Fire crews careful to protect rare fish, plants when possible

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Sat Aug 3 23:54:33 EST 2002

>From The Oregonian, Aug. 2, 2002, p A12

Fire crews careful to protect rare fish, plants when possible
Amid complaints of delays, officials say their response to the
Florence fire wasn't stalled by regulations

By MICHELLE COLE, The Oregonian
	The fire threatening Oregon's Illinois Valley has also put fragile
natural habitat at risk, prompting fire crews to take extra
precautions to protect rare plants and wild fish whenever possible.
	Fire officials said Thursday that those precautions did not delay
their initial response to the fire nor are they hindering
firefighters' efforts to halt the nearly 3-week-old blaze.
	Some valley residents have complained that the U.S. Forest Service
waited too long to respond to the Florence fire because it started in
the 179,850-acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The Siskiyou National Forest's
fire management plan, completed in February, calls for "minimum-impact
suppression tactics" in wilderness areas.
	The delay in responding to the fire had little to do with the
wilderness protections, said M.J. Harvie, forest fire staff officer
for the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests. "We had more than
100 fires, many of which were closer to towns and homes. And there
were also fires over on the east side of Oregon that were threatening
	Forest Service officials said some residents also have criticized
firefighters for treating some of the water sprayed on the fire with
bleach, saying that kept crews from aggressively fighting the fire.
The dilute bleach solution kills fungus spores that can be fatal to
Port Orford cedar.
	"None of those things will stop us from fighting the fire," Harvie
said Thursday.
	The Siskiyou National Forest's fire management plan gives highest
priority to the safety of firefigers and the public. But it also sets
guidelines for protecting the forest's natural and cultural resources.
Those natural resources are particularly important in the Siskiyou,
which scientists say is one of the world's most biologically rich
temperate forests.
	Two years ago, conservationists pressed former President Clinton to
declare 1 million acres stretching from Port Orford south to the
California border as the Siskiyou National Monument. No monument was
established, but Clinton's interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, approved
mining restrictions designed to protect the landscape and fisheries.

Practice growing
	Taking steps to protect fragile habitat while fighting fires is
increasingly common pratice on national forests, wildfire experts
	Resource advisers are routinely assigned to fire teams, said David
Tippets. a Forest Service spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Research
Station in Ogden, Utah. "When they assign a resource adviser, they
assign somebody as intimate as possible with or species
with critical habitat in the area around the fire."
	To keep deadly fungus spores from spreading to Port Orford cedar,
fire teams in Southern Oregon try to use bleach to treat water drawn
from streams and lakes in infected areas before using it to fill water
tankers or the small bladder bags that firefighters carry on their
	"If we have time to put water in a tank and add the Clorox in an
area, we will," Harvie said. "But we don't let that stop us if we
don't have time."
	Forest officials also are requiring vehicles entering Port Orford
cedar groves that are not infected with the fungus to have their tires
and undercarriage thoroughly cleaned.
	Because the Siskiyou is home to wild salmon and steelhead,
firefighting regulations prohibit dropping fire retardant within 300
feet of a stream. The retardant can break down chemically and kill
	Resource managers also are doing what they can to protect the
forest's rare plants, including the insect-eating California pitcher
plant, Darlingtonia californica. But that has not prevented fire crews
from bulldozing a 30-mile-long fire line through bogs where the
pitcher plant has been found, Harvie said.
	"If we can avoid those, we will, but if that's the only place we can
get to or it's the right place to go, we will do that," she said.
"What we do is document that so we know what we've done and can
monitor the effects afterward."

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler

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