Two More Fires Blow Up in Oregon

Two fires in the Oregon Cascades have blown up and are consuming old-growth spotted owl habitat as they rage uncontrolled across watersheds.

As we predicted [here], the Middlefork Fire (one of the Lonesome Complex in the Sky Lakes Wilderness south of Crater Lake near Halifax Creek) has expanded vigorously. Yesterday the fire jumped the Middle Fork of the Rogue River.

The Middlefork Fire has been burning since Aug 18, but no efforts have been made to contain, control, or extinguish the fire. Instead, Rogue River-Siskiyou NF Supervisor Scott Conroy ordered his Type 3 local team to stand away and burn baby burn. The only actions taken have been to expand the fire by arsonistic ignitions of backburns on the west side.

The Sky Lakes area is an important historical/cultural area used by First Resident Native Americans from dozens of tribes for thousands of years. Ancient trails pass through tended huckleberry and beargrass fields. It is one of the most valuable anthropological sites in Oregon. It is also home to ancient trees and spotted owl nesting stands.

Now all that is to be incinerated by mad firebug and useless jerk Scott Conroy, who ought to be arrested immediately for arson and treason.

Conroy proposed to add WFU to the RR-SNF Fire Plan last March and issued a call for comments. W.I.S.E. responded with a 170 page in-depth discussion of the illegality and demerits of WFU [here]. Conroy crawled under a rock and went mum. We have no way of knowing whether he adopted WFU or not. Last June we sent him a Freedom of Information Act request for his Fire Plan, but Conroy refused to provide it (as required by law). Evidently Conroy thinks he can break any and all laws of the USA with impunity and incinerate priceless heritage forests like a madman.

As the Middlefork Fire is blowing up, so is the nearby Rattle Fire. The Rattle Fire has exploded out of the Boulder Creek mini-Wilderness and spotted across Highway 138. The highway is now closed between MP 47 and MP 59. Pacific Corp powerlines have been de-energized.

The Rattle Fire has also been burning since Aug 18. The early desires of the Umpqua NF were to incinerate the entire wilderness area, but instead the Northwest Oregon IMT (IC Carl West) was called in. The NW OR IMT (West) has experience with wilderness fires and knows how to contain them. They contained the Blueridge Fire last year on Mt. Hood, and the Gnarl Fire this year, also on Mt. Hood.

The NW OR IMT (West) subdued the Rattle Fire at 945 acres with helicopter bucket work, but was ordered off the fire for doing exactly that. Clifford J. Dils, Forest Supervisor of the Umpqua NF desires holocaust, not fire containment. As soon as the NW OR IMT (West) left the scene and the Umpqua Type 3 Team took over, the fire started growing in leaps and bounds.

The Rattle Fire has doubled in size to about 1,900 acres, departed the mini-wilderness, and is headed unchecked toward Toketee Falls. The Type 3 Team Team (Lunde) was in place for one day and has now been replaced with the Southern Oregon/Northern California Type 2 Team (Paul).

West’s Type 1 IMT will not be coming back to the Rattle Fire. They want no part of destroying Oregon forests. And since they wouldn’t do the dirty deed, they were ordered off. ORCA (as the Southern Oregon/Northern California Team is called) has no problem with it. They just came off the Siskiyou/Blue2 Complex on the Klamath NF, an 80,000 acre megafire that has been burning (and continues to burn) all summer long.

ORCA does that burn baby burn thing. They are just the kind of non-firefighting team that Cliff Dils desires for his forest incineration program.

Holocaust in the old-growth is the USFS way these days. According to the BINGOs that command and control that agency, the only good forest is a dead, burnt, “recycled” forest that has been converted to “northern chaparral” aka tickbrush.

That is why Congress was enticed into declaring ancient, human-modified and occupied landscapes to be “wilderness.” The vicinities of the Middlefork and Rattle Fire are not remote or “untrammeled by man”. Indeed, the Middle Fork Fire is now less than 2 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail and headed that way unchecked. Six miles east of that the fire will hit the Upper Klamath Valley and the farms west of Fort Klamath. Eight miles is nothing to a fire that travels 2 to 5 miles an hour. Northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph and gusting to 25 mph are expected today.

Major disaster is underway. No effort is being made to avert it. In fact, major disaster is the goal and mission of the modern USFS.

One wonders why eco-arsonists ever got into forestry in the first place, since they hate forests with such passion and seek their destruction. And wouldn’t it be better if we inflicted them on our enemies instead of on ourselves? I mean, couldn’t we send Dils, Conroy, Paul et al. to Iraq or Afghanistan where they could incinerate those countries, rather than keeping them here and in destructive charge of our priceless heritage forests?

Rattle Fire perimeter 09/07. The base map was extracted from InciWeb. The green area is the Boulder Creek Wilderness. The brown area is the Rattle Fire as of 3 days ago at 968 acres. The red line is a rough perimeter drawn today using Google Earth Fire maps based on 12-hour old MODIS satellite sensing of hot spots. As can be measured by rough proportion, the Rattle Fire is now over 3,000 acres.

5 Sep 2008, 8:47pm
The 2008 Fire Season
by admin
2 comments

September NorCal Fires Update

On June 20 and 21 dry lightning raked California. Over 2,000 fires were ignited and nearly a million acres burned. Most of those fires have been contained, but a few are uncontained and still burning.

That’s right. Nearly two and a half months later, the following forest fires are still burning:

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Siskiyou Complex / Blue 2 Fires, Klamath NF

Location: 20 mi SW of Happy Camp, Siskiyou Co., CA

Date of Origin: 06/21/08
Cause: Lightning

Situation as of 09/05/08 6:00 PM
Total Personnel: 266
Size: 79,431 acres
Percent Contained: 95%

Costs to Date: $63,808,637

Red Flag Warning extended through 11:00 a.m. Saturday.

The fire continues to burn into interior unburned pockets. Continuing to use helicopter bucket drops on hot spots that show up near fireline. Increased activity in Blue Creek drainage NE of Blue Creek and Crescent Creek Fork confluence. Heavy smoke in canyon. Occasional torching and short uphill runs.

Important Native American cultural areas in the fire vicinity. Extremely high Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa cultural concerns on Blue 2 Fire. Major traditional spiritual activities within the area have been cancelled.

All recreational use has been prohibited all summer. Smoke continues to impact NorCal cities, towns, and rural areas to the east.

Unreported number of spotted owl nesting stands, salmon spawning beds destroyed.

***************

Ukonom/Panther Complex Fires, Six Rivers NF, Klamath NF

Location: 15 mi SW of Happy Camp, Siskiyou Co., CA

Date of Origin: 06/21/08
Cause: Lightning

Situation as of 09/05/08 6:00 PM
Total Personnel: 224
Size: ~75,000 acres
Percent Contained: 75%

Costs to Date: ~$42.5 million

One firefighter fatality, July 26

Increased fire activity with most of the fire spread still a slow backing fire with some flanking and small uphill runs. Heavy down fuels are burning intensely with torching and occasional group torching. The main fire activity is between Ukonom Lake and Bridge Creek and between Yellow Jacket Ridge and English Peak within the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

A closure order has been in effect for numerous Forest Service roads and trails all summer. Smoke continues to invade populated valleys to the east.

Unreported number of spotted owl nesting stands, salmon spawning beds destroyed.

***************

Iron and Alps Fire Complexes, Shasta Trinity NF

Location: Weaverville, Junction City area, Trinity Co., CA

Date of Origin: 06/21/08
Cause: Lightning

Situation as of 09/03/08 6:00 AM
Total Personnel: 158
Size: 105,606 acres
Percent Contained: 98%

Costs to Date: $73,376,167

Nine firefighter fatalities, August 5

Buckhorn Fire: Backing and creeping in the headwaters of Big French Creek below Limestone Ridge in timber stringers. Creeping and smoldering in the interior and in Manzanita Creek drainage. Eagle Fire: Smoldering and creeping with interior islands continuing to burn out. Carey and Cedar Fires: Smoldering and creeping fire in the interior.

Actions planned on the Buckhorn Fire are to burnout the top of the bowl along Limestone Ridge and let it creep down into the active fire. Continue suppression repair on Buckhorn and Eagle fires. Structure protection in the Big Bar area will be provided as needed.

All recreational use has been prohibited all summer. Smoke continues to impact NorCal cities, towns, and rural areas to the east.

Unreported number of spotted owl nesting stands, salmon spawning beds destroyed.

***************

To date approximately 1,000 square miles of Northern California national forests west of Interstate-5 have been incinerated this summer at a “suppression” cost of over $385 million.

And the fires still burn. Indeed, the deliberate backburning continues.

Those who call the fire management actions on these fires this summer “suppression” are lying through their teeth.

5 Sep 2008, 4:58pm
Federal forest policy
by admin
4 comments

An Interview with John Twiss

“Mexican drug cartels today are on 57 national forests, in 15 states, that we know of, and they operate in every region with the exception of Regions 1, 2, and 10. A large grow operation today would be 125,000 plants plus, on 2 to 10 acres of land. The growers today are armed, often with automatic weapons, and violent. Given the right situation they will protect that plantation and they’ll shoot at you. It’s a very rapidly expanding, dangerous situation.”

“The issue at hand is the illegal occupancy of your National Forests by armed foreign nationals who will hurt you if you threaten their income stream - and it doesn’t matter who you are.”

From An Interview with John Twiss, the Director of Law Enforcement and Investigations, US Forest Service. The entire interview is posted below:

***************

FS Today, 09/05/2008, [here]

The late days of summer and early days of fall are the harvest times on the marijuana plots that appear in many of the national forests.

These are the days when Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers and Agents, often accompanied by local, state and federal authorities, confiscate the largest number of plants. The figures increase each year.

Forest Service Director of Law Enforcement and Investigations (LEI), John Twiss has characterized this situation as, “… the illegal occupancy of your Federal public lands by armed foreign nationals.”

An Oregon native, John Twiss earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Management in 1973 from Oregon State University following military service. He assumed the position as Director of Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations in Washington, DC in July of 2005.

Prior to that, Twiss served as the Forest Service Liaison to Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey and as Special Assistant to Forest Service Chief, Dale Bosworth. From 1995 to 2005, he was the Forest Supervisor of the 1.2 million acre Black Hills National Forest, located in South Dakota and Wyoming.

Twiss started his career in federal service in 1965 as a seasonal employee with the National Park Service at Yellowstone National Park. He next served as a Forest Service smokejumper for 9 years at Redmond, Oregon. After assignments in Nevada, Utah, and Idaho, Twiss served as a District Ranger in Idaho and Oregon, Deputy Forest Supervisor in Minnesota and as the Agency’s National Wilderness Leader in Washington, DC.

John’s wife Jackie is a graphic illustrator with the Forest Service. Their daughter Jill is a comedian in New York City.

FS Today: What is LEI’s role in the Forest Service?

Twiss: It’s really to protect the natural resources, the public, and our employees. You do that through enforcement and investigation efforts. Protection of our visitors and employees is our highest priority.

Our uniformed Law Enforcement Officers handle most of the field violations and our Special Agents take on the more complex investigations.

FS Today: Do they conduct crime scene investigations such as those you would see on television?

Twiss: Yes, they are very similar. Our folks go through all the analysis that you’d see in a lot of the crime shows, for resource crimes and crimes against people. We have exceptional expertise in natural resource crimes and complex fire investigations.

We are often asked to share our resource and fire investigative techniques and experience with others. We work with countries like Jordan, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and some of the South American countries to help them with their issues. Part of it is forensics, but a lot of it is experience, technique and prevention.
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Lonesome Incineration Planned, Perpetrated

The Rogue River-Siskiyou NF is deliberately incinerating vast tracts of priceless, heritage, old-growth forest today on the Middle Fork of the Rogue River.

On the orders of RR-SNF Supervisor Scott Conroy, crews are backburning in the vicinity of the Middle Fork Fire, one of the Lonesome Complex of fires in the Oregon Cascades [here].

Despite the fact that weather has been cool and rainy, no attempt whatsoever has been made to attack the Middle Fork Fire with intent to contain, control, or extinguish it. The fire has been burning for three weeks and is presently 963 acres. It could have been readily contained, especially considering that nearly $3 million has been spent watching it.

The plan is not to contain the Middle Fork Fire, however, but to expand it across thousands of acres.

The Cascade crest south of Crater Lake is an important historical/cultural area used by First Resident Native Americans from dozens of tribes for thousands of years. Ancient trails pass through tended huckleberry and beargrass fields. It is one of the most valuable anthropological sites in Oregon. It is also home to ancient trees and spotted owl nesting stands.

Yet the avowedly racist and anti-forest RR-SNF is deliberately incinerating this precious landscape with malice aforethought and the intention of converting the forest to “northern chapparal,” otherwise known as tickbrush.

This criminal act is being conducted in secret, with no declaration to the public, no NEPA process, no Congressional mandate, and with taxpayer dollars from an exhausted USFS budget.

Please call Rogue River-Siskiyou NF Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy at (541) 618-2200 and ask him to cease and desist in his illegal incineration of your forests.

Also, please call Congressman Greg Walden at (541) 776-4646 and ask him why he desires the USFS to lay waste to the forests in his district.

Incinerating Wyoming Forests With Impunity

The Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forests are engaged in deliberate criminal arson and incineration of Wyoming public and private forests. And they are proud of it.

The Casper Star Tribune reported the gloating over the illegal scorched earth policies yesterday [here]:

Rain, snow drench wildfires

By CHRIS MERRILL, Casper Star-Tribune, 09/03/2008

LANDER — Mother Nature has doused Wyoming’s two major wildfires with rain and snow, reducing both to smolder through the underbrush, forest officials said Tuesday.

They warned, however, the return of hot, dry weather could reinvigorate the blazes. Both fires have been consuming beetle-killed trees in western Wyoming for more than a month.

Neither fire has been extinguished, but both have cooled tremendously and should stay calm for at least the next few days, representatives of the Shoshone and the Bridger-Teton national forests said.

And even though the Gunbarrel fire has cost the federal government nearly $10.5 million so far, officials are saying it has been economically valuable — even cheap if one considers the ecological benefits.

The Gunbarrel fire, ignited by lightning on July 26, has burned almost 105 square miles of dead and fallen pine trees between Cody and Yellowstone National Park.

The New Fork Lakes blaze, caused by an out-of-control camp fire on July 29, has scorched more than 23 square miles of dead, dried-out trees, 19 miles north of Pinedale.

Wapiti District Ranger Terry Root said the Gunbarrel blaze consumed trees that “needed to be burned” west of Cody. The “decadent” timber was in the wilderness, and it couldn’t be removed otherwise, he said.

“So burning is really our only option to recycle the forest,” Root said. “We feel like it has actually been pretty good, economically — actually pretty economically valuable. It comes out to about $153 an acre.”

It costs the U.S. Forest Service about $300 per acre to perform fuel reduction projects regionally.

The result will be a 35-mile stretch of rejuvenated forest in the coming years, Root said.

“We lost no private residences, no structures, and we had no serious injuries. We’re looking at it as a real success,” he said.

That’s where we are at, sports fans. The USFS is “treating” your forests with catastrophic fire with no EIS, no EA, no NEPA process, deliberately, with malice aforethought, in full recognition that their activities are outside the law, and they are proud as peacocks about it.

There are no, repeat no, ecological benefits from holocaust. The habitat has been destroyed, the air polluted, the streams fouled, and the forest eliminated from the landscape permanently.

There is no such thing as “recycling” forests. The Shoshone NF officials made that up out of the clear blue sky, or should we say, out of the smoky haze. They cannot cite one case where forest has returned to incinerated land on the Shoshone NF.

Indeed, absolutely no forest science exists that supports the claims of Terry Root et al. There was no prior evaluation of forest conditions, no documented analysis of forest health, no prescription for treatment, no predicted outcome, and there will be no analysis of fire effects.

The holocaust was planned and codified in secret documents in the Shoshone NF files. Congress did not mandate the burning, nor did Congress fund it. What Congress did mandate is that the Shoshone NF by law must engage the public in scoping, comment periods, and application of the best available science. That’s NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. But the Shoshone NF gave the finger to NEPA and spit on the law.

More from the Casper Star Tribune article:

Mary Cernicek, spokeswoman for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, said about an inch of rain north of Pinedale has stopped the trees from igniting, but the New Fork Lakes fire is still creeping through the undergrowth.

“If the weather were to change, and things were to dry out, it could flare back up in the wilderness area,” Cernicek said. “There is still a lot of beetle- and bug-killed timber there. But right now it’s policing itself.”

Firefighters will continue to make sure the blaze stays in the wilderness area, and will keep steering it toward the beetle-killed trees, she said.

Because the New Fork Lakes fire has remained quite a bit smaller than the Gunbarrel blaze and has not posed as much of a threat to man-made structures, the total cost has been about $2 million, or less than 20 percent of the Gunbarrel fire’s price tag.

What the article failed to state is that the New Forks Fire [here] is not an official whoofoo (WFU) because it was not ignited by lighting. It was a human-caused fire, but the Bridger-Teton has treated it like a “natural” burn.

The New Forks Fire has been burning since July 29. Recreational users have been banned from the Bridger-Teton NF for the entire month of August. The fire has crowned and plumed and devastated the forest. The forest will not return but will be replaced by brush and exotic weeds.

Wyoming Congressperson Barbara Cubin has issued no statement. She is utterly clueless, or else approves of illegal catastrophic immolation of Wyoming forests, despite the fact that Congress has never addressed the USFS forest incineration program.

The illegal destruction of forests by a rogue agency operating outside the law and with no scientific justification is a travesty and a tragedy. What a waste! What arrogance and stupidity on the part of the USFS!

Forest Supervisor Explains Jarbidge Firefighting Decision

Today the Elko Free Press published a defense of USFS fire management decisions regarding the East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire written by Edward Monnig, Forest Supervisor of Humboldt-Toiyabe NF [here].

The East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire [here] was ignited by lightning in the Jarbidge Wilderness Area on Aug 8th about 15 miles southeast of Jarbidge, Nevada. The fire was declared a WFU (Wildland Use Fire) by Mr. Monnig and allowed to burn unchecked.

By Aug 20th the fire had grown to 5,000 acres and was threatening 30 historic cabins and the Pole Creek Guard Station. By Aug 21st the fire was nearly 10,000 acres and had spread out of the Maximum Manageable Area (previously established at 113,000 acres). Even so, the WFU designation was retained.

On Aug 21 the ESRR WFU Fire grew to 11,250 acres and the wind was blowing. The WFU designation was scrapped. A Type 1 IMT was requested to suppress the fire [here].

As of yesterday evening the ESRR Fire was reported to be 54,545 acres and 50% contained. Approximately $7,700,000 had been spent suppressing it.

The following is Mr. Monnig’s statement regarding the ESRR WFU Fire. We post it in full, with comments after:

by Edward Monnig, Forest Supervisor, Humboldt-Toiyabe NF

To the Editor: I am sitting in the Incident Command Post of the team of fire fighters that I have charged with controlling the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire. I have just finished a discussion with county law enforcement officials on our joint plans for protecting the public from the fire. These cooperative efforts are an important part of the first priority of our fire fighting efforts - protecting fire fighter and public health and safety.

On Friday I met with Governor Gibbons, Congressman Heller, Commissioner John Ellison, and Assemblyman John Carpenter during their aerial tour of the fire. Their over-flight gave them a greater appreciation of the challenges of managing wildland fire in the rugged terrain of the Jarbidge Wilderness with its large number of dead and dying trees.

During our meeting I also informed the Governor that the Forest Service would be conducting an “After-Action Review” of all decisions and actions taken with the East Slide Rock Fire. I invited him to provide a representative from the Nevada Division of Forestry for this review team.

I recognize the impacts this fire has had on local communities and the questions from the local public on my decisions in managing this fire. I would like to clarify some of the confusion that surrounds this incident and explain my decision process. I have read and heard statements asserting that the fire was allowed to burn unchecked and out of control or that it could have easily been extinguished on the first day. These statements do not accurately capture the reality of this fire or our actions on this fire.

The East Slide Rock Fire was very likely started by a lightning storm on August 8. The fire was actually first discovered by an aerial reconnaissance plane on August 10. We immediately dispatched a helitack crew to the fire. Unfortunately, soon after deployment the helitack crew was diverted to a higher priority fire elsewhere in Elko County.

On August 11 an elite crew of smokejumpers was assigned and jumped the fire. They assessed the feasibility of suppressing the fire safely and efficiently. At that point the fire was 50 to 100 acres in size and burning in steep terrain with spotty but heavy timber. Because of the remote location, the steep terrain, the fuel loads of dead and dying subalpine fir, they validated at ground level that attempting to suppress the fire in this location would be a difficult, dangerous, and costly multi-day exercise with an uncertain outcome.

At that point I had to weigh two things: What were the costs and risks of deploying fire fighters? And, what were the values at risk?

The risk to fire fighters is not insignificant. This year alone we have tragically lost the lives of 19 wildland fire fighters killed in the line of duty. I seriously consider when and where to deploy these men and women and what we are gaining from their effort and risk. In this case, the potential risk to firefighters was very high.

I then discussed with my District Rangers the values at risk from this fire. We have been in the Jarbidge country, and our visits have confirmed what many local people have already observed. Over the past 10 to 15 years many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of subalpine fir trees have been killed by insects and diseases, both inside and outside the Wilderness. The cycle of birth, growth, and eventual death in the forest has been unfolding before us. For thousands of years fire has played a role in recycling and preparing the ground for a new forest.

Are there alternatives to fire? In some instances, yes. In other parts of our National Forests we have been able to alter this cycle somewhat through the judicious harvest of timber. However, even outside the Jarbidge Wilderness I have had no luck in finding a significant market for subalpine fir, a tree generally dismissed in the logging world.

The effects of fire on the ecological system of the wilderness are, of course, only one consideration. I also considered the possibility that the fire would escape the Wilderness. I consulted our fire behavior experts. Computer prediction models based on current fuel moisture, fuel type, past and predicted weather and other factors indicated a less than 2 percent chance that a fire in this remote location would escape the Wilderness.

So as I have done five other times this summer, I decided that the risk to resources inside and outside the wilderness, the effects of the fire on these resources, and the risk to fire fighters did not warrant a full scale assault on this fire. The fire was doing what the fire would eventually do at some point despite our most valiant efforts - consume a lot of dead and dying trees. If we were going to fight this fire, we would have to do it at a less dangerous place of our own choosing.

That does not mean we simply walked away from the fire. We put additional people on the ground on August 13 in order to provide protection to cabins and other resources in the vicinity of the fire. We assigned an additional experienced fire manager to the fire on August 14 to specifically direct this effort. We activated a fire management team on August 18 and gave them specific instructions to confine the fire to the wilderness. As the fire began to threaten the wilderness boundary, they activated hand crews, dozers, a strike team of engines, and air resources to prevent the spread. Unfortunately strong wind events on August 19 and 20 and August 24 and 25 stymied this effort.

On August 22, as fire complexity increased, we activated the best we have, a Type 1 team, one of a select few national teams that handles our most difficult incidents. They have made excellent progress confining spread outside the wilderness.

I fully understand the sense of loss that many people will feel in seeing the forest in parts of the Jarbidge Wilderness disappear in the smoke. Watching the dead and dying trees over the past years has been a bit like watching an old friend succumb to illness. The Jarbidge has been changed for our lifetime. But there is hope and rebirth in a new spring. The grasses, the brush, the trees will again flourish. The elk and the deer will relish their new habitat. The mountains have seen this many times before and will see it again.

Come September, the burning window in these high elevations shuts down, and snows blanket the area. The narrow intense burning period of August will come to an end.

One of the commitments that came from my meeting with the Governor was an agreement to get into the Jarbidge next summer with him to view conditions on the ground and to discuss our management options. Even after the East Slide Rock is extinguished, there will remain many more thousands of acres of dead and dying trees inside and outside the wilderness.

One of our grazing permittees and outfitters who has spent many years in the Jarbidge country has observed “It is no longer question of: ‘if the fire will come’ it is only a question of ‘when it will come.’” I would like to believe that our fire fighting expertise and technology can stop every fire at our choosing; however, we have limits, and we must exercise this power wisely in these remote fire-adapted ecosystems.

I am committed to continuing this dialogue on our management of the National Forests. These lands belong to all of us, and we must all be a part of their management and conservation.

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The South Barker WFU Fire

On August 7th a thunderstorm passed over the Sawtooth National Forest. Lightning struck and a tree burst into flames about a mile north of Featherville in Elmore County, Idaho. For four days the fire smoldered.

The Sawtooth NF officials could have sent a fire crew in to douse the flames. It would have cost a few thousand dollars to extinguish the tiny blaze. But they chose not to, and instead declared the South Barker Fire to be a “wildland fire use” (WFU) fire.

By that date the USFS had spent its entire 2008 fire budget and was transferring funds from other programs. The Sawtooth NF was well aware of this. Sawtooth NF officials were quoted in the Idaho Mountain Express in a story dated Aug 15th [here]:

“We were notified about two weeks ago, around Aug. 4, that fire transfer was imminent,” said the Sawtooth National Forest’s Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson. … “We’re doing fire borrowing,” said Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Alicia Bennett. “It’s the first time we’ve done this since 1995.” … “Each region is given the amount of money they have to come up with,” Bennett said. “Then the region tells each of the forests what their share of the regional amount is. Right now we really don’t know what the forest share is.” … “It’s coming out of everybody’s budget,” Bennett said. … “At this point the option the agency has in terms of protective fire costs, we have to look at how we’re going to cover that shortfall and that’s to use the transfer authority and shift money from other programs to cover the estimated fire suppression cost,” Nelson said.

Despite the budget crisis, Sawtooth NF Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer approved the WFU designation on the South Barker Fire.

This morning the South Barker WFU was a reported 32,244 acres (50 square miles) in size and has cost $3,065,807 for “monitoring” to date.

All this is according to plan. The Sawtooth NF has been planning for the South Barker WFU for quite sometime. They have altered their Fire Plan to include WFU. They have mapped a 109,752 acre area they wish to burn, known as the Maximum Manageable Area. They have staffed and trained fire “monitoring” teams known as Fire Use Modules.

Unfortunately most of the public is unaware of these plans and alterations because they were made in secret. There was no NEPA process. The Sawtooth NF never issued an Environmental Impact Statement, never offered alternatives, never engaged the public in scoping or evaluation of their WFU program.

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