Arizona burning: We have met the enemy. . .


No doubt, in the aftermath of Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire that tragically killed 19 hotshot-crew firefighters, the media and others will look to assign blame.

To me the answer is obvious: We all are.

It’s the same answer that Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly penned in 1970 when he created a poster commemorating the first Earth Day: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Past policy decisions haunt us, from the U.S. Forest Service’s 1935 “10 o’clock rule” to put out every fire by 10 a.m. the next morning, to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, subsequent east-side screens and other regional efforts to limit timber harvest in order to spare larger and older trees. Another haunting reality is that many of us have moved closer to our cherished forests because we love them – but when fire threatens, it is our homes, our property and our very lives we want protected.

It may be a part of our biologic makeup: We fear fire and the wanton destruction it can cause. We’re also in love with our forests and big trees.

But the answer isn’t less forest management. There has to be more, and it has to be smarter.

Less than a month before the Yarnell blow-up, a possible middle-ground solution emerged – interestingly, also from an Arizona source. Diane Vosick, director of policy and partnerships for Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute, testified before Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She stated that the costs of active forest management can be repaid many times over in reduced severity and losses from wildfires.

“The question becomes, can we afford not to treat?” she asked.

I met Diane several years ago, when she worked for The Nature Conservancy here in Oregon as TNC’s east-side restoration coordinator. She was very helpful as OFRI wrote and published its special report Federal Forestland in Oregon: Coming to terms with active forest management of federal forestland.

Diane told Sen. Wyden and his committee that the best way to save money is to invest a little now in forest management. She presented a recent study by her institute, “The Efficacy of Hazardous Fuel Treatments.” While the research is specific to Arizona, its implications reach to Oregon.

Her conclusions are the same reached last year here in Oregon in a blue-ribbon study sponsored by a diverse group of statewide stakeholders, including conservationists, businesses, state agencies and counties: National Forest Health Restoration: An Economic Assessment of Forest Restoration on Oregon’s Eastside National Forest. Doubling the investment in forest restoration activities such as thinning and selective timber harvest can reinvigorate rural communities, reduce poverty and restore forest health and fire resiliency, the report concluded. In the process, restoration can protect wildlife habitat as well as clean air and water.

As the nation mourns the death of the 19 brave firefighters in Arizona, my hope is that we will realize that extreme positions – whether it’s no fire, no management or no timber harvest – all have unintended consequences. Let’s find the middle ground and invest in smart forest management to make sure a tragedy like this never happens again.

Paul Barnum 
Executive Director


9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210        
Portland, OR 97225        
Phone: 971-673-2944        
Fax: 971-673-2946

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