Proposed wildfire legislation fuels ongoing debate

Proposed wildfire legislation fuels ongoing debate

1 July 2009

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Ca, USA — On June 16, Congressman Wally Herger introduced the California Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act, which is legislation that addresses the ongoing threat of wildfire in national forests by reducing what he refers to as “the red tape that has stymied effective forest management.”

The bill, if passed, would apply what Herger characterizes as “streamlined procedures” and “emergency authority” to reduce the amount of hazardous fuels, which are cited as the root cause of the rising rates of catastrophic wildfires currently affecting California.

Some, however, argue that Herger’s urgency to reduce fuels is a thinly disguised promotion of the logging industry and an attempt to dissolve federal and state mandated forest protections.
Among those is forest activist Felice Pace. “This bill reflects Herger ‘carrying water’ for the timber giants,” he stated.

Pace argues that prevailing logging methods often create conditions that can, in some cases, actually increase the potential for catastrophic wildfires, citing the Hog Fire of 1977, the Glasgow and Yellow fires of 1987 and the Specimen fire of 1994 as examples of situations where manageable fires “blew up” when they hit logging slash and brush.

Herger’s proposed legislation addresses a problem that, in itself, cannot be denied: Since 2003, the state of California has had three of its worst forest fire seasons on record.

There is little argument over the fact that wildland fires need to be managed appropriately. The issue is over exactly how that should occur.

Managing fire on the Shasta-Trinity NF

For Shasta-Trinity National Forest Fire Management Officer Paige Boyer, prevailing thinning and fuels management strategies are headed in the right direction. “The problem is that we just can’t keep up with the growth,” she stated.

Boyer explained that because of decades of fire suppression, there is currently a proliferation of undergrowth, brush and small trees that create a greater fire danger.

“We’ve missed five, ten and fifteen year fire intervals” she explained, reiterating that fire is a natural part of the eco-system and that long term suppression creates the potential for even larger fires to occur. “Even when we do have fires, there is a benefit,” she noted. “Not every fire is detrimental.”

According to Boyer, all of the slash that comes from a National Forest timber sale is treated in some way, whether it is chipped, masticated or burned. (She noted that this is not always the case on private timberlands.)

Boyer also claims that the Forest Service tries to retain a 60% canopy cover when it conducts a timber sale, but noted that this will vary from site to site.

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