ODF Slams Let It Burn

Last November the Oregon Department of Forestry issued a “perspective” on the Let It Burn policies of the US Forest Service. The short story: ODF has big problems with federal wildfire policy.

Rather than give a synopis, here is the ODF “perspective” in full (unfortunately I can’t supply a link because I can’t find this document on the ODF website):

Oregon Department of Forestry

Perspective on 2009 Federal Wildfire Policy Guidance

November 29, 2009


The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) provides fire protection on 16 million acres of private, state, local government and federal lands. ODF’s protection jurisdiction borders, and is intermingled with, thousands of miles of US Forest Service and other federal ownership. ODF’s fire protection system is funded through a combination of landowner assessments and state general fund (roughly 50/50). Both federal and state protection systems have been well coordinated at both the local and regional levels. Each agency maintains fire fighting resources and cost effectively shares contract resources such as contract crews, engines and helicopters based on established priorities and the availability of the resources.

ODF is supportive of the USFS and the other federal agencies. We strive to maintain the established high level of cooperation that we have between the agencies. ODF is also supportive of the role of fire to help meet resource management goals. However, ODF and the landowners we provide protection to prefer forest management tools other than wildfire to treat unhealthy fuel loads. ODF does understand that with the limitations imposed on the federal lands, by a variety of factors, available federal forest management options are limited. ODF does not want the federal agencies to lose the effective use of fire as a management tool.

However, current and past guidelines for federal wildfire policy that allow wildfires to grow large over peak burning conditions during the summer months without full suppression efforts impact the state. These impacts include loss of ODF protected landowner’s resources, increased state preparedness costs, the possibility of increased suppression costs, competition for firefighting resources, and increased safety risks for all firefighters through additional exposure.

Federal Wildfire Policy guideline changes made in 2009 further complicate the issues by allowing the use of multiple resource objectives within one fire. Actions such as these further complicate state fire management activities, cost share agreements, and the use and coordination of firefighting resources.

ODF Federal Wildfire Policy Issues

* Transfer of risk to ODF and other firefighters. Ability/willingness of USFS to cover suppression costs associated with fires that impact others due to their activities.

* Transfer of risk and damage to non-USFS landowners. Ability/willingness of USFS and federal government to compensate for damages.

* During a heavy fire season firefighting resource shortages:

- Impacts firefighter and public safety and increases resources lost

- Continues to drive up the agencies costs for the availability of limited resources

* Reliability of national federal fire models to help make predictions

- 2008 Bridge Creek WFU – predicted high Haines, wind shift, poor humidity recovery, were the primary drivers in the fire blowing up and burning 1,963 acres of ODF protection.

- 2009 Big Sheep Ridge WFU – fire ignited in wilderness on August 29, on September 28, fire blows up with a dry, cold front passage, resulting in wind shifts and low humidity’s – fire burns 136 acres of ODF protection.

* Safety and least cost objectives seem to be used synonymously for resource benefit. However, what may be least cost for the jurisdictional agency that has the fire may be most costly for the neighbor. For true “least cost”, the focus should be on increased and aggressive initial attack.

* Increased preparedness and coordination cost to ODF to prepare in the event one of the federal fires comes onto ODF protection regardless of who pays the suppression costs. Increasingly, the threat to ODF jurisdiction exists nearly anywhere a federal wildfire is being managed for other than full suppression.

* Federal WFU and non-aggressive suppression fires impact on air quality and global warming through carbon emissions.

* Impact on habitat for threatened and endangered species.

* When the federal fire management objective is to increase the amount of wildfire acres burned across the landscape, through the use of multiple resource objectives, it becomes unclear what decision making is driving when aggressive initial attack is implemented. In other words when is the agency really trying to catch the wildfire at IA versus increasing the amount of wildfire acres burned across the landscape.

* The use of federal emergency wildfire suppression funds to accomplish land management resource objectives.


Federal fire suppression policy guidelines have undergone significant change since the shift from the “10 a.m. policy” of the 1970’s and before. In an effort to address the hazardous fuels issue on National Forests, variations of “let it burn” guidance with differing descriptors has been used over the years on an increasing number of fires that have escaped initial attack. Through discussions last spring and this fall, Forest Service managers have been communicating their intent to continue, and to expand their use of indirect attack and encourage the use of fire for resource benefit to accomplish land management objectives. It is ODF’s opinion this will result in larger, more expensive fires with the likelihood of increased impacts to the Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon’s forest landowners.



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