Firefighters proclaim no destructive forest policies in our name!
provided by Western Fire Ecology Center
group of current and former firefighters sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, criticizing the Bush Administration for using fire-fighters to pitch its Healthy Forest Initiative without ever consulting with ground-level firefighters in formulating its new policy. The Bush Administration's proposal would increase commercial logging across millions of acres of National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land without citizen input or environmental safeguards under the guise of thinning for wildfire prevention and firefighter safety and efficiency. Congress is anticipated to propose similar legislation when it reconvenes following its summer recess.
Before the Bush Administration and Congress pass sweeping new legislation to increase commercial logging under the guise of wildfire prevention, they had better first hear from ground-level firefighters who know that taking out big trees and leaving behind small trees, brush, and slash does not help, but rather, hinders protection of communities, and increases the hazards facing wildland firefighters, said Timothy Ingalsbee, a former fire pro technician for the National Park Service, with eight years wildland firefighting experience. Ingalsbee is director of the Western Fire Ecology Center for the American Lands Alliance, and advocates on behalf of firefighter safety. It is time for Congress and the Administration to prioritize community fire protection over commodity timber production.
We need full funding of the National Fire Plan for genuine community protection projects, training and equipment for local fire departments protecting the wildland/urban interface zone, not more backcountry timber sales disguised as thinning projects, said David Calahan, retired municipal fire-fighter for the City of Medford, Oregon, with 25 years firefighting experience working several fires in the wildland/urban interface surrounding Medford.
Calahan, a rural landowner, successfully defended his property during the 2002 Squires Fires in southern Oregon, and personally observed the wildfire burning hot through recently clear-cut lands owned by Boise Cascade Corporation and thinned units on Bureau of Land Management land, but then burning cool through adjacent uncut stands. His observations were directly contrary to the story presented by President Bush during his photo-op, posing with fire-fighters at the scene of the Squires Fire where he announced his new forest fire policy.
The Administration's proposal to increase timber sales of large, fire-resistant trees in the backcountry in order to pay for fuels reduction, and to exempt such projects from citizen input and environmental safeguards, does not serve the best interests of firefighters, rural communities, or the nation, said David Atkins, former Forest Service smokejumper with ten years experience. It is an affront to both ecological processes and democratic principles.
Atkins prepared defensible space around his home located near Cave Junction, Oregon, in preparation for the 500,000 acre Biscuit Fire that was spreading toward his land. Atkins cut small-diameter trees necessary to prepare firelines, but did not log any of his big trees.
It is wrong for the Bush Administration to cut essential funding for the National Fire Plan, and then argue for the need to increase timber sales in order to pay for hazardous fuels reduction, said Joseph Fox, former Forest Service smokejumper with 22 years experience. Logging large, shade-producing trees makes the ground surface hotter, drier, and windier, causing higher fireline intensity and rapid fire spread which puts firefighter safety at much greater risk.
Proactive prescribed burning is far safer for firefighters and the public than reactive wildfire suppression. Most firefighters desire to wisely manage wildland fires for social and ecological benefits, not simply extinguish them at all costs, said Patrick Withen, current Forest Service smokejumper with 24 years experience.
Withen wrote a doctoral dissertation on the organizational and institutional factors affecting firefighter safety and efficiency. Withen currently spends summers as a Forest Service smokejumper, then serves as a volunteer municipal firefighter in the off-season.
Firefighters' letter to the Bush Administration
August 28, 2002
Ms. Gale Norton
Dear Ms. Veneman and Ms. Norton,
Firefighters are motivated by pride in profession, commitment to public service, and a sense of duty to protect the natural environment. We oppose all attempts to politically justify further environmental degradation in the name of firefighter safety. As current and former firefighters, we do not wish to see the reputation of firefighters sullied by association with policies that condone irresponsible, unethical, or illegal behavior on the part of private companies or government agencies.
Before Congress and the Administration institute new fire policies such as the Healthy Forests Initiative, they need to hear directly from ground-level professional, volunteer, municipal, and wildland firefighters in whose name much of these administrative and legislative proposals are being made, and who, after all, will be the ones putting their bodies on the line to implement those policies.
The Administration's proposal to increase commercial logging of large, fire-resistant trees in the backcountry in order to pay for hazardous fuels reduction, and to exempt such projects from informed citizen input and environmental safeguards, does not serve the best interests of firefighters, rural communities, or the Nation in facilitating scientifically sound, socially acceptable, safe and effective fire and fuels management.
First, we dispute the claim that simply increasing commercial logging across 191 million acres of public lands will facilitate safer, more efficient fire suppression or more effective protection for homeowners and communities. Often, once timber sales are completed, it takes years for the logging debris to be treated, and in many cases the slash is never treated; moreover, logged units are rarely maintained to control the prolific growth of flammable small trees, brush, and invasive weeds. This greatly increases the fire risks and fuel hazards. Also, logging large shade-producing trees tends to make the ground surface hotter, drier, and windier. These microclimatic effects of extracting mature and old-growth trees causes a reduction of surface fuel moisture, extended periods of high fire danger, and when ignitions do occur, wildfires burning with higher fireline intensity and rapid rates of spread. This puts firefighter safety at much greater risk. Statistically, most fire-fighter entrapments have occurred in flashy fuel types characteristic of previously logged or grazed sites; rarely do entrapments occur in closed-canopy mature or old-growth stands.
In regards to community fire protection, the best available science from the U.S. Forest Service's fire sciences lab reveals that the principal threat of wildfire to homes results from the use of flammable building materials (e.g. cedar shake roofs) and the presence of fire-prone vegetation within the home ignition zone approximately 200 feet around structures. Creating defensible space for firefighters depends on prudent thinning of small trees and underbrush for a maximum of 1/3 mile radius from structures. Commercial logging in the backcountry is neither an effective nor efficient means of protecting homes or providing defensible space for firefighters.
Since most of the land surrounding homes and communities is privately owned, federal resources should be targeted to assisting homeowners, local municipalities, State and Tribal governments to fund FIREWISE educational campaigns, comprehensive fire management plans, firefighter training programs and equipment purchases for municipal and rural volunteer fire departments who are often the first line of defense for wildfires threatening communities.
Secondly, we feel it is wrong for the Bush Administration to propose cuts in funding for the National Fire Plan, and then argue for the need to increase timber sales in order to pay for hazardous fuels reduction. Since the majority of needed hazardous fuels reduction work centers on small-diameter surface and understory fuels that have little or no commodity value, it is unrealistic to expect that this work will be able to pay for itself. As well, it is counterproductive to base funding for restoration work on activities that further degrade the natural environment and results in increased fire risks and fuel hazards.
The National Fire Plan represents a bipartisan agreement to address degraded forest conditions by investing in fuels reduction and ecosystem restoration. The success of the National Fire Plan depends on a commitment by Congress and the Administration to provide adequate long-term funding. If the Administration is serious about protecting communities and restoring forests, then it should work with Congress to fully fund the National Fire Plan.
We believe that, while hazardous fuels reduction projects may not provide much commodity resource outputs, this work is labor-intensive and could provide year-round employment for rural communities. According to the best available science, fire reintroduction is an essential component of hazard reduction and forest restoration, and the skills of wildland firefighters will be a tremendous asset in this endeavor. Consequently, Congress and the Administration should provide clear direction to federal agencies to invest National Fire Plan money in fire management planning and firefighter training in order to facilitate increased prescribed burning and wildland fire use. Proactive prescribed burning is far safer for fire-fighters and the public than reactive wildfire suppression, and most firefighters desire to wisely manage wildland fires for social and ecological benefits, not simply extinguish them at all costs.
Finally, we are concerned by recent calls by the Bush Administration and members of Congress to exempt timber sales and fuels reduction projects from informed citizen involvement and environmental safeguards. In an era of burgeoning corporate scandals resulting from deregulation of energy and financial markets, and in light of past land abuses and lack of accountability by government agencies, we do not support similar efforts to deregulate public lands management.
David Atkins, Former Forest Service smokejumper, Cave Junction, OR
David Calahan, Retired municipal fire-fighter, Medford, OR
Joseph W. Fox, Former Forest Service smokejumper, McCall, ID
Timothy Ingalsbee, Former National Park Service fire pro technician, Eugene, OR
Patrick Withen, Current Forest Service smokejumper and volunteer municipal firefighter, Wise, VA