Crater Lake might make fire a tool: comments sought on plan to help park with flames
May 5, 1999
By PAUL FATTIG
CRATER LAKE — After some 60 years of battling wildfires, the National Park Service is slowly turning its fiery nemesis into an ally.
Crater Lake National Park officials, citing the success of experimental prescribed burning in the 183,224-acre park in recent years, plan to use fire to help bring the delicate ecosystem into balance.
The public is encouraged to comment on a supplemental environmental assessment to a draft revised fire management plan that calls for using both intentionally ignited and natural fires. The comment period, which began April 26, ends June 4.
Fires would be fought if they threatened human life, cultural resources or sensitive habitats for endangered species, officials stress.
“We don’t ignore these fires,” said Chief Park Ranger George Buckingham. “It’s quite labor-intensive. They will be managed. We watch them very closely.”
Fire suppression began at the park in the 1930s, he explained, and eventually changed the density and nature of the vegetation growing in the high-elevation park.
Approved in 1977, the first fire plan for the park introduced limited experimental prescribed burning. The revised plan approved in 1987 increased the use of fire to help bring balance to the natural environment.
A supplemental assessment was needed because of issues that came into play after 1987, including the fires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988, changes in park service policies, the designation of four research natural areas in the park and several additions to the federal list of threatened, endangered or sensitive species, he said.
Although the 1987 plan did not allow for those contemporary issues, there was no question in the minds of those studying the impact of fire that prescribed burning was necessary, he said.
“We realized that we had (spotted) owls, had resource natural areas,” he said. “We needed to look at all those things. But we agreed that the original plan to reintroduce fire is valid.”
The supplemental environmental assessment fine-tunes the 1987 plan, he said.
“It allows us to look at different resources, to make sure fire activities don’t screw up other resources,” he said.
The problem is that in some areas in the park, fire suppression has resulted in 60 years of accumulated fuel, he said.
“You can’t let fire come back in some areas because of that,” he said, citing the potential for an explosive fire.
If the supplemental environmental assessment plan is approved, steps would be taken to reduce the fuel buildup, he said.
“The direction we’ve started in using prescribed burning is the same,” he said. “We’re just adding in the protection for threatened and endangered species and resource natural areas … we’ve learned a lot.”
Fire suppression would also occur to protect human life and property, both in the park and adjacent to it, he reiterated.
Additional information is available at the Crater Lake Web site:
Comment letters should be sent to: Superintendent, Crater Lake National Park, P.O. Box 7, Crater Lake, OR 97604.