Siskiyou County Climbing Out of an Abyss of Ignorance

A year ago I sent a letter to the Siskiyou County Commissioners predicting catastrophic fires would soon visit their region. The letter read, in part:

April 2, 2008

Dear Commissioners,

The Western Institute for Study of the Environment has submitted comments to the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest (RR-SNF) regarding their adoption of a Wildland Fire Use (WFU) program.

If that program is implemented, another Biscuit Fire will surely occur, possibly as soon as next summer.

The Biscuit Fire burned 500,000 acres of the then Siskiyou NF in 2002. It was the largest fire in recorded Oregon history and destroyed habitat for endangered species, including over 100,000 acres of prime spotted owl habitat (50 known nesting sites were destroyed). …

Allowing wildfires to freely roam the landscape is a terribly destructive idea. Too much is at stake, including forests, watersheds, and wildlife habitat, as well as ranches, farms, homes, and entire communities that may lie in the path of Federal megafires. …

Our culture and society have reached an important juncture in our understanding of our place in the landscape. As human beings we must become the caretakers and fulfill our responsibilities, not abandon our landscapes to catastrophic fire. You need to be involved in landscape-level decisions that will affect the communities you represent. We can help.

W.I.S.E. can provide expert speakers to convey this message to your group or constituency. We have provided this important testimony in regards to U.S. Forest Service policy in Southwest Oregon and Northern California as a first step towards rational forest management. …

Please help us to prevent another Biscuit Fire. Your assistance is needed now. You need to be engaged in this struggle for your sake and for the sake of the environmental legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren. Your constituents will appreciate your leadership in this vitally important effort.

Please contact me for more information about how you can help forestall environmental catastrophe and restore stewardship to our public lands.


Mike Dubrasich

The letter was sent with a CD that contained our comments [here] regarding the adoption of Let It Burn fire strategies by the USFS in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The SisCo Commissioners failed to heed my warnings, as did all of the six counties the letter and CD were sent to. In fact, they ignored me utterly and did not even bother to respond. Then all heck broke loose.

Last summer 1,000 square miles of Northern California were burned deliberately by the USFS at a suppression cost of over $400 million dollars and collateral damages in the tens of $billions, far in excess of the Biscuit Fire.

In the aftermath SisCo hired a consulting forester (not me!) to look into the problem. Tuesday the Siskiyou Daily News reported [here]:

Forester outlines fuels management plan

By Dale Andreasen, Siskiyou Daily News, Mar 17, 2009

Yreka, Calif. - Forestry consultant Mike Hupp updated county supervisors on his efforts to help develop a county long-term fuels management plan at last Tuesday’s board meeting. Hupp, who is retired from the Forest Service, was hired by the county two months ago to develop the strategy.

“The big picture is this:” said Hupp, “Fire has always been a part of life here and it’s always going to be here. It’s a fundamental force of nature that we can’t stop.”

Hupp pointed out that fighting fires is not always the answer. “We need to fight the fuels.”

“It took us 70 years to get into this mess and it will probably take as long to get out,” he added.

Hupp attributed the causes of the current fire situation to, in large part, global warming and the build-up of fuels in the forests due to changes in forestry practices.

He noted that ten-year moving averages are spiking dramatically in relation to fire size and severity.

“I’m not advocating letting the fires burn, we can’t really do that,” said Hupp, “but it’s interesting to note that, following the horrible fire season in 1910, foresters were suggesting that we should let the fires burn, to eliminate fuel accumulation.”

Hupp showed graphs that illustrated the decrease in snowpack over the last 50 years. Also, the date the snow leaves is moving up year-by-year, he said.

“As a result, we have longer fire seasons and longer-lasting fires.”

“These are not historic fires that have been burning in recent years,” he said, “They are more severe and longer lasting. We are having longer, dryer summers.”

Klamath National Forest supervisor Patty Grantham, who was in the audience, stated that $1.2 billion was spent on fighting fires in California this past season.

“Perhaps we can change the trajectory of this situation,” continued Hupp, “but it’s going to take time.”

Hupp, who is in the early stages of developing a fuels management plan for the county, listed five key elements that need to be worked on over time:

* Develop a market for biomass.

* Exert influence over various state and federal agencies’ budgets and support those agencies.

* Integrate county government with fire safe councils.

* Support stewardship contracting.

* Re-introduce low intensity fire as a management tool.

“The last point is not a risk-free venture,” Hupp said, “but the risk of not doing it is a larger one, in my professional opinion.”

In planning a fuels reduction strategy for the county, Hupp plans to conduct extensive interviews with current and former fire managers for national forests, state and county fire officials, current and former elected officials from Oregon and California, members of the Resource Advisory Council, district rangers, other foresters, members of the Board of Forestry for the state of California, members of fire safe councils and with others.

District 5 supervisor Marcia Armstrong commented on the “very expensive” cost of doing fuels reduction work due to restrictions on using mechanized equipment in much of her district.

“We need to develop markets for biomass and for small diameter trees,” she said, “to offset the extraordinary cost of reducing fuels in our forests.”

Armstrong suggested talking with the Natural Resources Department at College of the Siskiyous to develop a program of training for fuels reduction work. She also suggested that perhaps the Resource Advisory Council could look into possible grants for this kind of program.

“We need to develop some kind of economic chain for using this biomass as products,” she added.

Hupp stated that the state’s Public Utilities Commission offers incentives for electricity generated from biomass.

Grace Bennett, district 4 supervisor, commented on the graph Hupp had provided showing the number and intensity of wildfires over a span of many decades.

“Looking at the graph, it looks like things went along pretty well while logging was going strong in the county back in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” she said.

She also mentioned that she is “working on a biomass project, but it’s going to take a lot of time.”

District 1 supervisor Jim Cook said he had heard talk about a British manufacturer who is coming to the area that “makes a machine that will make pellets out of biomass.”

Ed Valenzuela, district 2 supervisor asked Hupp, “Is there some little thing that got us to this point?”

“Yes, fire suppression,” said Hupp, “but we can’t stop doing it.”

Valenzuela then asked about thinning of trees. “Would that help?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” responded Hupp, “but we need a market for that material.”

Basically, I agree with Mr. Hupp, more or less. If we don’t treat the fuels, then we will get megafires. That’s a fact whether there is global warming or not. I salute the SisCo Commissioners for initiating the job that the USFS should have been doing for the last 20 years.

Too bad they ignored my advice of a year ago.

There is much unstated in this article. Forest Supe Patricia Grantham is a newbie who incinerated 200,000 acres of the Klamath NF last summer on the advice of her fire managers. I excoriated her for that. She is now widely dismissed as an incompetent. Which is why the SisCo Commission is now doing her job for her.

Mr. Hupp is not a czar. He is a consultant and can only offer advice. He has no power, just a voice. Like me. I’m glad he is making an effort.

At least SisCo is trying something now. Perhaps they might consider discussing their approach with the other county commissions in NorCal and SoOr. Make it something of a team effort.

They might also consider consulting with other forestry experts who have been begging them for years to catch a clue.

What we might tell them is that fuels management is a band-aid approach without any long term vision. The only method of dealing with the problem, which is really a set of problems, is through restoration forestry.

19 Mar 2009, 5:15pm
by jim c

the japanese do well in their forest management and reforestation.

19 Mar 2009, 5:33pm
by Mike

I need to say one thing here, which may seem a trifle repetitive to regular readers but nevertheless needs repeating frequently.

Restoration is something that is done BEFORE the fire. After the fire you do rehabilitation.

Restoration mean to restore to historical reference conditions before catastrophic fire burns down the county.

Restoration is a preventative measure, not a post-fire what-do-we-do now measure.

Restoration is not reforestation. It is not some feeble attempt to re-establish a forest after the fire community seared the landscape clean of trees at astronomical cost to taxpayers and residents.

Restoration is done prior to invasion by fire-nuts sucking off the public trough and destroying everything they touch.

Here are some discussions about what restoration forestry really means:

Restoration Forestry: Western Institute for Study of the Environment Colloquium [here]

Parking Out Camp Baldwin [here]

Forests: Tend Them or Lose Them [here]

Commercial Forestry vs. Restoration Forestry [here]

The Genesis of Old-Growth Forests, Part 3 [here]

Old-Growth Trees vs Old-Growth Stands [here]

The Mystery of the Older Cohort [here]

Restoration Forestry Is the Answer [here]

The Gordon Meadows Project [here]

Restoration Forestry [here]

Why Historical Human Influences Are Important [here]

Title IV — Forest Landscape Restoration [here]

Restore some forests to their precolonial condition [here]

20 Mar 2009, 10:29am
by bear bait

Felice Pace. Their own resident expert. Need I say more?

20 Mar 2009, 11:22am
by Mike

Ha ha. Actually SisCo has some real experts, such as Ric Costales. If the Commissioners would listen to the voices of the people who have been predicting catastrophic fire, maybe they could prevent the occurrence.

It is important to note that last summer’s fires were not a fluke of nature. They were deliberate, intentional, planned, and perpetrated by the USFS on purpose. The problem is not mythical warming — it is an overweening Federal agency run amok.



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