Invoking Misconceptions About “Ecosystems”

Another in our seemingly endless series about the “balance of nature” and other intellectually bankrupt eco-babble concepts [see also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and many others].

The Ecosystem Illusion

Review by Mark Sagoff, professor at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park. 2000. [here]

of: Defending Illusions: Federal Protection of Ecosystems, by Allan K. Fitzsimmons. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, 330 pp.

The protection of nature is a goal easier to embrace than to explain. If by “nature” we mean everything in the universe-all that is bound by the laws of physics-then our protection of nature is not required. Since we cannot perform miracles, our actions are as natural and fit as much into nature’s design or plan as the behavior of any object or organism. The opposite of nature in this sense is the supernatural, defined as anything to which the laws of nature do not apply. …

In Defending Illusions, Allan Fitzsimmons, an environmental consultant, argues persuasively that nature in this sense, above the level of the organism, possesses neither organizing principles nor emergent qualities that biologists can study. It has no health or integrity for humans to respect. The only laws or principles in nature are those that apply to everything and that human beings cannot help but obey. …

Historically, racists, sexists, and tyrants of all sorts have invoked conceptions of nature or of the natural to condemn whatever they happened to oppose. Fitzsimmons believes that environmentalists who appeal to the notion of the ecosystem similarly misrepresent their own preferences as those of Mother Nature. Because science must speak in secular terms, it refers to ecosystems instead of to Mother Nature or to Creation and ascribes design to ecosystems without any mention of the Designer. This conception of nature as orderly, however, derives not from any empirical evidence but from assumptions and beliefs that are essentially romantic or theological.

Fitzsimmons quotes Jack Ward Thomas, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service in the Clinton administration: “I promise you I can do anything you want to do by saying it is ecosystem management. . . But right now it’s incredibly nebulous.” The utter nebulousness-indeed, vacuity-of the ecosystem concept accounts for its amazing prominence in environmental policy and planning, because researchers can absorb any amount of funding in trying to understand concepts such as ecosystem health, integrity, and stability. These concepts, Fitzsimmons argues, will always mean what anybody wants them to mean and thus will only add confusion to the already impossible goal of keeping nature free of human influence.

Fitzsimmons also quotes environmental scientists such as Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco, who concedes that the goal of sustaining ecosystems “is difficult to translate into specific objectives” in practice. He adds that “no amount of training-theological or ecological-can give substance to such notions as ‘the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.’” This does not imply, however, that Fitzsimmons opposes well-defined efforts to provide green space, protect wetlands, add to the nation’s parklands, preserve endangered species, and so on. Rather, he argues that vague imperatives implied in theories of ecosystem management provide no clear goals and offer no way to measure progress in these efforts. ..

For the entire review, please see [here].

Mt. Hood Wilderness Expansion Is Bad Public Lands Policy

Wilderness designation is fatal to forests. As we pointed out in our (not yet completed) series entitled Fraudulent Wilderness [here, here, here], wilderness designation destroys forests, wildlife, habitat, watersheds, airsheds, heritage, and other environmental values by eliminating stewardship, stewardship that has been ongoing in the Americas for 13,500 years.

For example, this summer catastrophic fires incinerated old-growth forests, habitat, and heritage in the Boulder Creek Wilderness, Sky Lakes Wilderness, South Sierra Wilderness, Jarbidge Wilderness, and Ventana Wilderness. The damages beyond the Wilderness boundaries from smoke, fire, and watershed destruction were severe and will be long-lasting.

Other designated wilderness areas subject to catastrophic fires since designation include Alpine Lakes, Bandelier, Black Canyon, Bob Marshall, Bull of the Woods, Frank Church-River of No Return, Golden Trout, Gospel Hump, Hells Canyon, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Manzano Mountain, Marble Mountains, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Okefenokee, Rogue Umpqua Divide, Saddle Mountain, Selway-Bitterroot, Siskiyou, Tatoosh, Yolla-Bolly, San Rafael, Dick Smith, Three Sisters, Kalmiopsis, Matilija, and many others.

The lame duck Congress is gearing up to declare millions more acres “wilderness” in contempt of the true nature of those lands and without regard for the environmentally disastrous consequences.

The following letter from Mr. John Marker, USFS (ret.) points out to Congress, once again, that wilderness designation is fraught with negative externalities, not the least of which is the inevitable destruction of watershed values. SOS Forests kudos to John for his unwavering devotion to good stewardship and indefatigable efforts to educate Congress about the on-the-ground realities.

10 November 2008

To: Senator Ron Wyden

Dear Senator Wyden:

Once again I write to you urging reconsideration of your support for expanded legislated wilderness on Mt. Hood. The past summer provided another wake up call of why wilderness expansion is a bad idea. The Gnarl Ridge Fire, the second major fire in the last five years on the North side of Mt Hood, burned 3280 acres, killing most of the trees on half of the burned area, and damaging trees on the remainder. The fire would have also destroyed Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane recreation area, both historic sites, without several accurate air tanker drops and good luck. Control costs of the fire are estimated at $15 million.

The Gnarl fire burned through about 40% of the Crystal Springs Water District’s Zone of Contribution, land that collects snow and rain for Crystal Springs, a major source of domestic water for the Hood River Valley. Damage to the watershed is still being studied. Insect killed trees, heavy fuel loading from overstocked forests, topography and lack of access were major obstacles to control of this fire. Half of the land burned was in designated wilderness. Wilderness areas, as the two recent fires illustrate, neither save or protect Mt. Hood. Fire on the mountain with today’s fuel loading and changing weather conditions is not natural, but destructive, and healing the damage is in decades if not centuries. The expansion of legal wilderness area on the mountain is bad public policy, in my opinion, based upon 50 years as a forester.

The goal of protecting this magnificent natural resource is commendable, but proposed wilderness expansion will, in my view, place the mountain at greater risk of damage, and also increase risk of harm to neighboring lands and communities. The proposal also ignores the 1897 Organic Act’s mandate of sustained production of renewable resources from the national forests with water and wood priority. Wood supply may no longer be critical, but water is, and certainly from Mt. Hood.

Legislated Wilderness provides no protection for the land from impacts of fire, insects, disease, catastrophic storms, air pollution or climate change. This designation severely limits the ability to control or prevent damage from such forces by strictly limiting management and treatment options as well as access. Wilderness constraints jeopardize protection of adjacent non-wilderness areas such as Bull Run, Government Camp, Cooper Spur and other land and communities adjacent to the national forest.

Currently many areas of forest inside the proposed Wilderness expansions are threatened by aggressive insect and disease activity, plus the continuing build up of fire risk from dead and overcrowded trees. If, as many scientists predict, the Northwest climate pattern continues warmer and drier, the risk of destruction will expand as forest ecosystems are weakened by this change. The increasing human use of the mountain also raises the threat of damage to the land from overuse and abuse. To ignore these realities contradicts the stated goal of “protecting” and “saving” Mt. Hood.

An alternative for protecting Mt. Hood is available. It is development of the plan called for in the Walden-Blumenauer legislative proposal, starting with acknowledgement of the biological and climatic forces constantly at work on the mountain, which recognizes Mt. Hood’s critical role of providing clean and abundant water for more than a million people living in its shadow. The plan must also recognize the reality of federal budget constraints.

Once these fundamentals are understood, a plan for the mountain’s future, with watershed value as the critical resource, can be built. It will establish guidelines for protecting watershed values, the forests, recreation and other values. This process can be expedited by using the existing congressionally mandated national forest plan as a starting point.

To my way of thinking, recognition up front of the priority for Mt. Hood management, and understanding that locking up the land is not the way to save or protect against the challenges of people and nature. Stretching and bending the intent and provisions of the Wilderness Act to “protect” and “save” this land does a disservice to the intent of the act and those who created it, and to the public’s land.


John F. Marker, Forester (ret.)

The Concern Over Forest Policy Is Not New

An important news story, with a twist:

As Fires Scorch West, Forest Policy Is Concern

By John H. Cushman Jr., The New York Times

Between the radiant sky and the parched earth, the only sign of fire in the rugged Boise National Forest was a glowing ember of fear in the eyes of the forest supervisor, Stephen P. Mealey.

“I am sitting here terrified,” he said on Sunday. “The only thing between us and disaster is a lightning strike.” …

A fire weather forecast — red flag warnings, lightning level one — crackled over the helicopter radio as he flew over a 250,000-acre expanse scorched bare by a wildfire…

His helicopter settled in a remote clearing in a place called Tiger Creek, and Mr. Mealey clambered up a slope where, shortly before the 1992 fire, the woods had been thinned of underbrush and then lightly burned by the Forest Service. At the height of its intensity, the 1992 fire had raced through the treetops until it reached the spot where he stood.

“When the fire hit this site, it lay down,” Mr. Mealey said, and the thinned woods survived intact. Now, in a plan that would radically change the management of his 2.5 million-acre forest, Mr. Mealey wants to greatly expand the thinning of the dense woods and the use of controlled burning.

This new approach is important, Mr. Mealey said, because conditions are so ripe for catastrophic fire that the odds approach inevitability here and in many areas of the drought-stricken West. But he said it was going to be a “tough sell” and could take a long time to put into effect.

In a report issued in April, the National Commission on Wildfire Disasters, set up after the devastating fires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988, endorsed this philosophy of intensive thinning followed by the use of small, controlled fires to burn out parts of forests throughout the West.

“The prevention of catastrophic wildfires must begin with the restoration of more healthy forests through the reduction of dangerous fuel levels and the eventual increase of less intense and more ecologically friendly fires,” said Neil Sampson, the commission’s chairman and the executive vice president of American Forests, a conservation group. …

He and some local forestry experts say this is an unnatural condition caused by decades of logging large trees, mainly Ponderosa pines, that resist fire and drought especially well, and allowing smaller, more flammable and densely packed species to remain. …

Mr. Mealey and others want the forest to look more as it did at the start of the century, dominated by thinly spaced, towering Ponderosa pine, never allowing the shorter, denser and more flammable Douglas fir to encroach on it.

Dr. Leon F. Neuenschwander, a forestry professor at the University of Idaho at Moscow, has recommended applying a combination of commercial logging, selective thinning and controlled fires on 50,000 acres a year over the next 10 to 30 years. …

What’s the twist?

more »

New Regional Forester On Meet-and-Greet Tour

Recently named Region 6 U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Mary Wagner [here] was joined by U.S. Congressman Greg Walden at a community meeting in Enterprise, Oregon, last month. The two heard serious complaints about USFS management. From the Wallowa County Chieftain [here]:

FS looks to new tools for new times

Tour conducted by Congressman Walden introduces brand-new regional forester to ‘passionate’ testimony in Elgin, exemplary problem-solvers in Enterprise

By Kathleen Ellyn and Samantha Bates, Wallowa County Chieftain & East Oregonian, 10/30/2008

Brand-new Region 6 U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Mary Wagner wanted to assure rural counties that she was as eager to see management policy changes in the Forest Service as they were.

“We need new tools for new times,” she admitted to a group of more than 30 citizens, timber industry leaders, representatives from environmental, tribal and community organizations and county officials Oct. 22 in Enterprise.

“Today there is a call to experiment with different things because doing what we’re doing is not getting us to the goal we want,” she said. “We have an obligation to look at things a different way.”

She was preaching to the choir.

By the time she rolled into Enterprise in the company of county payments champion U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), who was continuing his 16-county, 63-meeting tour, she had heard loud and clear from every community in her region that what the Forest Service needed was a complete overhaul of its business model.

more »

Guerrilla Forest Planning

In secrecy, in the dead of night, beyond the view of the public, the US Forest Service has altered Forest Plans across the nation.

Over 30 National Forests today have adopted Let It Burn into their Forest Plans, with no public notice, no public hearings, no peep to the Media, no announcements in the Federal Register, no word to the wise at all.

Like Viet Cong guerrillas, USFS officials have donned black pajamas and ski masks to creep with stealth into the document vaults, and they have pasted whoofoo (WFU, Wildland Fire Use) between the lines in Fire Plans from Washington to New Mexico, from Montana to California.

The Fire Plans are part and parcel of the Forest Plans. Such Plans are required by law (NEPA) to be presented to the public for open and transparent evaluation prior to adoption or alteration. The USFS leadership knows that, but their jiggering of Fire Plans and injecting Let It Burn was so offensive and improper that they knew the public would reject it. So they did it in secrecy.

Like the eco-terrorists who have burned Ranger Stations and schools, USFS leaders perpetrated the Burn Baby Burn Plans under the cover of darkness.

And now, when the terrorist planning is coming to light, the USFS is claiming that the Plans are inviolate and must be obeyed. They are the law, even though they were created illegally.

And now millions of acres of our forests have been in incinerated in whoofoo Let It Burn fires perpetrated by the selfsame guerrilla agents who doctored the Fire Plans.

There was no public announcement, no NEPA process, when the Sawtooth NF scribbled whoofoo provisions into their Fire Plans. This summer the Sawtooth NF burned 38,500 acres in the South Barker WFU Fire [here], in accordance with their altered Fire Plan. When questioned about the lack of NEPA compliance, the excuse given was “we didn’t have time for that.”

The NEPA process would have revealed that Let It Burn wildfires in the middle of summer damage vegetation, wildlife, watersheds, airsheds, public health and safety, recreation, roads and infrastructure, and cost $millions (in the case of the South Barker WFU Fire, $7,041,364 in “suppression” costs alone, but inflicting 10 to 20 times that much in resource losses).

Nobody bothered to inform the public when the Ochoco NF adopted whoofoo. But altered Fire Plan verbiage was the excuse given to the public when the Ochoco NF burned the Mitchell Watershed in the Bridge Creek WFU Fire [here] this summer. That fire jumped the property line and burned 2,000 acres of private land, too. When the private landowners complained, the USFS spokesperson sneered at them and told them to “file a claim.” Yet no public filing was done when the Ochoco NF wrote secret whoofoo language into their Fire Plan.

Mum was the word at the Sequoia NF when they adopted WFU. But it was tough to hide the Clover WFU Fire (15,300 acres, $8,315,000) [here].

Dead-of-night secrecy was the strategy at the Humboldt-Toiyabe NF, Okanogan-Wenatchee NF, Gila NF, Bitterroot NF, Caribou-Targhee NF, Boise NF, Wallowa-Whitman NF, and dozens of others.

The latest rumor is that 30 National Forests have altered their Fire Plans to include whoofoo. The number of public hearings in that regard? Zero. The cost? $2 billion in direct costs this year alone and perhaps $50 billion in resource damages.

Government functionaries sneaking around altering documents in the dead of night, alterations that “legally” allow them to incinerate vast tracts of public forest, is not the way “open government” is supposed to work. It is more akin to totalitarian-style government.

It is time to root the guerrilla terrorist public employees out their spider holes. We need an office by office search to round up the midnight document forgers. It is time to shine the bright light of public scrutiny on the agents of darkness and to unmask the secret scribblings of the Let It Burn subversives.

30 Oct 2008, 11:16am
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin

South Barker Aftermath

We have previously posted about the South Barker WFU Fire [here, here, here, here, here]. Last week retired District Ranger and Forest Supervisor Glenn Bradley toured the South Barker Burn with personnel from the Sawtooth National Forest. This is his report:

by Glenn Bradley, USFS ret.

Several of you asked me to report back to you after I toured the South Barker Fire area with Forest Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer.

Actually, I have made two visits to the burn. Carolyn and I spent Saturday, October 18, looking at some of it. On Thursday, October 23, I went there with Jane and her people.

Before I start, I would like to say that I appreciate Jane’s willingness to meet me in the field and discuss various aspects of the fire. She was accompanied by District Ranger, Mike Dettori, Forest Public Information Officer, Alicia Bennett, and District Wildlife Biologist, David Skinner. By chance, we connected for a few minutes in the field with District Forester, Alan Young. All of them treated me politely and our discussions were open and candid.

We met first in the Fairfield District Office where we looked at maps showing the various intensities of burning, the area burned on different days, and the boundary line called the Maximum Management Area, which was drawn after the fire was allowed to burn to guide the fire team as the outside allowable perimeter of the fire. Two points came out that are significant. First, no prior project-level planning had been done except a proposal to burn 1,000 acres per year for four years in the Barker Gulch area and a decision in the revised Forest Plan that Wild Fire Use would be an option in that part of the forest. Second, was a statement to me by David that this had been by far the biggest thing that had ever happened to the district and it had been so all-consuming that no time had been available for any other work since the fire started.

We left for the field visit and our first stop was in Barker Gulch. I was surprised by several things. One was that the large trees seemed to burn about as readily as the younger ones. Another was that I was the only one in the group who was concerned about the burned-out riparian zone along the stream and the probable accelerated erosion which will occur from the steep granitic slopes left bare by the fire. Mike asked me why that concerned me and I told him I thought it was important to keep the streams running clear water and to not fill Anderson Ranch Reservoir with silt. He replied that those canyons were formed by water erosion and he viewed it as part of the natural process and it didn’t worry him much.

As we drove on up the river, I expressed concern that for three miles the entire hillside on the north side of the river was black with almost all of the trees killed. I told them that in the old Multiple Use Planning system, that would have been mapped as either “Water Influence Zone” or “Travel Influence Zone”. In those zones, recreation and scenic values would be considered dominant, and every effort would be made to protect the beauty of the area. In this case it is even more important because it is the foreground scenery to the Abbott, Chaparral, and Bird Creek Campgrounds. Mike said he agreed that it did not look very good, but in their panic in the early stages of the fire they had purposely back-burned that area to try to keep the fire within the MMA. He said in hindsight that it would have been better to let the fire back down those slopes with a cooler burn and less crowning. I suggested they should have considered some of those things before they decided to let the fire burn. It should be noted that, even though the meager news reports in the Twin Falls paper called it a creeping, underburning fire, it did a lot of crowning and even jumped the South Boise River near the mouth of Bird Creek and also burned 3000 acres outside the MMA in Cayuse and Little Cayuse Creeks.

The next area we looked at was in Marsh Creek. In 1959, I marked a large timber sale there. One of our objectives was to clean out some decadent stands of Douglas fir that were heavily infested with dwarfmistletoe and to replant with Ponderosa pine. Those plantations were established in 1962, and have grown very well. Further investments have been made in thinning them in recent years. I am very sorry to report that those plantations have sustained about 50% mortality according to Forest Service monitoring studies. A fellow who lives in Featherville wrote to me last night and expressed my feelings very well. He said he and his wife went to Marsh Creek the first day the road closure was lifted. He said he was glad they went alone because he doesn’t like for other people to see him cry.

In the 1959 timber sale, we saved some mature Ponderosa pines as seed trees in some of the units. I was surprised again to see some of those big trees completely charred from bottom to top even though they were not near any other large trees that could have carried fire up them. Some areas simply burned so hot that everything in them got cooked.

As we ate lunch looking into Cayuse Creek, we talked about what the area would look like in future years. We had very differing ideas. I said I would expect the areas that burned hot on the upper west slopes to have significant raw gullies.
Mike said he expected aspen to sprout in those places. There were aspen in the moist bottoms, but not on the dry, west-facing slopes. I’m still betting on the gullies.

Jane did some probing into my background in fire while we were eating. I told her I had been on some large fires, but I preferred to keep them small. For the record, under the old Red Card system, I held qualifications beginning as a Crewman and advancing to Crew Boss, Sector Boss, Division Boss, Line Boss II, and Line Boss I. I served on Class E fires in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and California. South Barker was not my first exposure to large burned-over areas.

The road up Shake Creek was blocked at the second crossing. No burn was visible from there. I do know that the fire got from Marsh Creek to Willow Creek and Shake Creek is in between, so I expect the plantations in upper Shake Creek are no better off than those in Marsh Creek. Carolyn and I walked into the burn in Willow Creek on October 18 and saw long steep slopes completely denuded by the fire as well as burned out riparian areas along the creek with ash and debris in the stream.

From Willow Creek on up the river, the fire only burned in the upper portions of the drainages, so most of it is not visible from the road. The down sides of that fact are that the heads of the drainages have the most fragile soils and there was no need to burn them for fuel reduction.

After spending the whole day, it was not clear to me why they wanted to let this fire burn. Other than a brief private visit with Dave about woodpeckers and owls, there was no mention from Jane or Mike about the objectives centered on those species. All three objectives stated by the Chief related to the Ponderosa pine type, but 80% of the burn was outside the Ponderosa pine type.

I believe the potential of the fire was grossly underestimated from the beginning. It was first reported as “slight potential to spread”. Mike said that after the first few days of the fire, he thought it might run to 10,000 acres and cost 1.5 million dollars. I detected no feeling of failure from the resource loss or from the fact that they burned 37,000 acres and spent over 7 million dollars.

Neither Mike nor Jane knew if they had complied with Idaho DEQ smoke management requirements. Although people along the river told me they were choked by smoke from about 1:00 AM to about 2:00PM each day and it was not possible to see well enough to run boats on Anderson Ranch Reservoir during those hours, Mike said there were only a few days that it was severe enough to be hazardous to health, so he didn’t think it was too bad. When I told him that the smoke in Sawtooth Valley had practically precluded recreation use there for several days, there was no response.

I detected no real concern about the fact that all recreation use along the river was curtailed for about two months. The only comment Jane made was that if the campgrounds had been concession-operated, they would not have let the fire burn because the concessionaire may have sued them for lost income.

While some small areas within the burn may have benefited from the reduction of fuels, the natural character of the vegetation in the burned area was a mosaic pattern with drastic changes from aspect to aspect without continuous fuel that needed broken up. An objective to reduce fuel loading could only be justified in spotty areas within the early part of the burn.

No mention was made of the expected changes the fire would cause to the grazing permittees, but it did burn on at least one sheep allotment.

We met District Forester, Alan Young, in Marsh Creek. He was working with burn intensity maps to determine which areas of the plantations needed to be replanted. I asked him how he would finance the reforestation efforts. He said they would get fire money to do that. (Is there something wrong with this picture? You burn it on purpose with money you don’t have, and then you get more money to replant it!) I asked him how he would feel if he got it all replanted and tended it for fifty years and then some Ranger decided to burn up his plantation. He didn’t respond.

Near the end of the day, I pursued the issue of NEPA compliance with Jane. She said it is impossible to do the kind of analysis and public involvement required by NEPA because there was no time between the ignition and the decision. I believe that is a cop out. I do not buy the excuse that it is “natural”. Whether a forest officer starts a fire or simply lets one burn, I believe he or she is responsible for it. There is no question in my mind that it qualifies as a major federal action. If the NEPA compliance work was not complete, the fire should not have been allowed to burn.

Relying on lightning to ignite fires, even where a decision has been made to do some burning, guarantees that it will come as a surprise and at a time when the people involved are less than fully prepared. It would be much smarter to do burning projects by lighting the fire at a time and under conditions when results can be predicted.

Letting fires burn in the peak of the fire season ties up resources that are needed for “real fires”. Letting fires burn for long periods of time in mid-summer assures that there will be days of high winds or other dangerous weather. Letting a fire burn for a long time in fire season impairs visibility so that “real” fires might not be discovered while they are small.

Landscape type fires cannot be controlled to do what is needed. If they are too big to handle, they will do as they will.

Letting fires burn when there is no fire money robs all other programs of funds and infuriates the congress. They are less inclined to fund fire management if they know money is being needlessly spent on purpose.

If there are any benefits to the South Barker Fire, they are minimal and questionable. There is no denying of the fact that a lot of area is damaged and a lot of money was spent. I still believe letting this fire burn was at least a 7 million dollar mistake. The lack of concern about accelerated erosion is troubling to me. I have watched this country gradually heal up over the last 60 years from severe damage done by heavy grazing and trailing of sheep in the early 1900’s. It took a giant step backwards this summer.

I hope the Forest Service will change the policy so that intentional burning will be done on a planned, rational, legal, and controllable basis, rather than the “Flying by the Seat of the Pants” way that South Barker and a number of other WFU fires have been handled lately.

21 Oct 2008, 12:19pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Forest Fires Degrade Soils

New findings by a team of Oregon forest scientists reveal that the Biscuit Fire (2002) not only incinerated 500,000 acres of forest, it also stripped soils clean off the landscape. Millions of tons of “sequestered” carbon were emitted by the Biscuit Fire, but more than that, the soil was sucked up into fire plumes and blown off the site, leaving a only a rubble of heavier stones.

The study, Intense forest wildfire sharply reduces mineral soil C and N: the first direct evidence by Bernard T. Bormann, Peter S. Homann, Robyn L. Darbyshire, and Brett A. Morrissette, is to be published in the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Forest Research [Can. J. For. Res. 38: 2771–2783 (2008)] in December. Extracts and a link to the full text may be found in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

The study was unique in that soil measurements were taken before the fire and the same plots remeasured after the fire. Most studies examine burned and unburned post-fire plots, and retrospective assumptions must be made regarding pre-fire conditions. In this case, however, the Biscuit Fire burned through a portion of a 150 ha Long-Term Ecosystem Productivity (LTEP) experiment (Bormann et al. 1994; Homann et al. 2008), and the forest scientists were able to examine soil changes in paired pre- and post-fire plots.

Bormann et al found that more than 10 tons per acre of carbon and between 450 to 620 pounds per acre of nitrogen were vaporized by the fire. Some 60% of soil carbon and 57% of soil nitrogen losses came from mineral soil horizons (below the duff and humus top layers). In addition they found that 127 megagrams (127,000 kilograms) of soil per hectare disappeared. The scientists conjectured:

An intriguing alternative explanation for most of the missing fine soil is transport via the massive smoke plume. The elevation of the smoke column and the spread of the plume provide a plausible convective erosion process for off-site transport of substantial material. Large plumes of smoke, some more than 1500 km long, were visible most days during the months of the fire from the NASA MODIS satellite (Fig. 9). Fine soil particles have been detected in smoke (Palmer 1981; Samsonov et al. 2005), and wind speeds near the soil surface — driven by extremely strong vortices resulting from fire-driven atmospheric convection (Palmer 1981; Banta et al. 1992) — can carry smoke to the lower stratosphere (Trentmann et al. 2006).

They called this an “alternative explanation” because their first thought was that post-fire water erosion carried the soil away. However, erosion box measurements accounted for only a third of the missing soil. The plume explanation was based on speculation because the plume contents and volume were not accurately measured (for obvious reasons).

Total soil carbon losses from the Biscuit Fire were estimated to be 9 teragrams (9 million metric tons). That does not include carbon emissions from the incinerated vegetation, which we estimate to be an additional 35 Tg. The sum (44 teragrams or million metric tons) is roughly equivalent to the carbon emissions of 9 million cars driven all year.

The fire was hot enough to melt heavy-duty aluminum tags on steel grid posts placed as part of the LTEP experiment. The scientists estimated that fire temperatures were hotter than 700 degrees C (1300 degrees F) based on kiln tests on similar tags. At those temperatures tree mortality was near total as was fine fuel consumption.

The result was a seared landscape, devoid of living organisms, charred beyond recognition, and cooked deep into the soil. Fine soils were blown away, seed banks destroyed, and the essential productivity of the site vastly depleted. Bormann et al concluded:

The intensity of wildfires and magnitude of losses of fine soils and soil C and N have additional implications for soil fertility and subsequent rates of plant production and C sequestration. Soil C losses lead to increased bulk density and reduced soil water-holding capacity, cation-exchange capacity, and sources of energy for microbial communities. To the extent that soil N, soil C, and soil structure control productivity, these changes should result in major declines that will last as long as it takes to return to prefire conditions.

That could take decades or perhaps centuries.

It is stunning to realize that the US Forest Service calls such fires “beneficial” to resources. The USFS has embarked on a program of Wildfires Use For Resource Benefit (WFU). They have not specified which resources benefit, or how, or quantified the alleged benefits. It is abundantly clear from this study that resources are seriously degraded by wildfire, at least by this fire. Soil, biological, air, and water resources were severely damaged and those damages will remain and continue for perhaps many human lifetimes.

The authors of this study point out that resource degradation is contrary to the legal mandate and mission of the USFS:

Any potential loss in productivity is relevant to the US National Forest Management Act of 1976, where the Secretary of Agriculture is required, ‘‘through research and continuous monitoring, to ensure that management systems will not produce substantial and permanent impairment of the productivity of the land’’. The US Endangered Species Act of 1973 is also relevant to the management of high-intensity fires, for example, in the case of the northern spotted owl that nests primarily in stands of large trees averaging only 32 large trees ha–1 (Hershey et al. 1998). When soils can no longer produce such trees, the area of suitable habitat that could redevelop after fire is also lessened.

It is hugely unlikely that spotted owls will ever reoccupy the Biscuit Burn. The area has been rendered unfit to grow large trees, and current USFS policies virtually guarantee that severe, catastrophic fires will revisit the area periodically.

There is no question that prevention of the kind of forest destruction inflicted by the Biscuit Fire is desperately needed before all our public forests are similarly destroyed. Current USFS policies of WFU and unrestrained forest incineration must be altered. Restoration forestry, which prepares forests to receive fire in a manner that protects, maintains, and perpetuates forests, must be mandated and implemented on a landscape scale as soon as possible. From Bormann et al:

Much of the recent debate has centered on the effects of post-wildfire management on tree regeneration, wildlife habitat, and future fire risk (Donato et al. 2006; Newton et al. 2006; Shatford et al. 2007; Thompson et al. 2007). In light of the first direct evidence of major effects of intense wildfire on soils — based on extensive and detailed pre- and post-fire soil sampling — we think that soil changes, especially the potential loss of soil productivity and greenhouse gas additions resulting from intense wildfire, deserve more consideration in this debate. In forests likely to be affected by future intense fire, preemptive reduction of intense-fire risks can be seen as a way to reduce losses of long-term productivity and lower additions of greenhouse gases. Preemptive strategies may include reducing fuels within stands but also improving fire-attack planning and preparation and changing the distribution of fuels across the landscape to reduce the size of future fires. Practices can include thinning and removing or redistributing residues and underburning.

In forests already affected by intense fire, amelioration to increase C sequestration, tree growth, and eventually late successional habitat should be strongly considered. Amelioration practices might include seeding or planting N2-fixing and other plants, fertilizing, and managing vegetation and fuels through time. To the extent that receipts from pre- and post-wildfire logging are the only means of paying for these practices, such logging should be balanced against other management objectives and concerns. Harvesting before and after fire to generate revenue, if done improperly, has the potential to harm soils, but this outcome needs to be weighed against the outcomes resulting from increased high-intensity fire and from not ameliorating after soils have been burned intensely.

This forest science paper is cutting edge and a breakthrough (we hope) from the typical dull and pointless pseudo-science we have been subjected to over the past two decades. It is late, but not too late, for the general public to realize that forest stewardship is preferable to forest incineration. The public must demand responsible forest stewardship, and particularly restoration forestry, from our public land management agencies.

This year we have (again) witnessed massive forest destruction by deliberate burning, from Idaho to California. Old-growth forests have been decimated in the South Barker, Rattle, Middle Fork, Iron, Siskiyou, Ukonom, Blue, Clover, and dozens of other fires. The resource degradation from fires of past years has been amply evident and continues. The situation is intolerable. The USFS MUST learn how to care for forests and MUST engage in forest stewardship right away. Resistance to stewardship is untenable and should serve as grounds for immediate dismissal of any who advocate or engage in forest destruction.

This paper quantifies some of the destruction inflicted by catatsrophic forest fires. Let us hope that the lessons learned are taken to heart.

Fraudulent Wilderness, Part 3

Wilderness designation is wrongly thought to provide the “highest form” of environmental protection. In fact, wilderness designation destroys land by eliminating stewardship, stewardship that has been ongoing for 13,500 years.

Wilderness designation has wrongly applied, in denial of the actual history of our landscapes, and catastrophe has ensued. The elimination of human stewardship and wholesale destruction go hand in hand.

We have given some examples in Parts 1 and 2 of this essay. Here are some more:

The 19,100 acre Boulder Creek Wilderness was incinerated last summer by the 20,200 acre Rattle Fire. That was the second fire to decimate the Boulder Creek watershed since designation in 1984. The first was the 16,500 acre Spring Fire in 1996. Those fires burned in accumulated fuels, and crowned, plumed, and killed most of the old-growth trees.

One special area within the Boulder Creek Wilderness is Pine Bench, an old-growth ponderosa pine flat in the midst of a predominantly Douglas-fir forest. The pine are artifacts of thousands of years of human occupation. Frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fires maintained the pine in an area of traditional use for food production. The wilderness designation of “untrammeled” was applied even though the evidence was clear that this area had experienced thousands of years of human use and the imprint of man was strong and well-documented.

The 100,000 acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness has been roasted by severe fires twice since designation in 1964. In 1987 the Silver Fire burned 110,000 acres of which 53,600 acres were in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. In 2002 the Biscuit Fire ignited in the Kalmiopsis, burned the entire wilderness area, escaped the boundaries, and burned an additional 400,000 acres beyond. Over $150 million was spent to stop the Biscuit Fire from burning down towns 20 miles away from the Kalmiopsis.

The 286,700 acre Three Sisters Wilderness was designated by the original 1964 Wilderness Act. Since then it has been burned by the Cache Mountain Fire (2002), Eyerly Complex Fire (2002), B and B Complex Fire (2003), Link Fire (2003), Black Crater Fire (2006), Puzzle Fire (2006), Lake George Fire (2006), and the GW Fire (2007), to name a few. The old-growth ponderosa pine forests that were destroyed in the Three Sisters Wilderness were there because that area had hosted extensive human activity and stewardship for millennia. Santiam Pass has been the main trafficked way in the Central Cascades for the last 6,000 years, at least. Obsidian Cliffs have been the principal obsidian quarry for much of Oregon for all that time.

The Ventana Wilderness, 240,026 acres, established in 1978. This year 244,000 acres burned in the Indians/Basin Complex Fires, the second largest fire in California history and most expensive at $120 million. Most of that fire was in the Ventana Wilderness. Contrary to political perceptions, the Ventana has been home to human beings for more than 10,000 years.

Last year the Zaca Fire Fire burned 240,000 acres and cost $117 million to fight. Significant portions of the San Rafael Wilderness (197,380 acres), Dick Smith Wilderness (64,700 acres) and Matilija Wilderness (29,600 acres) were burned. Again, the areas were designated wilderness in defiance of the established historical fact that they had been occupied by humans since the dawn of the Holocene.

The Jarbidge Wilderness in eastern Nevada was established in 1964 and expanded to 113,000 acres in 1989. This year it was decimated by the 54,500 acre East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire that spread well beyond the wilderness boundaries. It is well-known that the area was home to the Shoshone and other northern Uto-Aztecan language groups for millennia.

Other designated wilderness areas subject to catastrophic fires since designation include Alpine Lakes, Bandelier, Black Canyon, Bob Marshall, Bull of the Woods, Frank Church-River of No Return, Golden Trout, Gospel Hump, Hells Canyon, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth, Manzano Mountain, Marble Mountains, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Okefenokee, Rogue Umpqua Divide, Saddle Mountain, Selway-Bitterroot, Siskiyou, South Sierra, Tatoosh, Yolla-Bolly, and many others.

Every single one of these wilderness areas has documented and extensive evidence of human occupation for millennia. Yet that well-known human use has been denied repeatedly.

For instance, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, in concert with the University of Montana, both ostensibly scientific organizations, make this claim about the Siskiyou Wilderness [here]:

Many authorities on the subject suspect Bigfoot could be hiding out in the untrammeled regions.

That is crap, pure crap, and racist jibber-jabber to boot. Our “educational” institutions have sunk to pure bullshit in their efforts to deny real history, real science, and real traditions. So desperate are these politically motivated (and taxpayer funded) organizations to inflict destructive wilderness designation that they gladly heave all their scientific integrity into the burn barrel to do it.

This is not a yuck-yuck moment. Real destruction and enormous costs has ensued from fraudulent wilderness designation. The wilderness promoters are in utter denial, and their denial is a-scientific and racist without a doubt.

To be continued…

Fraudulent Wilderness, Part 2

The proposed Copper-Salmon Wilderness [here, here] is 11 miles east of Port Orford on the Elk River. The 13,700 acre area is adjacent to the Grassy Knob Wilderness, 17,200 acres, and designated a wilderness area by the US Congress in 1984. Here is a picture of Grassy Knob:

Note that Grassy Knob is no longer grassy. It’s covered with trees. That should not be surprising, since it is in a prime tree growing area. Elevations vary from almost sea level to more than 2,000 feet on summits that include Grassy Knob, at 2,342 feet. It rains there an average of 130 inches per year.

What is remarkable is that it was once “grassy.” When named by early white settlers in the 1800’s, Grassy Knob was treeless, instead covered with Coast Range prairie. Similarly, the Grass Mountain Research Natural Area in the Coast Range west of Corvallis was once covered with Coast Range prairie, largely bracken fern and sedges. Grass Mountain is a little higher, roughly 3,000 feet, and it receives and average of 123 inches of rain per year.

Both Grassy Knob and Grass Mountain have trees roughly 100 years old. Older trees can be found in the canyons adjacent to streams, but not on the mountain tops. There the Douglas-fir on Grassy Knob and noble fir on Grass Mountain are younger and invaded after the Oregon pioneer era. Very little prairie remains on Grass Mountain, and almost none on Grassy Knob.

There were no fires 100 years ago that engendered fern brakes and Coast Range prairies. There are no snags or rotted root balls that would indicate there ever was forest on Grassy Knob or Grass Mountain. The on-the-ground evidence and historical record is clear: those prime tree growing areas were treeless.

Why? There is only one answer: the aboriginal residents kept those areas free of trees by repeated anthropogenic burning. There are very few lightning fires in the Coast Range. All of the known large fires, such as the repetitious Tillamook Fires, were human-caused. Coast Range prairie is decidedly human-induced.

Grassy Knob Wilderness Area is a prime example of a cultural landscape. The unique Coast Range prairie vegetation was an artifact, or more properly a deliberate imprint, of humanity.

The Wilderness Act is supposed to protect untrammeled areas, but Grassy Knob is a place that was trammeled by humans for thousands of years. The First Residents burned to promote edible root crops, such as bracken fern and camas, and useful fibers such as sedges. The Coast Range prairie also provided browse for deer, elk, and bears. Grassy Knob was a grocery store, a farm, a human-modified habitat with ample foodstuffs that the dense forests in the canyons did not provide.

No doubt, if the people could have burned the wet canyons too, they would have. The First Residents made use of the Port Orford cedars and western red cedars that grew in the canyons. Those trees provided building materials and canoe wood. But not food. The prairies were where the food came from. The salmon streams only ran with salmon a few weeks out of the year. The beaches had plenty of shellfish. But the vegetable foods and large mammals were found year-round in the human-induced prairies.

Those historical prairies have become overgrown and lost. Wilderness designation has destroyed the heritage. The designation as “wilderness” by law of areas habitated by humans for thousands of years was not only scientifically and historically wrong, it served to ruin the very features that made the areas useful to those humans, the features that led to the names that those areas carry today.

Denial of the heritage has led to loss of the heritage. In the rush to declare wilderness, the most valuable aspects have been wrecked. Grassy Knob and the Copper-Salmon area have not been wilderness for thousands of years. They have not been “wild.” Declaring them “wild” does not protect them; it ruins them.

It may be politically expedient and attractive to urbanites to dehumanize heritage sites, but it is not “preservation” by any stretch. The disconnection between an urban population and the real world is premised on ignorance of heritage.

Ignorance should not guide our decisions. Bad decisions are made by ignorant people. That’s pretty much a fact. It does not require examples.

Better decisions are made by informed people. You have now been informed about the ancient heritage that graces the Oregon Coast Range. Please digest that information, incorporate that knowledge, and see if together we can make some improved decisions about how we might be better stewards of our heritage landscapes.

To be continued…

Fraudulent Wilderness, Part 1

Officially and legally, “wilderness” is defined in the Wilderness Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-577) as:

[A]n area where the earth and [its] community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which… generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.

To repeat the key words:

- untrammeled by man
- primeval character and influence
- natural conditions
- affected primarily by the forces of nature
- the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable

Are there any such properties in the Americas (North or South)?

No, there are not.

The Americas have been occupied and modified by human beings for at least 13,500 years. That’s a long, long time. That’s all the way back to the Pyramids in Egypt (4,000 years ago) and back that far again, and back that far again.

Over the previous 13 millennia nearly every square inch of the “New” World has been trammeled by man. Man has affected the vegetation and animal life. Man has left his imprint.

Technically, legally, by definition of the Wilderness Act, very few acres qualify. Perhaps there are some steep mountain crags, unclimbable except with modern technical climbing gear, where man has not trammeled around. That’s all. Everywhere else has been trammeled, and trammeled plenty, by human beings over the last 13,500 years.

There is big push right now in Congress to declare new wilderness areas. None of the properties fit the legal definition.

For instance, Gold Butte in Clark County, NV, has been pushed for wilderness designation. From the Desert Valley Times [here]:

Gold Butte bill draws praise, anger

Bob Challinor, Desert Valley Times, September 30, 2008

Reaction varied from outrage to applause for a bill introduced in Congress Friday that would grant National Conservation Area or wilderness status to nearly a half-million acres of federal land in Clark County.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., introduced the bill that would create a National Conservation Area at Gold Butte, a region encompassing 362,177 acres. The bill would allow some controls on visitors to Gold Butte, which now is designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Within the conservation area, 128,373 acres would be managed as federal wilderness, a designation that prohibits vehicle traffic of any kind.

The sweeping bill upgrades protection to Gold Butte and surrounding areas, the goal Friends of Gold Butte and the Nevada Wilderness Project have sought for years. …

Berkley said: “Gold Butte is an amazing natural treasure that is also home to unique Native American drawings and there is strong support in southern Nevada for protecting this desert gem before it’s too late. …

Emphasis added. The area has rock art, carved into rocks by the human residents over thousands of years. That’s trammeling. The rock art depicts human beings hunting animals. That’s trammeling, too. The rock art is distinctly the imprint of man’s work, and it is substantially noticeable.

The former resident human beings used fire to modify the vegetation. The vegetation has been affected primarily by anthropogenic forces, not the forces of nature.

In no way, shape, or form does the Gold Butte area fit the legal definition of wilderness. That fact is plain as day. Nobody denies it.

Yet Shelley Berkley, the Friends of Gold Butte, and the Nevada Wilderness Project wish to force a square peg into a round hole and have land that is distinctly NOT wilderness be declared as such.

They say they desire wilderness designation to “protect” the land. Yet wilderness designation destroys land by eliminating stewardship, stewardship that has been ongoing for 13,500 years.

If you read the rest of the Desert Valley Times article you will note that the current residents of Clark County do not want wilderness designation. You will also note that Sen. Harry Reid is involved. Further study will reveal that Harry Reid is a crook of the first order.

Another example: the Sky Lakes Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF, recently incinerated by the Middlefork Fire [here]. That 21,125 acre fire was punctuated by repeated canopy fire and plume events that decimated old-growth, young-growth, endangered species habitat, and watershed integrity. Did wilderness designation “protect” those forests? Obviously and tragically not.

Was the the Sky Lakes Wilderness untrammeled by man? Not according to the RR-SNF [here]:

Beginning several thousand years ago Native American groups-ancestors of the Klamath and the Takelma Indians-hunted game and gathered huckleberries within the Sky Lakes area. Klamath youths would sometimes come to make their “vision quest” (a religious experience during which one fasted in solitude and sought a spiritual vision while dreaming) on high peaks along the Cascade crest. However, the short season of mild weather and the limited variety of food plants and animals did not encourage prehistoric visitors to stay long.

The early white settlers also made use of the Sky Lakes-hunting, trapping beaver or marten in the winter, grazing their stock (in the early days, large herds of sheep) in the high meadows during the warm months. Settlers from lower-elevation communities came each August to pick huckleberries at places like Stuart Falls and Twin Ponds. After 1906 the newly established Forest Service built trails and fire lookouts within the Sky Lakes area. By mid-1970s, a new Pacific Crest Trail route replaced the original Oregon Skyline Trail of a half-century earlier.

Man has been visiting, using, and deliberately and skillfully maintaining the huckleberry and beargrass fields of the Sky Lakes area for millennia. Wildlife populations have been subject to control by the keystone predators, humans, since the Ice Age. The area is criss-crossed with ancient trails and peppered with ancient campsites.

Wilderness designation was wrongly applied, in denial of the actual history which is evident and well-accepted, and catastrophe ensued. Prior to the Middlefork Fire the lakes were clean:

Several of the Wilderness’s lakes (Alta and Natasha among them) were found (by 1980s-90s Environmental Protection Agency baseline study of acid-rain conditions in Western U.S. mountain lakes) to have among the most chemically pure water known of all lakes on the globe.

Not anymore. Now they have been polluted with ash and soot. The scenery has been charred beyond recognition, too.

Is that protection? No, it is destruction. The elimination of human stewardship and wholesale destruction go hand in hand.

To be continued…

Wilderness Designation Is a Death Sentence For Old-Growth

The PC “wisdom” states that wilderness designation is the “most protective” land management style available. Example: the Sportsmen For Copper-Salmon Wilderness (a front group for enviro-radicals) claims that anything less than wilderness leaves the land “unprotected.”

From the SFCSW website [here]:

The Case for Wilderness

For over a decade, grassroots conservationists have worked hard to secure Wilderness designation for the Copper-Salmon region within the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon.

In recent years, a broad and bipartisan coalition of local conservationists, elected officials, business owners, river guides and local and statewide sportsmen’s organizations have added their voices to the Copper-Salmon Wilderness campaign.

Wilderness designation for the Copper-Salmon area will protect the headwaters of the Elk River and ensure that one the finest salmon and steelhead fisheries on the Pacific Coast is safeguarded for our children and beyond.

Quick Facts on Copper-Salmon Proposed Wilderness Area

- Located in southwest Oregon, near the coastal town of Port Orford
- Encompasses 13,700 acres of currently unprotected roadless wild lands
- Includes one of the most productive spawning streams in the lower 48 states
- Has good habitat for black bear, mountain lion and blacktailed deer. Roosevelt elk use some areas for thermal cover.

Sounds like a plan, eh? Just slap that wilderness designation on and presto, unprotected forest becomes protected.

Except that just exactly the opposite is the truth. Wilderness designation is the kiss of death to forests.

Why? Because wilderness designation means that wildfires will not be fought, and those wildfires will decimate the forest, streams, and habitat within the wilderness boundaries.

Take the case of the Sky Lakes Wilderness on the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF. The Sky Lakes Wilderness was incinerated last month in the Middlefork Fire of the Lonesome Complex. The Middlefork Fire was ignited by lightning on Aug. 16th. Because it was wilderness, the RR-SNF decided to Let It Burn. Three weeks later the fire had grown to 1,280 acres and a bare handful of firefighters were watching it burn. Some slight effort was made to backburn from outside the wilderness area, but those efforts only expanded the fire. A week later the fire was 5,160 acres and had burned outside the wilderness. Firefighter numbers expanded to over 500 personnel, but no direct attack was implemented.

Then all hell broke loose. more »

The South Barker Fire

- If this situation is not corrected quickly, the Forest Service will not survive.

by Glenn Bradley

On a hot August afternoon in 1946, Iron Mountain Lookout reported a big smoke in Barker Gulch just east of Featherville. My Dad was on a pack trip, but the five men from the Shake Creek Ranger Station flew into action. My mother called the crew from Dave Stokesberry’s sawmill at Featherville and a few other people from the Featherville area. My job as a ten year old was to take the standby horse from the barn and ride to the fire so I could carry drinking water to the men as they worked.

When I got to the fire, the roar of the crowning was deafening and I was full of fear. It was my first exposure to a really active fire. The fire burned about 80 acres that afternoon. My dad got there about midnight. We all worked through the night, and by morning we had a semblance of a line around it. Our only power equipment was a portable Pacific Marine pump.

With that background, you can understand why a short news article in the Twin Falls paper of August 8, 2008, caught my eye. It said there were two single tree fires in Barker Gulch that had started about 1:00 PM on August 7. It also said the Forest had not decided as of 5:20 PM whether to put the fires out or let them burn. It said Forest officials considered their potential to spread to be slight. The article ended by saying that red flag conditions were forecast for the next day.

I was on my way to a family reunion when I read the article. When we returned from the reunion, there was an article in the August 15 paper saying the fire was now 1,355 acres and a national team had been called to help fight it. It also said the area from Baumgartner to Featherville had been closed.

I could hardly believe it. Just a few days before it started, the Chief had notified the field that the fire budget was exhausted and fire activities would have to be paid from other appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year. I knew the country well enough to know it could grow a lot more and cost into the millions.

I wrote an e-mail to Tom Harbour and told him something was terribly wrong with the policies if a forest could choose to ignore a chance to put a fire out for a few hundred dollars and then spend millions on it when there was no fire money left. I went on to say that it was at least unprofessional and probably criminal to let a fire go in steep, fragile, beautiful country in extreme burning conditions with no prior planning and no way of predicting where it might stop.

I sent copies to the supervisor and the ranger and a few retirees. Within a day, I got an overwhelming number of responses from retirees all over the country. The few I had sent copies to sent them on to people they knew. All but one said they agreed with me 100% and cited similar situations in their areas where it appeared no common sense was being used in fire management.

Jane called me the next Monday and assured me the people in Featherville agreed with what she was doing. I told her I could agree to some prescribed burning if it were done with good planning and preparation in compliance with NEPA, and under weather conditions when it could be controlled. She said they had done some planning and had identified about 4,000 acres in that area that they would like to burn at the rate of 1,000 acres per year over the next four years. I told her I wouldn’t have a problem with that if they did it when they could manage the fire properly, but to try to do it with no preparation in mid August just because they had an ignition in the area made no sense to me. I advised her she should put this fire out immediately and wait for favorable weather to do the burning.

I called some friends in Featherville and asked if they were okay and how they felt about the fire. They said they were scared to death. The fire was on the ridge just above their house and they could see flames from their deck. They said the people on the river had been polite at the public meetings, but they did not know of anyone who agreed with letting this fire burn. They said they appreciated the Boise Forest because when the fire got onto the Boise, they jumped right onto it and stopped it. They said the Boise had offered to help the Sawtooth put the rest of the fire out, but the Sawtooth told them to go home. It should probably be noted here that what was reported as “a minor slop-over onto the Boise” was 3,000 acres and was the biggest fire on the Boise Forest this season.)

That night, a young man from Featherville called me. He said he had heard that I was pushing to get the Sawtooth to put the fire out. He pleaded with me to do everything I could to get them to stop it quickly. He offered to get signatures from everyone along the river on a petition to have the forest stop this one and never to let another one burn under similar conditions. I told him I was still hopeful that reason would return and the forest would take proper action without a petition.
more »

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

As of Sunday afternoon, the draft Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is 110 pages long. The full text (at this time) is [here]. A summary and Section-by Section description may be found [here].

The bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives Monday morning and then head to the Senate. An analysis by Market Watch [here] concludes:

Under the proposed bill, the Treasury Department can use a combination of tactics to buy bad loans, focusing on mortgages and mortgage-backed securities but also including other types of loans under certain conditions. Treasury could purchase the bad debt through an auction process as well as by buying loans directly…

The proposed legislation also allows companies to participate in an insurance program, whereby Treasury would guarantee troubled assets, charging companies a premium “sufficient to cover anticipated claims,” according to the bill.

The government would get a stake in companies receiving bailout funds so that taxpayer money could be recovered if those companies grow in the future, according to the bill. …

In some cases, the bill requires companies limit executive pay, but those limits vary depending on the method by which Treasury purchases a firm’s troubled assets, and how much Treasury antes up.

“When Treasury buys assets at auction, an institution that has sold more than $300 million in assets is subject to additional taxes, including a 20% excise tax on golden parachute payments triggered by events other than retirement, and tax deduction limits for compensation limits above $500,000,” according to a synopsis of the text of the bill.

While the proposed bill prevents companies from signing new golden-parachute deals with top executives after Treasury gets involved, it does not change the terms of already-existing contracts, apparently in an effort to encourage companies to participate in the bailout program. …

The bill puts oversight provisions in place, including creating the position of an inspector general as well as a congressional oversight panel to monitor the program, plus a requirement that the Treasury secretary regularly report to Congress the details of all loan purchases. …

The bill also contains some provisions to help families in financial distress avoid foreclosures, in part by creating a plan to “encourage services of mortgages to modify loans” and allowing the Treasury to use loan guarantees to avoid foreclosures. …

more »

28 Sep 2008, 3:10pm
Federal forest policy
by admin
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Gearing Up For the Deja Vu Fire

The counties of Northeastern Oregon just got hit with another ton of bricks from the US Forest Service. In light of the severe fire hazard created by un-management of federal forests, the USFS has decided to make the situation worse by tearing out the road system.

No roads means no fuels management and constrained fire control. The upshot is that the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is being primed to be burned in a megafire — on purpose, with malice aforethought, by our “benevolent” federal government.

From the Baker City Herald last week:

Counties’ question: How would forest road closures affect people

By MIKE FERGUSON, Baker City Herald, September 25, 2008 [here]

BAKER CITY, Ore. — Five Eastern Oregon counties are considering how road closures in the largest national forest in the Northwest could affect them.

The proposed travel management plan for the 2.4 million acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is expected to have both a social and economic impact on Baker, Grant, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to publish a draft environmental impact statement next spring on potential effects of each of six alternatives under the plan.

But the counties have only until Nov. 30 to report on the possible impact to their region.

“The counties are coming into the process a little bit late, and I have been trying to play catch-up,” said Bob Messinger of Summerville, who’s representing the five counties.

Bruce Sorte, an Oregon State University Extension economist now working at Eastern Oregon University, is studying the impacts of each alternative on jobs, wages, hotel and campground occupancy, and other sectors of the economy.

Baker County previously hired Sorte to help study the impacts on the designation of bull trout as a threatened species, and some of that data will be applied to the travel plan.

Ken Anderson, a retired mining geologist, said he worries that a plan to close forest roads will make it even more difficult for miners to test their claims, gain approval and set up their operations.

He said that if 100 miners were allowed to mine in the Wallowa-Whitman and each found an ounce of gold per day, the financial impact figured with a multiplier effect used by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Statistical Division would be $4 million a day, “new wealth that adds to the economy.”

“We need access to and use of the land,” Anderson said.

Messinger said economic models, census and Oregon Employment Department data can be used to compile potential economic impacts for each of the alternatives so he is relying on counties to provide an estimate of the social impact.

“It is a broad category, and it may rely on a qualitative analysis, on interviews and public input, not on numbers,” Messinger said. “It is lifestyle and attitude.”

Jan Kerns, chairwoman of a Baker County advisory committee on the plan, said one example is the possible effect on families that venture into the forest annually to pick huckleberries. Those trips may not be possible without motorized access on roads to get the family to their favorite spots.

The more specific the examples, the better, Messinger said.

“Are those huckleberries food in the larder, or is picking huckleberries a social event that creates family bonds?” he said. “Family bonding is a strong social issue.”

The ranger of the Whitman District, who also happens to be named Ken Anderson, said that even after the draft environmental impact statement is published next spring, more alternatives for the travel plan could emerge.

“If you find data that suggests we look other alternatives, that would be considered,” he said.

Prior to being transferred to the WWNF, Ranger Ken Anderson was District Ranger at Sedona on the Coconino NF. There he presided over the Brins Fire (2006). The Brins Fire burned primarily within the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, one of a few nationally-designated wildernesses that actually butt up against city limits. In Sedona there is an actual Wildland-Urban Interface, marked by a chainlink fence in places. The Munds Mountain Wilderness is another such wilderness smack up against the city limits of Sedona.

The Brins Fire was 4,317 acres and cost $6,400,000 to suppress. It shut down Sedona at the height of the tourist season, striking a severe economic blow to a town that is totally dependent on tourism. And it demonstrated emphatically the danger of roadlessness.

Now Anderson is in Oregon shutting down roads here in an overstocked, fuel-laden forest. No roads means no rapid initial attack and no effective firefighting. The USFS is gearing up to burn the Wallowa-Whitman NF in a catastrophic megafire.

They have already adopted WFU (wildland fire use) into their Fire Plan, albeit with absolutely no public notice or public involvement of any kind.

That’s right. Unlike the road destruction (closure) plan, when adopting whoofoo the WWNF issued no request for input from the County Commissioners or any other member of the public, other than secret meetings with radical anti-forest “enviro” cults.

When it comes to burning down America’s forests, the USFS has no peer.

By the way, if Ranger Ken Anderson is looking for “data” suggesting alternatives other than destruction of the WWNF road system, he might look in the mirror and recall the Brins Fire. No roads meant no way to contain the fire until it hit town. The roadless plan failed in Arizona to protect the forest and residents. It will fail in Eastern Oregon as well, with dire and disastrous consequences.

Klamath Co Commissioners Angry Over Conditions in National Forests

Beetle-kill areas are a last step in a sick forest’s evolution

by Pat Bushey, editor, Klamath Herald and News Tuesday, September 23, 2008 [here]

Klamath County Commissioners are right to be angry over the lack of support by the federal government for Oregon’s national forests.

Commissioners are primarily concerned about the Fremont-Winema National Forests in Klamath and Lake counties, but the points they made last week could be made about national forests throughout Oregon.

Commissioner John Elliott raised the issue of trying to get the federal forest lands ceded to the state if the federal government can’t take proper care of them. That concept has logic behind it, especially with the cutoff of the county payments program that compensated Oregon counties that have federal forest lands. Federal lands aren’t taxed, and thus don’t produce property tax revenue for such things as schools, roads and law enforcement provided from local funds. But the proposal for local or state control of federal forest land has come up before and never got much traction.

The Association of O&C Counties tried something along those lines in 2006. It offered a plan which would have put 1.2 million of the 2.4 million acres of O&C lands permanently off limits to logging and sold the rest to private buyers to create four trust funds that would have supported: Oregon schools; schools across the nation that have shared in forest receipts; Oregon counties; and management expenses for the 1.2 million acres being preserved. The proposal didn’t go anywhere.

The O&C lands were a land grant more than a hundred years ago to the Oregon and California Railroad Company. After the railroad didn’t resell the land to settlers as promised, the land was reclaimed by the United States in 1937, with the understanding that it would be managed primarily for timber production.

Disaster threatens

Last week, Klamath County commissioners railed at the potential disaster in eastern Klamath County and Lake County as an infestation of the pine beetle turns thousands of acres of once-green forests an ugly red. They’re full of tinder and only a lightning strike away from an inferno.

Meanwhile, the Forest Service is being forced to curtail thinning operations in order to find money for fighting wildfires, the cost of which has soared from 13 percent of its 1991 annual budget to almost half.

There’s more wrong than the pine beetle, though. Insect infestations usually are one of the final steps that a sick forest evolves through. Unfortunately, there’s no way to undo the past forest practices that encouraged development of large stands of even-aged lodgepole pine trees crowded together competing for water and nutrients. The forests have to be thinned. Failing to do so creates more kindling for disastrous wildfires.

The Fremont-Winema had to cancel five thinning projects along with projects reducing hazardous fuels this year so the money could be used for fighting fires.

Let’s hope next summer we aren’t staring through smoke-filled air at the eastern horizon’s red glow while flames roar through a tangled mess of dead timber.

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