A year after the Eagle Creek Fire I hiked Gorton Creek & Nick Eaton Ridge and the spur to Indian Point to survey some of the fire's impact. Quite interesting. These trails are not in the most severely burned area.First thing found, a discarded cigarette butt on the trail. Senseless stupidity still exists on our trails, & the lack of a public review of our fire management plan means these risks are ongoing. We are still using luck to manage wildfire instead of meaningful dialogue between agencies, the recreation community, and residents. In this section of the Gorge the fire's damage is patchy. In some forest it's taken out understory but left the canopy intact. This is good fire behavior, reducing ladder fuels that can spread fire upward & kill trees. Bare soil has created zones with unstable rock. Duff that protected trail tread has been replaced by dust, which will become mud & eroded silt when rains return. Even in late summer we found many wildflowers on the trail: Scouler's bluebell, turtlehead, aster, round-leaf violet, a fairly rare species, white spiraea, and fireweed. The view from Indian Point is still stunning, though it does show some fire damage. The scramble down to the pinnacle is more treacherous due to understory burn that has made the soil unstable. I recommend climbing poles on this hike to reduce injury risk. In other areas the fire was hot enough to kill all trees. These will become silver forest in the future and will gradually topple to become large open areas. When understory shrubs and alders replace them, fire danger will again increase with likely re-burn events in dry, windy conditions if a person carelessly starts a fire. Because no trails are open in the area to the west where there's less beneficial fire behavior, the only photos available are from trail crews working on repair. There we see massive rockslides, fallen trees, and large areas of dead forest that will become eroded landscapes. In these spots such as Wahkeena Falls below, trail recovery is expensive & slow. Future maintenance will be difficult. The fire has set in motion a series of events that will reshape habitat, views, and how we can access the landscape in the future. Some open understory will become walkable, parklike meadows until dead trees fall. After that, the meadows will be harder to explore with the downed timber. So take advantage of short windows of opportunity that present themselves in coming years. Will the Forest Service learn from the impacts of this fire on trails & habitat? We cannot assume so. We must demand a better dialogue with those who live in, love, & care for the Gorge to reshape fire management policy. The Gorge Scenic Area staff is unlikely to listen to public comments on the issue of a public review of the fire management plan, since they are responsible for the flaws in the existing one. The best way to ask for action is to write the Region 6 district office for the Forest Service at:
Dianne C. Guidry
Acting Regional Forester Region 6
US Forest Service
1220 SW Third Ave, Portland, OR 97204-3440
or email her at [email protected].
Let her know we need a public review of our fire management plan. Also let your elected officials know that the public should be involved in drafting a new fire management plan to protect the Gorge in the future.
General discussions on hiking in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest
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