Sherwood, 33, was arrested on June 2, and released on an electronic tether with a $75,000 bond. Last week, he was charged by a federal grand jury in Bay City with setting fires in the forest on a number of occasions from 2001-2004. Sherwood will face trial in U.S. District Court South on arson charges of creating a risk of death or serious injury to others and causing damages to the national forests.
The trial underscores the fact that most forest fires in Michigan are set by humans, either intentionally or by accident, rather than Mother Nature.
We dont have as many forest fires in Michigan as out west where there can be several thousand in a day from lightning starts, says Kenneth Arbogast, public affairs officer for the Huron-Manistee National Forests. Most of the fires in Michigan are started by people, either by burning garbage or campfires that get out of control, or in a few instances because they are set on purpose.
By contrast, only 2% of Michigan forest fires are started by lightning, according to state records.
In Sherwoods case, forestry officials are unable to determine exactly how many fires the suspect is alleged to have set. There were a number of acres burned because there were multiple starts, Arbogast says, adding that investigators received a great deal of information from the public which led to the suspects arrest.
Fires are taken seriously in central Northern Michigan because the region is one of the states tinderbox areas. More than 100 years ago, the region was cleared of virgin oak and pine during Michigans lumber era. Those old growth forests were replaced largely with jack pine, which is susceptible to forest fire.
Data from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reveals the northern heart of the state as a primary wildfire zone. During the period from 1981-2000, there were 351 forest fires in Kalkaska County, 519 fires in Otsego County, 698 in Crawford County and 371 in Roscommon.
On April 30, 2000, extremely dry conditions aided a wildfire near Mio which torched 5,200 acres. It took nearly 300 firefighters a week to put out the fire, which required the evacuation of 30 area residents.
A far bigger fire occurred near Grayling in May 1990. Known as the Stephan Bridge Road fire, the blaze destroyed 76 homes and 125 other buildings, 37 vehicles and boats, and 5,900 acres of the forest.
At one point in the fire, the rate of spread was an astonishing 277 feet per minute, claims a state emergency response manual.
DON‘T GET BURNED
The fire near Grayling was the result of a controlled burn of a brush pile and cleared timber. An initial fire was put out, but even though there was still snow on the ground, it apparently smoldered unnoticed for weeks before spreading to the surrounding forest.
With spring and fall being peak times for wildfires in Northern Michigan, Arbogast warns that its best to get a burn permit to help offset liability in case a blaze gets out of control.
People need to understand that its pretty serious if a fire escapes your control if youre burning without a permit, he says. Youre going to be responsible for damage to the forest and for what it costs to put it out, or even if private homes are destroyed. Having a burn permit offers a shield on liability, since fire hazard conditions are assessed by forestry officials before permits are granted.
Theres no lack of forest land at risk for fire in Northern Michigan. The 481,000-acre Manistee National Forest ranges from Manistee to Cadillac and then south to White Cloud, while the Huron National Forest ranging from Mio to Lake Huron is of similar size, for a total of 964,413 acres. The Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore along with the Pere Marquette, Jordan Valley and Pigeon River state forests add to the regions fire potential.
What happens when a wildfire kicks up? Arbogast says Michigan benefits from a National Response Agency which brings firefighters to the region to help DNR and volunteer fire departments if and when a forest fire gets out of control.
Last year we brought some smokejumpers in from out west to help out, he says. The good thing in Michigan is that our fire season always happens earlier than out west. We see most of our fires in April or May, so theyre able to help out before their own fire season starts.
$8.5 million purchase
brings peace like a river
After 18 years of one of the bitterest environmental fights in Northern Michigan‘s history, there‘s finally some closure on the purchase of 104 acres and 6,300 feet of frontage along the Crystal River for inclusion in the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.
Price tag: $8.5 million, to be digested in bits and pieces by the National Park Service (NPS).
Last week, park superintendent Dusty Schultz announced that 22 acres of the property owned by The Homestead resort will be purchased immediately by the NPS.
Congress has already appropriated over $1 million and the NPS has allocated another $650,000 for the purchase.
An additional 23 acres is being held by The Homestead for sale to the NPS, using $22 million appropriated by Congress last week. The rest of the 104-acre parcel, 59 acres including prime frontage on the Crystal River, will be purchased immediately by the Leelanau Conservancy.
The Conservancy will borrow the $4.85 million in order to purchase the land. A three-year plan has the NPS buying the land in segments from the Conservancy as federal funds become available. The $8.5 million price for the land was established last summer by an independent appraiser hired by the NPS.
Our role here is as an intermediary, says Conservancy President Craig Miller. We still have a way to go before we are bought out by the National Park Service, and were taking a significant risk, but were ecstatic that we could help put together a plan that will protect this spectacular natural treasure.
The resolution is a win-win for the public, for the river, and for The Homestead, says Vik Theiss, vice president of Friends of the Crystal River.
“Weve always felt that the best alternative to our initial plan for the use of the property was preservation, said Robert Kuras, president of The Homestead, which had dreams of establishing a golf course on the property when the fight over the Crystal began in the 1980s. Were pleased to see the hard work of the Conservancy and the NPS come to a conclusion that benefits everyone in our community.
TRUCKS KEEP A‘ ROLLIN: The latest twist in the great Canadian trash truck controversy is that there are now double the number of trucks hauling garbage over the border to Michigan compared to this time
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), whose office has generated enough press releases to fill a landfill on this subject, reports that there are now 415 Canadian trash trucks crossing the border each day to sully Michigan‘s soil, compared to an estimated 180 trucks per day last year.
Although the trash hauling issue figured in many a Michigan politician‘s campaign strategy in the recent election, the State appears powerless to stop the flow of Canadian trash and landfill cash. Canada, including the City of Toronto, sends its trash to Michigan because dump rates at the country‘s own landfills are far costlier due to more stringent environmental safeguards.
Stabenow and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) hope to turn the matter into a Homeland Security issue. “... these trucks pose a unique homeland security risk, since by their very nature trucks full of garbage are extremely difficult for Customs agents to inspect as compared to traditional cargo,“ they wrote in a joint letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
DIRTY WATER: The Friends of Boyne River are opposing the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant in Boyne City which will discharge into the river.
“We have worked very hard to help improve the river and make sure that it‘s safe for fish, fishermen and kayakers,“ says Scot Egleston, an environmental consultant in Gaylord. “Our argument is that the city is creating a point source of pollution where none had existed before. Not to mention the fact that it is wastewater effluent and studies are finding that even the treated effluent still has negative effects on fish.“
The group is appealing to the Michigan DNR and the city council with no effect thus far.