24 Nov 2008, 5:55am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Fire Kills Old-Growth Say Researchers

We have stressed repeatedly that wildfires kill old-growth. This is not news. It is a well-known fact. Old-growth was killed in the Biscuit Fire (2002), B&B Fire (2003), Black Crater Fire (2007), and Rattle Fire (2008), among hundreds of other recent fires covering millions of acres.

I don’t think there is any point to linking to all the previous SOSF posts on this subject. It would be a lot of work anyway, because there are so many. Here is one of many photos of fire-killed old-growth posted previously. Click on the pic for a larger image.

If you can find the unhappy blogging forester in this photo, it will give you some sense of scale.

Other forest experts have pointed out the obvious, that fire kills old-growth. Drs. K. Norman Johnson and Jerry F. Franklin gave testimony to Congress a year ago [here], and they were quite frank about the fact that fire kills old-growth.

Now a new study by US Forest Service researchers confirms what everybody already knew: fire is killing old-growth.

The study is The Relative Impact of Harvest and Fire upon Landscape-Level Dynamics of Older Forests: Lessons from the Northwest Forest Plan by Sean P. Healey, Warren B. Cohen, Thomas A. Spies, Melinda Moeur, Dirk Pflugmacher, M. German Whitley, and Michael Lefsky, Ecosystems (2008) 11: 1106–1119, and it may be downloaded [here].

Some pregnant quotes:

The [Northwest Forest Plan] amended the management plans of federal lands in the region, and we know that it led to a significant decline in the harvest of older forests on federal lands (Mouer and others 2005).

Fire in [large diameter forests] increased dramatically in the last decade. The impact of fire on federal [large diameter forests] increased both in absolute terms (from 6,800 ha/decade from 1972 to 1992 to 45,300 ha/decade from 1992 to 2002) and in relation to the area removed by harvest ([large diameter forests] area lost to fire on federal land was 1/27th the area lost to harvest before 1992 and 2.2 times greater afterward.)

Translation: in the decade ending in 2002, on federal land more than twice as much old-growth was lost to fire as was harvested. Since 2002 the situation has gotten worse. Harvest has all but stopped, and fire acreage has burgeoned. The ratio of fire-killed acres to harvest acres is huge.

The authors blame global warming for the fires, despite the the fact that the planet has been cooling since 1998, and despite the fact that the USFS has adopted a deliberate Let It Burn Policy wherein they allow catastrophic wildlfires to consume old-growth in giant chunks of acreage.

Actual on-the-ground management practices are a profound mystery to USFS researchers, who prefer to think that Nature is responsible for whatever happens out there, instead of their own agency.

Be that as it may, they cannot deny that wildfires are killing old-growth, the exact same old-growth the Northwest Forest Plan was ostensibly supposed to protect.

Another pregnant quote:

Meanwhile, major fire events in older forests following the NWFP exceeded the scope of previous fires in number and area. [Large diameter forests] losses to fire were concentrated on federal lands in the drier East Cascades and Klamath provinces, where increased disturbance by fire outweighed decreased disturbance by harvest.

Are you as annoyed as I am that USFS researchers no longer use the term “old-growth” but now substitute “large diameter forests”? It is totally inappropriate and disjointed. Forests do not have diameters. Part of the reason for the new babble-phrase is that USFS researchers can’t agree about what old-growth is, despite studying it for the last 50 years!

But back to the point, which is that the acreage lost to catastrophic fires is greater than the acreage of the harvests that were curtailed by the NWFP. The NWFP “saved” nothing. More old-growth has been destroyed since the inception of the NWFP than was slated for harvest without the Plan.

Ain’t that a kick in the pants! We sacrificed the economy of Oregon for nothing. More old-growth was destroyed by fire than would have been harvested. For 15 years Oregon has been reeling from economic recession and depression, thanks to the NWFP. More than 40,000 people lost their jobs directly, and the ripple effect through the economy has hurt everybody. And all for nought!!!

The researchers conclusion:

More comprehensive fire prevention and suppression activities may be needed on federal lands to avoid significant losses of older forests in drier parts of the region, particularly if recent climatic trends continue.

Not, “let’s dump the worse than worthless and counter-productive NWFP.” Oh no, that wouldn’t do. That particular Huge Mistake has been carved in stone.

Instead, what they are saying is, “maybe we shouldn’t do Let It Burn anymore.” What, no more whoofoo? But dudes, whoofoo is the policy now, just like the NWFP. Whoofoo is carved in stone, too. If the USFS is going to dump whoofoo, then why not dump the Colossal Failure that is the NWFP?

Particularly if current climate trends continue, except that the current climate trend is cooler, not warmer, at least since 1998, and the cooling is projected to continue until at least 2030 according to most climate forecasts, including the IPCC!!!!!

Would somebody please tell ObamaPelosi about that? Please?

Meanwhile the old-growth incinerates in megafires. No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot is carved in stone. We begged them not to do it, but the USFS sneered at us and catastrophically burned old-growth to death last summer in the Umpqua, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Rogue River-Siskiyou, Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers, Klamath, Ochoco, Deschutes, Okanogan-Wenatchee, and a few dozen other National Forests. In the name of “resource benefit.”

Well, even the largely clueless USFS researchers are smelling a rat. Fire kills old-growth. Kind of obvious to foresters and forest aficionados, and to anybody who has been paying attention, but now that fact is cropping up in Agency research documents. Ain’t that a kick in the pants.

24 Nov 2008, 8:27am
by backcut

Awwwww, now if there only was a way to burn the forests without killing the old growth 8^(

Nope, no possible way to do THAT! Nope, we cannot trust those evil, greedy foresters. Their science is blasphemy! Gaia won’t fail us!! She wouldn’t do THAT to the faithful!


Only through active management can we save our forests. Science continues to be lost on the lemmings heading towards the cliffs. Somehow, being right on my warnings over the last decade doesn’t make me feel good.

14 Jul 2009, 5:55pm
by Richard H.

I worked on the B&B fires setting up timber sales. I was never so frustrated in my life seeing the amount of snag retention in the name of habitat. How can we get the message out we are in trouble of losing our forests all together. I worked Sisters RD before the B&B, Black Crater, and Cache Mountain fires. The reason these burned so much acreage was the Northwest Forest Plan. A great many sales fell apart; no one would buy rotten wood or white fir at the best. Not acting on the spruce budworm in a timely fashion caused the right conditions for the fires. This is still continuing in the Big Lava Lake and Cultus Lake area. This is being consumed by Pine Beetles!!

15 Jul 2009, 12:42pm
by Bob Z.

Richard H.is right on target. The B&B Complex wildfires of 2000-2005 were accurately predicted in the early 1990s by numerous foresters and scientists — unless something were done about the beetle kill.

A map of the beetle kill acres printed in a Salem, Oregon newspaper in the early 1990s almost exactly matches (include an odd color choice for affected acres) a map of the subsequent B&B fires constructed and put online 10 years later. This coincidence was not noticed until two years after the construction of the second map, but is very telling.

The salvage timber sales suggested by the USFS Sisters RD were both costly and poorly considered. The few completed are also unsightly and amateurish when compared to salvage work performed on affected Warms Springs Reservation and private lands also affected by these fires.

Predicting forest fires in areas of beetle kill is easy and almost fool-proof. Predicting USFS and Environmental Industry responses the past 20 years is in the same category.

(I can forward the B&B maps, if readers are interested.)

15 Jul 2009, 1:19pm
by Mike

Bob, send me the maps (at reasonable sizes, no more than 500 KB each), and I will post them.

Another irony: in the enviro lawsuits that (successfully) stopped much of the salvage, the enviro lawyers claimed that the snags should be left because they will become spotted owl nesting snags when the old-growth forest grows back.

However, the snags will rot and fall over long before another forest grows up, and the dead wood will fuel more return fires that will preclude another old-growth forest from ever coming back.

The alleged “nesting snags of the future” are anything but, and will serve as fuel to keep the B&B Burn rid of spotted owls in perpetuity. The beetle-killed trees were precursors and causative factors in the eventual extirpation of spotted owls from those forests.



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