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For the week of December 13 through 19, 2000

Logging cited as 
remedy for fires


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Logging, forest thinning and controlled burns were the methods suggested to decrease the danger of wildfires in Idaho and throughout the West during a conference Thursday in Boise.

The conference, titled The Fires Next Time, was sponsored by the Andrus Center for Public Policy and The Idaho Statesman. The one-day event was held at Boise State University.

Following last summerís wildfires, in which 2.2 million acres burned in Idaho and Montana, Western policy makers and public lands managers are calling for reform in forest and range land management. The lands must be made more resistant to fires, conference panelists agreed.

Three panels, one each representing scientists, activists and policy makers, discussed fires and public lands management issues during the one-day conference.

"The reality is, Americans would rather not have destructive wildfires in the first place," Texas forester James Hull said. "Weíre all going to fail if we donít work together. Weíd better all get behind [revised management efforts] and make sure we donít fail."

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said the forest fuel load must be reduced, and suggested logging, thinning and controlled burns as the solutions.

"All three of those are tools that must be utilized," he said.

Gary Wolfe, president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, pointed out, however, that fires arenít always bad. Elk and deer habitat will be greatly improved as a result of this summerís fires, he said.

"The reality is, the long-term impact on big game animals is going to be positive," he said.

University of Idaho professor of forest resources Leon Neuenschwander also pointed out some advantages of wildfires.

"From an ecological standpoint, they must occur across these Western landscapes," he said. "If we suppressed all fires, we would see a tremendous decline in our biodiversity."

Kempthorne, on the other hand, said nothing but destruction and mayhem resulted from the fires. He painted a picture of lush, green forests, now charred and blackened.

"Tell me, what have we gained from these fires? What have we gained?" he asked rhetorically.

Addressing the issue of logging and thinning, Neuenschwander said those methods can be effective fire retardants, but must be used where theyíll do the most good: in the Westís forest/urban interfaces.

"Fuel treatments on federal lands will not solve the problem," he said. "We had large fires in the past, and weíre going to have large fires in the future."

In order to implement new forest management policies, Congress recently approved $1.6 billion as part of the 2001 Interior Appropriations Bill.

"But if we continue to experience devastating wildfires with no fuel reduction, appropriating more money will be a hard sell on Capitol Hill," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said via satellite. "We need to show that federal agencies are accountable and are working with local people. Itís not enough to just inform local governments of whatís going on in a top-down approach."

 

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