UPDATE: I removed #7 after a comment by John Persell reminded me it was more of a pet peeve than a principle.
I’d be interested in what you think of these principles.
(Warning: I am going to use “we” here to stand for “people” or “the joint efforts of levels of government”)
1) Fires have bad effects and good effects of various kinds. Management of fire should try to maximize the good and minimize the bad, subject to the safety constraint of carefulness with human lives and knowing that fires are unpredictable and dangerous.
2) Fires are not “needed” by the “ecosystem”. Some plants and animals like post-fire conditions. Some climate folks think that trees won’t even be growing back in some places. It’s more complicated than “things would be fine if we let everything burn because that’s the way things used to be”. This point is really a Virtual Book Club point.
3) In many cases in the west, some form of fire is more or less inevitable. So we would like it to burn without hurting people or property. Prescribed fires can get out of control and are smoky, and cost many bucks to redo at regular intervals. Plus the “natural” folks say the effects aren’t the same if you burn under relatively safe weather and season conditions, than in the past, when the fires may have been at the height of summer. So if “naturalness” is your goal you are faced with a number of problems- safety, understanding Native American fuel burning patterns, and how “naturalness” fits with climate change. More Book Club stuff.
Here are the costs for one fire.. again, costs as (may be) litigated. Tens of millions.
So prescribed burning is difficult (in the West) and possibly more expensive than we would like to do, especially the magnitude at recurring intervals.
4) Fire management can be facilitated and negative effects to people, watersheds and wildlife can be mitigated to some extent by vegetation treatments. Given that you’re going to do that, it makes sense to sell the trees. However I do not agree that timber harvesting would have prevented the MPB epidemic in lodgepole, nor that it necessarily would help other places. The main decrease in west side Oregon due to spotted owl is notoriously not fire prone. Many places in the west, trees just don’t grow fast enough, they are too far away from roads, the conditions are too steep and soils too fragile. Many parts of the west there are no trees at all, and climate change predictors say that there will be fewer. I would like to think of living with wildfire as a potentially dangerous and expensive business, and selling excess vegetation is a good way to make things less expansive.
5) Sometimes bad things happen which no amount of money can reverse. We should analyze these situations beforehand and see if we can avoid them. (this story is interesting because of the interview with the USGS folks)
As for some residents’ wish that someone could barricade Manitou Springs, Mau said it simply isn’t feasible to put up barriers against debris flows on this scale for a host of reasons, including daunting logistics, blocking roadways, interfering with water rights and simply diverting flows and problems elsewhere — all at a high cost — when the burn scar will heal in 10 years, or perhaps longer.
Until then, the shadow of the Waldo Canyon fire will continue to loom large.
6) People who live in fire-prone wildlands, especially at low densities, need to be aware of, and respond to, the risks and responsibilities of the situation. More work needs to be done to figure out the best and fairest way to do this; but people and communities are not expected to move out of where they are now.