11 Mar 2010, 3:34pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Wilderness Recognized As Fire Hazard

Well, what do you know? It turns out that some other folks (beside us) have recognized that wilderness designation does not “protect” resources; instead it endangers them.

Forest Service assesses effects of Wilderness on firefighting

Opinions differ among feds, firefighters and Wilderness advocates

Scott Condon, The Aspen Times, Thursday, March 11, 2023 [here]

BASALT — Turning Basalt Mountain into Wilderness wouldn’t prohibit firefighting there but it would eliminate opportunities to reduce dead trees and fuels that have built up for decades, the top official in the White River National Forest said Wednesday. …

Basalt firefighters and Wilderness activists disagreed with parts of the assessment made by Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, showing how difficult it is to sort through some implications of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign.

Fitzwilliams said the Forest Service assesses and makes an appropriate response to every fire in the national forest, regardless of whether or not it is in Wilderness.

In a location like Basalt Mountain, the decision to fight a fire will be made most of the time, Fitzwilliams said. “Whether that’s Wilderness or not, the response is probably going to be the same,” he said.

Whenever a fire poses a threat to the town of Basalt or homes in Missouri Heights, the decision would be made to fight the fire, he said. Fires in Wilderness areas are allowed to burn when they don’t pose a threat to lives, houses or infrastructure.

Fitzwilliams conceded that federal land managers are responsible for leaving Wilderness “pretty much as it is.” Using heavy equipment to gouge a fire break in the earth, for example, might require an extra call for clearance, he said.

That’s why the Basalt Fire Department is concerned. Fire Chief Scott Thompson said that, with all due respect to the Forest Service, the written rules and the application of rules aren’t always the same. Written rules that appear to provide flexibility can actually provide an extra hurdle.

The fire department typically handles the first response to wildfires on Basalt Mountain. Requiring an extra step of approval to fight a fire in a Wilderness area might take “hours or days,” Thompson said.

He said his assessment comes from practical, in the field experience in dealing with the Forest Service on Wilderness issues for 15 years as a former Pitkin County deputy sheriff and for 10 years as the fire chief. That experience indicates it won’t always be a speedy process to get approval to fight a fire in Wilderness. And that, he said, could result in a catastrophic fire for the homeowners of Basalt.

Here we have an experienced Forest Service person, White River NF Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, admitting that wilderness fires do not (cannot) receive the same aggressive rapid response that non-wilderness fires do. Mr. Fitzwilliams also notes that fuel build-up in wilderness areas cannot be dealt with under current laws. And he warns that fires in wilderness area can (and do) propagate beyond wilderness boundaries and subsequently endanger communities.

We also have (in the article) the standard genuflection by the liberal media to political activist wilderness advocates, who “disagree”. Naturally they do.

The local fire department sees things more along the lines of Mr. Fitzwilliams:

The fire district’s board of directors is scheduled to consider a resolution in opposition to the Hidden Gems Wilderness proposal on March 18. As it stands now, the board wants the entire 12,570 acres on Basalt Mountain removed from the Hidden Gems.

The proposal currently excludes the main Forest Service Road onto Basalt Mountain as well as some of the most popular trails.

Bob Guion, a fire officer and fire district board member in Basalt, said the opposition to Wilderness comes from having the public’s best interest in mind. Any delay in fighting a fire on Basalt Mountain can let a small, harmless fire grow into a raging blaze that neither the Basalt Fire Department nor the federal firefighting agencies can control.

He noted that the Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs started when a single tree was on fire after a lighting strike. A wait-and-see approach resulted in a conflagration that resulted in the death of 14 firefighters who were overcome by flames on the mountain.

“We want to fight the lightning strikes so we don’t have to fight the catastrophic fires,” Guion said.

He said he understands the position of Wilderness activists and the Forest Service that the Wilderness Act allows mechanized and motorized uses to fight a fire. Like Thompson, he said legality and practicality are different.

Fitzwilliams, the forest supervisor, expressed a different concern about designating Basalt Mountain as Wilderness. He said reducing fuels to reduce the threat of a fire wouldn’t be an option if Basalt Mountain was a Wilderness area.

“That part of the tool box is the bigger concern to me,” Fitzwilliams said.

Wilderness prohibits mechanized and motorized uses — except during firefighting, he said.

That’s what the adults think, those who have been given serious responsibilities to safeguard the community and the watershed. What do the wilderness advocates think? Remember, we have been warned above by the liberal journalist that the activists “disagree”.

Sloan Shoemaker, a representative of the coalition promoting Hidden Gems, said legislation can be crafted that answers the concerns of the Basalt Fire Department and Fitzwilliams. He said he understands the concerns of the firefighters that time is of the essence. He would support Hidden Gems authorizing language that makes it clear that firefighting by all means will occur when there is a threat to a community. There is also a precedent for language in Wilderness bills that allow fuel reduction as well.

Creation of the Hidden Gems Wilderness requires an act of U.S. Congress.

Thompson said any legislation needs to specifically allow “unobstructed firefighting.”

Fire department officials and Shoemaker are scheduled to meet next week for further discussions.

So it turns out that the activists are insisting on “fuel reduction” and “unobstructed firefighting”. There may be some nuance I’m missing, but “disagree” is not exactly the word I’d use.

Perhaps the hangup is the word “wilderness”. Even the activists want active management, in the form of fuel treatments and fire suppression. Maybe the thing to do is to drop the wilderness idea entirely.

Wilderness is suppose to be “untrammeled” and without “sign of the hand of man”. Well, nobody wants that. Everybody involved wants some trammeling, for the good of the resource and the good of the community.

Let’s can the idea of wilderness altogether and go for something like “restoration”. It would be win-win. Let’s all act like adults, including the media.

12 Mar 2010, 2:50pm
by Tim Bailey


I met Scott Fitzwilliams when he was (recently) the Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Willamette. A good guy with a good head. I’m glad to see he is making good deicisons on the White River. Its real nice to see public servants stand up for what they think is right and proper.

13 Mar 2010, 9:18am
by Larry H.


It’s almost making me think that some designated Wilderness areas will soon be surrounded by as many fuelbreaks as possible, when the disaster pendulum swings into firestorm territory. We already know that any “erosion of wilderness protections” will be litigated. So, Congress will produce another set of bills that will throw some money into an inadequate plan that doesn’t deal with the roots of the problems in our forests.

On a related note, the FLRA is asking for nominations for the steering committee, which will pick the annual restoration projects. I noticed in the press release that foresters weren’t invited to participate.

“The Federal Register has more information about the committee, including application procedures and the fact that it shall include experts in:

1. Ecological Restoration,
2. Fire Ecology,
3. Fire Management,
4. Rural Economic Development,
5. Strategies for Ecological Adaptation to Climate Change,
6. Fish and Wildlife Ecology, and
7. Woody Biomass and Small-Diameter Tree Utilization.”

I guess that a forester could do one or more oif those tasks but, they appear to not want to know about logging systems. I guess they figure it’s up to the forester to implement policy and not to make it.

15 Mar 2010, 2:50am
by Al B


Logging…Now there is not going to be any logging ever Larry. Logging plans maybe, but never any logging or harmful things to poor helpless trees. The outcome of this is likely to be a lot of planning and suits about plans, but never any productive forest management. ;D

15 Mar 2010, 7:16am
by bear bait


Wilderness, as prescribed under law by Congress, is as alien to the pre-Columbian landscape as Manhattan or downtown San Francisco. Central Park is more like the land found by Eurpoean conquest pioneers. So the insistence of designation more land to a dramatically fire prone and untended state is patently insane, but when did that ever bother zealots?

It was interesting to hear Kat Anderson relating an interview with a Native American elder who profanely ranted to her about the Park Service and the mismanagement of the Yomsemite NP vegetation that has rendered Yosemite into useless “wilderness.” The vistas have been lost. It is hard to travel through due to the brush and understory vegetation, and the animals are not near their former abundance. The WhiteMan has wasted a beautiful and productive place with a management scheme that does not work.

Basalt Mountain appears to be just another historically ignorant attempt to create something that furthers genocide and denies that people ever existed on the landscape before the “savages” were removed to make the area safe for “wilderness.” Bad law begets more bad law. And, as long as tax forgiven money supports non-governmental organization policy makers and supports their legal efforts to control the conversation with the EAJA, we have a parallel government of the left and for the left, supported by taxpayers and the Federal government, making bad decisions about environmental issues every day.

15 Mar 2010, 5:22pm
by Al B


The ills in our forest are the progressive reach for land control. Private land owners might enter agreements to collaborate with these projects, only to find it was a ruse to gain control of land use period.

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of Evil to one who is striking at the root.” Henry David Thoreau.

Range Magazine, Spring 2010 issue [here] contains the following article that is a great summary of these LAND CONTROL policies like the CFLRP.

Time to Rebel,
[here]. “Bullets are not required, but ballots are in great demand” by Henry Lamb.

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