Yesterday was the last voyage west before the last big one back home to complete the whole circle around the world. It was a short voyage this time that did not involve a plane or a train. Instead I took a drive over the Santiam Pass from Central Oregon to make it over to the Portland area of Oregon. This drive is a beautiful drive most of the way, but there are a couple of places where you can see the skeleton of what was once a great forest but due to recent fires, it is now just a bunch of burned out trees. There are times where this look a little depressing, as if we have lost something great by having the forest fire. It is a little depressing at first but when I found out more about forest fires, they are not always the terrible thing that we think about them.
Forest fires, if they happen naturally, are an important part of the revitalization process. Pine cones need the heat of a fire in order to open in order to plant its seed and create a new tree. The old burned down trees add the much needed nutrients to the soil to let those trees grow. So even though it may look like a devastated landscape right after a fire, if you keep coming back to visit the same places where the fire took place, you will see that they are slowly starting to come back and turn into the amazing forest that you once remembered them as. There are a few places along the Santiam Pass that you can see this progress. There have been many times that I have gone over the pass and I can now start to see a significant change in what left behind. It makes me feel good that something can come out of so much destruction.
But in order for these fires to work this way, we need to let the forests alone and let them go through the process naturally. This means that we should not be cleaning up the ground cover and letting it alone so so can let this rejuvenation process happen. But this can be very dangerous for communities that are near big forests that could go up at any time with one ill placed lightning strike. It leaves an interesting debate. How far should we go to keep people safe, and what does that mean for the forests that we love so much that we moved near them in the first place? This is the debate that is going on in-between the fire fighters whose job it is to protect those homes, and the environmental programs whose major concern it is to protect the forests for future generations. There should be some middle ground that can be reached that would satisfy both parties, because they are both important for future generations. It is interesting to think about, and know that during this crazy time of year where you turn on the news and see another forest fire destroying another community, that people are working hard to come up with a reasonable solution to both problems. But it is up to us to make sure that these fires are not started by us. We need to think about what we are doing while we are out in the wilderness, so we do not leave any destruction behind. That is the important thing that we can do for the future of the beauty of the outdoors.