30 Aug 2008, 8:07pm
Case Studies
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Friendly Fire

Stephen J. Pyne. 2007. Friendly Fire.

Full Text [here]

Stephen J. Pyne, World’s Foremost Authority on fire and one this country’s finest writers on any subject, has done it again.

His recent essay Friendly Fire is a compelling review of the Warm WFU (Wildland Fire Use fire) and it’s effect on forests. For the entire essay download from Steve Pyne’s Commentaries site [here] (click on Friendly Fire [pdf] - Wally Covington and the 2006 Warm fire).

For background on the Warm Whoofoo see [here].

Selected excerpts from Friendly Fire by Stephen J. Pyne:

“If I were the Prince of Darkness, I could not have devised a better way to destroy the Kaibab Plateau.”

Wally Covington, professor, restoration ecologist, and a man who has been around burned woods all of his career, walked through the still-raw scar of a fire that had wiped out nine nesting reserves for the northern goshawk, shut down the only roads to the plateau, including one to Grand Canyon’s North Rim, threatened a substantial chunk of the remaining habitat of the flammulated owl and endemic Kaibab squirrel, may cause a quarter of the old-growth ponderosa pine to die, promoted gully-washing erosion, and rang up suppression costs of $7 million.

To help pay those bills the Forest Service initially proposed to salvage log some 17,000 acres of the burn, which has sparked promises of monkey-wrenching by local environmental activists. When trotted out before cameras after the blowup, the district Fire Staff Officer declared that if he knew then what he knew now, he would have made exactly the same decisions. Fire belonged on the land. This was an inevitable fire, a necessary fire, a good fire.

Wally Covington thought it testified to ideology gone mad, and had the temerity to say so and the clout to be heard.

I was there because I wanted to come home. Forty years before, in June, 1967, I had begun my own career in fire on the North Rim. Only five years previously had the opening salvo in fire’s great cultural revolution sounded. By my second summer the National Park Service had rewritten its policy to encourage more fire on its lands. I wanted to see what that revolution had wrought. …

William Wallace Covington, Regents professor at Northern Arizona University and Director of the Ecological Restoration Institute, was a child of the Sixties. Born in 1947, the middle of three sons, he was raised in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. His father, a jack-of-all-trades from prizefighter to radio announcer to barnstorming pilot, was above all an ardent woodsman, a one-time forester, who got himself and his sons where they could camp, hunt, and fish as often as possible. …

By the mid-1970s that was the collective wisdom of the day: fire had to reenter the landscape. The tricky issue was how. The National Park Service formally revised its policies in 1968. The Forest Service stepped through a sequence of half measures, allowing some wilderness fires in 1972, publicly converting in 1974 to the doctrine that fire management had to serve land management, and adopting a formal policy of fire by prescription in 1978. But ideas were easy. Implementation was tough, as both agencies struggled to make philosophy practical. The American public became rudely aware of what was happening when Yellowstone burned through the summer of 1988. Apologists cleverly framed the ensuing outcry by debating whether fire belonged in Yellowstone; that was easy, of course it did. What they avoided was the gist of the operational issue, how and at what cost and under what social compact should fire belong? Even as the NPS burned up $130-300 million (no one knows exactly how much) while failing to control the fires, the Park Service and its apologists managed to skip over the point where the philosophical rubber hit the road of real-world ecology. The agency was, it claimed, only doing what came naturally.

It was exactly this issue that the fire community has never resolved within itself. The revolution, like a bar magnet, had two poles that held the fractious particles within a common force field. The poles were bicoastal. One resided in Florida, focused on the Tall Timbers Research Station and the charismatic Ed Komarek; a sense of fire as used on private land, fire as historical and cultural, fire as a means to promote biotic assets, whether longleaf pine, bobwhite quail, or open-woods cattle. The other pole centered on the national parks of the Sierra Nevada, with its intellectual anchor in the University of California–Berkeley and its focus on public lands, and for its prophets such wildlife and rangeland professors as Starker Leopold and Harold Biswell. The Florida faction wanted fire in the hands of people; the California cohort, as far as possible, left to nature. Behind the wilderness model was the expectation that, while prescribed fire might be necessary as an expedient, the agencies would ultimately surrender their colonial oversight to the indigenous processes of nature. Prescribed fire was an expedient, to be succeeded by natural fire as possible. …

Unfortunately, putting fire back has proved more daunting than taking it out. Shortly after arriving in Flagstaff, Wally was working with Forest Service researchers keen to reinstate fire. They believed that reintroducing fire would be enough to clean out the clotted understory that choked the land like woody plaque. Plots were laid out, burned, and assessed. But everyone knew the results could only be good. After a few years, however, the field trials showed outcomes that were the exactly opposite of what had been predicted: loosed fires had killed few of the young trees without burning them up, while slow-cooking fires had girdled the bases of the old-growth ponderosa – the fabled yellow pine – two-thirds of which died over the next ten years. This was not what agencies wanted to hear. The Forest Service had just completed its painful conversion away from fire’s suppression to a doctrine of fire by prescription. Wally’s agency cooperators demanded he surrender his data on old-growth tree mortality since his work was under contract and hence the property of the Forest Service. The results, while obvious to anyone who visited the sites, were not published until 25 years later.

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14 Feb 2008, 3:16am
Case Studies
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The Jim’s Creek Savanna Restoration Project

Stand Diagnosis of Treatment Needs, Silvicultural Prescription, and Silvics Background Paper (Effects Analysis) — Jim’s Creek Savanna Restoration Project

by Tim Bailey, Middle Fork Ranger District, Willamette National Forest, August, 2005

Full text [here] (755KB)

Selected excerpts and some thoughts by Mike Dubrasich

Two hundred years ago the upper reaches of the Willamette River were occupied by the Molalla Indians. They may have been relative newcomers; it is conjectured that before the 1700’s the Kalapuya Indians controlled that area. In any case, evidence suggests that human beings lived in the Willamette Valley and adjacent Oregon Cascades for thousands of years.

The evidence is an oak savanna that extends deep into the mountains, including along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River above Oakridge. Today remnant old oaks, open-grown old-growth ponderosa pines, and tarweed (Madia spp) fields can still be seen, although a thicket of Douglas-fir has invaded in the last 100 years.

In 1984 an anthropologist named Carol Winkler did her Masters thesis on the ancient savannas of the Middle Fork. Later she teamed up with an intrepid USFS forester/silviculturalist named Tim Bailey, and together they resolved to restore the savanna, fields, and open pine forest of the Willamette Molallas.

In 2002 they presented a paper, Restoring the Cultural Landscape At Jim’s Creek: Challenges to Preserving a Spirit of Place, at the 55th Annual Northwest Anthropological Conference, Eugene, Oregon. April 11-13, 2002.

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