Turn to the real wildfire solution

Turn to the real wildfire solution

12 November 2007

published by www.helenair.com

USA — By Ellen Engstedt-Simpson is executive vicepresident of the Montana Wood Products Association and a Helena resident.

News articles, op-ed pieces, and editorials keep appearing regarding climatechange, wildfires, and carbon dioxide emissions. Then, last week Helena’sZoning Commission and Planning Board raised the idea of a ban on wooden roofingmaterials in town because of possible fire danger. Just once, I wish peoplewould address the cause instead of immediately creating a solution of ever-moreregulation.

The issue of increased wildfire danger to structures has been on the radarscreen for a number of years. The horrific fires in California over the pastcouple of weeks raised the issue to yet a higher level. And, it must be notedthat Montana lost nearly 900,000 acres to wildfire in 2007. Thousands ofMontanans were affected through evacuations of homes, businesses suffered severeeconomic hits, and the health problems incurred are real.

To the rescue is the Forest Service in proposing a project south of Helena on960 acres. The quote that set my teeth on edge was “This doesn’t involve anycommercial logging or timber sales” like that is a good thing. What exactly isbad about commercial logging and timber sales as a solution to an overgrownnational forest?

The Tri-County Fire Working Group identified the project area two years ago as ahigh-risk priority. They are to be commended for their work with privatelandowners to help mitigate fire risk. However, a great deal more needs tohappen on federal lands surrounding private ownership or very little thehomeowners do will make a difference and that would be shameful because they aredoing the right thing for their land.

Instead of producing a value-added product from the trees, it appears theproject will involve yet more smoke in town because the fiber will be cut,stacked, and burned. What a waste. In order to maximize the value of a projectand the resources the Forest Service will put into it, there should becommercial product involved to help pay for the work that needs to be done onthe part that has no economic value.

Burning instead of harvesting is absurd. Using figures from the Californiafires, it is estimated that in one week 8.7 million tons of carbon dioxide waspumped into the air and lungs of residents. If we use the same formula for thewildfires in Montana this year, 15.5 million tons of carbon dioxide was producedon our charred ground and breathed by our citizens.

And finally, the attempt is being made by some to charge that climate change isthe sole cause of increased wildfires and intensity. This statement is patentlyfalse. There are many reasons for the fires and lack of active management ranksvery high on the list. The climate is changing as it has for all of time andcould be a contributing factor, but is not the sole cause. There are roughly 200million acres nationwide of overstocked federal forests that need attentionbefore they burn. These conditions have occurred because of lack of activemanagement due to appeals and litigation by serial litigators who profit fromtheir lawsuits.

Addressing small acreages and taking several years to accomplish the task issimply not a solution and neither is mandating what kind of roof will berequired on private property.

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