FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Southern Oregon Wildfires: the Rhetoric and the Reality

Recently a low-intensity, backing wildfire dropped into my community from the ridge above, cleaning up fuels, thinning young trees and re-initiating the ancient process of fire in a fire-starved environment. Firefighters and engines lined the road and waited, stationed at every home to protect our small community as the Abney Fire, part of the Miller Complex, approached. They safely guided the fire down the slope to containment lines adjacent to our homes.

Trapped beneath a heavy inversion layer, smoke filled the forested canyon. Smoke smothered the sun, trapping moisture, limiting air movement, reducing temperatures, and moderating fire severity. Believe it or not, when wildfire is at your doorstep, smoke is an ally. Despite the impact to local communities, the smoke inversion itself moderates fire behavior and helps ensure a natural, mixed-severity fire. Although a nuisance, when smoke lingers in our valleys and canyons, wildfires are more likely to burn slow and cool.

Recently, an opinion piece in the Mail Tribune by Dave Schott from the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association (SOTIA) presented numerous misrepresentations about wildfire and forest management. His rhetoric claims that unmanaged forests will succumb to wildfire if they are not logged first.

Fire has been an influential natural process, shaping our forests for millennia and creating the world-renowned biodiversity of our region. Contrary to Schott’s claims, the Miller Complex Fire has not been a high-severity, stand-replacing event. The majority of the fire area has, so far, been burning at low to moderate severity in largely intact forest in the Applegate Watershed. In fact, many of the fires that burn throughout our region, in general, tend to burn at mostly low to moderate severity, especially in older forests. On the other hand, heavily logged timberlands tend to burn at high severity, threatening more homes and private property. This was the case in recent fires such as the Quartz, Oregon Gulch, Beaver, Stouts and Douglas Complex fires.

Timber industry lobbyists such as Schott are working hard to perpetuate the myth that logging will reduce fire hazards and eliminate the smoke and effects of wildfire. This is simply untrue. Fire is a natural process, and unless Schott thinks logging can eliminate lightning storms, we must learn to live with it.

The reality is that the sort of logging that SOTIA supports will only make the problem worse. Even-aged plantation stands, dense logging slash, the removal of large, fire-resistant trees, and the removal of overstory canopy only encourages more dense, fire-prone fuel in the succeeding years.

Counter to Schott’s claims, none of the fires currently burning in our area are “let-burn” fires. Crews are working to suppress these fires in a safe and responsible manner while protecting lives, communities and, we hope, ecological values.

The fires we are currently experiencing are natural, lightning-caused fires. The majority were successfully suppressed by fire crews at very minimal acres and are no longer burning; some went out on their own with no intervention. Other fires that started in remote, rugged and relatively inaccessible terrain resisted containment. Due to significant and real concerns for firefighter safety, and constrained by a lack of resources, fires across the West have become established. Neither logging nor aggressive suppression can change this reality. Given the sheer number of fires this season, staffing and resources have been severely strained. Large, region-wide lightning storms have always overwhelmed fire crews and led to large wildfires.

In the rugged terrain of the Siskiyou Mountains, suppressing wildfires at all costs puts firefighters in harm’s way. In some situations the safety risks are just too great. Some would have you believe that fire managers are purposefully letting fires burn, when in fact, firefighters are protecting both life and property by strategically placing the majority of resources where they are needed most: near homes and property.

For decades, aggressive fire suppression was an unquestioned paradigm with mounting costs to society. Fire-dependent ecosystems such as the forests of Southern Oregon were starved of fire, while at the same time our forests were being logged at an ever-quickening pace. Forests composed of large, fire-resistant trees were replaced with highly flammable plantation stands and logging slash. The effect of logging on the forests of Southern Oregon has been as pronounced as fire suppression, and the compounding effect of both logging and fire suppression has got us where we are today.

Luke Ruediger is program director of the Applegate Neighborhood Network.

This column originally appeared in the Medford Mail-Tribune.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail