Fire camp’s big footprint 

Dean Johnson has been working wildland fires in Montana for 10 years, and he says he’s always amazed by the government’s ability to coordinate vast quantities of the resources needed to fight fire. But this fire season something about those resources occurred to him: “They weren’t recycling anything in camp,” says Johnson.

Thousands of cans and water bottles, reams of computer paper and tons of cardboard were simply tossed in the dumpster each day, Johnson says.

“I asked a Forest Service representative on site at the Meriwether Fire why the Helena National Forest was not recycling on its fire. He stated that I ‘should talk to the head of logistics,’” Johnson wrote in a letter he sent this week to Regional Forester Tom Tidwell, Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Helena National Forest Supervisor Kevin Riordan. “It was obvious from his reply that he had no interest in the big picture of resource management, which made me wonder how much he really cared about the future of his own state.”

According to the official Incident Management Situation Report from the National Interagency Coordination Center, there were 992 personnel working the Jocko Lakes fire on Aug. 17. If each one of those 992 people drank five bottles of water per day—about half what Johnson estimates he drank on the Jocko Lakes Fire—that’s 4,960 bottles that ended up in a landfill that day.

According to the Forest Service’s “Incident Base Recycling Guide,” “It is up to the line officer to work with the Incident Commander to determine whether recycling will be a part of the team’s accomplishments during the incident.”

The problem with recycling at camp, according to the Forest Service, is that remote fire camps are often too far away from recycling facilities. Thus the “Recycling Guide” advises: “Don’t attempt to establish recycling until you know you have a place for the recyclables to go.”

But Johnson hopes that raising the issue will at least get fire managers and state officials thinking about the environmental impacts of not recycling at fire camp.

“Don’t tell me it isn’t cost effective when they’re spending $1,000 per hour on a Chinook helicopter,” Johnson says.
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