With summer comes fire season
Published: Thursday, June 19th, 2014
The Forest Service budget for firefighting is already $470 million over the target for the year and we haven’t even really gotten started. Senior fire planners in Custer say the Black Hills National Forest is going to treat 3,000 acres this year with fuels money, money used to fight fire in advance. At that rate it will be 400 years before we can treat the forest to thin the forest and reduce fuels.
Timber sales take care of the bigger trees on 30,000 acres each year, meaning we can do things in four decades if we can figure out how to manage the new growth after timber sales. Ten thousand new trees per acre is not extraordinary. What a marvelous place we live. This island in the plains grows trees so fast you can almost watch it happen.
Our goal is a sustainable forest that keeps giving generation after generation for the next 1,000 years…longer.
A prominent professor from Penn State is visiting his mom at the homestead here in Custer this week. It’s a sad visit in the way visits are when one parent is gone and one is too far down the road to take care of the place anymore. And what a place it is. Hundreds of acres of private forest land that sustained the family here and there, allowed them and others to ranch and build their own families. The family is using computers to inventory the house for the coming sale. Smart. They are preparing for the inevitable in advance.
I asked him what he thought we should be doing out here in the miles and miles of pine trees to prepare for the inevitable in advance. “Burn,” he said. Burn, indeed. And we will. It would be nice to burn it on purpose with fire lines and troops protecting critical points like homes and infrastructure. But we won’t be able to accomplish the recommendation of the professor. At least not without divine intervention.
Some Black Hills fire commanders believe we will see increasingly severe fires over the next decade across the Hills. Don’t worry. We’ll survive and get through it. After an intensive study of fire suppression and fuels conditions over the past 50 years, author Stephen Pyne is expected to conclude in his new book that we found our way through the fires of Settlement, the fires of the 1910 Big Blow and the fires ever since. We’ll find our way through the coming fires, he said in a recent speech.
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