Victoria bushfires stoked by green vote

by David Packham, The Australian News, February 10, 2009 [here]

VICTORIA has suffered the most tragic bushfire disaster to have occurred on this continent throughout its period of human habitation.

The deaths, loss of homes and businesses and the blow to our feeling of security will take decades to fade into history. The trauma will live with the victims, who, to a greater or lesser extent, are all of us.

How could this happen when we have been told in a withering, continuous barrage of public relations that with technology and well-polished uniforms, we can cope with the unleashing of huge forces of nature.

I have been a bushfire scientist for more than 50 years, dealing with all aspects of bushfires, from prescribed burning to flame chemistry, and serving as supervisor of fire weather services for Australia. We need to understand what has happened so that we can accept or prevent future fire disasters.

That this disaster was about to happen became clear when the weather bureau issued an accurate fire weather forecast last Wednesday, which prompted me, as a private citizen, to raise the alarm through a memo distributed to concerned residents.

The science is simple. A fire disaster of this nature requires a combination of hot, dry, windy weather in drought conditions. It also requires a source of ignition. In the past, this purpose has been served by lightning. In this disaster, lightning has not played a big part, and for this Victorians should be grateful. But other sources of ignition are ever-present. When the temperature and wind increase to extreme levels, small events — perhaps the scrape of metal across a rock, a transformer overheating or sparks from a diesel engine — are capable of starting a fire that can in minutes become unstoppable if the fuel is present.

The third and only controllable factor in this deadly triangle is fuel: the dead leaves, pieces of bark and grass that become the gas that feeds the 50m high flames that roar through the bush with the sound of jet engines.

Fuels build up year after year at an approximate rate of one tonne a hectare a year, up to a maximum of about 30 tonnes a hectare. If the fuels exceed about eight tonnes a hectare, disastrous fires can and will occur. Every objective analysis of the dynamics of fuel and fire concludes that unless the fuels are maintained at near the levels that our indigenous stewards of the land achieved, then we will have unhealthy and unsafe forests that from time to time will generate disasters such as the one that erupted on Saturday.

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27 Feb 2009, 10:24pm
Climate and Weather
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Increasing CO2 Good for Mankind

Statement of Dr. William Happer, Ph.D., Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics, Princeton University

Before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair

February 25, 2009

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

Madam Chairman and members, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee on Environment and Public Works to testify on Climate Change. …

Let me state clearly where I probably agree with the other witnesses. We have been in a period of global warming over the past 200 years, but there have been several periods, like the last ten years, when the warming has ceased, and there have even been periods of substantial cooling, as from 1940 to 1970. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased from about 280 to 380 parts per million over past 100 years. The combustion of fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas, has contributed to the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. And finally, increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause the earth’s surface to warm. The key question is: will the net effect of the warming, and any other effects of the CO2, be good or bad for humanity?

I believe that the increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind. …

The earth’s climate really is strongly affected by the greenhouse effect, although the physics is not the same as that which makes real, glassed-in greenhouses work. Without greenhouse warming, the earth would be much too cold to sustain its current abundance of life. However, at least 90% of greenhouse warming is due to water vapor and clouds. Carbon dioxide is a bit player. There is little argument in the scientific community that a direct effect of doubling the CO2 concentration will be a small increase of the earth’s temperature — on the order of one degree. Additional increments of CO2 will cause relatively less direct warming because we already have so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it has blocked most of the infrared radiation that it can. …

Since most of the greenhouse effect for the earth is due to water vapor and clouds, added CO2 must substantially increase water’s contribution to lead to the frightening scenarios that are bandied about. The buzz word here is that there is “positive feedback.” With each passing year, experimental observations further undermine the claim of a large positive feedback from water. In fact, observations suggest that the feedback is close to zero and may even be negative. That is, water vapor and clouds may actually diminish the already small global warming expected from CO2, not amplify it. …

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Greenpeace Opposed to Toilet Paper

Larf of the Day:

American taste for soft toilet roll ‘worse than driving Hummers’

Suzanne Goldenberg, US enviro correspondent, 26 February 2009 [here]

Extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply toilet roll made from virgin forest causes more damage than gas-guzzlers, fast food or McMansions, say campaigners.

The tenderness of the delicate American buttock is causing more environmental devastation than the country’s love of gas-guzzling cars, fast food or McMansions, according to green campaigners. At fault, they say, is the US public’s insistence on extra-soft, quilted and multi-ply products when they use the bathroom.

“This is a product that we use for less than three seconds and the ecological consequences of manufacturing it from trees is enormous,” said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

“Future generations are going to look at the way we make toilet paper as one of the greatest excesses of our age. Making toilet paper from virgin wood is a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution.” Making toilet paper has a significant impact because of chemicals used in pulp manufacture and cutting down forests.

A campaign by Greenpeace seeks to raise consciousness among Americans about the environmental costs of their toilet habits and counter an aggressive new push by the paper industry giants to market so-called luxury brands. …

Evidently Greenpeace prefers catastrophic forest fires that burn down “virgin” forests and spew millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over responsible forestry practices that protect, maintain, and perpetuate forests, watersheds, habitat, etc.

As Oregon Goober Teddy The Torch says, “It stinks. It just stinks.” Of course, he was talking about healthy forests, not the backsides of enviro lunatics.

Comments welcome. You can pull out all the stops on this one, but keep it clean.

Congressman Greg Walden On Forest Health

Greg Walden represents Oregon’s 2nd District in the U.S. House. He is the author and principal sponsor of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (2003).

He has spoken in favor of fuels management, forest thinning, and the protection of forests from catastrophic fire numerous times on the House floor. The following YouTube videos of a speech he gave are somewhat dated (October 17, 2007) but the message is still critically important.

Walden discusses forest priorities on the floor - PART 1 [here]

Walden discusses forest priorities on the floor - PART 2 [here]

He also spoke in support of the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act of 2008 [here]. The FLAME Act was passed by the House but died in the Senate.

Congressman Walden on the FLAME Act (July 09, 2008) [here]

All 35 Walden YouTube videos [here]

Unappealing Authority, Or Whom Can You Trust?

In our modern day and age we face a plethora of social and political issues that revolve around science. Whether the weather or questions of global warming, forest management, wildlife management, economic crunches, morbid obesity, dog training, ear wax, or what have you, the arguments frequently rely on the expertise of authorities.

An “authority” is an expert with uncommon knowledge about a particular subject. In our modern day and age, authorities often bear Ph.D. degrees and publish in peer reviewed journals, both of which are de facto qualifications for their lofty perch.

Of course, certain recognized authorities may be completely wrong in their scientific assessments, or stray beyond their field of expertise, or may be utter charlatans. Or they may be unappreciated geniuses whose bullseye pronouncements are largely ignored.

In our modern day and age, sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

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The Costs of Inaction

The just released (Winter 2009) issue of California Forests contains a powerful message: passive forest management leads to catastrophic wildfires that harm forests, watersheds, wildlife, public health, and other values.

California Forests is the official publication of the California Forestry Association. The entire issue can be downloaded from their website [here]. Some excerpts:

Wildfire Blazes Across Political Boundaries

by David A. Bischel, President, California Forestry Association

Wildfires in 2008 left nearly 1.5 million acres of California’s wildland charred … costing taxpayers more than $1 billion to fight. …

Wildfires don’t care about politics, nor do the watercourses that fill with mud and debris during post fire rains, or the wildfire displaced by the flames. …

Californians deserve to be made fully aware of the potential effects of action, or inaction, in our forests. They also deserve to have their elected officials engaged on the issue and participating in open debates.

That, unfortunately, does not always happen. …

Active Forest Conservation Beats Passive Preservation

by Jay O’Laughlin, Ph.D., professor of forest resources and director of the College of Natural Resources Policy Analysis Group at the University of Idaho.

A century of fire exclusion and a 90 percent decrease in national forest timber harvests have allowed unprecedented fuel loads to accumulate on public forest lands and increased the incidence of large-scale, high-intensity wildfires. These big fires put ecological, economic, and social values at serious risk.

Although active management can improve forest conditions, public policies thwart managers from restoring forests and effecting long-term fuel reduction designed to protect wood, water, wildlife, and other values. Rather than allowing managers to practice conservation, our policies tend to keep managers out of the woods. …

Conservation also forces us to make some tough decisions about our forests, starting with, what do we want our forests to look like? Given the fuel accumulations on much of our public lands, the answer is something other than what exists today.

Foresters call this the “desired future condition,” and it drives everything else. If we know what we want our forests to look like, managers can work towards that end by applying the science and technology that underpin the forestry profession.

Conservation targets a specific goal, whereas preservation assumes that whatever results from “natural” forces is preferable to human action-even with the unnatural fuel loads that exist today. …

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23 Feb 2009, 12:08pm
Federal forest policy
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Wildland Fire Costs Petition

by John F. Marker

Your Assistance is Needed:

As you know the cost of wildland firefighting for the federal land management agencies has been increasing as weather, fuel conditions, shortage of firefighting resources and other factors have increased fire size, resource damage,loss of homes and watershed losses in recent years.

When the cost of firefighting exceeds the agency’s fires fighting budget the agencies have to use their operational budgets to cover the extra costs. This requirement has devastated agency programs such as forest health, recreation, wildlife habitat improvement, watershed protection, fire prevention and environmental research. It also seriously cut assistance to the states for forest and range management an fire protection and forest health programs on state and private lands.

A Fire Suppression Funding Coalition, comprised of major national and regional conservation organizations, has developed a statement of principles for solving this critical issue that will be shared with members of Congress as they work to resolve the funding problem. We would ask that you review the principles and encourage your members of Congress to consider these principles as they work to resolve the problem of funding firefighting for the federal agencies.

The cost of fighting wildland fires is high, but the values at risk in terms of threats to human life, natural resources, homes and businesses and the economy are much greater. For example, in the January 2009 Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition’s Economic Stimulus Program paper, the economic value of water from the National Forests is listed as $29 Billion per year, and the value of recreation from these lands is at least $7.49 billion and adds $98 billion to the Nation’s GDP.

The National Association of Forest Service Retirees would appreciate your support of the principles presented in the attached paper through encouragement to your members of Congress to resolve this serious fire protection problem.

John F. Marker, Northwest Director
National Association of Forest Service Retirees

(attachment follows)

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A Mournful Day

by Phil Maguire, Bundarrah Days, Feb. 22, 2009 [here]

TODAY was our National Day of Mourning for Black Saturday. It was a dignified and impressive service, I thought, and it brought Australians together in sorrow in a way that made everyone who saw it feel part of the occasion.

I was particularly touched by the Aboriginal contribution. It was a day that should not have dawned any differently to any normal day. It was an occasion we should never had have had to have.

Just as bad generals lose soldiers and wars bad government and bureaucracies lose citizens to needless tragedies. We can trace the tragedy of Black Saturday back to the premiership of Steve Bracks. Four times in six years Victoria has suffered major bushfires causing deaths and massive property and asset losses.

This is due to the mad green policies of the Bracks Government and the ignorance of its leader. Steve Bracks was, to put it mildly, the most stupid man ever to lead Victoria. Was there ever an issue he actually understood? It is John Brumby’s sheer misfortune that this tragedy should take place on his watch because of all the Victorian ALP he was the one most likely to repair the damage caused by his predecessor.

We’re still counting the cost of Black Saturday in human terms. 209 people confirmed dead, including many children, and many more to be be confirmed. Our family was contacted by the police again yesterday making sure we had escaped. Before long we will be counting the environmental cost.

Fires are still burning in Melbourne’s water catchments and this is yet another tragedy in the making. Burnt forests not only affect water quality - as they regrow they absorb far more more water than mature forests adversely affecting water yield.

Some experts have forecast that a serious burning of Melbourne’s catchments could mean a loss of up to 50 per cent in water yield. This in itself is disastrous. Melbourne is already stealing water from north-eastern Victoria.

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Smashing the Economy With an Iron Fist

In tragic but not unexpected news today, the Obama Administration has signaled that it wishes to curtail “greenhouse gases” by 80 percent.

US Climate Czar: CO2 Regulation Ruling To Come Soon

CNN, February 22, 2009 [here]

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- President Barack Obama’s climate czar said Sunday the Environmental Protection Agency will soon issue a rule on the regulation of carbon dioxide, finding that it represents a danger to the public.

The White House is pressing Congress to draft and pass legislation that would cut greenhouse gases by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, threatening to use authority under the Clean Air Act if legislators don’t move fast enough or create strong enough provisions.

This is tragic because it will undercut an already reeling economy for no (zero, nada) effect on global temperatures or climate.

Despite the FACTS that CO2 is not a pollutant, and that there is no global warming, and that warming would be a good thing if it happened, we will all suffer the oppression of Gummit Gone Bonkers.

Carbon dioxide is the fundamental nutrient of Life, the essential precursor of photosynthesis. It is manifestly not a pollutant. The planet has been cooling for the last ten years, even though atmospheric C02 levels have allegedly been increasing. That means the theory that CO2 drives global temperature change has been proven to be false. Warmer is better; warmer climates have greater agricultural and biological productivity and diversity. The warmest places in the U.S. are also the most productive. The same is true worldwide.

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21 Feb 2009, 3:31pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
by admin

New Cutting-Edge Book On Amazonian Soils

A landmark book has been published on terra preta (Amazonian dark earths), the carbon-rich soils developed by ancient civilizations in what was once thought to be a pristine wilderness. Dedicated to Dutch soil scientist Wim Sombroek (1934-2003) who was the first modern investigator of terra preta, Amazonian Dark Earths: Wim Sombroek’s Vision by William I. Woods, Wenceslau G. Teixeira, Johannes Lehmann, Christoph Steiner, Antoinette M.G.A. WinklerPrins, and Lilian Rebellato (Editors) is a compilation of the latest, cutting-edge studies in this fascinating and important multi-disciplinary field.

Amazonian soils are principally laterites [here], deeply weathered red clays lacking in most soil nutrients. Millions of years of rainfall have leached out everything but iron (hence the red color) and aluminum. Essential plant nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, and potassium are nearly missing. Amazon vegetation subsists on itself, the thin humus of decaying plant matter being the only source of key metallic oxides.

Except where there is terra preta, and it’s close cousin terra mulata. Terra preta is deep, rich, fertile black soil that occurs in patches on bluffs along the Amazon and its tributaries. Terra preta is filled with charcoal, ash, mulch, bones, and pottery shards! It is potting soil made from organic matter transported to the sites in pots! These anomalous soils are anthropogenic: people made them.

[Dr. William] Denevan (2001:116–119) has argued that in pre-Columbian times the use of stone axes made long-fallow shifting cultivation very inefficient, and as result probably uncommon until the European introduction of metal axes. Previously, soil fertility must have been maintained and improved by frequent composting, mulching, and in-field burning, making semi-permanent cultivation possible with only brief fallowing. Over time these activities could have produced fertile, self-sustaining dark earths.

Dark earths may occupy 0.1% to 0.3%, or 6,000 to 18,000 km2, of forested lowland Amazonia (Sombroek and Carvalho 2002:130). Because their densities vary greatly within subregions and almost no systematic survey has been accomplished within Amazonia, variations in density projections of an order of magnitude are to be expected. The dark earths occur in a variety of climatic, geologic, and topographic situations, both along river bluffs and in the interior, with depths sometimes exceeding 2.0 m. Individual patches range from 1 ha or so to several hundred hectares. — from Chapter 1, Amazonian Dark Earths: The First Century of Reports by William I. Woods and William M. Denevan

Rather than a pristine, untrammeled, unoccupied wilderness, Amazonia has been home to people for thousands of years. The residents were agriculturalists who modified soils in order to grow corn (maize), squash, beans, fruiting palms, gourds, pineapples, cotton, arrowroot, and many other cultivated fruits, nuts, tubers, and fibers.

Terra mulata is brownish soil that generally surrounds patches of terra preta. It is not quite as rich and has fewer artifacts, and is even more widespread than terra preta. In theory, terra mulata is the accidentally improved soil adjacent to the deliberately improved soils, or else it is terra preta in the making. In either case, anthropogenically altered soils are in strong contrast to the unaltered laterites, and cover a combined area the size of France.

One of the key elements of terra preta is charcoal, lately termed “biochar”.

Vegetation actively withdraws carbon from the atmosphere and stores it as organic matter. Biochar is created when organic matter is heated without oxygen and it contains twice the carbon content of ordinary biomass (Lehmann 2007). Biochar is much more resistant to decay and can store carbon for centennial timescales (Lehmann et al. 2006). The addition of biochar to the soil was part of the creation of ADE [Amazon dark earths] (Neves et al. 2003). This has lead some to speculate on the viability of a biochar carbon sequestration industry which would reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases (Marris 2006; Sombroek et al. 2002) and improve soil fertility (Lehmann et al. 2003; Glaser and Woods 2004). — from Chapter 14, Locating Amazonian Dark Earths (ADE) Using Satellite Remote Sensing – A Possible Approach by J Thayn, KP Price, and WI Woods.

Biochar is touted as a “solution” to the global warming “problem.” I disagree. But biochar is definitely a valuable soil amendment because carbon binds to and stores the metallic oxide nutrients essential to plant growth. The addition of charcoal as well as organic detritus helped to create and sustain terra preta over centuries.

Amazonian Dark Earths: Wim Sombroek’s Vision is a wonderful account of the history and science of anthropogenic soils. The book is as rich as terra preta in literary as well as scientific writing.

Note 1: for more of this review see W.I.S.E. Colloquium: History of Western Landscapes [here].

Note 2: My own garden here in the Willamette Valley contains ancient human-altered soil. There is quite a bit of charcoal. Here are some flakes, knives, and scrapers that have roto-tilled to the surface.

Audio From a MT Legislative Hearing Dealing with the Fed Fire Hazard

As reported [here], the Montana State Senate passed Senate Bill 34, extending the authority of counties to reduce fire hazards on USFS lands, by a vote of 42 to 7 in January. SB 34 is one of several bills developed by Montana Interim Fire Committee last summer.

A subsequent hearing on SB 34 was held in the House Local Government Committee on February 3rd. An audio recording of that hearing is [here]. The streaming audio comes in a .rm file. That’s an outdated file type that plays in Real Media. If you don’t have that software, or have trouble paying the .rm file, you might try downloading Real Alternative v1.9.0 from [here].

The discussion on SB 34 begins about 29 minutes into the audio file and runs through It is very much worth listening to.

In his opening remarks, sponsor Sen. Dave Lewis, Dist 42, explained that the six counties he represents contain tens of thousands of acres of bug-killed timber on Federal lands, presenting an enormous fire hazard. The potential exists for 1910-style catastrophic fires due to the enormous fuel loadings. People who live near to Fed lands are at significant risk.

SB 34 would allow counties to enter on those Federal lands to reduce the fuel hazards (the text of SB 34 is [here]). The question arises: does the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution preclude citizens from defending their properties from catastrophic fire? Does the right to self-defense and public safety extend to controlling and removing dangerously excessive, unnatural, and a-historical fire hazards on Federal grounds?

Richard Van Auken, Teton Co. Fire Chief, testified that in 2007 186,000 acres were incinerated in Teton County along the Rocky Mountain Front. Communities are at risk. County Commissions need a tool to address the hazards.

A number of other individuals testified in support of the bill. One individual testified against it. That person represents an envio-litigious group that frequently sues the USFS to halt healthy forest fuels management. Tom Tidwell, Regional Forester for the Northern Region, spoke as an informational witness (neither for nor against the bill).

An article about the hearing was published in the Great Falls Tribune [here]. That article fails to give a fair and balanced review of the testimonies heard.

Rather than attempt to describe every salient remark, I recommend you listen to the audio recording. It is very revealing.

The USFS is not prepared to deal with the enormous fuels problems in Montana. They claim they are treating fuels, but during the question and answer period it came out that the USFS counts wildfire acres as “treated” acres.

The USFS has been hamstrung by litigation and has resorted to “collaborative” planning with the litigious enviro groups. The process has dragged on and the USFS has consequently failed to layout mechanical forest restoration treatments over broad landscapes. Only a few acres are ready to be treated, and so the new Stimulus funding will be not be used for (very much) fuels management.

Not revealed in the hearing is that the USFS has dedicated 4 million acres in Montana and Idaho to Let It Burn [here, here, here].

Whether the Montana Legislature can spur the desperately needed hazard abatement or not remains to be seen. At least they have recognized the problem and are making an attempt.

19 Feb 2009, 6:11pm
Climate and Weather
by admin
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Global Warming Alarmist Riot Planned for DC

This is alarming. Lunatics unite for civil disobedience!!! [here]

Make history March 2, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

Be part of the largest mass civil disobedience for the climate in U.S. history.

You know there is a climate crisis. You know we have to solve it. It’s time to take our action to the next level.

With a new administration and a new Congress, we have a window of opportunity. But we have to open it — together.

On March 2, join thousands of people in a multi-generational act of civil disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant — a plant that powers Congress with dirty energy and symbolizes a past that cannot be our future.

(bonus James “Venus Syndrome” Hansen video endorsement included)

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Western Climate Initiative An Economic Disaster

As pointed out [here], Oregon Governor Ted “Screw the Economy In the Name of Pure Idiocy” Taxandgougeme has gone hog wild for Cap and Stifle global warming alarmist craziness. We’re not alone in that assessment; the estimable and usually equanimitable (equinanimous?) Rogue Pundit calls the Goober’s insanity “Cap and Betrayed” [here].

The sleazy leftish insider group perping the fraud on Oregon and other western states is an outfit called the Western Climate Initiative. Their economic chokehold shenanigans are [here].

Now the Western Business Roundtable has called the WCI on their miserable and pointless psycho-social strangulations:

Western Climate Plan Could Prolong Recession, Weaken Power Grids and Will Not Change Future Temperatures Over A Century

Plan Could “Chase Away” Tens of Billion Of Dollars In High-Tech Investment From Western States

Western Business Roundtable Press Release [here]

Denver, CO (Feb. 18, 2009) — A new study says that a climate action plan promoted by several Western governors could prolong the economic recession, weaken already overburdened Western power grids and will deliver a temperature “benefit” of only one ten-thousandth of a degree Celsius even after a century of operation.

The study [here], commissioned by the Western Business Roundtable, found that the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade plan could “chase away tens of billions of dollars in high technology investment from the West to other regions” and would “further stress the West’s already strained electricity grid, increasing the threat of potentially catastrophic power outages.” …

The analysis of the WCI plan was conducted by Management Information Services, Inc., a highly regarded economic analysis firm that conducts studies for both renewable and fossil energy organizations. The WCI’s proposed regional cap-and-trade plan was unveiled last September by the governors of California, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Montana.

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The Great Montana Land Swindle Sleazes On

by Dave Skinner

The Montana Legacy Project just announced its second phase of a plan to spin off 312,000 acres of unwanted Plum Creek forest land to other buyers. The entire package was, until yesterday, priced at $510 million. Now it’s apparently $490 million.

It is my conclusion that the Legacy Project is an indicator of an “end game” in the REIT/TIMO phenomenon that has swept away the “timber industry.” Wall Street and Capitol Hill created a business and tax environment that leaves us a world in which the timber beasts are no more. They’ve been replaced by real estate beasts, with huge implications for forestry and land use all across America.

The REIT/TIMO creature was born in Montana, when Plum Creek Timber Company (NYSE:PCL), the largest private landowner in the US, pioneered the conversion of integrated forestry corporations into REIT’s with taxable operating subsidiaries. The tax advantages of doing so first put PCL in a superior cash position which in turn allowed it to buy large blocks of land from cash-strapped integrated companies.

Some of you may have read the excellent SOSF discussion [here] about the “Valuing Timberland” post put together by former Westvaco forester J. Brian Fiacco on his Timberland Blog [here]. His follow-up three installments [here, here, here] give a superb nutshell of how timberland is valued as well as what PCL and other REITs/TIMO’s do when they buy ground.

In short-short, Plum Creek busted their land up into “HBU” real estate, to log off and then sell for “trophy” homes; core timberland, to log and then manage as a forestry investment; and other lands, to log and then sell at whatever price to whatever sucker they can find.

But the low fruit on the forest money tree is now about gone. In a February 2nd Plum Creek earnings call [transcript here], one of PCL’s major investor reps notes that about 15 to 20 million acres of industrial ground has now been transacted and the big hunks are gone. PCL currently owns around eight million of that, meaning it was able to buy a third of the national pool using the cash from logging its Montana holdings and its early-adopter advantage as the first big timber REIT. But the first wave is over, the first harvest of cash profit and leverage petering out.

The next phase is clearly, to begin disposing of the junk holdings that present a negative present value or negative cash flow. And only suckers are interested in such things.

The sucker in this case is the federal government, and the government’s point-pork man, Max Sieben Baucus, D-MT. Of PCL’s junk sales in Montana, the end-buyer of 85% has been the Feds (the Forest Service), brokered through the Nature Conservancy, at prices a rational buyer would find completely nuts. The overpayment is always politically covered by cries about “conservation” and “saving land.”

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After-the-Fact Fire Planning

Imagine that you are a District Ranger or a Forest Supervisor assigned the protection and stewardship of a vast tract of public forest. Then imagine a fire is ignited on that tract in the middle of summer.

Would you let that fire burn? Would you in addition call in a team of people who had never seen your forest and knew nothing about to draw up a Let It Burn plan 10 days after the fire started?

Sounds like total lunacy, right? Or worse yet, deliberate and criminal disregard for the the land, of the law, and of plain common sense.

It is hard to believe that such cavalier and destructive actions could possibly be made by the people charged with stewarding our public forests. And yet, the story is not only true, it has been repeated numerous times across the West in recent years.

We post the following letter by retired USFS Forest Supervisor Glenn Bradley to the current Forest Supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest. Mr. Bradley points out that ex post facto “planning” of wildfires is thoroughly disingenuous, irresponsible, illegal, and destructive.


Hi Jane-

At our meeting of retirees on December 1, 2008, you gave me a copy of the South Barker and Johnson 2 Wildland Fire Use Implementation Plan. I apologize for taking this long to send you my comments after I read the plan.

The plan was written by the WFU team after they came to the fire. It may have provided some valuable guidance to the team, but it had no bearing on the decision to let the South Barker Fire burn, because the fire was about ten days old by the time the plan was written.

The first thing that jumped out at me was on Page 3 under “II Objectives”. It states that, consistent with the Forest Land and Resource Management Plan goals, the objective was to restore and maintain ecosystems consistent with land uses and historic fire regimes. The fire did a lot more to disrupt ecosystems than it did to restore them. It effectively canceled all land uses for the duration of the fire and damaged scenic, timber, and watershed values for many years to come.

It is not clear what is meant by “historic fire regimes”. I suspect that may refer to the natural pattern of burning that might have occurred before there was any attempt to manage fire by the Forest Service. If my suspicion is accurate, you should quickly revise the forest plan to adopt a better goal. One of the primary reasons that the national forests were created was that the American people were not happy with the rate that “natural” fire was damaging the timber and watersheds and threatening their properties. Today’s local public is not exactly thrilled with the rates their national forests are being burned up by WFU’s and AMR’s either.

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