A Recipe for Destruction
Unmanaged Public Lands With A Splash Of Fire!
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 isn't 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 the time that I am writing this article, more than 8.5 million acres have burned nationwide, with Washington State leading the pack with 310,966 acres that have burned so far this year. 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 are the basic problem. This is exactly what has been predicted would happen by many. And now that it has happened, some individuals that have allowed this to happen by implementing poor forest management practices seem to be in disbelief.
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 forestland 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 nonexistent 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. Look at the most recent information at (www.nifc.gov/fireinfo/nfn.html) and see for yourself how bad the fires are this season.
As you may recall, Washington's State Governor submitted a request to the Department of Agriculture last February to revive Clinton's Roadless Rule for the forest lands in Washington State. This is after the California and Oregon Governors had already previously filed suit to bring back the old Clinton plan released just as he left office in early 2001. Clinton's original Roadless Rule would have put most of the 58 million acres of so-called Roadless areas, of which approximately two million acres are within Washington State, off-limits to most logging.
The Governor of Washington stated at a news conference last February at Recreational Equipment Inc.'s Seattle headquarters, "joining this lawsuit is our last effort to defend Washington's quality of life and our economy," and "we'll do whatever is necessary to prevent the federal government from destroying this national legacy." I wonder about these statements and decisions, and how our states public lands are managed, now that close to 311,000 acres have burned in Washington State, and we are now close to the end of this year's fire season here. Although the forest conditions that led to these current forest fires cannot be blamed on the Governor's recent actions just yet, if two million acres of so-called Roadless land in this state is successfully locked up, then blame can certainly be brought to bear regarding how many of those acres burn in the not-too-distant future.
On August 23, the Washington Governor 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 the Governors' actions aren't bad enough, efforts in Congress had already introduced a bill (HR3563) in the US House of Representatives in 2005 that would enact Clinton's 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, recently unveiled a "new plan" September 5 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 "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 America." US 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 risk."
So what is the problem with this plan and their statements?
It is the fact that while the USDA and the Forest Service say they have things under control, and are taking aggressive actions to prevent these catastrophic wildfires, 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. 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 have 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 the Clinton era 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.
--Questions or comments to the author can be directed to the BlueRibbon Coalition, and we'll put you in touch with him: 4555 Burley Drive, Suite A, Pocatello, ID 83202-1921. Phone: 208 237-1008, Fax: 208-237-9424. Email: