‘Wildfire’ blazes land policy

‘Wildfire’blazes land policy

28 February 2007

published by www.mtexpress.com

USA — George Wuerthner’s latest book, “Wildfire: ACentury of Failed Forest Policy,” is not just a handsome coffee table tome;it is an exploration and critique on wildfire management that is intended tocreate an awareness about the benefits of wildfire on public land throughout theU.S.

In Idaho alone, wildfires have burned more than 900,000 acres and are a majorpart of the state’s ecology.

“The motivation for the book besides an education to wildfires was tocritique the present land management policies, which are not based on the latestecological findings,” Wuerthner said. “The main focus is to putwildfires in a more positive light. When we hear about fires most of us thinkit’s a tragedy, but that is a one-sided view. It is the main force forrejuvenation and creating opportunities for many plants and animals.”

Educating the public about the role of wildfires in the preservation of landis difficult when the media and mainstream news sources paint wildfires to bedisastrous.

“If you are looking out on a forest, all those trees have burned at somepoint, maybe a 100 years ago,” Wuerthner said. “When I go out into anarea that just burned, it looks pretty bad. What I am able to do because oftravel—what I have seen and know—I am able to envision what it looks like inthree years with wildflowers and, later, with Aspens and even later full of elk.”

In a lecture sponsored by Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project on Thursday,Feb. 22, at the nexStage Theatre, Wuerthner described in depth how the generalperception of wildfires is very negative, and the use of pejorative language indescribing fires to the mainstream public does not help in educating them aboutthe positive aspects of wildfires.

In addition, Wuerthner discussed, among many other things, how a variety ofhabitats and specific types of forests and lands have either suffered orbenefited from wildfires. Aside from the natural causes of wildfire, Wuerthneralso explained how logging, clear cutting and prescribed fires have affected theland. He revealed that there is still a great deal to learn about the types oftrees to clear or not clear as well as how snags—leftover trees from wildfires—providehomes for birds and animals and creates better ecologic systems for streams andrivers.

Based on “Wildfire,” Wuerthner’s lecture offered an even morecritical analysis of the types of forest issues that are both ignored and aidedby wildfires that occur, whether naturally or prescribed. However, Wuerthner’smost important point was the understanding of why a wildfire occurs.

“When you have certain conditions of extreme drought combined with lowhumidity and high winds and you get a lightning strike or a person, it isvirtually impossible to stop the fire,” Wuerthner said. “In general,any individual will not see fires in their backyard in their lifetime.”

It is a disaster to have a home burn, but a forest fire is not a terribleevent, according to Wuerthner. Urban sprawl, however, has placed firefightersnot only in dangerous positions but has forced them to hemorrhage funds thatcould be used elsewhere in government’s budget.

“We spend millions of dollars trying to stop it. The Yellowstone fire of’88—the firefighters knew that they couldn’t stop it. The public could nottolerate it not being stopped, and they don’t understand it can’t be stopped,”Wuethner said. “One of the big problems is the sprawl we are seeing iscausing higher costs for firefighters. Concentrating on the human settlementreduces the fire fighting cost of suppression and the safety of the firefighters.”

The Wood River Valley is an area of wildfire concern battling fires regularly.Many in the audience agreed that Wuethner should make his presentation topoliticians to open their minds enough to see the big picture.

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