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Healthy Forest : An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities
The Squires Fire: A Case Study in Fire and Forest Management Obstacles and Effects
The history of the Squires Fire provides a good example of the legal and regulatory obstacles to effective land management efforts to reduce fire hazards and promote forest health. Studies of the fire also demonstrate the nature and effects of wildfires burning on both treated (thinned) and untreated land.
In 1996, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began planning a project to restore forest health and reduce the hazardous accumulation of fuels on 24,000 acres of BLM land in the Squires Peak area near Medford, Oregon. It took six years of analysis and legal review, 830 pages of documentation, several appeals and two lawsuits before work was allowed to begin work on the Spencer Lomas Project fuels treatment project, a 430-acre portion of the original 24,000-acre project.
When the Squires Fire was ignited by lightning on July 13, 2002, approximately 80 acres of the Spencer Lomas project remained untreated, and subsequently burned. Because firefighters were unable to quickly extinguish the fire, it burned more than 2,800 acres of forest, including more than 800 acres of private land. The fire burned the habitat of threatened spotted owls and the Gentner's Fritillary, an endangered flowering plant, as well as three million board feet of commercial timber. The fire cost $2 million to suppress, and will cost about $1 million to rehabilitate.
The value of fuels reduction projects.
Observations of the fire behavior on both treated and untreated areas starkly illustrate the value of fuels reduction projects: While untreated forest burned intensely, destroying trees and causing lasting damage to the ecosystem, the fire dropped to the ground when it burned into the treated areas, and burned with the low-intensity heat characteristic of normal wildfires, leaving space where firefighters could safely attack the fire.
As the accompanying photos of the Squires Fire show, the difference in fire behavior between thinned and unthinned areas was dramatic. Although tree loss was minimized in treated areas (see photos on page 19), in areas that were left untreated, the fire burned tree canopies and destroyed most trees (see photos on page 20).
Legal and regulatory obstacles to timely implementation of fuels projects.
For six years, the Department of the Interior tried to get regulatory and judicial approval to thin and manage the area to improve habitat and the vitality of trees.
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