‘Appropriate Management Response’ Tantamount to Arson

The Ukonom Complex Fires were ignited by lightning June 21, 2008. Initial attack was slow and meager. Four days later, when the fires totaled 750 acres, the Six Rivers National Forest invoked “Appropriate Management Response” and drew (on maps) a fire perimeter that encompassed 40,000 acres. They began to build fire breaks on that line and backburn towards the fire, then miles away.

Eventually the Ukonom Complex [here] burned over 80,000 acres and cost over $40 million in “suppression.”

The exact numbers are unknown because the Ukonom Complex was bureaucratically merged with the Panther Fire on the Klamath NF [here]. The Panther Fire was ignited a month later (by lightning) and eventually grew to 75,000 acres. Both fires were merged into the Siskiyou Complex and then into the Klamath Fire Theater [here]. The numbers became impossible to extract from the accounting jumble, but something like 200,000 acres burned at a cost of over $160 million.

Appropriate Management Response was applied to fire starts on the Shasta-Trinity NF, too. The final result: 208,460 acres burned at a “suppression” cost of $158.9 million.

All told, on those three NF’s (Klamath, Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity) something like 650,000 acres (1,000 square miles) burned at a “suppression” cost of over $400 million. The fires burned for three months, choking Northern California airsheds, causing extensive public health problems, ruining agricultural crops, all but eliminating an entire season of recreation, and inflicting (conservatively) $10 billion in collateral economic damage. Major traditional heritage sites were incinerated, and an unknown but significant number of spotted owl nesting stands and salmon spawning beds were destroyed.

Twelve firefighters lost their lives, in machine accidents — not burnovers.

Appropriate Management Response broke the USFS fire budget, too.

Large amounts of private land were burned, too, in backburns set by USFS fire crews. Fires that could have been contained miles away were allowed to burn to the city limits of Junction City, Hayfork, and other NorCal towns.

Last October (while the fires were still burning) the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management, made up of professional foresters resident in Trinity County, critiqued USFS fire suppression practices in a 60-page report to Congressman Wally Herger. They wrote:

…[A] lack of responsible suppression policies and actions … in the past several years have caused great damage and negative impacts to private property (timber, watersheds, water lines), the local economy, watersheds and soils, wildlife, aesthetics, cultural resources, and air quality-sometimes in radical proportions. Safety in firefighting is also challenged. When fires continue for such long periods of time, there is increased potential for accidents and, yes, fatalities. …

The fire suppression organization has been adversely affected due to retirement of many of the older, more experienced people in the last 20 years. This has left a void in the top incident command management positions as well as in line personnel. …

If the tactics were as aggressive and reasonable as they were several years ago, these fires would have been contained several ridges over from where they were finally stopped…

Although we agree that fuels are a problem, something to consider in fire management, they are not THE cause of large-scale and long-enduring fires-the cause is changes in fire suppression practices. …

A few people think all fires are beneficial, irregardless of the reality. This is what is promoted by many environmental groups who do not seems to want any management of the National Forests. Under controlled circumstances … prescribed fire can be beneficial. Uncontrolled wildfire is NOT beneficial. …

The people of Trinity County are not happy with the mismanagement in the way fires are being suppressed, and the way the Forest Service is being managed. Something needs to change.

We need to (1) get the Forest Service back to managing the timber and other resources on National Forest Lands, (2) change fire management suppression tactics-if this includes adding more firefighters, then that is what should be done, (3) re-staff stations in remote areas, and (4) have the Forest Service address and resolve the “liability” issue.

In the previous post [here] registered professional forester Dennis Possehn of Anderson, CA, points out that:

Setting fires to private property when that property is not part of an emergency, or immediate threat of wildfire is not “fire management.” It is arson, and that is a crime.

He calls for an investigation of the Northern California fires of last summer. The Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management repeat that request:

…[I]t is imperative that this issue be thoroughly investigated. We also believe it is imperative not to allow this to be an in-house (that is, within the Forest Service or involving people presently working for the Forest Service) investigation and report.

Unfortunately, no investigation has been initiated by Congress. Instead, the same tired rhetoric is all we get. From a March 3, 2009, Press Release by the aforementioned Rep. Wally Herger [here]:

…[D]espite having passed the House of Representatives 429 to 1 and being signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the Quincy Library Group pilot project has been prevented from achieving its environmental protection and community stability goals because of the un-tethered actions of a minority of extreme activist groups. These groups have abused the appeals and environmental review process to stall and derail the implementation of this law since its enactment, thwarting the efforts of local citizens to protect themselves and their communities from the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires.

I find it tragic that, with all of the emphasis on economic stimulus and environmental protection, a company such as Sierra Pacific is being forced to shutter its facilities and cut jobs. We should be doing all we can to incentivize our timber industry to thin these forests, reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, create true ‘green jobs,’ and bring economic vitality to our rural communities.

Between last year’s devastating fire season and yesterday’s mill closure, the abuse of the appeals process continues to wreak injustice on our Northern California forest communities. As long as litigation is allowed to delay and obstruct commonsense forest management activities, we will continue to see catastrophic wildfires destroy our forests, threaten our homes, and pollute our air.

Yes, Wally, litigation from obstructionists is a problem. But the issue presented by the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management refers to fire management strategies employed by Federal agencies. Federal fire suppression policy is not something driven by court cases.

Your District was decimated by fire last summer and you have NOT bothered to so much as hold one single hearing about it. Why not, Wally?

Appropriate Management Response also burned up 800,000 acres in central Idaho in 2007. AMR was also responsible for incineration of old-growth forests in Oregon last summer. Yet Congress did not mandate AMR and has NEVER questioned it in the slightest.

Like whoofoos (WFU or wildland fire use), AMR (”hammer”) has never been subjected to any NEPA analysis or been the subject of a single public hearing anywhere ever.

The Federal fire community is right now planning their approach for the upcoming fire season. They are doing it in-house and without any public oversight. Decisions to incinerate vast tracts of public forests are being made today, in relative secrecy and without the knowledge or concern of our elected officials.

The deliberate and premeditated burning of forests and watersheds across the West is tantamount to arson. That arson is being perpetrated by Federal employees, and Congress is asleep at the wheel.

Rural communities should prepare for another summer of unmitigated disasters.

16 Mar 2009, 5:59am
by joe

“Federal fire suppression policy is not something driven by court cases”? Really? What about the fact that IC’s now have to take out liability insurance on themselves in fear of being sued by a nanny state that holds them accountable for sending firefighters into a situation where the lack of management has created the “dante’s inferno” version of a wildfire. Fire suppression and forest management is being hit from both sides of the court.

16 Mar 2009, 10:16am
by Mike

Good point. Although, there has been only one such case that I know of, the Daniels case, and it wasn’t a lawsuit — it was a prosecution.

In comparison there have been thousands of lawsuits seeking to enjoin active management.

AMR increases IC liabilities. As pointed out by many, including the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management, the longer a fire is extended, the more chances there are for accidents, blow-ups, and yes, even fatalities.

AMR threatens firefighter safety. Fire is not something to play with.

AMR decisions are ill-informed. The choice to Let It Burn is made beyond public scrutiny and transparency. In the aftermath the public is very angry, and is calling for Congressional investigations and prosecutions. IC’s and Forest Supes should be increasingly aware that their personal liabilities entail more than firefighter safety, and that safety concern excuses may not protect them from career-ending actions.

16 Mar 2009, 10:44am
by Mike

A clarification: The 58 page Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management report about fire management in Trinity County, CA was authored by several retired Forest Service officers with considerable wildland fire experience and aided by a fellow retiree from California Department of Forestry and Fire (Cal Fire). The report is not in digital form, and so I cannot post it. If it was, I would.



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