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Correcting fire misperceptions

Steve Smith

Dear Editor,

I write in response to the ridiculous assertions about wildfires found in a letter you printed from one Matt Ryan. His completely inaccurate assessment of forest management and fire behavior is a disservice to citizens who seek the truth. His simplistic scapegoating of Sierra Club as the cause of all wildfires is just silly.

The National Forest Management Act of 1976, indeed supported by Sierra Club and many other forward- thinking organizations, is slowly transforming the U.S. Forest Service from just a purveyor of timber supplies – and universal suppressor of wildfires – to a more creative and comprehensive manager of the complex ecosystems and uses that are found on our public lands. This new approach continues to provide timber and forage, as well as recreation, while improving the long-term health of the forests themselves.

Among the revelations that have grown from that legislation and from expanded citizen and scientific involvement in forest management is the understanding that for millennia natural fire has been a key component of healthy forests. Periodic, low-intensity fires helped clear forests of fallen and dead trees and brush, limiting the build-up of fuels lying under living trees.

The companion revelation is that more than a century of suppressing all fires has resulted in forests that are overloaded with dead, dry fuel that unnaturally feeds fires, causing many to explode into ferocious firestorms beyond the control of humans and, often, beyond the control of nature itself.

These “time proven strategies,” as Mr. Ryan calls them, of building up excess dead fuels and the resultant conflagrations, are anything but. The only thing that time has proven is that we needed, and are now using, new strategies.

The Sierra Club supports the Forest Service’s new approaches of 1) suppressing fires that threaten human life and habitations, 2) careful reduction of excess fuels in forests near homes and communities, by any of several means, and 3) careful and effective use of fire itself in more backcountry areas as a more complete and more effective approach to reducing excess fuels.

The fires currently burning in Colorado and the rest of the west should remind us that these are times for careful, thinking approaches to keeping our forests healthy and our homes safe. Simplistic scapegoating will not help the forests and does not result in thoughtful decisions.

Sincerely,

Steve Smith

Glenwood Springs

Associate Regional Representative, Sierra Club


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