Drought - Fire - Flood Email Forum

Fire in the Boulder Area

Scott C. Reuman (
Wed, 25 Oct 2000 21:58:53 -0400

Of course fires are inevitable. The question is, again, how we prepare for
them, how/if we attempt to protect human structures in their path, and
whether our mitigation efforts cause greater harm than good.

Currently the USFS is planning the Winiger Ridge Forest Restoration Pilot
Project (on the ridge bounded by South Boulder Crk and Middle Boulder Crk).
The project's goals, as stated, are forest restoration (as in increased
health of the ecosystems, decreased chance of sterilizing fires,
recruitment of Old Growth). But the sound bites most often heard from the
FS are "let us cut trees and your house will be saved." People love it,
especially those who live in the woods. But fires in Boulder County are
driven by wind and slope. Nothing will stop them. The Black Tiger fire
jumped readily from crown to grass to crown and back again, pushed by steep
slopes in places, high winds in others. Good fortune stopped the Eldorado
Fire -- favorable winds, weather, and terrain. But the Winiger Ridge
Project calls for establishing a thinned "fire break" that runs east-west.
Any wind likely is going to travel parallel to the "fire breaks" making
them useless.
But worse are the assumptions that other effects of fire mitigation
won't bring equal or greater disaster. Roads associated with logging
operations will introduce increased human activity (remember, the 3-4 major
fires in Boulder County in last 12 years were all human caused, wind
driven). Logging operations, especially those by FS contractees, will
introduce noxious weeds, will exacerbate forest stresses. And FS is under
pressure to produce. Produce what? You can't measure forest "health", at
least not easily and not under annual funding deadlines. But you can
measure board feet removed.
The FS's prescribed fire (440 acres on south Winiger Ridge, 1999)
has shown exactly the wrong responses. Their plans did not consider that
the fire would stress trees more, and ***cumulative*** mortality has risen
in places to 50% above the planned tree mortality. A recent review by
biologists noted that planned retention of large trees at the expense of
small diameter trees was precisely reversed in this burn.
I'm not against attempting to do something, but somebody's gotta
convince me that in our hurried attempt to mimic Mom Nature we're not going
to create another "dammed Mississippi," or, for a more apt metaphor, larger
fires after fire suppression. Have we learned enough?

Scott R.
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