A fire season debate

USA: A fire season debate

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle,16 August 2001,
published by Forest Conservation Portal

An area 10 times the size of San Francisco is burning in California, Oregon and Nevada. A total of 20,000 firefighters is wielding shovels, driving bulldozers or piloting planes to douse flames at a cost of $4 million per day. The costly and risky fire season has begun.
The first response is safety. Fire crews are properly rushed to danger points to contain wildfires before homes and humans are threatened. A growing population has steadily moved into once-remote areas and made the rescue job bigger than ever.
Now comes the hard part: planning for a future that minimizes forestfire damage. The current blazes are nearly all caused by lightning, meaning the source won’t go away. What can be done?
Some scientists and environmentalists favor letting some fires go unchecked. The results replenish the soil, clear away underbrush and restore nature’s rough hand. A decade ago Yellowstone National Park was allowed to burn, and regeneration is a spectacle worth seeing.
But for families who lost everything in last year’s Los Alamos burn, when foresters badly miscalculated, a natural burn was a searing experiment. Also, timber companies want to log trees that might otherwise burn.
Western governors and the Bush administration want a cautious approach. The two sides signed a 10-year agreement to remove brush, trees and combustible debris and teach fire safety to landowners.
There’s no mention of letting fires run free because the notion unsettles rural residents.
This is a welcome start but the follow-through will be crucial.
Timber firms should not exploit the notion of fire suppression to engage in widespread logging.
Though political leaders are loath to talk up the idea, naturally occurring fire could work in some cases. Firefighters will likely be needed in many others because human habitation demands it. The West’s forests clearly need a new fresh approach to preserve their health.
(Copyright 2001 The San Francisco Chronicle)

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