Restoring Natural Wildfire

October, 2014






Restoring Natural Wildfire

Attitudes toward wildfire are changing in Northwest California. Many folks now understand that fire is a natural part of western forest ecosystems; these forests are going to burn sooner or later. Thinking has shifted from “will they be able to keep fire at bay” to “how can we protect the community so that fires can be allowed to play a more natural role in forest ecosystems.” 

Attitudes toward cultural burning are also shifting: Indigenous natives burned portions of these forests for uncounted generations and many believe tribal efforts to restore cultural burning should be supported. 

At the same time, concerns about the high cost of fire suppression have grown in Washington, D.C., within the Forest Service and with taxpayers. In the Klamath Mountains, we’ve had those concerns for a long time because, in spite of spending many millions of dollars, fire suppression on the national forests in these rugged mountains is rarely effective once a fire has grown large. 

Too often, Forest Service and fire managers order costly and questionable suppression actions which trigger landslides and damage watersheds but do little to protect communities or control a fire. Bulldozer lines and burnouts in the backcountry are particularly ineffective, costly and damaging.  

In too many cases Forest Service “thinning” projects actually increase fire risk down the road because they stimulate sprouting of small trees and brush. Salvage logging, which reestablishes highly flammable tree plantations, is also a detriment to restoring fire to a more natural, and therefore sustainable, role in Klamath Forest ecosystems.

Faced with Forest Service policies that are not working, those living in forest communities within the Klamath Mountains have begun moving toward a more enlightened and effective approach to living with wildfire. Led by local restoration and fire safe councils, citizens are working to construct shaded fuel breaks around towns and residences and on strategic ridge tops so that natural wildfires can be allowed to burn naturally without threatening human habitations. 

Because so much of the Klamath Mountains is National Forest land, restoring fire to a more natural ecological role will require substantial changes in Forest Service management practices. A more strategic approach to fire risk reduction, restraint in deploying fire suppression actions which cause environmental damage, and fire risk reduction projects which are not just timber sales with a new name remain the exception rather than the rule. 

Still, forest communities, tribes and environmental groups have made a good start and even some Forest Service managers are beginning to change business as usual. When it comes to wildfire suppression and fire risk reduction, the winds of change are blowing both locally and nationally. Hopefully that will lead to reduced suppression costs and greater reliance on natural and cultural fire as appropriate and cost-effective tools to restore forest ecosystems. Stay tuned.



Campers Learn and Enjoy Themselves 

“Amazing,” “wonderful,” and “fun” were among the adjectives used by the four campers North Group members supported to attend a Towering Trees & Tidepools Camp for grades 4-5 and a Redwoods Ecology Camp for grades 6-8 this July in Redwood National & State Parks. We were able to underwrite a girl and two boys from Eureka (one of them living in a family shelter) and a boy from Weaverville. This marked the 20th year that our Lucille Vinyard/Susie Van Kirk Environmental Education Fund provided a camping experience for children in our membership area of Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity counties.



"Cappy" McKinney Memorial Trail Approved

On August 5, the Eureka City Council voted unanimously to name a shoreline loop segment of the Eureka Waterfront Hikshari’ Trail after long-time environmental advocate Melvin McKinney. The proposal to honor Mel in this fashion came from North Group and the local Audubon chapter, two groups to which he dedicated many hours as a volunteer. Cappy, who passed away in 2013, spent much of his retirement protecting the Elk River Wildlife Sanctuary. He worked with various agencies to identify appropriate uses and preserve the natural habitat, patrolling the area on a regular basis to report problems. Mel’s persistence led the City of Eureka to upgrade what had been the Elk River Wildlife Area to Sanctuary status in 2003. A dedication ceremony for the loop trail was held in early September. 




The North Group offers the following hike in September. All our hikes are open to the public. Contact hike leaders for more information:

Thursday, October 23—Prairie Creek State Park, West Ridge-Prairie Creek Loop. Towering ridge forest and stout creek-side giants; a rippling creek overhung by autumn maples! From the Visitor Center, to West Ridge Trail, to the Zig-Zag #1 connector, to Prairie Creek Trail. Total distance is 6 miles of medium difficulty, under  500’  elevation change. Bring lunch, water, hiking gear. No dogs. Carpools meet 9:15 am SW corner Arcata Community  Center or 10:30 am Prairie Creek Visitor Center. Leader Melinda (668-4275). Rain cancels.

Sunday, November 9—Horse Mountain Botanical Area Trails. Two loop trails, each just over 2 miles, mostly on dirt roads: one to the west, past the old “Ski Chalet” site, with views of the King Range, the Siskiyous, and the coast, and another loop to the north and east looking at the Trinity Alps, the Yolla Bollys, and maybe a peek at Mt. Lassen. Bring lunch, water, and good boots. No dogs. Medium difficulty, under 500’ elevation change. Carpools meet 9 am Valley West Shopping Center (near Ray’s) or 10 am Horse Mtn. parking area. Leader Ned (; 825-3652). Heavy rain cancels.  


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