Living in Fire Country: Forest Thinning for Lumber, Increased Biodiversity and Fire Safety

| 7/15/2015 11:07:00 AM

Avoiding Wild Fire Damage 

I never thought I would find myself living with fire. I grew up in the Mid-West; a part of the country that rarely experiences the risk of this type of natural hazard. My first real experience with a run-away fire didn’t occur until the drive out to Washington when we relocated in 2000. That year, a good deal of the west was burning. We had to alter our trip on several occasions because the places we had intended on camping were not accessible given the risk of combustion.  At one point during our drive, a fire swept across the Montana freeway that we were traveling on. Small patches of golden grassland were still actively burning all around us. Large blackened quarter sections were smoldering along both sides of the road and the sun was blood-red; partially obscured by the smoke billowing up from a nearby hillside.

My second fire experience was the day we moved to Central Washington. Again, the sun was nearly blotted out by a thick black cloud hanging over the sky from a plume originating only a few miles away from our new home. Surely this was an anomaly? Being an outsider in a new landscape, it still had not occurred to me that fire was a very real and very regular part of the landscape of my new home.

Now, years later, I have lived through many fire seasons. I no longer associate lightning storms with muggy Mid-West evenings and drenching rains. Instead, lightning to me signals the beginning of a season dominated by vigilance and preparedness. This only became more apparent when, in the summer of 2014, the watershed just to the East of us was caught unaware by a series of unfortunate weather events that led to an explosive fire which nearly destroyed several towns and burned hundreds of houses, outbuildings and farms in a matter of hours. As I am writing this, our neighboring community is suffering a similar fate; high winds are driving a firestorm across the land. Over two dozen homes have already been lost….

And here I sit, at the beginning of fire season yet again with thunder heads threatening to form above me. I now view fire for what it is; a significant annual player in the formation of my surroundings. Fire has been here much longer than I. The plants out my back door have evolved to live with and even depend upon regular, low-intensity burns. It is they who are comfortable in this landscape and accept it for what it is. It is I who am the uncomfortable stranger.

But I am getting better at living within this cycle, and each year we as a family undertake another task that brings us closer to finding harmony within this volatile environment. Probably our greatest commitment to preparing our homestead for fire season has been our massive forest thinning project. For the remainder of this post, I hope to explain a little more about the benefits of undertaking such a task. In future posts, I will share the pros and cons of thinning versus logging. But for now, I want to share a little of our own personal story and the positive changes that have occurred around us because we have chosen to maintain a healthy forest.

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