Don Brunell

Don Brunell

It’s time to revisit how we manage forests | Brunell

Guest column

Not only is the world in the grasp of the COVID-19 pandemic, but America’s western wildlands are burning up as well.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters that his state has dual crises: the massive wildfire complexes and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“At this time last year, California had seen 4,292 fires that burned 56,000 acres. So far this year, we’ve had 7,002 fires that have burned a whopping 1.4 million acres,” he said. California reports more than 660,000 coronavirus cases.

In Washington, the gigantic Evans Canyon Fire has burned over 110 square miles between Naches and Ellensburg spewing thick smoke and ash northeastward.

Wildfires threaten lives. Last year, an inferno swiftly swept through Paradise, California, killing 95 people. This September, National Guard helicopters swooped into the Mammoth Reservoir campgrounds east of Fresno just in time to rescue over 200 trapped campers.

In 2017, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge closed Interstate 84, delayed truck, rail and barge shipments, and added a thick layer of greenhouse gases, choking smoke and soot blanketing our region. Southwest Washington’s air quality reached its highest hazard level in history, prompting school closures.

Mammoth forest fires have been around for centuries. In a single week in September 1902, the Yacolt Burn engulfed more than a half-million acres and killed 56 people in the Columbia River Gorge and around Mount St. Helens. The smoke was so thick that ships on the Columbia River were forced to navigate by compass and the street lights in Seattle, 160 miles to the north, glowed at noon.

Forest fires are part of nature, but they are getting more dangerous and expensive to fight. As fires increase in size and intensity, suppression, environmental restoration and mitigation costs soar.

U.S. News reports the Department of Interior, most notably the U.S. Forest Service, spent an all-time high last year of more than $2.9 billion combating fires — more than 12 times what was spent on suppression efforts in 1985. Insurance claims have topped $12 billion for the November 2019 wildfires in California, making them the most expensive in state history.

That is a growing problem as our nation is being swallowed up by a skyrocketing national debt. It will soon will top $27 trillion thanks largely to the COVID-19 response, meaning each American taxpayer would have to pony up $215,000 if our creditors called for immediate repayment.

John Bailey, a professor of forest management at Oregon State University, told the Associated Press that megafires (those consuming 156 square miles) are increasing. He believes “part of the solution is thinning forests through logging, prescribed burns and allowing naturally occurring fires to be managed instead of extinguished.”

Cutting diseased, dead and fire damaged trees is not new. In intermountain forests (eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia), loggers once salvaged beetle-killed trees and sent them to rural sawmills to be cut into 2x4s. That practice was severely curtailed 30 years ago.

Knowing that mature trees are most susceptible to insects and disease, public forest managers once designed timber sales on small tracts as fire breaks. The logging and subsequent clean-up removed forest fuels which, in recent years, have been allowed to accumulate.

Harvesting helped fund replanting and fire access road construction. Environmental mitigation techniques have dramatically improved resulting in clean water and unencumbered access for fish returning to natural spawning grounds.

Megafires are polluting our air, endangering our health and safety, and burning a bigger hole in our pocketbooks. By thinning, salvaging and logging, we could not only save expenses, but create jobs and bring in needed revenue to government.

It really is time to revisit the way we are managing our forests.

Don Brunell, retired president of the Association of Washington Business, is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He lives in Vancouver. Contact: TheBrunells@msn.com.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@valleyrecord.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.valleyrecord.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Andy Hobbs is editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Record. Contact ahobbs@soundpublishing.com.
Share your thoughts with the Snoqualmie Valley Record

The Snoqualmie Valley Record wants to hear from you. As your editor,… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
In politics, why is everything blue or red? | Roegner

The election could get even stranger.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Let’s clear the air on wildfires, climate change

Agreement and commitment is needed to address the causes of wildfires and climate change.

Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Courtesy photo
Editorial: Keep Wyman as defender of state’s election system

Kim Wyman, a Republican, has helped expand access to voting and improved election security.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Republican’s write-in campaign highlights post-primary intrigue | Roegner

Can former Bothell mayor beat two Democrats for lieutenant governor post?

Don Brunell
It’s time to revisit how we manage forests | Brunell

Guest column

William Shaw is General Manager of the Snoqualmie Valley Record. Contact: wshaw@valleyrecord.com.
When a light goes out in the Valley | Shaw

Message from the Valley Record

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
What does it mean to violate the Hatch Act? | Roegner

The federal law was established in 1939.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Editorial: State lawmakers shouldn’t wait to start budget work

Making tough choices on cuts and revenue can’t wait until next year and hopes for better news.

Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley. He and his family have lived in Snoqualmie since 1979. Contact him through the editor by email: editor@valleyrecord.com.
Election anxiety: This is not hyperbole | Guest column

Is it possible to be shocked and not surprised at the same time?

Rico Thomas, left, has been a clerk in the Fuel Center/Mini Mart at Safeway in Federal Way for the past 5 years. Kyong Barry, right, has been with Albertsons for 18 years and is a front end supervisor in Auburn. Both are active members of UFCW 21. Courtesy photos
Grocery store workers deserve respect and hazard pay | Guest column

As grocery store workers in King County, we experience the hard, cold… Continue reading

Editorial: Honor 100 years of suffrage with your ballot

Women’s right to vote was recognized 100 years ago; we need to use the ballots women fought for.