Fire suppression, drought and poor logging practices to blame for wildfires
Environmentalists used as scapegoat
In the wake of this summers epidemic of forest fires in the West caused by a combination of drought, overlogging, and fire suppression, the Forest Service, some western members of Congress, and newspapers such as the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, have been using the fires to attack environmental groups and the Sierra Club in particular.
The current epidemic of fires is the result of several factors. First, there is an extreme drought, which has caused many standing, green trees in the West to have moisture contents far below normal, in fact, below the level of kiln-dried lumber. Second, a century of fire suppression on the National Forests and private lands have disrupted natural fire cycles and set the stage for high intensity crown fires fed by accumulated brush and small trees. Third, excessive commercial logging has exacerbated this problem by removing large, relatively fire resistant trees, and leaving behind slash, brush and debris that greatly increase the risk of fire.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups for years have advocated greater use of natural fire; allowing low intensity fires to burn, protecting old growth and other fire resistant large tree stands; and using more controlled burns of brush, slash and small trees. We have supported projects to reduce hazardous fuels loads. We supported funding for the National Fire Plan which gave the Forest Service and Department of the Interior over $2 billion in the last two years for these projects.
Last summer, the GAO released a report examining the 1,671 Forest Service projects in 2001 aimed at reducing the fire danger in National Forest areas at risk of catastrophic fires. Of these 1,671 projects, environmentalists had appealed only 20 and had taken none to court. These facts directly contradict statements by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and others who blame environmentalists for recent fires.
The Forest Service has continued to focus on using the fire crisis as a cover for accelerating precisely those kinds of commercial timber sales that increase fire risk. Instead of responsibly reducing fuel loads with sustainable practices, the Forest Service has chosen to scapegoat environmentalists, avoid accountability and push for increased commercial logging.
Forest restoration needed
With the recent forest fires focusing Americans attention on the need for sensible forest management, a new Sierra Club report says solutions exist to bring silt-clogged trout streams back to life, stabilize landslide-prone hillsides, and create good jobs in forest communities. The report highlights the benefits, as well as the challenges, of restoring our nations treasured forests. The report posits restoration as a key element in the long-term goal of protecting forests and communities.
The report, Restoring Americas Forests: Protecting Habitat, Saving Stream and Generating Jobs in our National Forests, is an in-depth look at the methods, costs, benefits, and politics of forest restoration projects. The report includes case studies from Redwood National Forest in California, the White River in Vermont, the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon and others.
This summers fire season has confirmed the need to rethink our forest
management strategies and proactively restore our National Forests, said
Sean Cosgrove, Sierra Club forest policy specialist. If done correctly,
forest restoration can be at the heart of a new way of thinking for government
agencies in charge of managing our nations federal forests, like the U.S.
Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Make your home fire safe
Clean pine needles, branches and other flammable materials from areas near roofs and gutters.
Remove any tree limbs extending within 10 feet of any chimney or wood stove flue.
Store propane tanks away from buildings and clear flammable vegetation from tank areas.
Space landscape vegetation so that fire cannot be carried to the structure.
Stack firewood and store picnic table, boats and other flammable materials away from your home.
For more information read the report, Forest
Fires: Beyond the Heat and Hype.
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