15 Dec 2008, 3:15pm
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

Assuming Responsibility for Forest Fires

by Glenn Bradley, USFS (ret.)

Personnel from the Sawtooth NF gave a talk about the South Barker Fire at our Forest Service Retirees luncheon last week. The maps, charts, and tables they brought represented a great deal of work by current USFS staff.

I think some of the figures needed some additional interpretation, however. The fire looks better on the papers than it does on the hillsides. First, the burn intensity map shows a high percentage of the burned area with relatively cool burns. It would be closer to the truth to say that most of the fire area did not have enough fuel to carry a hot fire and therefore did not need to be burned in the first place. Although the fuel was light, the fire did burn what precious little vegetation there was to hold the soil on those steep granitic soils.

Conversely, the areas that burned severely incurred a great deal of unacceptable damage to the forty-six year-old pine plantations and to foreground scenic values along three miles of the river at the west end of the fire. When I visited Marsh Creek in October, I estimated that about half of the plantations were killed. At the meeting, USFS staff reported 30 percent mortality. That sounded quite low to me, but it still is an unacceptable waste of the significant investment in site preparation, planting, and forty-six years of growth and care.

As presented, the percentage of intensely burned riparian areas was also deceiving. The maps denoted riparian areas as strips 600 feet wide on each side of a stream. Therefore, even though the stream beds we saw in Marsh Creek, Barker Gulch, and Willow Creek were completely gutted by the fire, they represented only a small percentage of the 1200 foot wide strip and showed up in the figures as a minor impact. In truth, in that steep country the real riparian area is often only a few feet wide and if it all burns, the impact is 100 percent.

Letting this fire burn was a huge mistake. It is not rational management to let the timing and location of lightning strikes determine when and where fires burn. There is no moral difference between intentionally setting fires in the forest and allowing easily-extinguishable fires burn. Both should be crimes. It is completely wrong to either set or let a fire burn with no real way of knowing where it might stop or how much damage it will do.

Many people are immensely frustrated with the whole WFU concept. I have boiled it down to just a few thoughts which explain why decisions are made to let very damaging and expensive fires develop. I have concluded that just a few principles are driving the policy, and making the use of WFU events popular with some fire managers.

Perhaps the major factor is the budget process. It has been impossible for most units to get funds to carry out needed prescribed burns, so they have chosen the option of waiting for a lightning strike, letting it burn, declaring it an emergency, and tapping into the unlimited funds that come rolling their way. In the case of the South Barker Fire, the $7 million dollars spent boosted the district budget from $3 million to $10 million. A great temptation!

The next factor is the lack of preparatory effort. Fire managers simply rely on the forest plan to provide all of the necessary NEPA documentation and suffer no stress of public meetings or appeals that could occur from project planning.

The third benefit to a fire manager is that there is no way to lose. By waiting for lightning to set the fire, they can call it a “natural” event and assume no responsibility for the results. If the Forest Plan draws the acceptable boundaries big enough, it is almost impossible to have an “escaped fire”.

Some problems with these factors are that Congress appropriates money with the intent that it should be used for the purpose it was appropriated. If they learn that a District Ranger or Forest Supervisor can manipulate the process and capture huge amounts of money simply by choosing not to put a small fire out, they will probably figure out a way to plug the hole in the money sack.

I predict the lack of planning and preparation will soon backfire. Forest Plans clearly do not contain the site-specific analyses and documentation required by NEPA. As soon as someone gets mad enough to challenge the process in court, the Forest Service will lose and pay for whatever damages occurred. If the Forest Service chooses not to comply with NEPA, judges will see that they do.

The practice of blaming “nature” for the fire and letting it do what comes naturally will have to be terminated, or the public and Congress will soon figure out that they don’t need a Forest Service in which no one assumes the responsibility for managing our national forests.

I hope by next fire season there is a rational policy of managing fires.

15 Dec 2008, 8:55pm
by Bob Z.

There is also a “fourth benefit” to this wonderful analysis: tenure.

Forest “scientists” and college professors that have argued “natural fire” regimes and other theoretical constructs, are vindicated when their theories become translated into federal policies. Academic stature, taxpayer-financed research dollars, cute grad students, and cushy jobs and paid vacations follow.

Never mind that these theories have been disproven time and again by real-life events, are essentially racist, and can be readily challenged with basic archaeological findings, anthropological research, and/or common sense — the important thing is that they be sufficiently accepted to be put into operation.

Global warming, “natural” fire cycles, and “biodiversity” all flow from the same academic perspective and the same set of computerized models — and often from the exact same people — and all are funded by unwitting US taxpayers.

Perhaps the billions of dollars destroyed annually in wildfires the past few years will bring these funding sources to their senses, as Glenn Bradley so hopefully outlines.

16 Dec 2008, 7:55pm
by bear bait

My take on Oregon politics is that the Governor will advocate for a program to “help poor children”, which he wants many millions in the budget to accomplish. So a bunch of money hires a bunch of people, and they all pay union dues, and the union sends lots of money to the Democrats to stop legislation and stump for candidates. So this craven political process taxes us in the billions so that millions can go to unions to send hundreds of thousands to a political party action fund. Backdoor financing of the Party. Goes on every day. The most egregious waste of money imaginable but how it really works.

And that is what “natural fire” and “climate change” and “global warming” are all about: show me the money. The money to fund research projects. Pure science. It all happens to need money. Whores and researchers are not different. They both need money, and will say and do whatever to get it. And then ask us to leave them alone so they can live their lives. I say fine to that. Just don’t ask me for the money, and better yet, don’t make me pay you the money to feed your habit.

I only say and talk like this because I have raised my hand and asked “why” about myriad managerial decisions in forest management on public lands for 40 years, and the answer was that this is the best science. Some of that “best science” has turned out to be “worst than science”, and we are still paying the price. 8×8, 10×10, 12×12 tree planting is one. That is the source of all this pecker pole fuel buildup. Those tree numbers were “learning to the test” deals. They had to have a certain number of “free to grow” trees at some predetermined future date, and all those extra trees were planted to make sure they passed the future audit. Now that bites their ass every day, and they don’t admit it.

Creek cleaning. Needless effort, people were killed, all to “lower the biological oxygen demand in streams due to woody debris decomposition.” The fines would wash out in the first freshet, and that was the only possible short term problem. But loggers were made to take all woody debris out, and today, the agencies spend millions annually to place woody debris in streams. Best science was terrible science, and short sighted science, and common sense was never a part of it. Nobody who subscribed to that science ever spent any time in the brush, because if they did, they would have seen that a creek is rocks and wood with water running over and through it, in a riffle and pool relationship, ad infinitum, to the sea. Hundreds of millions pissed away to justify some idiotic study by some dweeb who didn’t know sour spotted owl shit from a good grade of mush.

And now we WFU and AMR… the same kind of deal. By the time it is understood that the science is as lame as a one legged quarterback, so much damage will have been done that it will take centuries to repair it all. And, I do recognize that might just be the plan. Ruin it now so that we have jobs forever.

18 Dec 2008, 4:32pm
by YPmule

Very good story by Glenn Bradley - points out how “data” can be deceiving by the time it gets to the “public”. A person on the ground with eyes is worth two “specialists” in the office every time!



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