6 Sep 2010, 4:25pm
History Management Policy
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Baden-Powell and Australian Bushfire Policy: Part 2

By Roger Underwood

Editor’s Notes: This essay is one of a series (circulated to colleagues on the Internet, but unpublished) which examines reports, letters, stories and anecdotes from early volumes of The Indian Forester, the principal forestry journal of India since 1880.

It is the second to deal with Baden Baden-Powell. The first is [here].

Baden Henry Baden-Powell (1841-1901) entered the Bengal Civil Service at the age age of 20 and eventually became a Judge of the Chief Court of the Punjab and India’s first Inspector-General of Forests. He was among the first to bring European forestry to India. B. H. Baden-Powell was the son of Rev. Baden Powell (1796–1860), an English mathematician and Church of England priest, and brother of Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), the founder of the Boy Scouts.

Author Roger Underwood is a former General Manager of the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) in Western Australia, a regional and district manager, a research manager and bushfire specialist. Roger currently directs a consultancy practice with a focus on bushfire management and is Chairman of The Bushfire Front Inc.. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.

Baden-Powell and Australian bushfire policy: Part 2

By Roger Underwood

In an earlier paper on this issue [1] I discussed the profound influence of 19th century Indian colonial foresters on the development of bushfire policy in Australia and (indirectly) in the United States. The first senior foresters of the Indian Forest Service, men like Baden Baden-Powell, Dietrich Brandis, William Schlich and David Hutchins, were German, French or English-trained, and were wonderful pioneering foresters, but they had little practical understanding of fire behaviour or fire ecology and they were imbued with the desire to stock-up every acre of forest with commercial trees. Fire was seen as the principal enemy to this policy, and as an enemy to be ruthlessly expunged from the face of British India.

The imperial view on fire was not shared by the indigenous population, who had been using fire as a land management tool for perhaps thousands of years. There were also opposing views within the forestry profession, and some of these found voice at conferences of forest officers, or in published papers. A good example is the work of M. J. Slym a forest officer working in the Salween Division of British Burma in the 1870s. Slym presented a paper, entitled Memorandum on Jungle Fires, at a Forest Conference at Rangoon in 1875. The paper was subsequently published in The Indian Forester two years later [2].

Slym’s paper, which focuses on the monsoonal rainforest in which the principal timber tree is teak (Tectona grandis) addresses what he describes as

… the general belief among forest officers that fires do a great deal of harm.

but he points out that this view is not universally held, nor does it reflect the views of the native populace who have lived in and around the forest for centuries. He summarises the opposing views as follows: “while many have pronounced that [the effects of fire] upon the forests to be unqualifiedly injurious and that they must be prevented at any cost, others believe they act favourably towards [the forest].”

Both positions are deficient in Slym’s opinion; the first view “does not show how fires could be suppressed without doing harm in some other direction” while the second fails to “disclose how fires act favourably” towards the forest.

The causes of jungle fires in Slym’s district in Burma were many and varied. There were the inevitable “escapes from camp fires” a fire cause that still figured prominently in bushfire statistics in the jarrah forest when I was a young forester, but other causes are more exotic, for example, fires lit to drive game for hunting, to clear jungle pathways of snakes and to keep tigers at a safe distance from villages.

Of great interest to me was that Slym also lists as one of the main causes of forest fires

… the tradition of the hill people that burning the forest has a salutary effect.

This belief is

… kept alive by [their] actual experience of the increased healthfulness of the districts after fires.

This is a close parallel with the well-documented use of fire by Australian Aboriginal people for the purpose of “cleaning up the country”.

Slym then takes up, one by one, all of the standard arguments used to justify the banning of fire from the forest. It is claimed, he reports, that fires destroy seed, kill seedlings, char the stems of mature trees allowing access for insects, destroy the humus and impoverish the soil. Each of these he deals with in turn, systematically proving the fears to be groundless or requiring qualification, and basing his position on personal experience and observations in the forest. In particular he draws attention to what would later be called by Australian foresters “the ashbed effect” – that is, the increase in soil fertility arising from increased nutrient availability after a fire. “Many a forester” he adds “will have noticed the fine teak seedlings that spring up from almost every burnt heap and near every burnt log of wood.”

Modern Australian bushfire managers would applaud Slym’s understanding of the two most fundamental aspects of forest fire management: first, that fires cannot be prevented; and second, that fire damage is related to fire intensity. He does not advocate widescale annual burning, but rather a well-managed firing of the bush that is integrated with other management demands for the purposes both of minimising wildfire damage, and promoting forest health.

Eventually he concludes:

The collective inference I draw, is that [fires] should not be prevented entirely, but the strength of them sufficiently lessened to lessen their harm. This can only be affected by firing the forest ourselves…commencing early [in the dry season].

He goes on to say that in his opinion, the forest should be burned

… at an interval before the leaves accumulate, thus preventing a fire that harms the forest.

It is almost as if he is writing about bushfire management in the Australian eucalypt forests in modern times, so precisely does this view coincide with contemporary enlightened philosophies [3].

Furthermore, Slym concludes that the ideal of fire exclusion as promoted by the senior brass of the Indian Forest Service at that time has costs that do not outweigh the benefits.

[Fire exclusion] is all but impractical, and at best dangerous, as it may, as already has been shown, drive teak out altogether [4].

Again I hear the voices of modern fire ecologists, speaking of species that decline and eventually disappear in bushland where fire has long been un-naturally excluded.

Slym was familiar with the long-held burning practices of the Burmese hill people, and was close enough to it to enable him to see the way it was done, as well as its impacts. It is obvious from his conclusions that he understood the relationships between fuel levels, fire intensity and fire damage – concepts that are still not understood by many Australian academics today – and of the need to integrate fire management with other objectives, in his case timber production and regeneration. The silvicultural system adopted for teak forest by the Indian Forest Service was a selection system using a prescribed girth limit restriction which ensured the retention of growing stock, and allowed natural regeneration. This operated with great success for generations, something that could only be achieved through close attention to fire management at the same time [5].

There is another echo of modern times in the denouement of this story. Slym’s paper to the Rangoon conference was so unpopular with the senior staff of the Forest Service, that it was omitted from the published conference proceedings. Slym was told by the Conference President (presumably Dietrich Brandis, the Inspector-General of the Indian Forest Service at the time) that his paper “could not be recorded, neither could the reason for not doing so be mentioned”. Luckily for posterity the editor of The Indian Forester took a different view and agreed to publish it, although this may have been done provocatively, as later editions of the journal contained letters from correspondents who disagreed with Slym’s views [6].

The muzzling of voices critical of government policy was not, of course, and is not restricted to British India. I can remember when I started work as a forest officer in Western Australia in 1962 being briefed on the fact that there was a clause in the Public Service Act forbidding any government officer from voicing criticism of any government policy; severe penalties would apply to a transgressor [7]. As far as I am aware this rule persists to this day.

I am also reminded that a similar form of censorship operates in some scientific journals today, where editorial panels control what is, and what is not published according to whether or not it fits with the panel’s stance on issues such as fire or global warming. Slym’s paper would be very unlikely to appear today in, for instance, the journal of the Australian Ecological Society, or the lamentable Journal of Wildland Fire.

A direct line of descent to early Australian bushfire policy can be traced from the concepts espoused by Baden-Powell and his contemporaries at the upper echelons of the Indian Forest Service in the 1870s. It would be interesting to know how the policies evolved. The early Australian bushfire policies (largely derived from Indian colonial forestry) dictated fire exclusion and opposed prescribed burning, but were eventually overthrown in the 1950s and 1960s, having been undermined by two factors. First, they failed the ultimate test: they did not prevent damaging wildfires. Second, they were opposed from below by the people in the field – the forest officers who were responsible for implementing the policy and who knew it did not and could not work. Eventually, some of these men reached a position in which they could re-make the policy, and luckily they had the guts and the capacity to do so.

There is another factor. I remember a story once told to me by an old field forester who had worked in the jarrah forest in the late 1930s and early 1940s when the bushfire policy was still one of fire exclusion. “Beyond the narrow firebreak strips, we weren’t allowed to do any burning,” he said, “but what we did do, whenever possible, was to let the bush burn of its own accord.” In other words, if a fire started under the right conditions, there would be no hurry to put it out and, who knows, maybe some of these fires started quite accidentally from the escape of a forest officer’s billy fire, lit under exactly the right conditions.

The capacity to circumvent unpopular policy has been around as long as there have been unpopular policies. It is intriguing to think how M.J Slym managed it in British Burma in the 1870s, as I have no doubt he did.


[1] Underwood, Roger. 2010. Baden-Powell and Australian Bushfire Policy. Western Institute for Study of the Environment Forest and Fire Sciences Colloquium, January 2010 [here]

[2] Slym, M.J. 1877. Memorandum on Jungle Fires. The Indian Forester Volume 2 (3).

[3] It might be suggested that the differences between Burmese teak and Australian eucalypt forest are so different that no comparison over management can be made. It is true that teak is deciduous, but by the same token most eucalypts shed their entire leafy crown every 12-18 months. Furthermore, although mostly the teak forests are more humid, the dry sclerophyll eucalypt forests have a quite distinct wet and dry season, and in both the most suitable time to undertake low intensity burning is early in the dry season (late spring in southern Australia).

[4] Slym is referring here to a paper by a Colonel Pearson published in The Indian Forester in 1876, in which Pearson concluded: “In the Boree Forest of the Central Provinces, where fires have been put out for many years, it has been found that at least one hundred seedlings of Dalbergia and Pentaptera spring up for every one of teak.”

[5] My colleague, South Australian forester Jerry Leech, has worked in Burma on many occasions in recent years, and has described to me his delight in inspecting natural teak stands managed under a selection system, cut and regenerated four times over the last century, still magnificent today and the records of each cut still meticulously maintained.

[6] To give him credit, the Editor of the edition of The Indian Forester in which Slym’s paper was published was Baden-Powell. He added a footnote to the title of the paper as follows: “We trust the above memorandum will cause a vigorous discussion of the subject of fire protection.”

[7] My father, an agricultural scientist, fell foul of this law. In the 1920s he was a junior officer of the Department of Agriculture, and wrote a letter to The West Australian newspaper critical of the government for not insisting on the Pasteurisation of milk. My father got off lightly: he was hauled before the Director and officially reprimanded, but under the regulations he could have been fined or sacked. Ironically, a law was introduced not long afterwards making Pasteurisation of milk compulsory – a significant factor in reducing the prevalence of tuberculosis. My father took no credit for this, as the Pasteurisation of milk was universally adopted by western countries at about that time.

30 Aug 2010, 1:14pm
Economics Philosophy Policy
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The Market Illiteracy Embodied in the Politically Correct Version of Sustainability

Travis Cork III. 2010. The Market Illiteracy Embodied in the Politically Correct Version of Sustainability. W.I.S.E. White Paper No. 2010-4

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

The forest products industry has been practicing sustainable forestry for much of the Twentieth Century. During this time we have seen substantial gains in the management and utilization of forests, particularly on forest industry lands. “Although the forest industry occupies only about one-seventh of total U. S. timberland, its land produces a full fifth of national timber growth, a quarter of the growth of softwoods, and about a third of the annual timber harvest.” 1/

The forest industry has signed on to the sustainable forestry initiative, no doubt for public relations, but it does not need market illiterate bureaucrats and GAGs (green advocacy groups-The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, et al.) telling it how to practice sustainable forestry. …

Depletion is not caused by lack of resources, but by a lack of institutions, specifically private property rights and free-markets, that allow for a rational and sustained use of resources. In America, it is a manufactured crisis. If depletion of forest resources were a real problem, the responsible solution would be to find ways to increase productivity. Locking up more of the American land base (50 percent or more with Reed Noss’ Wildlands Project) and restricting utilization on remaining lands is neither a serious nor an ethical approach to depletion. But then the crisis-mongers are not concerned about the depletion of resources but the control of resources.

A statist perspective of sustainability

Sustainability is defined as

meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The American Forest & Paper Association expands this to include forestry.

Sustainable forestry means managing our forests to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by practicing a land stewardship ethic which integrates the growing, nurturing, and harvesting of trees for useful products with the conservation of soil, air and water quality, and wildlife and fish habitat.

What bureaucrat or academic can make an accurate measurement of my “sustainable” allotment of forest resources (or any other resource) in quantifiable terms; e.g., cords, tons, board feet, cubic meters, kilograms, etc.?

Who is the soothsayer, seer, or mystic that can divine what future generations will want from the forest or any resource?

Who can determine the annual removal of wood products or any resource compared to the volume estimated to be sustainable?

The answer is no one.

History tells us “no exhaustible resource is essential or irreplaceable… The relevant resource base is defined by knowledge, rather than by physical deposits of existing resources.” 7/ Unless suppressed by government force, human intelligence and ingenuity break the bonds that carrying capacity imposes on other species. …

Sustainability, as defined, is vague and inoperable highfalutin rhetoric. It is evidence that the natural resource community, at least in the public sector, academia, and some corporate boardrooms, is ignorant of market economics and responsible social behavior. This ignorance puts the productive future of the forest resources sector very much at risk.

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5 Jun 2010, 10:07am
History Management Policy
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The 1910 Fires A Century Later: Could They Happen Again?

Jerry Williams. 2010. The 1910 Fires A Century Later: Could They Happen Again? Inland Empire Society of American Foresters Annual Meeting, Wallace, Idaho, 20-22 May 2010.

Note: Jerry Williams is retired U.S. Forest Service, formerly Director, USFS Fire & Aviation

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

“The future isn’t what it used to be.” — Variously ascribed

Background and Introduction

The United States has a history of large, catastrophic wildfires. 1910’s Big Burn, a complex covering some 3,000,000 acres across Washington, Idaho, and Montana was certainly among the largest. It was also among the deadliest. As Stephen Pyne and Timothy Egan have described, it stunned the nation, changed the day’s political dynamic, and galvanized support for the protection of public lands. The Big Burn spawned an enormous effort to control this country’s wildfire problem.

One-hundred years later, solving the wildfire problem in this country remains elusive.

Since 1998, at least nine states have suffered their worst wildfires on record. Perhaps like the Big Burn, these recent wildfires were remarkable, but, unlike 1910, not for want of firefighting capacity. In the modern era, these unprecedented wildfires are juxtaposed against the fact that today’s firefighting budgets have never been higher, cooperation between federal, state, and local forces have never been better, and firefighting technology has never been greater. How could fires like this - with all of today’s money and partnerships, and tools – how could they happen? How could modern wildfires approach the scale and scope of wildfires from a hundred years ago?

In 2003, following a decade of record-setting wildfires across the country, the U.S. Forest Service began looking into what would become known as the mega-fire phenomenon. A comparative, coarse-scale assessment of nine “mega-fires” was completed in 2008 1/.

1/ The report’s findings were presented at the Society of American Forester’s National Convention in Orlando, Florida on 2 October 2009 in a paper titled, “The Mega-Fire Phenomenon: Observations from a Coarse-Scale Assessment with Implications for Foresters, Land Managers, and Policy-Makers,” by Jerry T. Williams and Dr. Albert C. Hyde. The views expressed in these reports and papers are those of the author(s). They do not purport to represent the positions of The Brookings Institution or the U.S. Forest Service.

Will another 1910-like wildfire happen again? No matter how low the probability, recent mega-fires are testament that large, catastrophic wildfires can happen in today’s world. Who would believe that, in 2003, 15 people would lose their lives and over 3,000 homes would burn outside of San Diego; in a State that arguably fields the largest firefighting force in the world? Who would think that, within sight of the Acropolis in 2007, 84 people would die from a wildfire running into Athens, Greece? And, who could fathom that, a year ago last February, whole towns would be consumed and 173 people would die from bushfires in Victoria that would become the largest civil disaster in Australia’s history?

The increasing frequency of mega-fires makes it un-wise to dismiss them as anomalies and somehow accept them as too rare to address or too difficult to mitigate. Global warming, the vulnerability of deteriorated fire-dependent landscapes, and growth behaviors at the wildland-urban interface have changed the calculus of wildland fire protection in the United States and elsewhere around the world. The trajectories that these factors are taking suggest that mega-fire numbers will grow, not diminish. If we are asking the “chance” of catastrophe, these factors have changed the odds of wildfire disaster.

Mega-fires are important indicators that reflect an unwelcome “new reality.” Their impacts go far beyond today’s immediate concerns over rising suppression costs. They carry significant implications for foresters, land managers, and policy-makers.

Will another 1910-like wildfire occur? Modern mega-fires offer insights that might help us answer and respond to this question. If you trust the fireman’s adage that, “when wildfire’s potential consequences are high, going-home gas is cheap,” it is in our best interests to take notice, proactively study these catastrophic wildfires, and act on their lessons.

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25 Apr 2010, 1:19pm
Ecology History Management Policy
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Climate Changes and their Effects on Northwest Forests

Schlichte, Ken. 2010. Climate Changes and their Effects on Northwest Forests. Northwest Woodlands, Spring 2010.

Ken Schlichte is a retired Washington State Department of Natural Resources forest soil scientist. Northwest Woodlands Magazine [here] is a quarterly publication produced in cooperation with woodland owner groups in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

Climate changes are always occurring, for a variety of reasons. Climate changes were responsible for the melting and retreat of the Vashon Glacier back north into Canada at the beginning of the postglacial Holocene Epoch around 11,000 years ago. Climate changes were also responsible for the warmer temperatures of the Holocene Maximum from around 10,000 to 5,000 years ago, the warmer temperatures of the Medieval Warm Period around 1,000 years ago and the coldest temperatures of the Little Ice Age during the Maunder Minimum around 300 years ago. These climate changes, the reasons for them and their effects on our Northwest forests are discussed below.

Forests soon became established on the glacial soil deposits left by the retreat of the Vashon Glacier, but some of these forests were later replaced by prairies and oak savannahs as temperatures increased during the Holocene Maximum. …

Forests began advancing into the South Puget Sound area prairies and replacing them as temperatures began decreasing following the Holocene Maximum. Native Americans began burning these prairies in order to maintain them against the advancing forests for their camas-gathering and game-hunting activities. Forest replacement of these and other Northwest prairies has proceeded rapidly since the late-1800s in the absence of these burning activities. …

The warmer temperatures and increased solar activity of the Medieval Warm Period were followed by a period of cooler temperatures and reduced solar activity known as the Little Ice Age. The coldest temperatures and lowest solar activity of the Little Ice Age both occurred during the Maunder Minimum from 1645 to 1715… The Dalton Minimum was a period of lower solar activity and colder temperatures from 1790 to 1820. Mount Rainier’s Nisqually Glacier reached a maximum extent in the last 10,000 years during the colder temperatures of the Maunder Minimum and the Dalton Minimum and then began retreating as Northwest temperatures warmed following the mid-1820s and the Dalton Minimum. Beginning in 1950 and continuing through the early 1980s the Nisqually Glacier and other major Mount Rainer glaciers advanced in response to the relatively cooler temperatures and higher snowfalls of the mid-century, according to the National Park Service. …

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14 Apr 2010, 11:54pm
History Policy
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Baden-Powell and Australian Bushfire Policy

By Roger Underwood

Editor’s Notes: This essay is one in a series (circulated to colleagues on the Internet, but unpublished) which examines reports, letters, stories and anecdotes from early volumes of The Indian Forester, the principal forestry journal of India since 1880.

Baden Henry Baden-Powell (1841-1901) entered the Bengal Civil Service at the age age of 20 and eventually became a Judge of the Chief Court of the Punjab and India’s first Inspector-General of Forests. He was among the first to bring European forestry to India. B. H. Baden-Powell was the son of Rev. Baden Powell (1796–1860), an English mathematician and Church of England priest, and brother of Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), the founder of the Boy Scouts.

Author Roger Underwood is a former General Manager of the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) in Western Australia, a regional and district manager, a research manager and bushfire specialist. Roger currently directs a consultancy practice with a focus on bushfire management and is Chairman of The Bushfire Front Inc.. He lives in Perth, Western Australia.


IN AN EARLY chapter in these chronicles we met Baden Henry Baden-Powell, joint-founding editor of The Indian Forester, and later the Inspector-General of Forests (chief of the Forest Service) in India during the early 1870s. I have again been dipping into his wonderful journal, and have found to my intense interest a long article by Baden-Powell himself.

The article is based on a tour of inspection of the forests of Dehra Doon [1] in early 1875. It is interesting from many perspectives. In the first place, it was written at a time when formal forest management was being first introduced in what was then ‘British India’. The Indian Forest Service had only recently been created, and its tiny staff of European-trained foresters was trying to overlay European concepts of forest administration and management onto forests that had been, mostly, commonage for thousands of years. The concepts were visionary in terms of forest conservation and protection and in ensuring a sustainable yield of timber, but they imposed restrictions and constraints on rural Indians that were intensely unpopular.

The article also provides an insight into the attitude to fire held by the colonial foresters who occupied senior positions in the Indian Forest Service. These attitudes are especially intriguing because they were later imported into Australia when our first Forests Departments were being established around the time of World War I. Here they persisted up until the early 1950s, before being largely abandoned. Fascinatingly, however, they have resurfaced in the 1990s, this time embraced by environmentalists and a new generation of academic ecologists. To this day, the European/colonial attitudes to forest fire which were articulated in India in the 1870s continue to influence Australian land management — especially for national parks in NSW and Victoria — and also the approach to bushfire control adopted by our fire and emergency services.

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11 Feb 2010, 11:25am
Ecology Management Philosophy Policy
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The Fictional Ecosystem and the Pseudo-science of Ecosystem Management

Travis Cork III. 2010. The Fictional Ecosystem and the Pseudo-science of Ecosystem Management. W.I.S.E. White Paper No. 2010-3, Western Institute for Study of the Environment.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

LAND USE CONTROL has long been the goal of the statist element in our society. Zoning was the first major attempt at land use control. Wetland regulation and the Endangered Species Act have extended some control, but nothing has yet brought about a general policy of land use control. Ecosystem management is an attempt to achieve that end.

The fictional ecosystem

In The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms, A. G. Tansley coined the term “ecosystem.” Tansley rejected the “conception of the biotic community” and application of the “terms ‘organism’ or ‘complex organism’” to vegetation. “Though the organism may claim our primary interest, when we are trying to think fundamentally we cannot separate them from their special environment, with which they form one physical system. It is the systems so formed which, from the point of view of the ecologist, are the basic units of nature on the face of the earth. … These ecosystems, as we may call them, are of the most various kinds and sizes… which range from the universe as a whole down to the atom” 1/

Tansley further writes “[e]cosystems are extremely vulnerable, both on account of their own unstable components and because they are very liable to invasion by the components of other systems. … This relative instability of the ecosystem, due to the imperfections of its equilibrium, is of all degrees of magnitude. … Many systems (represented by vegetative climaxes) which appear to be stable during the period for which they have been under accurate observation may in reality have been slowly changing all the time, because the changes effected have been too slight to be noticed by observers.” 2/

Lackey confirms writing “[t]here is no ‘natural’ state in nature; it is a relative concept. The only thing natural is change, some-times somewhat predictable, oftentimes random, or at least unpredictable. It would be nice if it were otherwise, but it is not.” 3/

The ecosystem may be the basic unit of nature to the ecologist, that is—man, but it is not the basic unit to nature. Its proponents confirm that it is a man-made construct.

We are told in Creating a Forestry for the 21st Century: The Science of Ecosystem Management that “ecosystems, in contrast to forest stands, typically have been more conceptual than real physical entities.” 4/

The Report of the Ecological Society of America Committee on the Scientific Basis for Ecosystem Management tells us “[n]ature has not provided us with a natural system of ecosystem classification or rigid guidelines for boundary demarcation. Ecological systems vary continuously along complex gradients in space and are constantly changing through time.” 5/

“People designate ecosystem boundaries to address specific problems, and therefore an ecosystem can be as small as the surface of a leaf or as large as the entire planet and beyond.” 6/

“Defining ecosystem boundaries in a dynamic world is at best an inexact art,” says the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in its 1995 publication, Integrating Social Science and Ecosystem Management: A National Challenge.

“Among ecologists willing to draw any lines between ecosystems, no two are likely to draw the same ones. Even if two agree, they would recognize the artificiality of their effort…” 7/ …

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15 Nov 2009, 11:08am
Economics History Management Policy
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Spark and Sprawl: A World Tour

Stephen J. Pyne. 2008. Spark and Sprawl: A World Tour. Forest History Today, Fall 2008.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

Wildland-urban interface” is a dumb term for a dumb problem, and both have dominated the American fire scene for nearly twenty years. It’s a dumb term because “interface” is a pretty klutzy metaphor and because the phenomenon of competing borders it describes is more complex than that geeky term suggests. At issue is a scrambling of landscape genres beyond the traditional variants of the American pastoral. It is a mingling of the quasi-urban and the quasi-wild into something that, depending on your taste, resembles either an ecological omelet or a coniferous strip mall. That means it also stirs together urban fire services with wildland fire agencies, two cultures with no more in common than an opera house and a grove of old-growth ponderosa pine. It is an unstable alloy, a volatile compound of matter and antimatter, and it should surprise no one that it explodes with increasing regularity.

It’s a dumb problem because technical solutions exist. We know how to keep houses from burning on the scale witnessed over the past two decades. We know convincingly that combustible roofing is lethal; we have known this for maybe ten thousand years. The wildland-urban interface (WUI) fire problem (a.k.a., the interface or I-zone) thus differs from fire management in wilderness, for example, where fire practices must be grounded, if paradoxically, in cultural definitions and social choices; there is no code to ensure that the right fire happens in the right way.

That the intermix problem persists testifies to its relatively trivial standing in the larger political universe, even as construction pushes ever outward into the environmental equivalent of subprime landscapes, which from time to time then crash catastrophically. In that regard it remains on the fringe. …

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12 Oct 2009, 12:06pm
History Management Philosophy Policy
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Rhymes With Chiricahua.

Stephen J. Pyne. 2009. Rhymes With Chiricahua. Copyright 2009 Stephen J. Pyne

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

While the Chiricahua Mountains are famous for many reasons to many groups, they are rarely known for their fires. They should be. Some start from lightning, some from ranchers. Some are set by rangers, or are allowed some room to roam by them. Some are left by transients in the person of hunters, campers, and hikers. In recent years more are associated with traffic across the border with Mexico. The Chiricahuas have, at the moment, less of this than other border-hugging districts within the Coronado National Forest, but fires to distract, fires to hide, and fires abandoned by illegal border-crossers are becoming more prominent. All in all, it’s an interesting medley.

Mark Twain once observed that history doesn’t repeat itself but it sometimes rhymes. These days it seems there is a lot of rhyming in the Chiricahuas as fires echo a fabled but assumed vanished past. This revival moves the Chiricahuas, among the most isolated of mountain ranges, a borderland setting for fire as for other matters, close to the core of contemporary thinking about managing fire in public wildlands.

The Chiricahuas –- actually a giant, deeply eroded and flank-gouged massif –- are among the southernmost of America’s Sky Islands, compact mountain ranges that both cluster and stand apart from one another, like an archipelago of volcanic isles. They are famous for their powers of geographic concentration. Their rapid ascent creates in a few thousand vertical feet what, spread horizontally, would require a few thousand miles to replicate. Here, density replaces expansiveness. One can see across a hundred miles of sky, and into half a continent of ecosystems. It is possible to traverse from desert grassland to alpine krumholtz almost instantly.

They are equally renown for their isolation, not only from the land surrounding them but from one another. The peaks array like stepping stones between the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Colorado Plateau; here, North America has pulled apart and the land has fallen between flanking subcontinental plateaus like a collapsed arch, leaving a jumble of basins and ranges as jagged mountains to poke through the rubble. The degree of geographic insularity is striking: they are mountain islands amid seas of desert and semi-arid grasslands. On some peaks relict species survive from the Pleistocene; on others, new subspecies appear. No peak has everything the others do. A Neoarctic biota mixes with a Neotropical one, black bear with jaguar, Steller’s jay with thick-beaked parrot. The Pinaleños have Engleman spruce. Mount Graham boasts a red squirrel. The Pedragosas grow Apache pine. The Peloncillos are messy with overgrowth and dense litter; the Huachucas, breezy with oak savannas. The Madrean Archipelago displays the general with the distinct: unique variations amid a common climate. They can serve as a textbook example of island biogeography. That observation extends to their fires as well. …

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24 Aug 2009, 3:18pm
Ecology Economics Management Policy
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Impacts of California Wildfires on Climate and Forests: A Study of Seven Years of Wildfires (2001-2007)

Thomas M. Bonnicksen. 2009. Impacts of California Wildfires on Climate and Forests: A Study of Seven Years of Wildfires (2001-2007). FCEM Report No. 3. The Forest Foundation, Auburn, CA.

Full text [here]

See also FCEM Reports No. 1 and 2 [here]

Selected Excerpts:

Executive Summary

This study (FCEM Report No. 3) and the previous study (FCEM Report No. 2), use a new computer model, the Forest Carbon and Emissions Model (FCEM), to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires and insect infestations, and opportunities to recover these emissions and prevent future losses.

This report shows that the wildfires that scorched California from 2001 to 2007 seriously degraded the state’s forests and contributed to global warming. Political and economic obstacles to managing forests and restoring burned forests are the root causes of the wildfire crisis.

The impact of California’s wildfires on climate and forests is one of the most important issues of our time. It is imperative to take action now to prevent the annual recurrence of disastrous and costly fire seasons.

The wildfire crisis is becoming more serious each year. Fires are getting bigger, more destructive, and more expensive. In 2001, California wildfires burned one-half million acres. In 2007, 1.1 million acres burned, and an estimated 1.4 million acres burned in 2008 destroying 1,000 homes. This was the most destructive fire season in the state’s history and 2009 could be worse.

From 2001 to 2007, fires burned more than 4 million acres and released an estimated 277 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from combustion and the post-fire decay of dead trees. That is an average of 68 tons per acre. These wildfires also kill wildlife, pollute the air and water, and strip soil from hillsides. The greenhouse gases they emit are wiping out much of what is being achieved to reduce emissions from fossil fuels to battle global warming.

The emissions from only the seven years of wildfires documented in this study are equivalent to adding an estimated 50 million more cars onto California’s highways for one year, each spewing tons of greenhouse gases. Stated another way, this means all 14 million cars in California would have to be locked in a garage for three and one-half years to make up for the global warming impact of these wildfires.

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25 Jun 2009, 10:55am
Economics Management Policy
by admin
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Fire History and Research, Big Bar Ranger District, Northwestern Trinity County, California: Critique of Fire Suppression Practices

Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management*. 2008. Fire History and Research, Big Bar Ranger District, Northwestern Trinity County, California: Critique of Fire Suppression Practices. Report to Congressman Wally Herger, October 2008

* David Rhodes, Committee Chairperson, Lewiston, 37 years in Trinity County, retired, 30 years with the U. S. Forest Service (all in fire and fuels management); 11 years on the Angeles National Forest with 5 of those years as Hotshot Crew Foreman and the remainder as Fire Prevention Technician and Engine Captain. 19 years on the Big Bar Ranger District in Fire, Fuels Management and Law Enforcement, the last 15 of those years as Fire Management Officer. Large Fire Qualifications, Class I Operations Chief, Class II Incident Commander, Division Supervisor, Helitorch Burn Boss, and Fire Behavior Officer, and Class II Planning Section Chief. Incident Commander on the Shasta-Trinity Class II Fire Team for 14 years. Fuels Management Qualifications: Prescribed Fire Manager for Multi-Burns, Burn Boss, and Helitorch Burn Boss.

Charley Fitch, Redding, California resident for the last 42 years, having lived in Southern, Central and Northern California amongst the National Forests, employed by the Forest Service. Twenty of the years were in Trinity County as District Ranger for the Big Bar Ranger District, later incorporated into the Trinity River Management Unit, before retiring in January 1999. Fire suppression experience with the Forest Service included fire assignments ranging over 35 years. Positions included Crew Boss, Sector Boss, Division Supervisor, Forest Supervisor’s Representative, Planning Section Chief Type II, Liaison Officer for both Type I and Type II Incident Teams as well as Line Officer for fires located within my Ranger District. I am a professional forester with a degree from Colorado State University in Forest Management. Other experience with fire beyond being a firefighter was as a project leader for controlled burns and a land manager dealing with post-fire land management.

Michael Jameson, Weaverville, resident of Trinity County for 18 years, retired California Department of Forestry (CALFIRE). Started with CDF as a seasonal firefighter in 1978 with the San Bernardino Ranger Unit. Promoted to Engineer in San Bernardino and worked in both schedule A and schedule B contracts (Structure and Wildland Fires). Promoted to Captain in 1987 at the Fenner Canyon Camp in Los Angeles County, transferred to the Pilot Rock Camp in San Bernardino and then Trinity River Camp in Lewiston in 1990. Qualified for Division/Group Supervisor, Map display processor, Field Observer, Strike Team Leader and Task Force Leader. 25 years all in fire control.

Clarence Rose, Weaverville, Trinity County resident since 1974. Oregon State University graduate, B.S. in Forest Engineering, 1974. California Registered Professional Forester since 1977. Member of California Board of Forestry, 1985-89. Founder and co-owner of R&R Timber Co., Inc., a logging company which was active in contract logging in Trinity County from 1979-1998, averaging 2000+ truckloads of logs per year, and which provided contract heavy equipment (dozers, water tenders) to CDF and USFS. Currently owner and manager of 1,000 acres of sustainably managed commercial timberland in Trinity and Shasta County. Member of Weaverville Community Forest steering committee, which works with Trinity County Resource Conservation District to attain fire-safe, fire-resilient forests on public lands in the Weaverville basin. Volunteer missionary in Russia (1994-95) and Ukraine (2001-2005). Member of initial board of directors of Mountain Communities Healthcare District, which owns and operates the formerly county-owned Trinity Hospital.

Jerry McDonald, Lewiston, 40 years in Trinity County, retired, 30 years with the Forest Service, 27 of those years in fire and fuels management. District Fire Management Officer, Calaveras and Miwok districts, 4 years; retired as Stanislaus National Forest fire staff operations; Type II Team Deputy Incident Commander and, Operations Section and Safety Officer, Type I Team Safety Officer; prescribed fire manager for helitorch and hand fire; Interdisciplinary team leader and NEPA team leader for fuels and fire projects; fuels committee chair for Stanislaus National Forest for 5 years; member of Forest Service Southwest Region fuels committee for 6 years; HAZMAT coordinator, Spill Response coordinator; agency representative on fires and other projects, including with CDF; Forest representative for local fire companies in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

Frank Grovers, Big Bar, 11 years in Trinity County with an RV park business along the Trinity River; 40 years in sales experience in the U.S. and foreign countries, dealt with different teenagers in a counseling capacity, involved with church and local community; three children, five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren. 2008-09 Trinity County Grand Jury.

Stan Stetson, Hayfork, in 1968 began working summers for the U.S. Forest Service in Trinity County while attending Humboldt State College. Upon graduating continued to work seasonally in fire prevention, fuels and fire suppression until 1973 when I received a permanent appointment. Worked as Engine Foreman until 1979 when I became a Timber Sale Administrator. Retired after 36 years, all in Trinity County, having served as Division Supervisor, Strike Team Leader, Burn Boss, Logistics and Ground Support Leader in Fire organization and Supervisor in Timber sale preparation and administration. Three years with Watershed Center as Project Coordinator for fuels reduction and thinning operations. Present Commissioner of the Hayfork Fire Protection District. Currently retired and concerned citizen.

Dana Hord, Junction City, Trinity County resident 1993-present, business owner, Trinity River Rafting, Big Flat. Trinity River Rafting features scenic quality of the Wild and Scenic Trinity River and is tourism based. Appointed Member of Trinity Adaptive Management Working Group for Trinity River Restoration Program, 2001-present, representing Big Bar Community Development Group. Dana has been actively involved in the transition of the local economy from one focused on commodity production to one that is more dependent on tourism and recreation. Ms. Hord has a degree in sociology, and experience in small business management, grants administration, and public relations. Junction City Volunteer Fire Dept., 2002-present, trained in wildland fire suppression, and structural fire protection. Former Aide, U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa. Daughter of Donna Hord, deceased, Shasta County GOP delegate.

Gay Berrien, Committee Secretary, Big Bar, 45 years in Trinity County in Denny and Big Bar; retired U.S. Forest Service employee, clerk and archaeological technician for 30 years mostly Big Bar Ranger District; wrote all news releases for Big Bar for first several years of 1970s including articles on fire suppression, fuels reduction, controlled burns, special high elevation fire study (study by a fire behavior specialist, first such study in Forest Service Southwest Region), attended 32-hour fire training (but only participated in one controlled burn from 9 a.m. one morning until 9 a.m. the next and was on fire standby at Denny Guard Station one day), responded to fire assignments as initial attack and communications dispatcher, fire information officer, personnel time recorder, and procurement officer; Trinity County Historical Society board of directors, 2008-09 Trinity County Grand Jury.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:


Cover Letter to Congressman Herger/Introduction ………. 3
Meet the Committee ……………………………….. 12
Fire Location Map 1999-2008 ……………………….. 14
One-Page Summary of Catastrophic Fire Analysis ………. 15
2006 Catastrophic Fire Analysis ……………………. 16
Fire and Forest Management on the Big Bar District …… 23
Local Businesses Affected by 2006 & 2008 Fires ………. 28
Heritage Resources in Iron/Alps Complex 2008 ………… 29
Big Bar Ranger District Annual Rainfall …………….. 31
Typical Fire Suppression 1930s-1970s ……………….. 33
Jim Jam Fire of 1951 ……………………………… 36
Denny Guard Station Removal ……………………….. 37
How Liability Fears Affect Fire Suppression …………. 41
Fires Burned Nationwide by Decade Compared with Timber Harvest, Fire Suppression Policies and Local Rainfall* ………………………. 43

* added after October 10 meeting with Congressman Herger


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