By David Paoli
In just a few months it will have been two years since the Chetco Bar Fire started. Logging is still going on but most private lands in the fire have been clear cut and the slash piles have been burned. Those lands are ready for reforestation.
An estimated 11,000 acres of private land were burned by this fire. Federal lands under the control of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) came to over 144,000 acres actually burned.
I am not a forester, I am an engineer, but over 50 years I have seen the erosion effects of large areas of denuded, steep coastal hills and mountains in Southern Oregon and Northern California. I have been waiting for replanting to occur here but to date I have seen only limited replanting on BLM holdings. Not a peep from the Forest Service or the Timber Companies.
We town dwellers may feel safe from direct effects of delayed replanting but then maybe not. Our water supply systems in Brookings and Harbor take subsurface water from right under the Chetco River. We might find increased turbidity in our water that needs more chemical treatment than before. Of even more concern, the increased silt from soil erosion can plug or slow the flow into the water collectors under the river.
We are already aware that the access roads into the forest have taken a beating. Just one slide alone on Gardner Ridge Road is estimated to cost the county $400,000. What if the increased erosion is damaging the salmon and steelhead spawning beds? I suspect it is, this has happened on other coastal rivers.
The damage from the fire will affect the timber supply, hence local jobs, for the next 50 years. Tourism will not be stimulated by lower catches of fish and scenery of ugly, bare hillsides or regrowth of tan oak and poison oak rather than spruce or Douglas fir. The $30 million county road fund is already getting hit.
The point is we all have a stake in how the recovery from the fire is being handled by the federal, state, county and local levels. We the public need to see the plan instead of finding there is no recovery plan and another winter of erosion has occurred.
I would really like to think that someone or some group is in charge. I can tell it isn’t our county commissioners, they are too busy rewriting the U.S. Constitution. That is really too bad because they are the only government group that should have Curry County as their number one and only interest.