26 Oct 2008, 12:11pm
2007 Fire Season Saving Forests
by admin

Forest Health and Fire

Six years ago the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR) issued a prescient report entitled Forest Health and Fire: an Overview and Evaluation. Written by Richard J. Pfilf, John F. Marker, and Robert D. Averill, the report detailed critical problems and offered wise solutions to the growing forest fire crisis in our public forests.

Since that report was issued our forest fire crisis has worsened significantly. Megafires have ravaged every western state. Annual fire acreage has doubled, fire suppression costs have increased 5-fold, and resource damages have skyrocketed.

All that was predicted by expert observers. Implementation of the solutions offered by Forest Health and Fire: an Overview and Evaluation could have prevented much of the destruction.

More forest and landscape destruction by megafire is predictable today. The ongoing crisis has not been averted or lessened in any way because the obvious solutions have not been adopted, as yet.

We raise the alarm again, and offer the solutions again, by posting excerpts from Forest Health and Fire: an Overview and Evaluation. The full text is [here] (3.5 MB). The National Association of Forest Service Retirees is a non-profit, non-partisan, science-based organization with members consisting of Forest Service retirees, associates and sustaining members. Their website is [here].

Selected excerpts from Forest Health and Fire: an Overview and Evaluation:

by Richard J. Pfilf, John F. Marker, and Robert D. Averill, October, 2002

The National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR) offers its experience and expertise to establish a factual basis on which to build public policy regarding forest health and fire mitigation; specifically:

1. To Identify Misconceptions about Forest Health and Fire

Misconceptions often influence public policy. We must challenge some of these, listed below, that hinder understanding the problem and steer discussion toward more productive courses of action.

* The Balance of Nature Myth: The imagined forest often consists of a continuous forest cover of large trees, individually having indefinitely long lives. This idea often ignores all the changes in vegetation states that the forest undergoes over time.

* Long-Term Care for the Aged, Sacrifice the Young: Many advocate managing fuels by removing only small material by “thinnings,” “clearing underbrush,” and removal of trees only up to a certain diameter. It would be a mistake to arbitrarily preclude removing trees above a given size or age.

* One Hundred Years of Aggressive Suppression Caused the Fuel Buildup: Fire suppression forces were few and the tools were primitive for most of the 20th century. Forest growth that greatly exceeded removals, and fifty years of cooler, wetter climate had an effect on forest biomass and burning conditions.

* Fires are Bigger and More Destructive than in the Past: There is little historical support for this assertion. Western North America has been beset with large fires since the glaciers receded.

* Selective Logging is the Answer: We must be wary of applying blanket prescriptions. Selective logging is appropriate only in certain forest types and under certain conditions.

* Only Protect Human Communities: While protecting communities must be a high priority, we must not neglect the other values of the forest.

* Big Trees Don’t Burn: Large trees are only more fire-resistant. Hot ground fires and crown fires kill them also.

* Cutting Cookies: Forests are complex. Solutions must be temporally and spatially tailored to specific conditions.

* Prescribed Fire is THE Solution: Prescribed fire is not the total answer. There are many locations and situations that will render it infeasible.

* Logging is the Problem: Current use of best management practices has not had long-term detrimental effects.

* Let the Taxpayer Subsidize Forest Health: Maintaining forest health is a matter of establishing sustainable stand conditions and reducing risks. This has significant economic impacts, and forest products can help finance them.

2. To Examine the Three Independent Variables

The independent variables provide focal points for analysis and management action.

* Climate and Weather: Climatic records clearly show prolonged wet and dry, cool and hot periods.

* Human Impacts: The urban-wildland interface zone is one of America’s worst fire protection problem areas.

* Forest Health and Adding Fuel to the Fire: Forest health is the key to how disturbance events such as fire or pest outbreaks perform.

3. To Offer Conclusions and Proposals for Action

Restoring forest health will be a huge task that must be accurately defined and intelligently managed.

* Avoid trying to force a forest into a static condition.

Perpetuating the myth of constancy and stability will result in damage to the beauty and productivity of the forest. The idealized notion of a homogeneous forest of all large trees seems to have its roots in the urban sector of society. Most people living within or in proximity to the forest, if they remain for a while, eventually seem to come to the realization that the forest has many ever-changing aspects. Attempts at forcing a forest into a static condition are bound to fail.

* Do not restrict action to any particular size or age of material.

Restrictions on harvesting a given size or age of trees interrupt the succession necessary to maintain the basic health of the forest. Each generation of living organisms has a finite life span defined by its evolutionary history. Improved environments, proper attention to healthful living conditions and defense from attack by external agents may extend their lives. But eventually each cohort must move on to make room for its replacement. A population of trees all of a given advanced age would be analogous to a population of humans all in their declining years. Youth and vigor must be reintroduced systematically to avoid a crash of the entire population.

* Concentrate on current conditions.

Our approach to action should be to recognize forest conditions as they exist today, regardless of their origin. The idea that there had been 100 years of effective fire suppression causing dramatic fuel buildup has gained such following that it has virtually become dogma… [T]he frequency of big fire years and the primitive nature of the tools and transportation system of the first 50 years of the 20th century imply the ineffectiveness of fire suppression during that period. Nor was there then a fuel reduction program adequate to take out some of the natural growth of the forest.

* Aggressive initial attack is still required.

We should continue aggressive initial attack on fires, especially during extreme burning conditions. That is what helps keep fires from blowing up into conflagrations and destroying communities…

* Use a systematic, diagnostic approach to anticipate forest health problems.

The same wellness principles that apply to people also apply to forests: both need periodic checkups, accurate diagnosis, and skillful treatment… [W]e must find ways to mitigate the most pernicious effects of large fires and prioritize actions accordingly…

* Work with, not against, nature.

The silvicultural idea should be to work with nature, not try to force the forest into an uncharacteristic mode…

* Accurately account for forest health costs. Use long-term risk analysis.

Account for the total losses associated with fire and other forest health situations. The wildland fires of 2002 consumed as yet-uncounted homes and other structures. Numerous communities were evacuated. The total bill will be only partially reflected in insurance claims and casualty loss figures, and they will run into many millions of dollars. A missing element in the accounting is the cost of lost natural resources. All of the components of the forest are worthy of consideration. The Forest Service estimates 209 million recreation visits to national forests each year. These visitors engage in activities such as skiing, hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. Fire can destroy valuable recreation facilities. In addition, the value added to the economy is diminished when massive fire outbreaks keep people away, as in Western Montana in 2002.

The importance of water to western society, and the hydrologic function of watersheds to deliver it, makes protecting watershed values among the most important matters concerning forest health. (Figure 15). Watersheds destroyed, valuable timber consumed, habitat lost along with its inhabitants, shortened lives of reservoirs by siltation, as well as loss of human facilities, all have value and should be in the total reckoning.

Part of the accounting should be determining the cost of management inaction to restore forests and reduce the unusual risks of fire, insect and disease. Relative risk assessments would allow an analysis of the possible long-term environmental harm due to the absence of forest health restoration treatment. Results could be compared with assessments of possible short-term adverse environmental effects of proposed forest health treatments. Such a comparison could aid decision-makers contemplating forest restoration while considering the implications to the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Without this kind of analysis, we are hiding the true cost, and today we have a certain sensitivity about covering up losses by questionable accounting methods.

* Have forest products help pay for forest health measures.

Forest products should help pay for forest health. It matters little how and why the fuel buildup happened. What’s important is that we recognize it and then be prepared to act. We can do something about fuels and forest structure to make them more resilient to climate changes. We must, however, be realistic about the quantity and type of existing fuel, the projected increases, and what that implies in the way of costs, local risks to communities and all the other inherent values of the forest. The costs, as we have seen, will be significant. Forest products not needed for critical biologic processes are available to help foot the bill. Call them “co-payments.”

* Aggressively work to increase installation of FIREWISE COMMUNITIES and other self-help protection programs.

Managing fuels around communities, sensible restraint imposed by local officials avoiding helter-skelter development, and reasonable building and maintenance codes can go a long way in keeping the forest and its communities compatible. The American people’s love affair with its forests is a happy situation, and it bodes well for the possibility of restoring forest health. The question before us is how to preclude the public from loving it to death. The self-help fire protection program called FIREWISE COMMUNITIES helps individuals and communities assess their fire risk and design self-help protection programs. FIREWISE provides suggestions for individuals and communities to link up with public and private resource managers for successful cooperative fire protection efforts.

27 Oct 2008, 2:19pm
by Bob Zybach

This is a wonderful report and should be brought to the personal attention of every elected official first thing after the November elections.

Concerned US citizens should make certain that Congress and the new President be made aware of each and every one of the points made in this report.

Forestry schools should make this report required reading, and USFS employees should be held accountable for its contents and directives.

How can these things be made to happen?

27 Oct 2008, 2:45pm
by Mike

I don’t know… elect Dick Pfilf President maybe. Or make him Chief.

The report is also worthy of discussion and explication. I did not agree with everything in it, but the few places where I had questions are good points to discuss.

The report could also be updated. When it was written (2002) the Healthy Forests Restoration Act was in the formative phase. Now the HFRA has been passed and implemented (sort of) and we really need to take further steps.



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