Western Wildfire Considerations

Rising temperatures bring an increased risk of wildfire.

Submission to the Washington Post in response to the insane editorial by Julie Parrish of Timber Unity: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/12/bad-forest-policies-political-indifference-kindled-oregons-wildfires/

Author Alan Journet, Co-Facilitator, So8uthern Oregon Climate Action Now Submitted September 16th 2020

As a rural Oregonian with some understanding of forest issues in Oregon, I take exception to the Julie Parrish commentary: ‘Bad forest policies and political indifference kindled Oregon’s wildfires.’ This commentary pretending to address wildfires was merely a Timber Unity Board member’s partisan diatribe.

Astroturf organizations appear to represent the grassroots but are bankrolled and driven by special interests using the organization as a front to promote their views.   Masquerading as a grassroots organization that purports to represent rural Americans, but actually represents timber and fossil fuel industries and Republican politicians, Timber Unity is a perfect example.  Small wonder that the column was written by a retired Republican Legislator and Board member apparently lacking expertise in forest issues.   Lacking reference to reputable forest science concerning western wildfires, the column just offered a litany of standard political opinion amid nonsense about Oregon forests.

The column’s descent into criticism of the Democratic led Oregon legislature and Governor, and Portland residents was pure partisan propaganda.

Anyone paying attention to forest science will know that a major contributor to the western current conflagration is global warming and its climate change consequences.  Yet Parrish dismissed climate change with a vague reference to ‘weather’ offering unsupportable claims about forest policy being driven by Portlanders promoting overgrown forests for ecotourism.  No doubt Parrish thinks Portlanders also cause forest fires in Washington and California.   What we need is an informed discussion about western wildfires.  Parrish failed to offer this, so I’ll give it a try.

The first reality is that western forests have developed in an unusual winter wet / summer dry Mediterranean climate that occurs globally in few places.  Mediterranean climate soils and vegetation dry out annually each summer and fall resulting inevitably in frequent fires.  Vegetation is fire prone, fire adapted, and fire dependent!  While we will inevitably live with fire, we must learn to understand an manage it to protect human health.

The second reality Parrish ignores concerns historic events potentially stimulating dense forests.  In the early 1900s acreages burned in our western forests were vastly greater than today.  Two explanations for the subsequent forest trend are available. One involves the successful campaign of fire suppression initiated in the early 20th Century.  This resulted in invasions into dry forests of the region by fire intolerant species such as Douglas fir greatly increasing forest density and fire risk.  A second explanation involves climate. The warm dry phase evident during the early decades of the 20th century was replaced by a cooler moister phase lasting from the 1940s through 1970s – naturally reducing fire risk. In the 1970s, the climate returned to the earlier warm, dry phase.  At the same time, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases was increasing. Global warming dominated climate from then onwards, superseding ongoing natural climatic fluctuations.  Again, the summer drying of soils and vegetation increased restoring the previous fire regime.

When Parrish and Timber Unity ignore fire suppression and climate trends as influencing the fire problems confronting western states, they ignore scientifically demonstrated evidence. Until we acknowledge that our forests need managed fire, and that the causes for the increasing fire risk of the last few decades are not partisan disagreements, we will fail to solve the problem.

What Timber Unity proponents need to understand is what many rural Oregonians already appreciate: global warming is definitely happening, and the coming climate crisis will threaten the viability of many ecologically and commercially important forest species. Concocting unsubstantiated causes for wildfires, like insufficient logging, doesn’t help solve the problem.

When Oregon legislators attempted to pass a bill in 2020 that would have put the state on a path towards reducing state-wide greenhouse gas emission, Republicans, Timber Unity, and the special interests that fund them conspired to block the effort.  Abetted by Timber Unity, Republicans then walked out of both chambers of the legislature. They thwarted both climate action and discussion of over 100 proposals before the state legislature. These included some bi-partisan proposals addressing forest management.  After Republicans deserted the legislature, the message was clear: only Governor Brown and the remaining Democratic representatives are serious about promoting sane forest management in Oregon.

The racist overtones contained in the gratuitous assault by Julie Parrish on Black Lives Matter, offered on behalf of Timber Unity, may satisfy some elements in that organization, but they are an embarrassment to Oregonians and should be to the Washington Post.

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