19 Jul 2009, 10:58am
Federal forest policy Forestry education
by admin

Ecobabble from the Fire Community

As we have pointed out repeatedly [here and here, for instance], the fire community is largely ignorant of forest science. They see wildfire as a glorious panacea for whatever ails forests, and they stoop to new levels of ecobabble to justify their prejudices.

Ecobabble is the misuse and abuse of terminology from the ecological sciences to paint a false picture and to imply that the user knows something that they manifestly do not. I didn’t invent the term; see some Web definitions [here].

When the fire community uses ecobabble, it is particularly offensive because they abuse the terminology to cover up their abuse of the environment. Some examples and explanatory comments follow. I have not cited the actual ecobabblers, although I could do so, out of compassion for the low-level functionaries who spew propaganda as ordered by higher ups.

Fires recycle the forest — Forests are not garbage; they do not require “recycling.” This ecobabble canard is an outgrowth of the “decadent forest” agitprop that was used to justify old-growth logging. The logging of old-growth was halted 20 years ago (or more) but ironically the protesters of by-gone eras now use their adversaries’ ecobabble to justify incinerating old-growth forests today. Forests develop and change over time. They are aggregations of organisms in various conditions. Forests are not single organisms that get old and must be killed dead so new forests can grow there. That sort of thinking is a-scientific.

Fires rejuvenate the forest — This is the same type of ecobabble as above. “Rejuvenate” means to make young again. There is no ecological reason to kill old-growth forests and replace them with baby forests. Indeed, there is ample reason to protect, maintain, and perpetuate old-growth forests.

The “rejuvenation” ecobabble has been applied (by the fire community) to return fires. Return fires are reburns of older burns, often within 15 years or less. The first fire killed all the old-growth and left a sea of snags and brush. The second fire is supposed to “rejuvenate” the burn. But if wildfire was so rejuvenational, why didn’t the first fire accomplish the feat? And how will the second fire do what the first did not? In fact, return fires often cement the conversion of forests to fire-type brush.

Ensuring that fire plays its natural ecological role in fire-adapted forests — This is double ecobabble. First, most Western Hemisphere forests have been subject to human-set (anthropogenic) fires for millennia. Human tending through anthropogenic fire gave rise to open, park-like forests and induced the forest development pathways that led to old-growth trees. The “natural ecological role” of fire in our forests is to convert them to tick brush, the historical human role has been to manage fire regimes to tend forests.

The fire community is sadly ignorant of actual, historical forest development pathways. It could be said that much of the forest science community is equally sad and ignorant of the ecological processes that have nurtured our forests for thousands of years. The denial of historical human influences is a-scientific, a-historical, and seen by many as racist. Denying the presence and actions of millions of human residents over millennia is a pernicious myth rooted in extreme cultural prejudice.

All forests are “adapted” to fire, but not all fires are alike. The frequent, seasonal, human-set and tended fires that guided forest development during the entire Holocene were materially different from the catastrophic holocausts perpetrated by the Federal Government today. The severe burns that denude whole landscapes and convert them from forest to brush fields are not “ecological” or desirable in terms of forest maintenance or resource protection.

Fires like this do not “rejuvenate,” “play a natural ecological role,” or “benefit resources.”

Fires reduce fuel loadings — That frequent claim is not ecobabble per se, because it is closer to fire engineering than ecological terminology. The statement is counter-factual nonetheless, as can be seen in the photo above. The severe fires that the Federal fire bosses are so fond of kill green trees and leave more dead and dry fuel than was present before the fire. The fire hazard is increased, not mitigated, by catastrophic fire.

Fire suppression in the past is responsible for fires today — Another ecobabble statement with no basis in fact. Catastrophic fires are nothing new. The First Residents experienced landscape-scale severe fires that destroyed whole regions and left the people starving. They soon learned, from painful experience, that human beings could reduce the holocausts that challenged survival itself by setting frequent, seasonal, light burning fires.

It was the elimination of stewardship and anthropogenic fire, steeped in millennia of traditional ecological knowledge, that led to modern fuel build-ups and the catastrophic megafires of today.

Had the government NOT attempted to suppress fires over the last 100 years or so, those fires would have been megafire holocausts (such as the Idaho fires of 1910). Backing off and letting fires burn does not reduce the fire hazard; it actualizes it.


Ecobabble is nothing new; some might contend that most of ecological science is babble. But the egregious use of ecobabble to justify catastrophic forest fires is a modern invention, recent propaganda designed to excuse horrifically bad forest management.

Based on a-historical myths and lies, modern ecobabble promulgated by the fire community is harmful and destructive. It does not justify — it exacerbates the harm done by adding insult to injury.

We have barely scratched the surface in this post. Send us your own favorite ecobabble phrases. We will disabuse the abusers of the terminology and set the record straight here.

19 Jul 2009, 11:47am
by bear bait

Firefighter safety: drop back and set a backfire, which doubles the size and perimeter of the fire, all in the name of fire fighter safety.

My experience is that debris rolling down slopes, after the log retaining it has burned through, burned trees and snags falling account for the majority of injuries. Doubling the size of the fire does not relieve anyone from those hazards.

Deaths are from burnovers or transportation accidents. Rolling over the van, or losing power in the helicopter seems to be the deadly hazard, along with being an air tanker pilot in a 60 year old flight platform. They lose their wings when they drop the load due to the instant gain in lift. Wings are designed to flap up and down, and they do get stressed under load and violently stressed at unloading.

The rest of the deaths are due to poor decisions from overhead and on the ground leadership. Poor weather information and failure to communicate weather change seems to put people in harm’s way. But adding more fire does not change any of the above, nor does it ultimately make people safer. Putting out fires at the birth, at their smallest size, is the best way to safely fight fire. However, as Mike has pointed out, the religion has changed, and idol worship at the feet of the NGOs now infiltrated into the policy and planning process, who have one stated goal — no logging, anywhere, ever — is what drives the process. Burn it so that it can never be logged. That gives us time to pound the Congress for legislation to stop any and all logging on public lands. Then we can begin to take over private lands, as well. It is about control. Absolute control of the land and the resources for a socialist fascism being drummed into the American psyche. The USFS is properly clothed in brown shirts and pants, and has been the agent of social change, social engineering, in government since the 1960s. That is when they gave up on being a manager of a renewable resource economy in rural areas, to become toadies of the urban elite, the Timber Barons, to take public lands from competition with the WaldWerks of Weyerhaeuser, et al.

I would not be surprised if German forestry rules are consulted to make sure that USFS rules are not in violation of European land and resource use laws. After all, the ObamaNation is built on the premise the US is a world criminal and abuser of the earth, and so should justly be punished. Apology to follow.

19 Jul 2009, 9:27pm
by Chauncy

Some of the ecobabble terms that bug me the most are:

Sustainable forest - What’s sustainable when they burn the hell out of it? I am sure Mike can go on for hours on this one, I happen to know it’s one of his least favorites!

Plant association - Is this where the plants get together and hold conferences? The theory is certain plants only grow where other plants also grow. But take any of those plants and move them to your garden and surprise, they grow and are unassociated! AMAZING Mr. Wizard!

Bioindicators - This one really gets under my skin. The term is used to describe a condition that is known to exist (or not exist) because of the appearance (or disappearance) of some species. Like frog population change is an “indicator” of ozone depletion. Why not just measure the ozone if that’s what they are worried about! People whose use this term seem to forget that populations vary all the time in cycles they know nothing about.

There’s a raft of others that are just too insane to think about. Like “Ecosystems” and “Carbon sequestration”. I have tried to drive these terms out of my everyday vocabulary, they are not useful in scientific discussions.

19 Jul 2009, 9:38pm
by Chauncy

OH! I forgot my all time least favorite…

Diversity - a measurement of the presence and abundance of species in a given area. What a crock this one is! People who use this term typically collect information about the “relative abundance” of species and force the data through some algorithm to get one number to describe the species mix there. Trouble is the same number can be arrived at with an entirely different mix of species and different relative abundances.

And what’s it mean anyway? I had a grad student tell me one day that the place they were studying had a Shannon’s diversity index of 3.425. He said it like it meant something. He wanted me to tell him if it was significantly different from a value of 3.555. “Sure, why not?” I replied. “So what?”

All meaningless ecobabble if you ask me.

19 Jul 2009, 10:15pm
by Bob Z.

I nominate for the ecobabble list “naturally functioning ecosystems,” “riparian zones,” “old-growth habitat,” “natural fire cycles,” and “the role of fire” for lots of good reasons and in no particular order.

Also, I nominate the entire Conservation Biology field, practitioners, and journal as the fountainhead of this nonsense, now that Deep Ecology has been exposed and grown out of favor.

20 Jul 2009, 11:41am
by Mike

Here’s another one: habitat loss. Most animal population dynamics are governed by predator-prey relations, not “habitat”. For instance, even though 25 million acres were “set aside” for spotted owls 20 years ago, their population has plunged by 60 percent or more. Yes, there have been millions of acres of old-growth owl forests destroyed by catastrophic fire, but not 60 percent. The main reason for plunging owl populations is the rising populations of their predators: great horned owls, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and other raptors.

“Habitat loss” has been so ingrained into the mass consciousness though, it is difficult to see how that ecobabble nonsense will ever be debunked. Most scientists are brainwashed, even (especially?) wildlife biologists.

In any case, for some reason the fire community is all agog over destroying as much habitat as they can with catastrophic megafire. The hypocrisy stinks as much as the smoke.

3 Aug 2009, 10:38am
by Mike

And let’s not forget The Mosaic.

It’s popular nowadays to justify Let It Burn fires by saying they “create a mosaic.” The mosaic is an undefined thing, basically any old pattern imposed on the landscape by catastrophic fire. It’s very de rigeur (French for the cat’s meow).

Of course, the lit is filled with admonishments about “fragmenting” forests. The worst thing you can do is fragment old-growth. A continuous canopy of old-growth is supposedly required for critters such as spotted owls.

And yet, there is no difference between the mosaic and fragmentation, except that one is the supposedly the best thing for forests and the other is the worst thing. But they are exactly the same thing!

Eco-babble is mind numbing. The thinking stops here.

3 Aug 2009, 2:16pm
by Larry H.

Don’t forget the overused and misused term Pristine. I guess I can forgive some writers who use the word to describe Lake Tahoe, which had historical clearcutting right down to the waterline. However, when they try to use it to misinform their readers when talking about our unnatural and unhealthy forests, it is downright dishonest and dangerous to hide the facts from the public.

There is not much land in the lower 48 states that is truly “pristine” and “untouched by man”. I’d bet that a large part around Mt. St. Helens is definitely “untouched”. Areas above timberline are probably “pristine”, as well.

I still think we should call ourselves “Forest Sculptors” because we apply art and science to our natural world of trees.

3 Aug 2009, 2:29pm
by Mike

The only “pristine” areas of Mt. Saint Helens are those covered with fresh volcanic ash and pyroclastic flows. The area has been used and resided in by Native Americans for millennia, and by Euro-Americans for the last 100+ years. That includes the top-most peak, which has been a sacred and ceremonial site (visited by humans) for countless generations. Indians managed to get to the top of nearly every mountain in North and South America. Why is another question — one that applies to modern mountain climbers as well.



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