The Impact of Fire Suppression
The impact of fire suppression in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains has created significant forest health and fire management concerns that will require both active forest restoration treatments and the reintroduction of fire. The indirect impact of fire suppression on native vegetation includes the alteration of natural fire processes that in turn creates structural and compositional shifts away from shade intolerant and fire tolerant species. The alteration of fire regimes within a forest also alters natural nutrient cycling processes, soil chemistry and fuel loading; it also diminishes the resiliency of a forest to withstand fire, insects, and drought events. The indirect impacts of fire suppression are well documented and widely acknowledged.
The direct impact of fire suppression, including the building of fire line—often with bulldozers, increasing rates of erosion and stream sedimentation—the falling of thousands of snags and live trees, the use of fire retardant and the use of irresponsible backburning has heavily impacted many of our roadless wildlands, wilderness areas, salmon bearing streams, and forest ecosystems. In recent years extensive areas have been badly scorched by uncharacteristic fire effects associated with discretionary fire suppression fires, or backburns, lit by fire fighting personal. The idea is to fight fire with fire, burning fuel at the margin of a wildfire to slow the spread and allow for containment. If conducted responsibly these fires can be the most effective and ecologically appropriate means of containing a wildfire. If conducted irresponsibly these burns can be one of the most dramatic impacts of fire suppression. In many portions of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains large swaths of forest have
been burned by irresponsible backburning, impacting old-growth forest habitat, endangered species habitat, fisheries, watershed values, wilderness/roadless area values, as well as future fuel conditions and fire management options.
Fireline construction is also a major impact of fire suppression activities, which usually includes the removal of forest vegetation and the bulldozing of large swaths of forest habitat to create firebreaks around the fire perimeter. The construction of these firelines often includes the felling of hundreds or thousands of large, live trees and snags, impacting habitat conditions, northern spotted owl habitat, fragmenting forests, and generating large amounts of untreated “activity fuels,” or slash that will fuel higher severity fires in the future. The use of bulldozers in fireline construction creates heavy soil disturbance; increases rates of erosion and sedimentation; increases soil compaction; increases runoff in rain events, and increases the spread of noxious weeds.
The use of fire retardant has the potential to severely impact aquatic ecosystems and fisheries as the chemicals used in fire retardants are toxic to aquatic organisms and fish species, sometimes degrading to cyanide as the chemicals break down. In many cases the agency is utilizing chemical retardants with undisclosed ingredients. Although these chemicals are supposed to stay out of streams and other aquatic habitats, the aerial application of retardants can lead to the contamination of streams due to inaccurate application and drift from wind. The impact can be...