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.