SENECA ROCKS, W.Va. — Foresters from as far away as Idaho, Washington state, and Oregon are in West Virginia helping battle a forest fire in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands region. The fire started on private land and jumped onto the Monongahela National Forest. It is now burning in a rugged and remote part of the region along the top of North Fork Mountain near Seneca Rocks.

The “Smoke Hole Fire”, as it has been dubbed by the U.S. Forest Service, had consumed 1,200 acres as of this writing. Some of the reporting on the fire indicated the acreage had been “destroyed.” That’s not necessarily the case. I too may have been guilty of using such dialogue in reporting the fire on MetroNews. However, a more apt description of what is occurring is the forest being “reborn.”

Forest fires are only “destructive” when they burn homes, businesses, or other structures on private property. The forest will rebound. God designed it in such a way to heal itself when something happens. A fire isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the forest. Sure it will leave a black scar which doesn’t look very pleasant for a while, but by spring the area will be covered in new plant growth and the flora will eventually spring forth and thrive to remove all evidence of the fire. All species will have an equal chance to grow and regenerate. However, the millions of dollars of value in the timber which stood in the area is lost forever.

Ironically, responsible logging and proper forest management would have lessened the impact of this fire by eliminating a large amount of the fuel which now feeds the flames. Forest Service officials tell me they are inundated with howls of protest from environmental extremists any time they prepare for a prescription timber sale anywhere on the Forest Service property. Letters arrive from all over the country and lawsuits are nearly automatic. It should be noted the vast majority of those fighting the timber sales are not from West Virginia. Many are from California.

As timber sales have decreased in the last three decades on the Mon, the trees have continued to mature. Some trees have reached peak growth and deteriorated.Many simply die and fall providing plenty of fuel for a forest fire.

Logging, when done properly, actually benefits a forest. It creates habitat diversity for a variety of species of game and non-game animals. The early succession habitat is extremely important for many song and game birds, especially the ruffed grouse. The birds need low lying cover to nest and seek shelter from predators. The new growth provides browse for deer and tender stems for other animals. A healthy forest is one which has a diversity of habitat from low browse to tall stands of mature timber. The Mon hasn’t been a healthy forest in quite a while.

Certainly nobody likes a forest fire, but they happen and they have happened since the dawn of time. An official with the U.S. Forest Service told me this is the biggest fire they’ve had on the Monongahela National Forest since the 1940’s and 50’s. Considering the forest management, it’s amazing it hasn’t happened before now and again it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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    we need to have control burns here to limit the brush like they do down south it makes for better hunting

  • Joey

    Thank you for writing this article. I am a Forest Resource Management major at West Virginia University and I'm in my senior year here. We (people in the program, students and professors) try explaining how beneficial prescribed fires and intensive management are to the forest to those who do not know any better or disagree. People who know nothing of Forestry have no business telling us (foresters) what to do in the forest.

  • ron "from morgantown"

    As someone who has a cabin in that part of the state and as such a vested interest in this story , let me tell you a fact related to the fire . Plenty of volunteer firemen showed up attempting to fight the fire in its early period only to be turned away because it was on Federal land.

  • Allegheny

    Good article.

    Informal discussions with forest service personnel over the years have also indicated the difficulty they run into with any planned timber sale. I too have been told that out of state groups, and their affiliated state chapters, produce the bulk of the protests about timber sales. Some groups have even protested planned logging activity on private land that adjoins public land (Blackwater Falls State Park), including taking the private landowner to court.

  • Ronin

    Overlooked here is the fact that, if hemp (not cannabis, hemp, a non-psychoactive plant that was once a mainstay of VA/WV farming) was legalized, instead of demonized, there would be absolutely no need to cut down trees to produce paper or any number of building products, as well as fuel, food, clothing, and a number of other products.

    And the fact that the majority of howls of protest are arising from California probably has a lot to do with the fact that out-of-state corporations have been pillaging WV since just after the Civil War and have gotten very, very good at concealing their activities from the natives, many of whom have limited education and/or access to outside information sources, save through their library computers. WV newspapers and radio stations are almost all co-opted and compromised by huge ad revenues from Friends of Coal, who are extremely pro-logging, as well.

    Nothing wrong with intelligent harvest of timber for wood products, but let's stop selling hundred year old trees for $1 apiece to make toilet paper when there is a better answer.

    • Joey

      Not exactly sure where you get your data on timber sales from, but we (Foresters) do not use 100 year old trees to make toilet paper, and we esp. do not sell them for $1. If you know where they are selling 100 year old timber for a $1 a piece let me know, because I need to go make a timber sale there...

    • thornton

      "....the natives, many of whom have limited education and/or access to outside information sources, save through their library computers"... Wow!, aside from the arrogance and self-importance those words imply to the poster, most "natives" do understand two points...1) 100 year-old trees are younkers in the tree world and 2) your self-focused agenda exemplifies a profound lack of any understanding of what equates to a healthy forest.

      Eschew hemp as little but a niche plant for pseudo-enviromentalists to make themselves feel all giggly and superior at like-minded bar-b-ques and poetry readings....get-togethers where no doubt the slamming Big Timber, Big Coal, Big Radio(that's a funny one) or Big Whatever gets an extra helping of soy-something.

      The health of a forest goes well beyond any use for timber or any use for ooh and aah moments by the human visitors.

  • Roy Riggleman

    Not sure if I'd consider the Mon an unhealthy forest.... Perhaps under utilized as far the timber resource goes, but still some of the most productive growing sites in the eastern US. Now there's plenty of burned over cutover degraded forestland throughout west Virginia I'd consider "unhealthy" as far as future timber productivity goes.

  • Larry

    Nice article.

  • thornton

    Well noted.

    I would say it will be very questionable if any, or many, fire-damaged trees of a saw log size are harvested, due to the hoops to jump thru when operating within the NF. Likely will be some critters happily benefiting from more than just an increase in the early successional stage of forest growth.
    Only a guess but if the fire did affect some larger trees, the downside may be a reduction in the veneer quality of the logs....but, that would depend upon what tree species are most affected in the fire area and their demand in the marketplace. Timber, as a description, often lacks the adjective desirable.

    Fingers crossed for zero injuries and the absolutely minimal property damage as the fire heads to a conclusion.

    • Chris Lawrence

      Wow! Praise from Thornton...I don't get that often....I'll take it.


      • thornton

        :-)...I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

        • Hollowhunter

          You need to see an eye doctor !

  • lumbermam

    Great article Chris,I'm familiar with the area of Pendleton county where the fire is, a lot of good timber going to waste.

  • WV alum

    Funny how some people don't seem to know where their computer and toilet paper come from--trees--a renewable resource, the revenue and taxes of which help pay the bills in our rural counties.

  • JJ

    Good job if presenting the other (good) side of the story. I would only question your comment in the millions of dollars in timber that will be lost. Unless the fire is far more intense than what was reported earlier (2in - 4ft flame height I believe) there will likely not be significant damage to much of the standing timber. Now I'm not there so I could be way off base!!! Thanks and God speed to those involved with the containment efforts!!!

    • Larry

      I would agree that there would not be that much damage to the bigger trees, the duration and intensity of the fire around most of the trees is probably fairly low. Leaves burn quickly and don't produce an extreme amount of heat.

    • Chris Lawrence

      Perhaps, but it becomes a salvage rather than conventional logging operation.... Even getting one of those going on the forest may prove hard.

      I'm not a forester, but I know a few who tell me the damage from a fire may not necessarily impact the log, but it does make it far more vulnerable to disease and pest destruction.

      Thanks for the kind words.


  • Charlie

    Excellent analysis. We need more young forest and quickly on the Monongahela National Forest.