Fire, Fish And a Failed Policy
The other day my wife and I went for one of our favorite drives. We drove
from Misery Junction to Dayton, Washington following the boundary of the
Umatilla National Forest, a distance of almost 100 miles. The more I drove, the more alarmed and angry I became.
The land along the entire route was badly burned in the School Fire in 2005 and the Columbia Complex Fire in 2006.
The thing that suffered most was critical habitat for one of the fish species that we have been fighting over for decades and that we most want to protect: spawning grounds of Tucannon River steelhead and salmon.
These uncharacteristically large wildfires severely burned the soil and vegetation resulting in significant losses to natural resources including things like riparian habitat, old growth forests, and forage for wildlife and cattle.
The National Forests are primary sources of clean water and clean air and are critical habitat for all of us who live around them, both the wild and human communities.
At great peril  in the face of the best science and our common experience over the past quarter century, Federal public lands are being neglected or excluded from management with disastrous results for everything and everyone who depend on these precious forests.
When it comes to fire and other major disturbances that are occurring well outside of ranges that we might have expected to see 200 years ago, we know that management makes a difference.  Recent studies by Colorado State University scientists of the 80,000 acre Jasper Fire in the Black Hills of South Dakota, famous for its ponderosa pines, show beyond a statistical doubt that even in large killing fire situations, managed forests are much more resilient than unmanaged forests.
Yet in the face of this growing body of science that supports common sense practices and empirical evidence that common sense works, we continue to allow ourselves to be politically strong-armed by non-governmental organizations whose intentions are not in the public interest but rather focused on private or single purposes without regard for the common good, or, in this case, the interests of our fish.
The end result is that we have allowed radical voices unfounded in either  science or experience to stop legitimate government activities that would protect both the forests we need and the salmon and steelhead habitat.
And the problem doesn’t stop at the Tucannon River.
The Pulp and Paperworkers’ Resource Council (PPRC) realizes there are sensitive areas that we have no business developing.  We also realize that we must act in an environmentally responsible manner by using available resources to protect people.
Idaho Labor worked to help create the first Wilderness in the United States in the Selway and Bitterroot drainages and we know how important these are to the nation.  We also realize how important it is to manage resources for the public good.
There are many examples.  Natural gas prices are going thru the roof but we have decided not to drill for the gas we all need on the Rocky Mountain Thrust belt, the source of Trillions of feet of Natural Gas.  Surely there is some way to tap this important source of energy and still maintain our environmental values.
Last summer the Kaibab National Forest in Northern Arizona made a decision to allow a fire to burn over 50,000 acres of an ancient and impossibly beautiful pine forest on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We could help regenerate this scar by planting trees.  Natural regeneration would take over 500 years for the forest to come back, if ever.
There are others.  The motto of the PPRC is Seeking a Balance.  We believe it.  We live it, and we know we can do better with our natural resources on America’s public lands.  Abandoning our natural resources to natural regulation and failing our selves and our generations by not carefully using and managing the resources that God gave us for our good is not the answer!
Owen Squires
Director Rocky Mountain Region
Pulp and Paperworkers’ Resource Council