Dear Friend of the Forest,
We have until August 7th to voice our concerns to the Forest Service about the Fuel Break project being proposed on the Barlow Ranger District. Bark will be hosting two comment writing workshops to help you prepare and craft a comment. I hope you’ll join us, but first I’d like to provide context.
In recent years, researchers have been trying to better understand the history of fire in our region and how things changed after Euro-American colonization. From fire scars in tree rings, early accounts and photographs from land surveyors, and of course, from the knowledge still alive within Indigenous people and communities, we can piece together the past and point to a general date when things began to change: 1850.
Before 1850, fire, and the people who used it, shaped the landscape. The region’s first people used fire purposely to manage and enhance valued foods and hunting grounds. Additionally, lightning-caused fires burned freely, driven by climate, weather, vegetation, and topography (natural features like ridges, hills, rivers, etc.). The resulting landscape – extending west from the Pacific coast and east into the interior plateau – supported a diversity of interconnected cultures and ecosystems.
After 1850, Indigenous people were pressed into reservations and largely forbidden from purposefully using fire. Lightning fires were suppressed and extinguished by Euro-American colonizers. Forests, shaped by the varying return of fire over time, were clearcut and replanted as dense single-species plantations to maximize timber output. Cities, towns, roads, campgrounds, ski resorts, and infrastructure for water and power were all built into this ecosystem—static features in a dynamic landscape.
Though features on the landscape have changed, fire and its critical role has not. Fire will continue to have a presence. But fire does not value homes and communities any more or less than the forests surrounding them. It does not follow property boundaries. So, when communities and lives are destroyed, people pressure political leaders and land management agencies for answers and action.
Out of that pressure, I believe, come Forest Service projects like the 27 Road Fuel Break, currently being proposed on Mt. Hood (for more background on this project, click here!). The purpose of this project is to create a break in timber, or fuel, along the sides of roads to “reduce the risk of landscape level disturbance.” Though intending to protect communities from wildfire is admirable, this project is an over-simplified fix to a complex issue. Wide variations in elevation, forest types, and past logging create complexities that I believe cannot be adequately addressed by a project that doesn’t legally require an in-depth environmental assessment. To ensure this area is treated with the respect and care it deserves, Bark needs your help submitting comments to the Forest Service by August 7th.
We all know that fire can be destructive. But fire can also bring renewal. It can be used once again as a tool to improve the biodiversity and resiliency of the forests in a changing climate. There is work to be done in our forests and communities to prepare for the reality of living with fire, but with your support, Bark can be a part of that work every step of the way.
For the Forest,
Jordan Latter, Forest Watch Coordinator