OPINION: Fired up about forest fires | PostIndependent.com

OPINION: Fired up about forest fires

Joe & Linda Skinner
Free Press Opinion Columnists
Joe Skinner
Staff Photo |

HE SAID: Are there more forest fires this summer? A little research turned up the reality of truly huge forest fires in the past, some over a million acres, and a few of those with great loss of life. But, today, any size fire can damage buildings and cost people their lives. Nature seems to love extremes, and we humans just can’t seem to figure it out.

For years we cut every tree in sight, and still had fires. Then we let everything grow until we had mono-culture forests with an overabundance of one type of tree. I remember driving to Alaska in my youth through hundreds of miles of stunted Lodgepole Pines that were so close together that you couldn’t walk through the forest. The Native Americans said you had to set them on fire to provide food for the animals. Now on every drive to Denver, I see dense stands of trees dying from disease, and they brush their boughs against the sides of the expensive homes on the way. To me it is a disaster waiting to happen and a question of when, not if.

SHE SAID: We skirted two fires on our recent trip to Idaho and it was a reminder that the bug and disease kill is rampant all over the West. Why can’t the government foresters and the developers learn from past mistakes? Surely there are ecological ways of clearing or thinning a forest to lessen the threat of fire and disease. Why has it taken so long for the Forest Service to grant access to beetle-killed forests? Why are people still building homes surrounded by trees and firefighters risking their lives to protect them? A wayward match or lightning strike is far scarier than a bear in the woods these days.

HE SAID: You should include the environmental organizations along with the foresters and developers. All have some blame in creating our current problem. There are countries that have existed for hundreds of years without this type of dysfunction about the forests. Scandinavia, northern Europe and northern Idaho exhibit more of a balance in forestry management than we have. We cannot tame Nature and I know we cannot ignore it, so we need to be more willing to come to some sort of consensus of how to avoid these disasters. A beautiful garden does not come from allowing one extreme or another, but by forming a partnership with the earth. But, even as changes are made, we learn we can plan for the best and still have the unexpected happen.

SHE SAID: That certainly was the case in our recent trip when we included the two dogs. Our new, used, spiffy clean van was an obvious invitation for disaster. Sure enough, the first day out, the smaller one managed to roll extensively in fresh poop at a rest stop and proudly exhibited her dog nature by jumping back into the van before we could catch her. Fortunately, we had enough water and paper towels to rinse the worst off, but we now know to also carry scented baby wipes.

We also learned that no matter how dog-friendly a motel is, taking an elevator to the second floor to get to our room with our non-citified dogs is not an option. They are not about to let that door shut behind them. Not a problem unless there is a family with four kids who come running up to the elevator, about the time the dogs come running out minus their collars which they have pulled out of in their panic. At least the hotel did not kick us out that night.

HE SAID: So we had a few problems along the way, but we adjusted and did not repeat the same actions. That is what most people do when confronted with obvious problems, however, we set ourselves up for disaster regarding forest fires. We can’t eliminate all fires, but shouldn’t there be some way, without more laws, to begin to deal with all the standing dead timber that we know will burn like dry matches?

SHE SAID: How about we require all homes burned and then rebuilt in the forests be made and furnished with beetle-killed wood? Or better yet, limit building in undeveloped areas. Often, homeowners are “encouraged” to practice fire mitigation. Maybe it should be required. Those ideas should start a conflagration, but might stop one, too.

The Skinners hope that the only fire in your lives are safe and warming. They can be reached at jlajtls@bresnan.net.

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