Changes in fire management in Idaho

Rocky Barker, a writer for the Idaho Statesman and the author of “Scorched Earth”, has a thoughtful article about how fire management in Idaho has changed over the last 20 years. Here is an excerpt:

…What Junger didn’t report was that from 1960 to 1989 the Forest Service had put out 70 fires in the Lowman area with its crack teams of smoke jumpers, hotshots, and helitack crews, its retardant bombers and network of roads.

By the time the dozens of lightning strikes hit the tinder of the Lowman forest in 1989, the traditional stands of 60 large trees per acre had grown into thickets of 1,500 trees per acre. It all turned into ashes.

The appearance of the Lowman blaze area feeds the still polarized debate over the role of fire. You have to look close to see the 5- to 10-foot-tall ponderosa pines that rise out the thick brush.

The U.S. Forest Service planted 10 million trees on 31,000 of the 47,000 acres that burned. In a sense the agency got a chance to start all over.

But to do that meant it would have to restore the historic frequency of fire. In the area around Lowman it thinned the forest mechanically. There and in other areas the Forest Service has set fires during the spring and late fall so it allows the blazes on its own terms.

So when the predictable lightning storm ignited a fire in the Eightmile Basin within the Lowman fire area a week ago, the agency decided to watch it, not fight it.

It’s a wet year, and the area the fire started is relatively wet. Because there aren’t big fires elsewhere the Forest Service has the people on hand to react if conditions change.

“Our objective in this area is to ensure fire plays its natural ecological role in the fire-adapted Boise National Forest,” said Cecilia Seesholtz, Boise Forest supervisor.

So far, everything is going as to plan. The fire was only three acres in size Friday.

But there are many people who question the wisdom of letting any fires burn. Last year the South Barker fire (no relation …) burned more than 37,000 acres on the Sawtooth National Forest as the Forest Service allowed the fire to play its historic role.

Retired foresters were critical that the fire had burned through ponderosa plantations that had been managed for timber production. But the Forest Service has changed along with the timber industry.


Thanks Dick

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