18 Mar 2010, 12:14pm
Climate and Weather Saving Forests
by admin

Active Forest Management Can Save the Entire Planet

The following interesting article appeared today in the New York Times. According to the authors, active forest management via prescribed burning can prevent “scorched earth” stand-replacing wildfires. As an added benefit, CO2 emissions due to catastrophic megafires would be significantly reduced, thus saving the globe from the terrible fate of global warming.

We demur from the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis, but we strongly endorse the implementation of restoration forestry to prevent the destruction of forests.

Forest restoration means active management to bring back historical cultural landscapes, historical forest development pathways, and traditional ecological stewardship to achieve historical resiliency to fire and insects and to preclude and prevent a-historical catastrophic fires that decimate and destroy myriad resource values. Those values include [here]:

1. Heritage and history
2. Ecological functions including old-growth development
3. Fire resiliency and the reduction of catastrophic fires
4. Watershed functions
5. Wildlife habitat
6. Public health and safety
7. Biomass energy
8. Carbon sequestration
9. Jobs and the economy

But if saving the planet from CO2 emissions is what floats your boat, then restoration forestry works for that, too.

Excerpts from the article, with emphasis added:

Study Calls for More Prescribed Burns to Reduce Forest Fire Emissions

By JESSICA LEBER of ClimateWire, NY Times, March 18, 2010 [here]

A new study offers a prescription to increase carbon storage in western U.S. forests: Use more controlled burns to prevent a completely scorched earth.

Increasingly, forest managers are setting so-called “prescribed” fires to clear out underbrush and small trees that, if left to accumulate, can quickly escalate a single spark into a catastrophic blaze.

Prescribed practices mimic the natural, smaller burns, caused by lightning or set by Indians, that were all but eliminated by decades of unnatural fire suppression. Today, in many Western forests, piles of fuels are just waiting for a spark.

Wildfires can also contribute to climate change. Because they are much more intense than prescribed fires, they often kill many old-growth trees that store the most carbon, a consequence that hazardous-fuel reduction programs are meant to avoid. No one before, however, has measured the carbon savings of better fire management on any large scale, according to Christine Wiedinmyer, the study’s lead author.

“We know that prescribed fire can burn less fuel than a large, stand-replacing wildfire. The question was how much? Is it enough that it should be a management technique worth perusing if you want to store more carbon?” asked Wiedinmyer, an atmospheric chemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, found that widespread prescribed burns might have slashed fire-related carbon dioxide emissions in 11 Western states by an average of 18 to 25 percent between the years 2001 and 2008, and by as much as 60 percent in some forest systems.

Huge CO2 emissions from major fires

The actual carbon dioxide emissions from fires during those years averaged anywhere from 22 million to 103 million metric tons a year, the study estimates. The latter figure is about double the emissions produced by California’s entire electric power sector, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration data. …

In its fiscal year 2011 budget, the Forest Service is proposing to direct $349 million to overall programs that reduce hazardous fuels and hopes to treat a total 1.6 million acres in high-priority zones where wildlands meet communities.

Officials say prevention activities, though expensive, save money in the long run. By comparison, the fiscal 2011 budget request for fire suppression is $2.4 billion, with some funds dedicated to new contingency funds meant to prevent the service from raiding the rest of its budget as it has in past years.

As wildfires intensify, a trend of the past decade, the issue will become more pressing. According to a federal report in 2008, wildfires could soon begin consuming 10 million to 12 million acres a year. For comparison, in 2007, the worst of the last five years, 9.9 million acres burned nationwide.

“Fires are going to burn in the forests in the western United States. It’s partly up to us to decide how we want that to occur. Carbon is just one piece of the puzzle,” Wiedinmyer said.

The paper is:

Christine Wiedinmyer and Matthew D. Hurteau. 2010. Prescribed Fire As a Means of Reducing Forest Carbon Emissions in the Western United States. Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (6), pp 1926–1932.


Carbon sequestration by forested ecosystems offers a potential climate change mitigation benefit. However, wildfire has the potential to reverse this benefit. In the western United States, climate change and land management practices have led to increases in wildfire intensity and size. One potential means of reducing carbon emissions from wildfire is the use of prescribed burning, which consumes less biomass and therefore releases less carbon to the atmosphere. This study uses a regional fire emissions model to estimate the potential reduction in fire emissions when prescribed burning is applied in dry, temperate forested systems of the western U.S. Daily carbon dioxide (CO2) fire emissions for 2001-2008 were calculated for the western U.S. for two cases: a default wildfire case and one in which prescribed burning was applied. Wide-scale prescribed fire application can reduce CO2 fire emissions for the western U.S. by 18-25% in the western U.S., and by as much as 60% in specific forest systems. Although this work does not address important considerations such as the feasibility of implementing wide-scale prescribed fire management or the cumulative emissions from repeated prescribed burning, it does provide constraints on potential carbon emission reductions when prescribed burning is used.

18 Mar 2010, 4:19pm
by bear bait

Federal forest management policy creation and implementation is almost like driving a super tanker. It doesn’t take a lot to push the bow onto a new course, but to get turned around and on that new course takes a lot of nautical miles of movement, and more time than we might have. But it can be done. Only, of course, if the power to turn the bow is not meeting resistance from huge angry seas and stiff winds. What happens there is that you finally get past the breaking point and all of a sudden you are going way too fast with the wind to your back, and that can put you on the rocks in a heartbeat. Ask the Republican Congress how fast you can go from one direction to another of not your choosing.

I am certain that Federal fire policy is undergoing change as I write. They might not know they are, but they are no matter. The great problems will be that there is no plan for after the change. It will happen so fast, with no personnel to understand the new direction, nor personnel who have any idea of how to steer the new course, that it could very well be a disaster of its own. That is why people like Mike stress restoration forestry, and try to disseminate the foundation principles of restoration forestry. Those are the principles and facts on which any new direction must be built. W.I.S.E. ought to be required reading for line foresters today, if only to start the process of thoughts on how to manage a forest once you have the responsibility to do so under a new set of rules that require the forests be “restored” to pre-settlement structure and diversity. We will have failed if a change is brought about, but without a good foundation to move ahead. A lot of mischief can fill a management void in a hurry. And then what have you accomplished? Nada….nuttin’, honey. …zip..zero…not even a burnt biscuit award…

18 Mar 2010, 6:53pm
by Mike

One thing that makes prescribed fire different from wildfire is that prescribed fires are planned. There is thought given ahead of time. In most cases, the plan has to go through the NEPA process. The public gets to be involved if they want to.

Prescribed fires sometimes go awry. The method is not foolproof. No method is foolproof. But the chances for a successful burn, one that burns what it is supposed to and not what it isn’t, is far greater with prescribed fire than with an accidental wildfire in an accidental place at an accidental time.

18 Mar 2010, 7:14pm
by Larry H.

I think we need a nationwide map of each and every “MMA” and any other special “Let-Burn” zones. I would think that us rural residents need to know this basic piece of safety information. Of course, if they had done real NEPA, the public would already know.

The battle is still on to shape forest policy, while there is a Democratic President. I see that many of us here have found other websites to erect our soapboxes (made of wood, of course). Our opposition seems to be producing plausible propaganda, and its up to us to put their articles into scientific perspective. I also get some satisfaction when my opposition stoops to the lowest levels of internet debate.

18 Mar 2010, 7:34pm
by Mike

The Rogue River-Siskiyou NF has proposed a Let It Burn Zone that covers every square inch of that National Forest, including all the urban watersheds, WUI’s, travel routes, old-growth, young-growth, everything. That is the NF that hosted the Biscuit Fire, the 500,000 acre disaster in 2003.

I officially Objected, but nobody else did, not the cities, not the counties, not the State, not ODF, not the SAF, not AFRC, not the Red Cross, not nobody but me. The Regional Office is reviewing my Objections right now. I’ll let everybody know the outcome of that process when it happens.

19 Mar 2010, 11:57am
by YPmule

Posted to the YPTimes.

19 Mar 2010, 8:51pm
by bear bait

Mike: you read the document, and objected. That you did gives you standing, and if the cities or the counties suddenly find out they are hogtied by the their NGO buddies and the process, at least they can find you and fund you, to the ends of the earth in opposition. You did the real step and made an entry to the record. You have standing. One AttaBoy is forthcoming.

I went to college in Ashland in the early 1960s. And when I drive to SF to visit grandkids, the same hillsides that were burnt in 1960 have been burned again. Some twice. I especially like seeing off to the West of the freeway between Talent and Ashland, those homes sitting on the ridge above the fire chimneys of old. I fully expect to drive by someday and not see those houses. Maybe the still standing fireplace, but not the house.



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