Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.

This has been the third worst forest fire season on record prompting western congressional members to add billions to emergency hurricane relief legislation

It isn’t over yet.

The cost of fighting fires already broke this year’s U.S. Forest Service budget. It is part of a disturbing trend where combating these infernos jumped from 16 percent of the agency’s budget in 1995 to 52 percent in 2015.

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

In California, forest fires closed Highway 41, a popular route to Yosemite National Park. Richard Garner, who owns a bicycle shop in tiny Oakhurst, calculated the closure and heavy smoke caused a 75 percent drop in his rental business.

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.

That is a growing problem as our nation is being swallowed up by a skyrocketing national debt. It will soon will top $20 trillion meaning each American would have to pony up $61,000 if our creditors called for immediate repayment.

The point is special funding requests for natural disasters will become more difficult to obtain. So, it is time to revisit the way we are managing our forests.

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.

As we look forward to more austere times, we must revise management practices in state and federal forests. We can no longer allow nature to just take its course. There needs to be a more balanced approach which reduces the risk of wildfire.

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.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Business

Keep the holiday spirit all year long | Don Brunell

During the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to giving — not just giving gifts, but donating our time and money to charities, disasters and community programs.

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Remembering Ed Carlson, Vietnam POW

Since last Veteran’s Day, Ken Burns’ in-depth documentary on the Vietnam War has aired. It is a powerful reminder of an unpopular war in which many “baby boomers” fought and died.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.

Impact of Hirst decision must be address

In Washington, the legislative stalemate over permitting new household wells and the state’s construction budget has not only delayed needed funding for public projects, but triggered yet another salvo in the wider conflict over future supplies of fresh water for people, fish and farms.

Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.