FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Southern Oregon Wildfires: the Rhetoric and the Reality

by

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:

CounterPunch Magazine


bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

September 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Fool Me Twice: Trojan Horse Democrats Pile into the House of Single-Payer
John Wight
Trump at the UN: Nuremberg Redux
John Laforge
Presidential Bomb Threats at the UN
Kristine Mattis
Burden in My Hand: the U.S. Medical Industrial Complex
Richard Moser
JOIN and Emergence of White Working Class Leadership During the Civil Rights Movement
W. T. Whitney
No Easing of US Vengeance Against Colombian Revolutionary Simon Trinidad
Chuck O’Connell
Ideology as History: a Critical Commentary on Burns and Novick’s “The Vietnam War”
Ramzy Baroud
Courting the Global South: Will Israel Become a UN Security Council Member?
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Warped View of World War II
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangerous Noose: Trump, Rogue Regimes and Annihilation
Harry Blain
What Happened to the Arms Trade Treaty?
Michael J. Sainato
Who Will Pay for Huge Pentagon Budget Increase?
Thomas Mountain
Snowden’s EthiopiaLeaks: Reading Between the Lines
Daniella Zessoules – Dean Baker
The Wage Dividend From Low Unemployment: Blacks and Whites
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Five Basic Differences Between Education and War … and One Similarity
Jimmy Carter
Stop the War-like Rhetoric: It’s Time to Talk to North Korea
September 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Empire’s Hustle: Why Anti-Trumpism Doesn’t Include Anti-War
Jonathan Cook
How Netanyahu’s Son Became the Poster Boy for White Supremacists
Michael Uhl
Hué Back When: Vietnam’s Pivotal Battle Reconsidered
Russell Mokhiber
Single Payer, the Democratic Party and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex
John W. Whitehead
We Are All Prisoners of the Police State’s Panopticon Village
Tim DeChristopher – Suren Moodliar
After Harvey & Irma: Mitigation, Adaptation & Suffering
Yoav Litvin
To Punch or Not to Punch – The American Left’s Existential Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Why International Powers Fear Kurdish Independence Vote Could Derail Fight Against ISIS
Thomas S. Harrington
Forced Takeover of Catalan Government Institutions by Spanish Police
Steve Early
Report From Winsted: Nader’s Museum
John Davis
On the New Party Pledge
Gary Leupp
Manafort News: a Blockbuster or Nothingburger?
Ted Rall
No Man is Above the Law, Except on College Campuses
Kenneth Good
The Annulment of Kenya’s August 2017 Elections
Ha-Joon Chang
South Koreans Worked a Democratic Miracle. Can They Do It Again?
Binoy Kampmark
Donald Trump at the UN
Ezra Kronfeld
China’s Persecution of the Uyghur People
Kim C. Domenico
The White Liberal’s Dilemma: How To Be Shamelessly Different
September 19, 2017
Gregory Elich
Trump’s War on the North Korean People
Michael Yates
What We Sow is What We Eat
James M. Williamson
Getting the Gulf of Tonkin Wrong: Are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick “Telling Stories” About the Central Events Used to Legitimize the US Attack Against Vietnam?
Benjamin Dangl
How Top Food Companies Fail to Protect Environmental Activists in Supply Chains
Robert Fisk
Nikki Haley, Israel and Lebanon: When Ignorance is Not Bliss
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt Crisis: Why Syriza Continues to Lose
Rev. William Alberts
The Greatest Threat Facing America
Julian Vigo
iPhone Ergo Sum
Andre Vltchek
In Bangkok – “No Speak Your Language, Speak Thai or Die!”
Mel Gurtov
Dealing with North Korean Missiles
Mike Whitney
Rohrabacher vs. The Machine 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail