Oct 102010

We’ve had a significant problem with wildfires in Colorado lately. We don’t get the national press of the California wildfires –– unless something tragic happens such as the 1994 fire in Glenwood Springs that killed 14 firefighters –– but our deflagrations are going to get worse.

I was born and raised in Grand County; we’re not really known for much other than an armored bulldozer attack, some world-class skiers and of course being ground zero for the pine beetle infestation.

Last weekend, a fire started in the Church’s Park area near Fraser. Only a little more than 500 acres burned. But trust me, the entire county and Grand County residents around the world were holding their breath expecting things to get much worse.

For the last half-century or so, wildfire management in the western states has primarily focused on deforesting old growth areas and immediately attempting to contain any fires that break out. Yes, for the forestry-inclined, I’m generalizing.

In some cases, the command-agency has appropriately directed the fire into an area in need of burning and more effectively used the opportunity presented by the fire.

I was stationed at Clear Air Station, Alaska for all of 2001. While I was there, the forestry industry, the forest service and a group of locals had worked together to coordinate a controlled burn to clear out an area of extremely old-growth in order to prevent a naturally-occurring fire from breaking out in an uncontrolled manner.

A group of, pardon me, tree-huggers intervened and were granted a court-order preventing the burn. While the case was either in court or about to go to court for resolution –– my memory of the event is about as clear as the statistics class I took two years ago, I get it, I’m just not positive about the order of events –– lightening triggered a fire in the area.

Instead of immediately containing the fire, the firefighters directed the fire into the old-growth area and allowed it to naturally consume the area in question.

We need more of this, what’s the word? Thought. Last week, we apparently witnessed this type of forward thinking and the Grand County firefighters attempted to allow the fire to burn and consume as much beetle-killed area as possible. Unfortunately, that hag Mother Nature intervened and dropped two nights of rain followed by a night of snow, so the fire didn’t have enough time to consume much more than it already had.

Take a drive up to Grand or Summit Counties sometime and take a look at how red the forests have become. Instead of continuing to attempt to suppress fires, we truly need to attempt to manage them and encourage the burning of old growth.

The housing industry started taking a long, steep, slow dive in 2007. When it happened the demand for lumber began declining at a similar rate.

So today we can look back just 30 days and witness the potential for fires. One argument I’ve heard is that if the fire is manmade, we should immediately attempt to suppress it. Well, for argument’s sake I’d like to put out the thought that humans are part of nature.

We’re not talking about a global climate change debate here, it’s a question of whether or not human-caused fires are any less natural than any other cause, and I would say outside of arson, no.

If a fire starts in an area deemed in need of a good burn, my suggestion is we should try to manage the fire and allow it to burn as naturally as possible. I believe it’s called forest management, but I could be wrong.

What we do not need to do is try to save the dead and dying trees from burning simply because forest fires are destructive, dangerous and ugly. Protect structures if possible, gas and electric lines without question, but let the forests burn when they need it.

Kudos to the managers of last week’s Church’s Park fire, instead of immediately seeking to put it out, you looked to the long term.

Seth Stern is a senior journalism major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 2:14 pm

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