By editorial board • 

Lack of compromise on all sides fueling increased wildfire activity

The Gorge ablaze might be the defining image of this year’s fire season, at least in our neck of the woods. We’re experiencing yet another devastating batch of forest fires this season, and all evidence suggests they burn hotter, longer and more frequently this century than last. 

Some blame climate change, and accuse deniers for allowing fire to devastate majestic forests.

Others have taken to social media to blast the environmentalists for blocking thinning, prescribed burns and other actions needed to properly manage forests. And because the Gorge fire was allegedly touched off by a smoke bomb tossed into tinder dry brush by a 15-year-old, vitriolic comments about “darn kids” and “where’s the parents” have been popping up.

The accountability, of course, should properly be shared by all the above.

A study last year by scientists from Columbia University and the University of Idaho concluded climate change is spurring increased fire activity in our forest lands.
Warmer temperatures pull more moisture from plant life, creating more “fuel aridity.” As wet winters give way to longer dry seasons, underbrush grows thicker, a recipe for ravenous fire seasons. 

Say the deniers actually are right: The rise in temperatures — we just recorded the warmest August on record locally — is a natural phenomenon. Isn’t it still our duty to advocate for practices that are healthier for the planet? Can anyone really deny it’s better to eat lunch next to a fresh spring than amid the exhaust fumes of Lincoln Town Cars from the ‘70s? 

Making matters worse, the thick underbrush and tightly packed stands can’t be mitigated because environmentalists use every legal challenge in the books to prevent cutting and clearing. 

In the ‘90s, the Northwest Forest Plan halted most logging on public lands in order to protect the spotted owl. Ironically, the larger barred owl has since begun muscling the spotted owl aside anyway. And we still have no policy designed to strike a better balance among environmental protection, economic needs and wildfire prevention.

Whether one blames mismanagement or global warming, all agree forest fires are an increasing danger. More than half the Forest Service’s budget is now spent on firefighting. Until environmental groups and climate change deniers will accept compromise, it’s not going to get any better.

And when it comes to teaching kids not to play with fire in an arid forest, well, we simply don’t have words for that. 

Comments

Don Dix

If one has been to Sisters, notice the area between Black Butte and the city. The underbrush is gathered into piles, which is burned during winter. The sections (in the area) that were not cleaned up have burned on a regular basis (almost yearly), but the sections where the underbrush is controlled has been free of fire.

In this case, by example and not conjecture, underbrush seems to be the defining variable. Hence, obstructing the proper management of forests is a mistake, especially if the desire is to 'save' our forests.

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