I posted this comment on Today.com: “Massive Arizona wildfire now 5 percent contained” (6/10/2011)
(Read article Huge_Arizona_wildfire_rekindles_forest_debate_AssocPress ) In part the article states that the Wallow fire has reignited the blame game on why fires such as these are occurring.
Yes, man interrupted and changed nature’s cycle and intensity of fire in many ecosystems. And in many areas and ecosystems we continue to alter how fire can be brought back closer to what the ecosystem craves for a healthy landscape because man wants to live in the woods. If man lives in the woods, fire, even in the proper context, can rarely be allowed to burn on landscape scales, so man must mechanically manipulate the vegetation to mimic what a fire would do. That means logging or other labor intensive processes to remove the unhealthy, stressed and overabundant trees. Logging in a scientific and sustainable manner following best management practices (BMPs) not only mimics what fire did in the ecosystem, it provides jobs and products that man needs (or wants). Once the mechanical process has been completed, there are certain areas that fire can be re-introduced to maintain the desired ecosystem functionality. And if the mechanical treatments are completed in a ‘checkerboard’ across the landscape, then a fire in an area that cannot be ‘treated’ would become manageable for suppression when it came to a ‘treated’ area – however if the conditions are right, the ‘treated’ area then receives a maintenance burn and firefighters are more of guidance force to keep it from entering another ‘untreated’ area and becoming a catastrophic wildfire, such as the Wallow or Rodeo-Chediski fires.
Dr Covington was one of my professors when I earned my Forestry degree at Northern Arizona University and I have sat at the table with Bryan Bird for two years on the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) advisory committee which annually awards grant money “to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes”. I am a Society of American Foresters – Certified Forester. I also have 18 years experience in wildland fire, 13 as a ground ‘pounder’ and engine operator/boss for a state agency responsible for fire suppression on non-federal, non-tribal, non-municipal lands. In recent years I’ve not been on the line, but an interpreter for the infrared flights conducted by the Forest Service on large fires at night. When on the engine, first on the scene, I made fire ‘suppression’ decisions based on fuels, weather, topography and geographic proximity to homes or infrastructure, and the if the landowner had an agreement to allow it, the fire could be monitored and let burn.
Man altered the natural landscape in many ways – introducing cattle and suppressing fires are just two. Managing for a single species to the detriment of others is another, which is exactly what has happened in shutting down logging on forests through law suits. I’ve always wondered if anyone wanting to ‘save’, for example, the Mexican spotted owl ever realized that the owl was present in in the ecosystem in the 1800′s and it survived the change as the ecosystem became over grown, dense and unhealthy, why won’t it also be okay when we direct the forest back to what nature craves (what it was before we changed it).
We can’t change the past, but we can impact the future by sustainably harvesting wood products to mimic fire where fire cannot be used and reducing fuel in areas with selective harvests of wood products until fire can be used.