Why is Forest Service planning to keep burn area closed to public?

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com

This is a story of two fires from the summer of 2013, both on the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest. The Mountain Fire burned 27,500 acres of mixed chaparral and timber south Idyllwild, while the Silver Fire burned 20,300 acres in the same type of habitat north Idyllwild. After the flames were fully doused in both fires, the area of the Silver Fire was reopened to public access almost immediately, while the area of the Mountain Fire was closed to the public for over a year.

With the Mountain Fire’s closure now about to expire, the Forest Service is poised to keep the Mountain Fire area closed to the public for yet another year. The reason for the first closure was supposedly to protect public safety and natural resources. And the extension of the closure is ostensibly for the same reasons.

Wait! Why was one fire area reopened and a nearly identical area kept closed? What public safety and resource issues were different between the two areas? I’d like to see the documentation. And why is the closure, that one could easily argue was a mistake in the first place, being extended? Again, please show me the documentation.

If the Forest Service, after studying the impacts caused by the public in the Silver Fire area decided to close that area now, in addition to keeping the Mountain Fire area closed, you and I could understand a decision based on that science. But we don’t have anything resembling science being used here.

This is looking more and more like a long-term management decision by the U.S. Forest Service that is circumventing the normal process by hiding behind an “emergency closure.”

Forest Service policy allows for “Emergency closures” in true emergencies. For example, when the fire is burning, keeping the public away from the flames and fire-fighting crews is a good idea. When the emergency is over, the forest lands are supposed to open back up.

What emergency has been documented, either last year or now this year, that would warrant the use of another “emergency closure” now -- especially when we have a nearly identical burn area being managed in a completely different way.

The agency has not provided any documentation there is a valid public safety threat (then or now) or that resources are threatened (then or now). It is completely capricious and arbitrary.

The two biggest groups impacted by the first closure -- and potentially by a second one -- are hikers and hunters. A big portion of the Pacific Crest Trail will remain closed, along with several popular spur and loop routes in the Mountain Fire area. Hunters have already lost two deer and bird hunting seasons, and the Forest Service is about to shut it down for a third in this portion of the D19 deer hunting zone.

(Of course, the closure couldn’t be because the Mountain Fire area is one of the most popular deer hunting areas within the hunting zone, and there is a growing contingent of Forest Staff who dislike all hunting. No, that couldn’t possibly be it.)

But even if you don’t use the trails or hunt, everyone was denied access to this burn to see the incredible regeneration process that takes place after a fire. Plants begin crown-sprouting within days and seedlings and grasses come up after the first rains. It is an incredible rebirthing to watch as nature recovers and flourishes after a fire.

The first closure was completely without merit, and now the USFS is about to keep the closure in place. Stupid decisions like this are how these federal agencies are constantly getting sued by recreational and environmental groups.

The Forest Service, to prove it isn’t anti-hunting or trying to circumvent the long-term management planning that mandates public input, should immediately rescind the closure now, so the public and use these areas this fall, including for the deer hunting season that began this weekend.

DEER SEASONS KICK OFF: The first of Southern California’s rifle deer hunting seasons kicked off this Saturday (Oct. 4) when the D19 hunting zone opened. The vast majority of the zones in this region open next Saturday, Oct. 11, when the D-11, D-13, D-14, D-15, and D-17 zones all begin. D-16 will open Oct. 25 and D-12 opens Nov. 1.

Deer tags are sold out in all Southern California deer zones except D-11, D-13, and D-15. In the Western Sierra Nevada, tags are also still available for the D3-5 zone, D-8, and D-10. Hunters can go to the Department of Fish and Wildlife website (www.wildlife.ca.gov) to get information on numbers of tags remaining by zone.

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