The BLM plays with fire in Oregon

 
Everyone here in Oregon loves our forests. These lands -- most in public ownership -- are the cornerstone for both the economic and ecological health of the state, and are central to our identity. Indeed, more and more of us are making our homes in the woods every year, in the so-called “wildlands-urban interface.” And so, whether we are loggers, conservationists or vacation-home owners, we all share a common fear: fire. Uncontrolled, stand-replacing wildfire can destroy in a day all the forest values that took centuries to develop. Therefore, it’s hard to believe that the Bureau of Land Management would propose to drastically increase the risk of wildfire on their forestlands in Oregon. Yet that is exactly what the agency is doing.

This burning secret is hidden deep within the BLM’s recently-released Draft Environmental Impact statement for its Western Oregon Plan Revisions, or WOPR, pronounced “whopper” by just about everyone. Arising from an out-of-court settlement between the Bush administration and a timber industry group, the plan discards the present management framework governing 2.5 million acres of low-elevation forests throughout western Oregon and the Klamath Basin.

Current management includes an extensive network of reserves that were established to assure the survival of the threatened Northern Spotted Owl, and that are off-limits to commercial logging. The draft plan would eliminate those reserves, drastically reduce no-cut buffers along streams, and instead designate commercial logging as the “predominant” use.

BLM is promoting this change as a way to dramatically increase timber revenues. That prospect is very tempting to Oregon counties, which have financed public services for decades on their portion of federal-land timber receipts. Unfortunately, few county officials have apparently had the patience to read all the way to page 769 in the Draft Environmental Impact statement, to the section called “Fire severity, hazard, and resiliency in the south.” There, the agency shows just how much the plan would cost Oregon in terms of fire.

BLM analyzes three “action alternatives” in comparison with continuation of present management, the “no action alternative.” The data are clear: a continuation of present management would provide Oregon with the best fire future. What about the preferred second alternative? This is the very worst in terms of fire. For example, in southern Oregon’s Medford District, where I live, it would result in approximately 200,000 more acres in the “high-fire severity” category than would continuation of present management.

But the bad news doesn’t end there. What about “fire resiliency,” the ability of a forest to survive a wildfire? Here again, BLM’s preferred alternative offers Oregon the worst fire future. Alternative 2 would accomplish almost all its logging by clearcutting, creating even-aged plantations without any standing large trees. The draft plan acknowledges that these forests are the worst in every fire category: high fire severity, high fire hazard, and low fire resiliency. In my BLM district, the second alternative would reduce the acreage of fire-resilient forests by two-thirds compared to current management. That’s well over half a million more acres without the ability to survive wildfire.

BLM’s western Oregon forests are in a checkerboard ownership pattern, intermingled with private property. BLM’s preferred alternative would be a catastrophe for this wildland-urban interface, exposing the residents of Oregon to drastically increased fire risk over the coming decades.

Finally, there is the very real possibility that BLM’s plan may backfire, even in its stated goal of increasing timber revenues. Given the increased fire hazard and severity that would result from adoption of BLM’s preferred alternative, Oregon forests may burn up before they can be logged. BLM’s timber revenue projections fail to take this possibility into account. The draft plan also fails to analyze the impact of global warming over the hundred-year projections in the plan. This is indefensible, given the many studies predicting increasing fire severity throughout the West due to global warming.

The Bureau of Land Management knows very well that clearcut logging and reduction of stream buffers increase fire danger. They can’t deny these truths, but they can bury them in the middle of their 1,300-page “whopper.” It is up to us -- the owners of our public lands -- to insist that federal land managers reject management options that increase fire danger over the long term. This plan fails that fire test. If it is adopted, we will all get burned.

Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a biologist and writer who lives in Ashland, Oregon.
High Country News Classifieds
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -