The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

General discussions on hiking in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest
chrisca
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The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by chrisca » November 22nd, 2017, 6:53 pm

With all of us sidelined from hikes on the Oregon side of the gorge, I thought I'd share some revelations I've had after the Eagle Creek Fire. A few days after it started, I Googled "Columbia Gorge Fire Management Plan." I found a pdf document, dated 2008, that was mostly unreadable on my Windows PC. Later, I tried an iPhone and a Mac, and they worked. That led to more research, and I published this article on my website:
Wake Up And Smell the Smoke: http://www.lensjoy.com/Blog/EagleCreekFire.htm
The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire teaches lessons in fire policy and involving the public in crafting it.

The premise of the article is that the public has been left out of fire management policy discussions, at our own peril. The result we now have is a destroyed trail system that could take years to rebuild, and businesses that will be hurt or will close due to reduced visitation. While we can't go back to the past, there are a number of things we should debate that going forward, could reduce the risk of future fires and make the recovery process better.
The questions raised are:
  • Why wasn't containment reached in the initial attack period?
    What must change so similar fires can be put out?
    With this risk and fire history well known, why was the public allowed in the area?
    Should we consider a total fireworks ban in Oregon and Washington?
    Should there be stiffer penalties for arson and other fire-related crimes, clearly posted at all recreation sites?
    Why didn't we use supertankers, jumbo jets that can dump almost 20,000 gallons of water or retardant on a fire?
    What should the hiking and recreation community do to reduce the chances of us causing wildfire?

I've shared this article and more detailed discussions on the questions raised in it and possible solutions with the press and with some recreation groups. The response has been overwhelmingly quiet. No one wants to go near this issue. I am curious what people in the hiking community have to say. Please post comments here, and if you're so inclined, let your elected officials know we need a public debate about our region's fire management plan. The next time, there could be deaths, we could lose the Washington side of the gorge, and even lose the Bull Run Watershed unless we make changes to reduce fire risk and have the right equipment to fight a fire ready to go if those safeguards fail.

I suspect the silence is partly because the recreation community has fought hard to keep industrial development and fossil-fuel transport out of the gorge, then a catastrophic fire was caused by ...a hiker. No one wants to admit that recreation can cause significant environmental harm. "Nothing to see here, just move on please."

The points raised above are only the start of a discussion, and I am not personally for or against any particular one. What I'm hoping is we can have a fruitful discussion of the issue here to contribute to some kind of future public statement from the hiking community about how our fire management plan should work. It may not get a public review unless people speak up. This is one way we can start that process.

Thanks for your time and interest.
-Chris.
Last edited by chrisca on November 27th, 2017, 12:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.

pcg
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by pcg » November 22nd, 2017, 10:46 pm

Some comments...
I don’t think that closing public land to the public, when fire danger is high, will go over well with the landowners. It won’t with me.
The Eagle Creek fire wasn’t caused by arson.
I am not a fan of fire supression.
I think better education (in schools, billboards, TV, whatever) of the dangers of fireworks in fire season would have prevented this fire. There is currently no education effort that I am aware of. When I was a teenager playing with fireworks, we all knew better than to indulge in explosive activities during fire season because Smokey the Bear was constantly reminding us to be careful. What seems like common sense to people schooled in all aspects of outdoor lore, is not common sense to others. People need to be educated.

chrisca
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by chrisca » November 24th, 2017, 9:19 am

pcg wrote:Some comments...
I don’t think that closing public land to the public, when fire danger is high, will go over well with the landowners. It won’t with me.
The Eagle Creek fire wasn’t caused by arson.
I am not a fan of fire supression.
I think better education (in schools, billboards, TV, whatever) of the dangers of fireworks in fire season would have prevented this fire. There is currently no education effort that I am aware of. When I was a teenager playing with fireworks, we all knew better than to indulge in explosive activities during fire season because Smokey the Bear was constantly reminding us to be careful. What seems like common sense to people schooled in all aspects of outdoor lore, is not common sense to others. People need to be educated.
Good points. It's coming out that the suspect and his family are immigrants with poor knowledge of English. So education might not have worked in this instance. But I agree there is a need for more education. When I speak of arson, I also mean other fire-related crimes. I was being brief. But arson is defined as the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property. The courts will need to decide that. In this case, the suspect carried fireworks into a forest where they were banned and used them. That could be argued as deliberate intent. The suspect may not be charged with arson as it may be too high a bar for the prosecution to win the case.

chrisca
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by chrisca » November 24th, 2017, 9:27 am

On the topic of education, we see these signs in many National Forests. However, I can't recall seeing any of them in the Columbia Gorge.
Fire Danger Sign.jpg
Fire Danger Sign
If we had them, perhaps it would make people more cautious and aware on days with high fire danger.

RobFromRedland
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by RobFromRedland » November 24th, 2017, 10:00 am

I'm not a big fan of total fire suppression either - 100 years of total suppression is part of what has gotten us into this situation. Nature is much smarter than we are about "management" of forests.

With that said, setting off fireworks in any forested area on a red flag day is the height of stupidity, but I'm not sure realistically what you can do about it. Certain fireworks are already "banned" but they are easy to get and I've not known anyone who had been charged with setting them off.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: WOW-What a ride!

Aimless
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by Aimless » November 24th, 2017, 2:32 pm

A total fireworks ban in Washington and Oregon could not be total, in the sense that fireworks would still be available for purchase in other states or on reservations within OR and WA. National forests are so extensive and enforcement officers so few that the ability to enforce such a ban would be so limited as to be nearly non-existent. This isn't to say that a ban wouldn't reduce the availability of fireworks and perhaps be worthwhile just for that reason, but the only effective answer to enforcement is self-restraint, which must be founded on education, both practical and ethical.

Part of the problem is that there is so much mobility and so much rootlessness in modern society. When you live in a place all your life, as did many generations of your family before you, then local knowledge is your birthright and you are taught early on how to live in the place where you were born. It's a natural and organic process. Public service advertising campaigns and roadside signage are poor substitutes for that, but sometimes it is all you've got to fall back on.

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drm
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by drm » November 25th, 2017, 10:05 am

Better containment strikes as a fools errand. When conditions are not conducive to fire, existing resources will be adequate. When conditions are highly conducive to explosive fire behavior, no plausible amount of resources will matter. So there is a narrow range of conditions between the two above where the expenditure of a huge amount of resources will manage to control and contain a fire, but only until the next more explosive event occurs.

As far as I'm concerned those kinds of resources should be saved for the human wilderness boundary to protect towns and important infrastructure. I also think that people who choose to build a home in remote areas away from towns should be told that society will not spend millions of dollars on air tankers to save their home. If a ground team can save their home, great, but that's it.

This weekend I'm part way through reading the book, "Firestorm - How Wildfire will shape our future," which I checked out of the new book section of my local library. It's a brand new book just published this year. Although it's most central focus is Canada and the fire around Fort McMurray in 2016, it deals with all of North America. I'll probably comment more when I finish it.

chrisca
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by chrisca » November 25th, 2017, 3:27 pm

drm wrote:Better containment strikes as a fools errand. When conditions are not conducive to fire, existing resources will be adequate. When conditions are highly conducive to explosive fire behavior, no plausible amount of resources will matter. So there is a narrow range of conditions between the two above where the expenditure of a huge amount of resources will manage to control and contain a fire, but only until the next more explosive event occurs.
I see your point, but what should be done to prevent explosive fire in the gorge? We could do more logging, but the extensive wilderness area would need to be revoked to allow it. We've placed a wilderness right next to communities that were there first, so residents will resent being told they aren't entitled to better fire protection.

We could also do controlled burns on the west-side forest. It's not a fire management strategy to allow a hiker to torch 48,000 acres on a random basis. If fire is important in these forests, then we could start some burns in October two days before high confidence of heavy rain. Instead, we're using luck as a fire management strategy. One thing I saw by looking at the fire weather forecast was that if the hiker had started the Eagle Creek Fire five days earlier, we likely would have lost the Washington side of the gorge, as well as the Bull Run Watershed because the conditions were so bad the fire would have been much more explosive than it was.

I'll have to read the book you referenced. Good find.

Aimless
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by Aimless » November 25th, 2017, 7:09 pm

We've placed a wilderness right next to communities that were there first

I knew what you meant, but I had to chuckle over the literal meaning of what you wrote.

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retired jerry
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Re: The Gorge's Fire Management Plan and Hiking's Future

Post by retired jerry » November 25th, 2017, 7:27 pm

They need to work on the interface between humans and forest. Make buildings more fireproof. Have a strip with no flammable material...

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