THE BLOG

We Live With Forest Fires

02/27/2015 05:17 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Catastrophic fire is something we live with in the Northwest. The Happy Camp Fire Complex in Northern California last summer lapped at my backdoor as it grew to over 110,000 acres. More than 2,700 brave souls are fighting this lightning created mess and cost will exceed $80 million dollars. Even though this was a big one, it pales in comparison to the fire in Northwest Oregon in 1933, where fishing and timber are inseparable. Both resources must be nurtured, harvested, managed and passed on.

However, in an odd twist of fate, Clatsop County has virtually no federal land and no federal forest to speak of, but is home to the largest state forest in Oregon, over half a million acres of both Clatsop and Tillamook Counties. This forest is managed like its neighboring federal land with a mix of uses, such as conservation areas and active timber harvest. A portion of the proceeds provides the local counties' funding for schools and infrastructure improvements.

These state forests rose like a phoenix from the ashes of massive fires back in the 1930s. As legend has it, the largest was started in Gales Creek during the August heat of 1933, when, after being warned about hot dry weather, sparks from old saws started a blaze burning over a quarter of a million acres, an area one-third the size of Rhode Island. Three more fires followed in Tillamook and Clatsop counties in 1939, 1945 and 1951. And spurred by Governor Earl Snell, a citizens' committee proposed the largest restoration project in history. Called a "300,000-acre growing tree farm" by a local newspaper, it was controversial because in order to accomplish reforestation, the counties would deed the land, of precious little value after the fire, to the state of Oregon.

The idea was, once the forest was reestablished, the counties would benefit from logging a productive forest. It took the passage of a statewide bond for it to become a reality in 1948, and remains a harvesting controversy to this day. Nonetheless, the forest in Tillamook and Clatsop counties are an example of Oregon leadership and maturation, and modern timber companies have grown and matured along with our forests.

Replanting quickly, modern conservation practices protecting streams and headwaters, riparian setbacks, timber has moved from the harvest business model to the stewardship legacy model. Not to mention all the gains in safety and care for the countless families who rely on these companies.

For many in this community, it's difficult to see so many raw logs head to Asian markets to be milled, rather than being milled in the United States, but they're thankful harvest continues. It's the same uneasy feeling of gratitude people here feel when cruise ships come to port carrying tourists with pockets full of cash. Yes, it's a good thing, but still hard to trust. The good news is that none of the forests cut from the public lands in Clatsop County can get exported without first being milled at home.

For more on Inside Out go to jasonaatkinson.com.