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In response to Rep. Bill Harris' (Jan. 11) guest column, I certainly have to agree that the Lodgepole Complex fire was huge and horrific.

I do feel the need to take issue with something he said: "They are grazed only lightly and no timber management is permitted, allowing for fuel to build up to distorted levels."

What constitutes "distorted levels"? Compared to what?

Long before the West was "won," there was no timber management. Nor was there any fire suppression. The woods and forests were as naturally abundant as they could be. So, was the fuel in the wilderness study area built up to distorted levels compared to Montana before settlement from the east and the only humans present were the Native Americans?

The elephant in the room is that with few exceptions there are no "natural" forests any more. Since the arrival of settlers, we have changed the landscape. Almost all forests have been managed in one way or another for many years.

Whether you are on the "Let it burn!" or on the "Put 'em out!" side, the problem now is that when there are fires, many, many people, homes, farms and ranches are affected.

Managing forests has an impact on fires. So does stopping the management of forests. Allowing forest fires to burn in managed, formerly managed or even in wilderness (or what we want to become wilderness) impacts all of us whether it be our financial well-being, our safety and our health.

What we need is for all sides to talk to each other with the awareness that none of us have "the answer" to forest fires. Nor does "one size fits all." What is perfect for one area could be asking for a firestorm in another.

We need reasonable people making reasoned decisions about difficult topics by using accurate information, non-incendiary language and a willingness to, yes, compromise. There's no free lunch here, folks.

Ken Dawes,

Missoula

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