to several centuries. Yet rampant logging, livestock grazing and fire suppression have altered, and in many cases, broken the natural cycle of wildfire in our forests.

The logging industry, and industry-beholden politicians and agency managers insist that all wildfires are “catastrophic” and the solution is to continue (even expand) the very practices that have disrupted the natural fire cycle in the first place. Reckless activities such as commercial logging, post-fire “salvage” logging, native forest “fuels reduction” logging and continued widespread fire suppression prevent our forests from returning to their natural state.

Researchers are discovering that wildfire is less a product of vegetation or “fuels” than weather and wind. A fire will burn through anything – including clearcuts – if conditions are ripe, such as prolonged drought, low humidity and high winds. Thinning in native forests has been shown to in many cases be ineffective against the large fires – the ones of most concern – and in some cases, because of opening the forest to sunlight which dries understory, and wind which hastens spread of fire, can make conditions more likely to burn.

Logging does not prevent wildfires

By Roy Keene

Published: Jan 11, 2009

Opinion: Editorials & Letters: Story

Bob Zybach (guest viewpoint, Jan. 4) may have a doctorate in forest science, but he clearly shows he lacks an education in history when he refers to the Tillamook Burn to support his thesis that logging will reduce the severity and spread of fires.

The Tillamook fires were ignited by logging, then spread by logging slash.

Some of the largest, most destructive fires in America were caused by logging, such as the Peshtigo Fire in Wisconsin that burned a million acres and killed 1,200 people.

Many of the recent fires in Lane County were started by logging, and then spread through slash and flammable tree plantations.

History, not science, refutes the claim that logging helps to prevent forest fires.

The forests of the West are far more vulnerable to fire due to a century of industrial logging and fire suppression. Logging has removed most of the older, fire-resistant trees from the forests.

Fire suppression has encouraged many smaller and more flammable trees, brush and dense plantations to fill the holes. Logging has set the forests of the West up to burn big and hot.

More logging will not fix this.

Logging is commonly defined as merchantable trees being yarded out of the woods by heavy machinery or helicopters.

The best processes to reduce forest fire spread and severity rarely require logging.

Instead, crews on foot use chain saws, brush cutters and matches to cut small unmerchantable trees and brush, stack them into piles, then burn them when conditions are right.

When this is done along both sides of forest roads, fire defensible zones are created where an “average” fire will die down due to a lack of fuel.

Pumper trucks can access these zones in front of a fire to wet and cool the soil. These kinds of projects can be seen along the eastern stretch of Highway 126 near Sisters. They fostered truly local jobs instead of helicopter logging, which sends more timber to distant mills at a net loss to taxpayers.

Because real fuel reduction processes rarely involve logging, they shouldn’t be lumped in with so-called “thinnings” and other timber grabs by environmentalists.

These projects should not have to be sweetened with more logging. They should be federally funded and prioritized to address forest roads and at-risk public infrastructure. After decades of federal forest plundering by agency and industry with little regard for residual forest condition, it’s time to pay the piper.

A lot of public money and even human lives are spent every year trying to protect private homes in the forest.

To reduce firefighting expense and risk to firefighters, forest home owners should be required to have unobstructed access, appropriate perimeter fuel reduction, fire resistant roofing and adequate water supplies.

How ironic that the Bush administration is facilitating subdivisions on forestlands in Montana while pushing for more logging to reduce firefighting costs!

Indeed, this administration’s entire approach to reduce forest fire has been dishonest, simply a smoke screen for more logging.

I reviewed a multitude of their projects on the ground and found them to be consistently focused on removing mature timber while increasing soil compaction, slash and wind throw, while producing dryer, hotter stand conditions.

Zybach should not be naive: Federal forest management is still driven by politics, not science!

Our new president could reform this archaic order if he can resist timber campaign dollars and the pseudo science generated by industry-dominated institutions.

Yes, President Obama could bring welcome change to our forest as well as to Washington, D.C.

In the West, Mr. President, why not start with initiating honest fuel reduction processes that will help restore forests, jobs and trust in forest science?

Roy Keene has helped design, implement and critique many fuel reduction and restoration projects on private, public and tribal forestlands in the West.