Klamath-Siskiyou: forests of Fire

What a summer. Fires again burned both far and wide. In what is becoming the “new normal,” a combination of dry fuel conditions, drought, and high temperatures made fire management increasingly difficult as firefighters were put in harms way. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

The forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are dependent upon fire. For millennia, lightning storms have ignited blazes that sparked the unique plant communities, tree composition and biodiversity that define the region. Our forests are evolved to accommodate the regenerative force of fire. 

Enter Smokey Bear

Only you...can change an irrational fire policy. For nearly a century we have tried to exclude fire from forests that were born to burn. We also replaced fire resilient old- growth forests with dense, flammable, young fiber plantations. Add logging slash to the mix while building more and more homes in the “wildland urban interface” and you have an unintended recipe for disaster.

Acknowledging the Challenges

While touring this summer’s Oregon Gulch wildfire, Governor Kitzhaber identified two of the most significant fire management challenges that confront our public forests: (1) Climate change and its impact on drought, weather, and fuel moisture levels; and (2) The failure of Congress to fully fund Forest Service fire management and fire planning. Solving climate change and congressional dysfunction may be a tall order, but it’s a significant step forward that elected leaders are acknowledging and discussing the need to change the way we prepare for and react to fire.

Rising From the Ashes

Now that we are more than ten years removed from the massive Biscuit Fire, it is becoming more possible to look at the effects of that fire objectively. The naturally recovering Kalmiopsis Wilderness is doing just fine and its world-renowned biodiversity is more impressive than ever.

We can stop throwing money and firefighters into the backcountry to “fight” wildland fires and we can redouble our efforts to create defensible space around homes and communities in fire-prone landscapes. Let’s focus on collective efforts where they will accomplish the greatest good and put our shoulders to the wheel. We’ve got a lot of work to do.