The New West

Posted: August 21, 2017

Source: The Forest Blog by Russ Vaagen

Growing up in the Inland Northwest in the ’80s and 90s summers were great.  We knew fire was always possible, but it wasn’t a clear and present danger like it is now. In the last few years the summers as we knew them only lasted about a month. As soon as July rolls around it seems like a matter of time before the smoke rolls in. The fires are so big now, that the smoke doesn’t even have to be from fires in the immediatearea.

Summer in the New West

Many people talk about how this is a result of climate change and past logging practices. Although there may be shards of truth in those positions, I don’t believe it’s the real story.

Overgrown Forests = Fuel for Wildfires

The real story is the level of fuel in our forests.  This comes in the form of brush, small trees, and closed-canopy forests. To me, one of the saddest things I observe is the old trees that withstood centuries of fire only to be consumed by fires that they can no longer withstand. It’s happening all the time. Why? Because of the last 30 years of management practices.

We used to log our forests heavily weighted to economics, but all that changed in federal forests in the early 90s. Since then we have been leaving large swaths of forests to nature that have roads and have been managed in the past. At the same time, we have been putting the fires out every summer. Each time we put the fires out the forests grow thick with many trees and shrubs that were designed to burn off every decade or so. So now, when the fires start in the heat of the summer there’s very little hope of putting them out, let alone containing them.

We need Solutions

If we don’t reform our forest management policies quickly this problem will only worsen. We need to restore our forests by thinning them out.  Then we need to reintroduce fire to maintain a more natural forest. Doing this can support sustainable jobs in the forests, mills, and value-added facilities while providing the products we need for housing. This can and should be done in harmony with the natural processes of the forest.

It’s not complicated. We just need to act on our federal forests.

I for one would love to leave the West to the next generations where wildfire smoke is an exception in the summer, not the norm.


If you enjoyed this blog post, watch Paul Hessburg’s TED Talk.