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World Wildlife Fund and Conservation Biology Institute Release Report on Reducing Fire Risks To Rural Communities

Ashland, Ore. -- Scientists from the World Wildlife Fund (Ashland, OR) and Conservation Biology Institute (Corvallis, Oregon) released a new report today that outlines a comprehensive wildfire preparation plan for the Illinois river basin and the Biscuit fire area of southwest Oregon. The most important finding of the report is that the highest priority for fuel treatments is in and around the towns of Cave Junction and Selma, Oregon, not in the backcountry of the Biscuit fire area that the Forest Service is currently focusing on.

"The Forest Service is looking in all the wrong places when it comes to fuel treatments," said report author Dr. James Strittholt of the Conservation Biology Institute. "The highest priority for fuels treatment is to the east of the fire area and surrounding the towns and homes of the Illinois Basin."

Dr. Dominick DellaSala of the World Wildlife Fund, who participated in the report findings, agrees. "We think the Forest Service has an obligation to the public to treat the highest priority areas first while staying out of roadless areas and old-growth reserves where nature knows best how to recover these ecologically exceptional lands," said DellaSala.

The Biscuit fire was the nation's largest in 2002, burning in a patchwork mosaic of varying fire severities across nearly 500,000 acres of largely federal lands. This area is considered the "Yellowstone of the West Coast" in terms of its relationship to fire and the extraordinary ecological values of the area.

Post-fire management of the Biscuit area has been highly controversial with the Forest Service calling for one of the largest logging projects on public lands in U.S. history. The agency is proposing to salvage log up to 370 million board feet with most (~80%) of the timber volume coming from old-growth reserves and roadless areas. Logging would take place over a 32 square mile area and remove approximately 70,000 logging trucks of burned trees from one of the most ecologically important and fragile landscapes in the nation.

LOCAL RESIDENTS ARE CONCERNED
As the Forest Service has focused on logging in the backcountry, local residents are concerned that the highest priority for fuel treatments is in and around the towns of Cave Junction and Selma, Oregon, especially to the east of the Biscuit fire area.

"As citizens living in fire habitat we fully support the report's recommendations that the Forest Service provide more assistance to local communities instead of logging in the backcountry," said Illinois Valley resident Mort Mondale. "The WWF/CBI report demonstrates that through defensible space management that removes small trees and brush near homes we can effectively reduce our risks from fire."

KEY REPORT FINDINGS
The report used computer-mapping analysis (Geographic Information Systems) combined with satellite imagery photo interpretation and field checking to determine the following key findings in regards to fire preparation:

  • Most of the priority areas are to the east of the Biscuit fire area, encompassing a fuel treatment zone consisting of the towns of Cave Junction and Selma, Oregon as well as private lands and those managed by the Bureau of Land Management to the east.

     

  • The most effective and ecologically responsible fire management strategy would be to focus fuel treatments within the wildland-urban interface* (WUI), especially immediately adjacent to human structures and not in remote wildland areas. Up to 10,000 acres within the wildland-urban intermix is in need of urgent treatment for fuels reduction but is not adequately being addressed by the Forest Service, which is focused mostly on salvage logging in the backcountry of the Biscuit area.

     

  • Contrary to the Forest Service analysis, salvage logging and massive tree planting will elevate fire risks by leaving behind flammable logging slash and converting recovering forests to highly flammable tree plantations. Therefore, backcountry areas should be downgraded in importance for fuels management.

     

  • It is scientifically unsound and impractical to exclude fire or impose an understory fire regime across the entire Biscuit landscape as some fires will burn naturally severe regardless of human intervention. However, a strategic process that makes use of remote sensing and ground verification to prioritize areas for fuel reductions is urgently needed and missing from the Forest Service plan.

Please visit www.consbio.org for "Living With Wildfires: Reducing Risks To People"

*The wildland-urban interface (WUI) was created following USDA (2001) guidelines using 2000 U.S. Bureau of the Census population data. Census blocks with population densities of at least 28 people per square mile defined the WUI. The WUI was then buffered by approximately 1 mile (2 km) providing another fire management zone.