9 Aug 2008, 10:52am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VIII

We continue our discussion in rebuttal to the recent Idaho Statesman series of articles [here], and for good measure, in rebuttal to an excruciatingly incompetent series of articles in support of Let Burn published in the Los Angeles Times [here].

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

13. Let It Burn Is Politically Motivated

We have shown that Let It Burn fires damage natural resources including flora, fauna, water, air, and soils. They also damage human resources including recreation, scenery, heritage, and land management agency budgets. The damages are not one time, nor ephemeral; they are lasting and they accumulate.

We have cited numerous scientific reports that support those contentions. Indeed, the vast bulk, if not the consensus, of forest scientists are in agreement that catastrophic forest fires cause severe destruction of natural resources and present deadly hazards to people, from firefighters to homeowners.

What then motivates the a-scientific and destructively irrational policy of Let It Burn? It is extreme political leanings, principally neo-socialist and anti-American political gamesmanship.

The Far Left has promoted Let It Burn, not from any sort of “environmental” stance, but from a political agenda that seeks to punish the United States for the alleged crimes of capitalism, freedom, and democracy.

The Mainstream Media, whose terrible propaganda we seek to rebut in this series, purvey Let It Burn for political purposes. From Boise to Los Angeles and parts in between the Media twists what should be a strictly scientific stewardship issue into their favorite game, the politics of personal destruction.

As a follow-up to his Idaho Statesman series, Roland “Rocky” Barker posted the following on his blog:

Only hours after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne toured the Wildland Firefighter Monument at the National Interagency Fire Center Wednesday, nine more firefighters died in a helicopter crash . Now these brave firefighters will join those who are honored at the monument in Boise. …

Now if you read the fire series that Heath Druzin and I wrote last month you know that the more we suppress fires the larger they get. You also know that our policy of putting out 98 percent of the fires when we know fires actually reduce the fire threat is a disturbing paradox that only puts lives at risk and costs billions of dollars. It’s also a poor way to protect homes, fire scientists agree. …

I acknowledge I don’t know all the details about the fire that the nine dead firefighters were fighting. It is a part of a complex of fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest started by lightning June 21. So far 86,000 acres has burned. But a lot of these fires were burning in wilderness, much in rough terrain.

I expect there are going to be a lot of questions about whether these men should have been fighting these fires aggressively at all.

Kempthorne apparently did not read our series or, as we explained is a part of the political consensus that supports more fire suppression not less despite the clear science. He told Heath Druzin Wednesday that while he urged homeowners to take more responsibility for protecting their property and acknowledged that fire suppression had made forests more vulnerable to large fires, he is proud the federal government puts out 98 percent of wildfires and encouraged more suppression efforts.

Significantly scaling back suppression efforts is unrealistic when so many homes are now in fire-prone areas, he said. “You can have a theory but you’re dealing with Mother Nature,” he said.

After the deaths on the Shasta Trinity National Forest, Kempthorne and other political leaders may want to reconsider their views. The National Park Service’s Bomar demonstrated the day before that she gets it. …

Is putting out fire in wilderness worth young folk’s lives?

Here are the facts. The Buckhorn Fire is one of the Iron Complex fires that have been burning since June 20. The Shasta-Trinity NF decided to “use” those fires to “treat” the forest. Long after other California lightning fires ignited June 20-21 have been contained and controlled, the Iron Complex burns merrily along. Yesterday it was reported to be over 90,000 acres total and 70% contained. There are 1,287 personnel on the Iron Complex today. $53.4 million has been spent to date. See [here].

Instead of suppressing when the fires were small, the USFS did Let It Burn for “forest health” just as Rocky and Heath recommended. The firefighters killed in the helicopter crash were not engaged in direct attack but in fireline construction far from the flames. The practice on Let It Burn fires is to backburn from “safe” distances along hastily constructed firelines.

Anytime so many people are committed to a dangerous undertaking that is extended and extended, the chance of accidents grows larger and larger. Initial direct attack is also dangerous, but turning fires into summer-long projects increases the probability of Murphy’s Law events.

Andrew Palmer, 18, a firefighter with the Olympic National Park headquartered in Port Angeles, was killed on the Iron Complex last month. The latest incident brings the total to 10 fatalities on this one fire alone.

Let It Burn does not mean all the firefighters go home. It means project fires that last all summer long. It means rural communities in evacuation or threat of evacuation for months at a time. It means smoke that billows across airsheds for weeks and weeks.

And it means the chance for fatal accidents increases.

The Iron Complex Fires are not in some remote wilderness. They are in the Shasta-Trinity NF adjacent to the towns along the Trinity River. Junction City has been under threat since June 26. Residences in Canyon Creek, Hawkins Bar, Burnt Ranch, Coopers Bar, Red Hill, Big Flat, Big Bar, Trinity Village, Fisher Ranch, New York Bar, Cedar Flat, and Corral Bottom have been under evacuation or evacuation advisories since early July. The fires extend more than 30 miles along Highway 299 which has been closed numerous times this summer.

The strategic approach to the fires has been to Let Burn while backburning huge tracts from firelines close to the towns and villages. Rocky Barker’s allusion to “young folks” “fighting these fires aggressively” is false and ill-informed if not deliberately deceptive.

Most tellingly, he uses the tragedy of the helicopter crash and nine fatalities to attack, indeed blame, Dirk Kempthorne, former Governor of Idaho and current Secretary of the Interior. The US Forest Service is an agency of the Dept. of Agriculture, not the Interior, and Dirk Kempthorne has nothing to do or say about USFS firefighting in the Shasta-Trinity NF. But he is a longtime favorite target of the Idaho Statesman, and so Barker points a bloody finger in Kempthorne’s direction with kneejerk disingenuity.

In the same blog Barker praises National Park Service Director Mary Bomar for her “progressive” Let It Burn approach. Yet Bomar’s National Park Service killed a firefighter in a helicopter crash earlier this year.

Grand Canyon National Park officials began the Walla Valley Prescribed Burn [here] on Saturday, June 21, at 6:21 p.m. They intended to burn over 6,000 acres in a set fire that “mimicked” a lightning fire. After a few test starts, they backed off that plan and determined not to set any more fires, because the test ignitions were burning intensely and uncontrollably [here]. They then called in firefighters from the GCNP, Kaibab National Forest, Summit Fire District, Flagstaff Fire Department, Zion National Park, Carson National Forest, Holbrook, and Saguaro National Park to contain the test starts.

Firefighter Michael MacDonald was tragically killed in a private medical helicopter collision [here] while being transported from the Walla Valley Prescribed Burn to a northern Arizona hospital on Sunday, June 29th. Six people, including MacDonald, were killed in the collision of two medical helicopters near Flagstaff Medical Center.

MacDonald, 26, was a member of the Chief Mountain Hot Shots, an elite Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded Native American firefighting crew based on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana. The crew was assigned to the Walla Valley Fire on the North Rim. The Chief Mountain Hot Shot crew was released from the incident the next day.

Bomar’s Let It Burn policy morphed into a Burn It On Purpose To Mimic Lightning Fires policy and six people died as a result. The Idaho Statesman didn’t bother to cover that accident, or to fashion egregious political attacks out of it.

Kempthorne is a Republican, Bomar is a Democrat. The two-faced Idaho Statesman bases their forest fire and forest management analysis on political party affiliation, not forest science. The “forest scientists” that “agree” with Rocky Barker’s analysis are few and far between, and upon close inspection are not forest scientists at all but political operatives for decidedly leftwing organizations.

Last summer the Idaho Statesman praised the USFS for aggressively fighting the Castle Rock Fire and thereby saving Ketchum and Sun Valley from incineration. They do not have similar solicitous feelings for California towns, however, and would just as soon see those burned to ashes.

Why? For political gain, for advancement of political power, and for no other reason.

Reason and rationality are not parts of the Let It Burn mentality. Extreme leftwing politics are at the core, not compassion or concern for forests, watersheds, or human health and safety.

To Be Continued …

9 Aug 2008, 12:43pm
by John


Trying to tie fire policy arguments to a tragic aircraft accident seems to me as an inappropriate stretch.

The idea of letting fires burn on the landscape is risky business under the best of conditions. Once the fire genie is out of the bottle, it is often impossible to stuff it back in. As was pointed out by the Shasta-Trinity spokesperson the risk to people’s health was very real, and not mentioned were the tons of carbon released into the atmosphere, the wildlife habitat destruction (including Spotted Owl nesting and foraging stands), damaged soils, injured watersheds, and destroyed old growth trees.

It is far too common to see an uncontrolled fire in the”wilderness” suddenly pushed by unexpected winds quickly cover miles to populated areas causing enormous property losses, threatening lives and destroying resources we need for our existence. When fires are out of control saying stop won’t do it.

Fire needs to be returned to many of our forest lands, but not as a random event with little ability to control how hot it burns or how large it becomes. As the debate over wildfire continues, it is important to remember recovery of the burned land does not occur over night; it may take a century or more. The West’s continuing population growth will need ever increasing supply of natural resources such as water and clean air, and, yes, lumber.

I think future generations will think very poorly of us if we pass on burned and beat up forests as our legacy.

9 Aug 2008, 5:54pm
by Mike


And to demonstrate and confirm all the points made above, the following article was published in the Sac Bee (Major Dead Tree Media) today [here]:

‘Let it burn’ policy banned for fire season

By Matt Weiser, Sac Bee, Saturday, August 9, 2008

The regional chief of the Forest Service recently banned a practice that allowed local fire managers to let some blazes burn if they don’t pose a threat.

Critics said the ruling could expose more firefighters to deadly risks like the helicopter crash that killed a pilot and eight firefighters in Trinity County on Tuesday.

That crash occurred in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, part of which has been identified as an appropriate place for the “let it burn” policy.

Called “wildland fire use,” the practice has been embraced to reduce firefighting costs by allowing some naturally caused fires to run their course if they don’t threaten people or structures. A small crew of firefighters is assigned to monitor the fire, but there is no massive suppression effort.

Such fires also improve forest health by thinning small trees and dense underbrush, which have accumulated after a century of aggressive firefighting on federal lands.

On July 9, in a memo to forest supervisors throughout California, Regional Forester Randy Moore banned wildland fire use for the remainder of the fire season.

In the decision, he cited a national preparedness rating system that indicates fire crews are stretched thin because of the large number of blazes burning throughout the West.

John Heil, spokesman for the regional Forest Service office in Vallejo, said the health impacts to nearby communities from smoke from wildfires are another concern that led to the decision. Extinguishing fires may have less health impact than letting them burn.

Local forest managers can no longer decide to let a forest fire burn itself out.

“At any point, (Moore) may make a modification. But at this point … the regional forester is basically overriding all those decisions,” said Heil.

Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, said the ruling means that every fire will be fought aggressively, essentially reviving an age-old practice proven to be troublesome.

“Each and every time you send people out to aggressively fight a fire, you put their health and safety at risk,” said Ingalsbee, whose group represents professional firefighters. “There is collateral damage involved in every fire fight.”

He also said it represents an “irrational” paradox, because Moore cites personnel shortages as a leading reason for the ban on “let it burn” fires. Yet the ban eliminates a practice designed in part to prevent personnel shortages.

“It’s causing extreme morale problems amongst the fire teams in California,” he added. “They’re sitting on their hands unable to do their jobs, or they’re going out on suppression assignments doing what they know to be the wrong thing.”

Every federal forest is empowered to adopt “let it burn” rules. Half of the 18 forests in California have done so.

The practice is a relatively new one for the Forest Service but has proven effective.

Studies have shown that letting a fire run its course costs $50 an acre, compared with $500 an acre or more for a full firefighting effort. It also has ecological benefits that save money compared with other forest restoration methods.

But many forests don’t have enough personnel to prepare plans for such fires or to manage them as they burn.

A 2006 report by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general said the Forest Service needed 300 more personnel nationwide just to plan wildland fire use programs.

Casey Judd, business manager of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, which also represents firefighters, said the Forest Service is having trouble retaining fire experts because its pay and benefits aren’t keeping pace with other agencies.

He also said that nationally, the agency has diverted money from fire programs for administrative purposes.

“The (federal) fire program in California is imploding,” said Judd. “It’s driving our fire chiefs nutty out on the forests.”

Mike Odle, spokesman for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said his forest has considered wildland fire use but has not finished the planning.

Regardless, he said, the practice would not have made sense under current conditions because fire crews are stretched too thin fighting other fires in the region. “If something were to go wrong with ‘fire use,’ those resources are already on other fires,” he said. “It would not have been smart for us had it been approved on the forest anyway.”

9 Aug 2008, 5:55pm
by Mike


This response to the Sac Bee article was posted by “coldtrailer” at wildlandfire.com [here]

I would really like to take my opinion and give it to the above “critics” and then tell them where they might put it.

If your (the critics’) agenda is to support the use of wildland fire to assist with forest health, then fine, you’re entitled to your opinion, but do not use tragic wildland fire incidents, such as the helicopter crash that occurred on the Shasta-Trinity N.F. in which we lost eight of our fellow Firefighters and one of our fellow Firefighter Helicopter Pilots as a point to further your agenda.

Responding to a fire anywhere at anytime can result in an accident, injury, or unfortunately, even fatality. But it has nothing to do as to whether of not the fire should have been a Wildland Fire Use fire.

It’s pathetic to use a horrible accident, that has occurred less than a week ago, as a point of contention to the Suspension of the Wildland Fire Use Directive handed down by the R5 Regional Office.

I do believe that the Wildland Fire Use (”Let it burn policy”) does have it’s time, place (mid August in the West is not one of those times and places, in my opinion), I also believe that it has it’s usefulness.

But to try and take the tragic incident that we firefighters on the ground, and and our firefighting brother pilots from the sky are still mourning over is absolutely incomprehensible.

9 Aug 2008, 5:55pm
by Mike


For further background (connecting the dots) on whoofoo advocate Tim Ingalsbee and his political leanings, see [here].

9 Aug 2008, 6:58pm
by John


For a gripping first-person description of the scene of the helicopter crash on the Buckhorn Fire, from Michael Reid of Zion Helitack, Cedar City UT, who was aboard the first helicopter to respond to the accident, see [here].

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