USFS Environmentalist No Logging Policies Kill Livestock, Wildlife, Trees
We need to get our forests working again and say no to wilderness areas and IRAs.
While I typically refrain from writing opinion pieces or letters to the editor, the recent catastrophic fires in our area have convinced me to act otherwise.
I had originally wanted to write a rebuttal to an opinion piece that derided our local Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association for a billboard they sponsored stating that we need to “log it, graze it, or watch it burn.”
The cattlemen were, of course, speaking about the management on the Colville National Forest where timber harvest levels have dropped significantly in the past 20 years and where grazing allotments are almost in a perennial state of jeopardy.
The result of this inaction in regards to the management on the Colville National Forest is the worst fire season since the “Big Burn” of 1910 where much of the West was on fire until that winters’ snow eventually put out the fires that had destroyed so much of the landscape. To be fair, this was before the invention of the modern day equipment that we currently utilize to fight fire, but it was also before the designation of wilderness areas.
Locally, a group called the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition has been supporting the expansion of wilderness areas in the Colville National Forest. The environmental interests represented on this coalition have agreed not to file lawsuits on timber sales in exchange for expanding and establishing new wilderness areas. I mention this because in wilderness areas, there are literally no options for fighting fire. As a local firefighter once told me, the only option for managing a fire in a wilderness area is to, “let it burn.”
My office has been inundated with phone calls, letters, emails and messages wanting to know why there aren’t more resources available to fight the fires currently raging in the Colville National Forest.
Imagine if wilderness areas were expanded. Even if the State or Federal government had resources available, they wouldn’t be able to utilize those resources because you are not allowed to in areas managed as “Wilderness”. The term “Wilderness Area” sounds harmless because a major reason we all live in this area is the attraction to the outdoors, both for recreation and as a way to make a living. The wilderness in and of itself is a wonderful thing that allows local families the opportunity to raise their families in an area where their proximity to nature literally meets them at their doorstep.
Wilderness Areas, however, have a very different meaning. By definition, a Wilderness Area Designation doesn’t allow for mechanized equipment to enter their boundary lines. This means less recreation opportunity for ATV riders, bicyclists, hunters, campers, firewood cutters and huckleberry pickers. It also means the potential loss of grazing land for our ranchers, and no ability to ever cut down even a single tree with a chainsaw. It also means, that in a time of fire, you wouldn’t be able to drive a fire engine or any other firefighting equipment past those imaginary boundary lines.
When you add into the mix that the same group, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, is also supporting the decommissioning of roads on the Colville National Forest, I am left wondering how we are supposed to fight fires in other areas that aren’t being sought as Wilderness Areas, but are being promoted as “Inventoried Roadless Areas” or IRA’s, as they are known in Forest Service lingo.
In addition to hearing from my constituents about the lack of resources for fighting these fires, for years I have heard from folks wondering why their favorite forest road had been closed. These roads are utilized for ranchers to access their grazing allotments, but were also historically used for logging, as well as access to firewood, hunting, berry picking and other recreational activities.
The answer to these issues seems pretty simple in my opinion. We need to get our forests working again. We need to return to the logging practices that allowed for healthy timber harvests, grazing, and access that not only allowed people to make a living, but also offered many recreational opportunities.
The reason that the Cattlemen’s Association sponsored billboard is so valid is because those practices of grazing and yes, logging, reduced the likelihood of forest fires. That isn’t to say that we wouldn’t have fires, but we would greatly reduce our susceptibility to them if we had access, and employed preventive measures like logging and grazing.
We would also increase our ability to fight the fewer fires that we would have because the conditions in the forest would be so much better. There would be reduced fuels, more defensible space, healthy timber stands, and the grazing would keep the grasses and weeds knocked down.
When I see the pictures of dead, burned cows, as well as houses totally destroyed and property burnt to a crisp, it is heart-wrenching. To see all of the devastation that has been caused by these fires is hard to look at. It is even more difficult to look at knowing that a lot of the destruction could have been prevented.
I, for one, wholeheartedly support the Cattlemen’s message of “log it, graze it, or watch it burn.” I am sad that their message was so prophetic, but it is time that we stand together as a community and say no to “Wilderness Areas” and “Inventoried Roadless Areas”. We have to send a message to the Forest Service and the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition that people’s lives, homes, properties, and livestock are more important than an ideology.
Finally, I want to thank all of the volunteers and fire-fighters that are working so hard to put these fires out. We live in a special place where so many people are willing to help their neighbors in times of trouble. These selfless acts do not go unnoticed and are greatly appreciated by all of us.
Washington State 7th District State Senator