9 Sep 2009, 10:29pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
by admin

Wakimoto Discourses On Anthropogenic Fire

Dr. Ronald H. Wakimoto is Professor of Forestry at The University of Montana, Missoula. He received his B.S. in Forestry and M.S. and Ph.D. in Wildland Resource Science from the University of California at Berkeley, studying under the legendary Harold Biswell.

Dr. Harold “Doc” Biswell was a pioneering advocate for the study of the ecological role of fire, for the use of prescribed fire in land management, and for fuels management. Dr. Biswell passed in 1992. Ron Wakimoto was one his last graduate students (I believe Dr. Biswell was already emeritus at that time). Ron’s Ph.D. dissertation (Wakimoto, R. H. 1978. Responses of southern California brushland vegetation to fuel modification. UC Berkeley, 278 p.) is well known and respected in forestry circles. Both men advocated prescribed burning and fuels management in chaparral and other vegetation types to mitigate and ameliorate the hazards of severe and catastrophic fire.

I was an undergrad at Berkeley in the early 70’s and had the occasion to meet and talk with both Ron and Harold. I have studied their research papers in the intervening years. My feeling is that a great many extreme and tragic fires could have been avoided if federal, state, and county officials and land management agencies had taken their advice. I still feel that way, in that future tragedies could be avoided if we listened to these great forest scientists and took better care of our landscapes.

Dr. Wakimoto has been at The University of Montana since 1982 teaching and conducting research in wildland fire management. He teaches academic courses in wildland fire management, fuel management and fire ecology. Dr. Wakimoto currently conducts research on the social acceptability of fuel management treatments, smoke quality and quantity from smoldering combustion, fire fighter safety, crown fire spread and the fire ecology of the Northern Mixed Prairie.

Yesterday Forest Service retirees meeting in Missoula were privileged to receive a discourse from Dr. Wakimoto on anthropogenic fire. I wasn’t there (sadly) but received this report over the ether:

Forest Service reunion in Missoula explores myths, realities of wildfires

By KIM BRIGGEMAN of the Missoulian, September 9, 2009 [here]

For most of his life, Ed Heilman has been thinking about wildfires and what to do about them.

The Missoula man retired from the U.S. Forest Service after 35 years as director of fire management in the Northern Region.

So Heilman listened with skepticism to what University of Montana professor Ron Wakimoto had to say Tuesday about Native Americans and their historic use of fire.

Then the Missoula man chuckled at himself.

“He changed my mind today,” he said of Wakimoto. “And that doesn’t come easy, by the way.”

Wakimoto is part of a heavyweight lineup of speakers and panelists at the 2009 Forest Service Reunion at the Hilton Garden Inn, which started Monday and runs through Friday morning.

His topic was billed “Fire in the Forest: Myths and Realities” and among the myths he dispelled was the notion voiced in 1959 by Raymond Clar of the California Division of Forestry.

Clar wrote that it was a “fantastic notion” that Indians systematically used fires to improve the forest.

Wakimoto said there has been “a tremendous amount of research” in the past 50 years to prove they did.

They set fires to clear trees to improve hunting prospects, to enhance the production of berries and medicinal plants, to improve grazing lands for their horses. They did it to clear lodgepole pine blowdown, to clear space for campsites and to remove cover that enemies could use to sneak up on them.

While white settlers viewed the land they claimed as wilderness, it actually bore extensive marks of management by fire over the centuries. As early as the 1750s, Wakimoto said, New York and other colonies were passing laws to outlaw Native Americans’ use of fire.

“Think about it. There was that much fire,” he said.

Heilman read the book “California Government and Forestry” in which Clar made his assertions soon after it was published, and he still has a copy.

“That was kind of the start of my foundation, you might say,” he said. “In all these years I believed it. I thought the Indians set plenty of fires, whether accidental or to get even with somebody. But ecology? Come on now.

“It turns out there was a deliberate pattern to it. And I don’t doubt Ron. I would take his word over Clar’s.”

Regular readers know my passion for understanding historical human influences on the environment. This report gave me a warm glow. Kudos to my old schoolmate Ron, and to Ed Heilman, and to Kim Briggeman, and to everybody.

It’s important to grasp the enormous effect humanity has had on forests during the Holocene. The forest development pathways that led to modern old-growth were human mediated. We cannot protect, maintain, and perpetuate old-growth if we do not understand how it came to be here. We cannot quench this crisis of megafires unless we absorb the facts about historical anthropogenic fire.

There is a window opening in forest science. These are heady days for historical forest research. Every watershed has a story to tell, and instructions to give regarding restoration and environmental stewardship.

More from Briggeman of the Missoulian:

Tuesday was tour day for the reunion, which included Forest Service retirees and employees from as far away as Georgia. More than 100 people traveled to Flathead Lake for a boat tour, while smaller groups visited the Missoula airport complex, the Ninemile Remount Station, Garnet Ghost Town or floated the Alberton Gorge.

The reunion, which has attracted 510 registered guests, has been in the works for more than three years, said Beryl Johnston of Frenchtown, who retired from the Northern Region office in Missoula in 1996 after 40 years in the Forest Service.

It’s the fifth such national reunion and the second held in Missoula. The city’s first was in 2000. It was followed by one in Portland, Ore., in 2005, the Forest Service’s centennial year.

“In a sense it wasn’t our turn again,” said Johnston, chairman of the reunion steering committee. But the city bid on 2009 with the idea it could be held in conjunction with the opening of the $12 million National Museum of Forest Service History.

That didn’t pan out, though another option for reunion attendees Tuesday was to visit the future site of the museum, where an unveiling ceremony took place. (See accompanying story).

But the show goes on, with what in the Forest Service realm is a star-studded lineup. On Wednesday, Tom Tidwell, current chief of the Forest Service, is expected to join a panel that includes former chiefs R. Max Peterson, F. Dale Robertson, Jack Ward Thomas, Mike Dombeck, Dale Bosworth and Gail Kimbell. They’ll discuss the theme the Missoula reunion has adopted, “Where Do We Go From Here?”

“The reason we developed that is, for the last year, the Forest Service has had a lot of political changes, you might say,” said Johnston. “There’s a lot of concern about which direction the Forest Service is going.”

The idea, he said, is to look at what happened in the past and what the current situation is.

“Then we ask, how’s that going to affect future policy in the Forest Service? There was a concern about how the Forest Service might be influenced politically over the past year. So far it hasn’t been real negative.”

It is my fervent hope that the teachings of Dr. Ron Wakimoto and other “New Paradigmers” might begin to resonate within the US Forest Service and affect future policy. The megafire crisis is an affront to good stewardship, a storm of environmental devastation and community disasters. Regardless of political winds, USFS personnel need to understand how our forests developed so that they might tend them with some success, and hopefully reverse the trend toward catastrophic failure that we have experienced over the last 20 years.

10 Sep 2009, 5:14am
by bear bait

If they can see the forest for the trees…….

10 Sep 2009, 8:27am
by Larry H.

The present and former Chiefs are wondering WTF to do with our forests. Wondering how they could be so blind to the REAL answers to good stewardship and restoration. Wondering how it could come to this terrible gridlock.

It’s a good thing they are getting “schooled” by smarter folks. However, the wrong people are there! Congress needs to learn this and write laws that cannot be challenged in court. Unfortunately, THAT just isn’t possible in this day and age. Eastern Democrats have found that the best way to pump up their “green creds” is to lock up western “Wilderness”, to prove that they are just as “green” as their western peers claim to be.

The times, they ARE a-changin’. Democrats would like nothing more than to steal the “good stewardship” concept away from the Republicans. The smarter Dem’s are definitely learning that strict preservation just isn’t working and that free-range “burning forests to save them” is actually destroying them. Even the Grist website hurriedly pulled a story by one of their idols, Joe Romm, stating that “global warming” is the CAUSE of our forests dying and burning. Alas, liberal “scientists” are going to be stubborn, not willing to sully their egos and reputations by doing a 180.

Luckily, Internet history is set in stone and we have been WAY ahead of the curve. We still need to prevail in our certainty that we ARE the voice of eco-forestry!

10 Sep 2009, 12:52pm
by Larry H.

Ahhhhh, I see why the article was pulled from Grist’s front page. Because it was rife with loonies pulling all sorts of crazy stuff out of their butts. The smartest one knew something of forests and the carbon cycle but, insisted that the carbon from dead material gets decomposed and goes into the ground as humus. Little does he/she realize, that the dead material, ESPECIALLY the carbon, goes up, often VERY high, into our atmosphere, causing bigtime pollution, as well as degrading our soils. How wrong can one get?!?

(Actually, MUCH wrong-er, reading the other loons chiming in on that thread. To read it, search for Grist, Joe Romm and wildfires)



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