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Paying for Protection

September 19, 2013

As I was paging through the web this morning (very early for me, since I’m on the road for one more day), this article on fighting forest fires caught my attention, but not for anything it said.  I live in the middle of a national forest these days, in a neighborhood carved out years ago.  We do some pretty significant forest management within the bounds of the community in order to minimize the potential damage.  It’s interesting to see how much effort we, and the government, puts in to keep things safe.  The article questions the costs coming from both libertarian and progressive perspectives, and I agree that managing forests and fighting fires costs money.

The article brought to mind a conversation I had last summer with a person who owned and managed significant forest areas in Canada, and others that I’ve had with an Oregon timber management owner.  Aside from the comments on the whack-a-doodle people that large timberlands sometimes attract — especially if there are logging interests also around — they also featured heavily perspectives by people who have to manage forest cutting and forest fires.

Many timber management companies these days are doing selective cutting on flat lands, where they can thin out woodlands to keep them manageable as well as recoup investment.  At least one of the forest managers compared this to a low-burn forest fire, where some trees die and others are left intact.  Both of them, though pretty much said a massive crown-fire burn is as bad or worse than a clear-cut.

Think about it.  A clear-cut job on a piece of land does leave some trees up selectively, and also reseeds the ground.  A crown fire (if you don’t know the term, it’s where the burn gets so hot that it catches in the high parts of the trees, spreading more easily) will burn out of control, and can only be contained by cutting massive fire breaks, back-burns, or by just letting it rage to natural boundaries.  While I hike with many people who often bemoan the loss of massive acreage to fires, they are often the same people who rant at a small clear-cut done on private land.

Mind you, forest management is an imperfect science.  A couple of years ago, a small controlled burn to take out underbrush actually caught a lot of mature trees on fire.  The same area not long ago was subjected to some pretty significant thinning (and protests around the Safer Forests Initiative that mandated that), but that was an effort that did less damage.  Hmmm.

So, if there is really opposition to the costs of managing the intersections of forests and property, I think it’s worth considering that collecting revenue on public lands by allowing logging to better manage forests might be an answer.  But of course, that would bring out the whack-a-doodles.  I guess for now, I’ll go for a hike and look at the hundred-thousand-acre burn that happened last year.

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