In recent summers there were major fires sweeping the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon, threatening the viability of major wild areas to sustain the habitats they were set aside for. Big fires are becoming more common in the west, partly because of drought, but mostly because of a new fire management style. Instead of putting fire line along the edge of a fire, now days it’s not unusual to see fire lines being built on a ridge miles away from the blaze. There are some good reasons why this management style has taken hold. It is cheaper, safer for fire crews, and burning the Smoky-the-Bear backlog of forest fuels, caused by 100 years of snuffing out every little forest fire, is now considered extremely important.
But there is a down side for wildlife in this new management. In a geomac satellite fire perimeter illustration (Click to view) taken in summer 2008, it’s easy to see that much of what is burning is caused by backfires; and most of what is considered wildfire (the big, round fire areas) in this illustration was caused by the previous weeks layer of backfires, and so on. This is not to second guess what was done; that summer was a disastrous fire season by anyones standards. But at some tipping point, with global climate change in the making, there has to be some place where Ancient Forest habitat and wild things have to take precedence over absolutely everything else. That’s why an Ancient Forest National Park binding together roadless areas, wilderness areas, wildlife management areas, a national recreation area, and wild and scenic rivers into one management area where natural ecosystems can be the primary focus of all management activities, and where fire management, and every other type of management, can be for the benefit of wildlife and destruction of habitat avoided, is essential.
Because of the efforts of thousands of people fighting to keep ancient forests of the Trinity, Klamath, Rogue and Siskiyou National forests from becoming fragmented, a great deal of land has been set aside over the last 50 years to protect one value or another. Surprisingly, most of these land management areas are connected or almost so. There is a remnant of real wilderness, huge and almost in tact, over 3 million acres. This wild strip from the Trinity River in California to the Rogue in Oregon is spectacular, not just from a visual standpoint, but from an ecological perspective. It is one of the wildest places in the US and yet it’s relatively close to major cities. The ancient forest there is considered by scientists to be some of the most diverse in the world.
The park boundary is a culmination of 35 years of studying maps and satellite photos, working in the mountains and hiking extensively in much of the proposed parkland. We need to avoid what happened during the creation of Redwood National Park, where a small finger of land was set aside to protect the tallest redwoods in the world. Logging clearcuts eventually surrounded the tall trees that were preserved. “You could stand in the Tall Trees Grove and hear the chainsaws running and the tractors dragging just a few yards away”, says Alden Moffatt. Then during storms erosion from all the little creeks and draws meandered down to Redwood creek and turned the creek-side gravel into a concrete like substance. It was only after the huge public outcry that followed that the government bought up a lot of land surrounding the Tall Trees Grove and began the mammoth job of restoring it. Only about 20 percent of the Redwood NP expansion was not decimated by clear cuts. The park expansion was a bittersweet victory for its proponents and for the country. In an Ancient Forest National Park, a different story should unfold. We can avoid the cumulative impacts of human activity by preserving an area that is big enough to manage for real wildlife, fish and plant habitat protection. If one area burns, another area will allow species to continue surviving into the future until the area that was burned regrows. If an animal or plant is stressed in one area, maybe there will be an area miles away where it can still thrive.
We are entering an era of unprecedented climate change, not only in the United States, but in the world. Part of being ready for that change is the creation of Ancient Forest National Park.