5 Feb 2009, 3:54pm
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

Forsgren Responds to Bradley Re WFU’s

Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester of the Intermountain Region, responded to Ret. Forest Supervisor Glenn Bradley’s letter, which we posted [here]. We now post Mr. Forsgren’s reply:

Hello Glenn!

I would like to respond to some of your concerns regarding wildland fire use as a management tool in our nation’s forests and grasslands. It is often a difficult decision to manage an unplanned ignition as an opportunity to restore and maintain ecosystems; the simplest thing is to aggressively attack and extinguish every start at the smallest possible size. We have been extremely successful in doing so. Over 98% of all starts are suppressed in the initial attack phase.

What we have learned after many decades is that this success has contributed to an untenable situation across broad landscapes. Our ecosystems are dynamic, and our success in initial attack has interrupted the natural diversity of age classes that are necessary in many ecosystems to provide for that variability in fuel types and flammability that would normally temper extreme fire behavior and spread. There is a marked trend toward more dense stands, less variability, fewer openings and more layered development in the canopies, turning forests that had once been relatively resistant to severe fire behavior under all but the most extreme weather into landscapes that are prone to crown fire behavior and rapid fire movement under much less extreme conditions.

Our efforts to increase acres treated from planned management activities have also accelerated dramatically. In the past 10 years, we have doubled the number of acres treated each year to reduce hazardous fuels. Nationally the Forest Service now treats approximately three million acres per year and yet, despite our best efforts, we continue to fall behind as the natural accumulation of fuels surpasses our managed fuel reductions. We will continue our efforts to plan and execute vegetative management projects designed to protect communities and resources, but those efforts alone will not solve the current broad scale forest health and fire risk issues. Appropriately planning for, recognizing, and seizing opportunities to meet our objectives using unplanned ignitions in some areas under favorable conditions improves our ability to make strides toward the goals of improved forest health, reduced hazardous fuels and safer communities. It is my expectation that we will be using unplanned ignitions to meet management objectives more, not less in the future.

Wildland fire use as a tool has been extremely successful. The Forest Service has been treating over 200,000 acres annually, creating new patches of reduced fuels in areas that would have been extremely difficult to treat with management ignited fire due to access issues. Occasionally some of those wildland fire use fires exceed our predictions and require a more direct suppression approach to protect assets and provide for the safety of our neighbors. That is an informed risk I believe we must take. There are drawbacks from fire regardless of the management strategy, including restricted recreation access and unwanted smoke during the event. Fire is a natural part of the forests we manage, and living and recreating near the forests means that at times smoke will be present and our access may be diminished.

Every fire, regardless of the management strategy employed, has outcomes that are consistent with our objectives and outcomes that are not. We are moving into a new understanding of the fire environment and the balance of threats and opportunities we face. Each unplanned ignition will receive a risk-informed, strategic management response to mitigate threats to people and resources and maximize our opportunities to reach objectives while keeping the costs commensurate with the risks and complexity of the fire. We expect to have fires with multiple management objectives on the same fire; full suppression objectives and resource management objectives on different portions of the same fire. You can expect to hear us talking less about wildland fire use fires, and more about contemporary, risk-informed management of all fires.

I appreciate the interaction with Forest Supervisor Kollmeyer to promote mutual understanding of the outcomes associated with the South Barker wildland fire use event and encourage your continued engagement. I suspect all the lessons to be learned haven’t been yet!

Sincerely, Harv

Harv Forsgren
Regional Forester
Intermountain Region

7 Feb 2009, 11:41am
by YPmule

I suspect the lessons to be learned are how we will manage blackened forests, mud slides, and diminished habitat for endangered fish. We experienced one of those “unplanned ignitions” that was allowed to burn into an area slated for fuels reduction near Yellow Pine. They had to wait weeks for the fire to actually get to that area, and in the meantime entire watersheds burned unchecked and our village was threatened several times. The entire summer was filled with evacuations, unhealthy levels of smoke for months, stress, economic losses, including a horse that starved to death because the owner was denied access. And it sounds like they are not done yet, apparently there is a project afoot that will finish burning what failed to burn 2 years ago.

We tend to have less and less faith that our forests are managed for anyone’s benefit other than the paychecks to the IMT’s [firefighters].



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