11 Aug 2008, 2:34pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part IX

Conclusion

In this series of essays we have explored the fundamental fallacies of Let It Burn. Allowing catastrophic forest fires to burn unimpeded in unprepared forests has significant deleterious consequences.

We have counted the ways. By way of summary, we now letter them.

A. Let It Burn fires are illegal.

When government land management agencies ignore the laws of the Nation, they destroy their own credibility, mandate, and any trust the public may have placed in them. Laws such as NEPA, NHPA, ESA, NFMA, CWA, and CAA provide the guidelines for government actions that impact the environment.

Let It Burn fires (variously Wildland Fire Use, Wildland Fires Used for Resource Benefit, unsuppressed “suppression” fires, extensive backburns, etc.) are government actions taken absent compliance with federal environmental laws, yet that have enormous and significant environmental impacts.

When government agencies ignore and unilaterally abrogate the established legal framework, our entire basis of democratic self-rule is threatened. The Rule of Law may seem burdensome to agency managers emboldened by situational ethics, but without adherence to establish law we as a nation descend into anarchy or worse, totalitarianism. And thereby the principal virtues of American democracy are lost.

B. Let It Burn fires do NOT benefit natural resources, regardless of the simplistic verbiage used by proponents.

Catastrophic forest fires damage:

- vegetation, especially old-growth forests

- habitat for wildlife, including listed Threatened and Endangered species

- heritage and historical values, including the ecological development pathways that engendered our old-growth forests and special wildlife populations

- soils, leading to extreme wind and water erosion, loss of nutrients, and degradation of basic and essential biological productivity

- water, water quality, and sustained water quantities, perhaps the most precious and essential resource we derive from forests

- air and air quality, by injecting particulates and gaseous pyrolytic compounds into our atmosphere in extreme quantities that dwarf any and all human-generated sources

C. Let It Burn fires are dangerous.

Unchecked forest fires endanger human health and safety, indirectly through air and water pollution and directly via the catastrophic destruction of adjacent homes, towns, and cities, rural and urban alike.

Our forests are in no way remote from humanity and have not been for 10,000 years or more on this continent.

Let It Burn fires place our public safety employees and volunteers at enormous and unnecessary additional risk as well.

D. Let It Burn fires are expensive.

Proponents cite reduced suppression costs per acre but the bottom line is the sum of total costs per fire, not piece-rate cost per acre. Total fire suppression expenses, not piece-rate costs, have broken the budget of the US Forest Service.

Reducing cost per acre is not a solution to anything. This is so intuitively obvious that one wonders how the cost per acre argument ever gained any traction in the first place.

What ought to be just as obvious is that the true costs of catastrophic forest fires are far in excess of suppression expenses. The values associated with destruction of resources, both natural and human-built, are ten times or more than the expenses of putting the fires out.

The losses impact more than agency budgets; they bankrupt regional economies as well.

E. The impacts of Let It Burn fires are cumulative and long-lasting.

Every western state has been punished with megafires over the last 20 years. Vast tracts of pyrophytic brush have now replaced heritage forests. Those conversions are more or less permanent; forests are not being “renewed” but are being extirpated from the landscape.

We now are experiencing megafires burning over areas that have been intensely burned before, such as the Biscuit Fire (1987, 2002) and the Basin/Indians Fire (1977, 2008). There has been no forest recovery in those areas, only repetitive brush fires.

Across the West once vibrant rural economies have sunk into doldrums. Every year insolvent counties beg Congress for more handouts to support unmet basic needs such as schools and roads. There is apparently no light at the end of that tunnel.

F. Let It Burn is political.

The support for Let It Burn emanates not from science, or appreciation of forests, or concern for wildlife, or a commitment to stewardship of watersheds, or respect for heritage, or a desire for the well-being of rural and regional economies, but from darkly conspiratorial political forces motivated by lust for power and control, or worse, by a deep seated hatred for the nation and the American citizenry.

Posturing in support of megafires is not environmentalism; it is the opposite, a cynical attempt to hide malevolence for humanity behind a false front of concern for the environment.

Coda: The Solution is Stewardship

The true and forthright concern for nature and humanity is expressed in the call for stewardship of our priceless, heritage forests.

The motto of the US Forest Service is “Caring for the Land, Serving the People.” Those are worthy goals and an admirable summation of the founding mission of the USFS. Caring for the land means tending our forests, practicing stewardship of the multiple resources therein, providing the basic renewable resources that are necessary for our civilization to function, sustaining wildlife habitat, watersheds, forests, and park lands, actively restoring ecosystems, and managing them for the public good.

Those are the fundamental purposes that underlie and justify public ownership of so much of our forestlands. The question posed by the modern retreat from those purposes is whether public ownership of forests and other landscapes can be successful, sustainable, and beneficial to humanity and nature.

Our modern epidemic of destructive megafires on our public lands suggests otherwise, that public ownership is doomed to failure, and that the ruination of forests is the only outcome we can expect from communal ownership of vast tracts of land.

I believe, or hope at any rate, that such is not the case. Public ownership is not necessarily doomed to failure on first principles. We can do better, as a society and as communal owners, than to incinerate our shared heritage.

The goal, as Dr. Stephen Pyne so nobly puts it, should be to make this a habitable place, habitable for man and beast, for forests and for people. There is no mutual exclusivity in that sentiment. We share this planet with nature, we are of, by, and for nature, we are natural agents, we are by birthright the Caretakers of the Earth.

Stewardship is our birthright and inherited responsibility. We cannot and must not fail to honor that bequest.

Incineration is not stewardship. We all know that. We can do better. We must.

9 Aug 2008, 10:52am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VIII

We continue our discussion in rebuttal to the recent Idaho Statesman series of articles [here], and for good measure, in rebuttal to an excruciatingly incompetent series of articles in support of Let Burn published in the Los Angeles Times [here].

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

13. Let It Burn Is Politically Motivated

We have shown that Let It Burn fires damage natural resources including flora, fauna, water, air, and soils. They also damage human resources including recreation, scenery, heritage, and land management agency budgets. The damages are not one time, nor ephemeral; they are lasting and they accumulate.

We have cited numerous scientific reports that support those contentions. Indeed, the vast bulk, if not the consensus, of forest scientists are in agreement that catastrophic forest fires cause severe destruction of natural resources and present deadly hazards to people, from firefighters to homeowners.

What then motivates the a-scientific and destructively irrational policy of Let It Burn? It is extreme political leanings, principally neo-socialist and anti-American political gamesmanship.

The Far Left has promoted Let It Burn, not from any sort of “environmental” stance, but from a political agenda that seeks to punish the United States for the alleged crimes of capitalism, freedom, and democracy.

The Mainstream Media, whose terrible propaganda we seek to rebut in this series, purvey Let It Burn for political purposes. From Boise to Los Angeles and parts in between the Media twists what should be a strictly scientific stewardship issue into their favorite game, the politics of personal destruction.

As a follow-up to his Idaho Statesman series, Roland “Rocky” Barker posted the following on his blog:

Only hours after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne toured the Wildland Firefighter Monument at the National Interagency Fire Center Wednesday, nine more firefighters died in a helicopter crash . Now these brave firefighters will join those who are honored at the monument in Boise. …

Now if you read the fire series that Heath Druzin and I wrote last month you know that the more we suppress fires the larger they get. You also know that our policy of putting out 98 percent of the fires when we know fires actually reduce the fire threat is a disturbing paradox that only puts lives at risk and costs billions of dollars. It’s also a poor way to protect homes, fire scientists agree. …

I acknowledge I don’t know all the details about the fire that the nine dead firefighters were fighting. It is a part of a complex of fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest started by lightning June 21. So far 86,000 acres has burned. But a lot of these fires were burning in wilderness, much in rough terrain.

I expect there are going to be a lot of questions about whether these men should have been fighting these fires aggressively at all.

Kempthorne apparently did not read our series or, as we explained is a part of the political consensus that supports more fire suppression not less despite the clear science. He told Heath Druzin Wednesday that while he urged homeowners to take more responsibility for protecting their property and acknowledged that fire suppression had made forests more vulnerable to large fires, he is proud the federal government puts out 98 percent of wildfires and encouraged more suppression efforts.

Significantly scaling back suppression efforts is unrealistic when so many homes are now in fire-prone areas, he said. “You can have a theory but you’re dealing with Mother Nature,” he said.

After the deaths on the Shasta Trinity National Forest, Kempthorne and other political leaders may want to reconsider their views. The National Park Service’s Bomar demonstrated the day before that she gets it. …

Is putting out fire in wilderness worth young folk’s lives?

Here are the facts. The Buckhorn Fire is one of the Iron Complex fires that have been burning since June 20. The Shasta-Trinity NF decided to “use” those fires to “treat” the forest. Long after other California lightning fires ignited June 20-21 have been contained and controlled, the Iron Complex burns merrily along. Yesterday it was reported to be over 90,000 acres total and 70% contained. There are 1,287 personnel on the Iron Complex today. $53.4 million has been spent to date. See [here].

Instead of suppressing when the fires were small, the USFS did Let It Burn for “forest health” just as Rocky and Heath recommended. The firefighters killed in the helicopter crash were not engaged in direct attack but in fireline construction far from the flames. The practice on Let It Burn fires is to backburn from “safe” distances along hastily constructed firelines.

Anytime so many people are committed to a dangerous undertaking that is extended and extended, the chance of accidents grows larger and larger. Initial direct attack is also dangerous, but turning fires into summer-long projects increases the probability of Murphy’s Law events.

Andrew Palmer, 18, a firefighter with the Olympic National Park headquartered in Port Angeles, was killed on the Iron Complex last month. The latest incident brings the total to 10 fatalities on this one fire alone.

Let It Burn does not mean all the firefighters go home. It means project fires that last all summer long. It means rural communities in evacuation or threat of evacuation for months at a time. It means smoke that billows across airsheds for weeks and weeks.

And it means the chance for fatal accidents increases.
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6 Aug 2008, 6:11pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VII

We continue our discussion in rebuttal to the recent Idaho Statesman series of articles [here], and for good measure, in rebuttal to an excruciatingly incompetent series of articles in support of Let Burn published in the Los Angeles Times [here].

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

12. Let It Burn Has Cumulative Impacts

Let It Burn fires damage natural resources including flora, fauna, water, air, and soils. They also damage human resources including recreation, scenery, heritage, and land management agency budgets. The damages are not one time, nor ephemeral. They are lasting and they accumulate.

NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) defines cumulative impacts thusly:

Sec. 1508.7 Cumulative impact.

“Cumulative impact” is the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time. …

The effects of a single Let-It-Burn fire are significant. The effects of numerous such fires accumulate and cause hugely significant effects over time to flora, fauna, historic and cultural resources, water quality and watersheds, air quality and airsheds, recreation, and national and local economies.

In 1987 the Silver Fire burned 100,000 acres of the Siskiyou NF. Fifteen years later the Biscuit Fire burned the exact same ground and an additional 400,000 acres besides. Little or no forest recovery actions were taken following either fire. Instead, fire-type brush was allowed to grow and accumulate fine fuels on top of the dead coarse fuels left after the previous fires. It is reasonable to expect that in another fifteen years (in or near 2017) another catastrophic megafire will burn those same acres and more besides.

Old-growth trees were killed in the Biscuit Fire (2003), some as much as 600 years old. They will never return. Megafires every 15 years will prevent any trees from attaining maturity much less old age. The elimination of old-growth is thus permanent.

Old-growth trees were killed in the B&B Fire (90,000 acres in 2003). Subsequent fires have decimated an accumulated 150,000 acres of old-growth on the Deschutes NF. That habitat is gone. The brush and thickets of young trees that are arising in the aftermath will be incinerated in the next Let It Burn fire, and never again will old-growth trees grace the eastern slope of the Cascades.
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3 Aug 2008, 11:30am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VI

Let It Burn fires damage natural resources including flora, fauna, water, air, and soils. They also damage human resources including recreation, scenery, heritage, and land management agency budgets. But the damages do not stop there. We continue our discussion in rebuttal to the recent Idaho Statesman series of articles [here], and for good measure, in rebuttal to an excruciatingly incompetent series of articles in support of Let Burn published in the Los Angeles Times [here].

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

11. Let It Burn Has Significant Regional Economic Impact

The Payette National Forest is a leader in Let It Burn. Forest managers incinerated 470,500 acres last year, and in the process crippled the economy of numerous central Idaho towns. Yellow Pine was particularly hard hit as that recreation-based village was shut down and forcibly evacuated all summer. McCall, which is the gateway hub to central Idaho recreation industry, also experienced an economic hammer blow [here].

This summer Big Sur, a resort community on the California Coast, was closed for a month during peak season, and partially incinerated to boot, in a fire that could have been put out at a few acres but instead was encouraged to burn (via backfires) until it became a quarter of a million acres.

As I type, a whoofoo (WFU or wildland fire use fire) named the Gunbarrel WFU Fire [here] has burned nearly 20,000 acres in Wyoming and has caused the evacuation of Elephant Head, Absaroka Lodge, and summer cabins in Moss Creek. The Gunbarrel WFU Fire Fire is out of control, a raging firestorm/canopy fire causing 100% mortality to the forest. It is pluming and creating it’s own weather although seasonal Palouse winds are fanning it as well. Despite the destruction of natural and human resources, the Shoshone NF has announced that WFU is still main strategy.

Let It burn is not limited to whoofoo fires, however. It is a common practice today for the USFS to declare a fire a “suppression fire” and yet make no effort to suppress it. The Cabin Creek Fire [here] burning right now on the Payette NF is over 3,000 acres and growing in leaps and bounds, yet only 16 personnel are assigned. The Rush Creek Fire [here] has ballooned to over 1,500 acres three days, is officially a suppression fire, yet there are zero firefighting personnel on the scene.

Last year on the Payette NF the Raines Fire was officially a “suppression fire” yet had only a dozen personnel assigned when it was over 30,000 acres in size [here].Payette Forest Supervisor Suzie Rainville had this to say after the 2007 fire season had ended [here]:

A typical Initial Attack fire would use a handful of people, some bucket work, and (on a really difficult one) one to two loads of retardant. To suppress many of our fires this year, we had to staff them with up to 80 people, helicopters, and air tankers in order to keep them small.

That statement is disingenuous if not an outright lie. There was no initial attack on the Raines Fire and no initial attack on many of the Payette fires that burned over 700 square miles on the payette NF alone last summer. Rainville claimed, and continues to claim (as reported in the Idaho Statesman) that a mere 86,293 acres were burned on her forest in whoofoos last summer. Yet the truth is that none of the major fires on the Payette were aggressively fought with the intention of limiting them in size or duration.

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31 Jul 2008, 11:41am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part V

10. Let It Burn Has Significant National Economic Impact

The effects of the changes over the last five years to federal wildfire policies have resulted in our land management agencies allowing unspecified lightning-ignited fires to burn in megafires. The changes include AMR (appropriate management response), WFU (wildland fires used for “resource benefit”), and ACMS (accountable cost management strategy). Those programs were set in place not by Congress but by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, the federal advisory board that oversees the National Fire Plan.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Council has been taken over by radical non-governmental organizations, wealthy (though allegedly non-profit) multi-national corporations with anti-American agendas. Our national fire policies are set by foreigners and a political elite that is more interested in fomenting economic collapse in this country than with our environmental health and economic well-being.

This week Congress adjourns to go on recess without dealing with the collapse of the USFS budget due to wildfire costs. Not only did Congress fail to address rising energy costs, they abandoned the FLAME Act in a desperate hour of need. The 2008 fire funding is used up, the budget spent, and the USFS is forced to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from other programs to the fire budget.

Where did the money go? Some for instances:

The Basin/Indians Fire has cost over $120 million while burning unnecessarily 244,000 acres [here]. It has become MOST EXPENSIVE fire in California history, and the 2nd most expensive in U.S. history (the Biscuit Fire in Oregon in 2002 cost $150,000,000). Most of the dollars and acres burned up were due to backfires set by firefighters. Fire managers announced proudly at the onset that they were applying the “accountable cost management strategy” and proceeded to break the bank. When the Basin Fire reached homes dozens of miles from the ignition point, the firefighters fled and homeowners fought the fire themselves. Yet the homeowners are being blamed for the fire “suppression” costs. At no time during the last 30 years did the USFS initiate any fuels management or fire road construction in the area, because Congress designated the area a wilderness, even though human beings have been living there for 10,000 years.

The Clover Fire [here] began with a lightning strike May 31 that fizzled in a few acres. It could have been extinguished for a few thousand dollars. But because it was in a designated wilderness the Inyo NF declared the Clover Fire a WFU (wildland fire used for alleged resource benefit). The Clover Fire was “monitored” until it blew up into a 15,000 acre wildfire that burned all the way to Hwy 395 and threatened homes in Kennedy Meadows. It eventually cost over $8 million to suppress. Homeowners dozens of miles from the ignition point are being blamed.

The Unokom Fire [here] began June 21 from lightning on the Six Rivers NF. It is still burning, having consumed 40,000 unkempt and untended acres and nearly $20 million to date.

The Siskiyou Fire [here] also began June 21 from lightning on the Klamath NF. It is still burning, having consumed 60,000 unkempt and untended acres and nearly $25 million to date. Fire managers promulgated a plan early on to allow the Siskiyou Fire to burn 40,000 acres. Then they backtracked and reset the goal at 80,000 acres. Recreation along the Klamath River has been shut down all summer.

The Lime Fires [here] began June 21 on the Shasta-Trinity NF. Together with the Yolla Bolly Fires [here] (which have been split off for “statistical” purposes) over 154,000 acres have been burned at a cost of over $52 million. It is the largest fire in the history of Northern California. A Strategic Implementation Plan for the Yolla Bolly Fire was presented yesterday after a month of burning.

One portion of this fire complex was under the purview of CalFire. They contained their area three weeks ago. In contrast three weeks ago the Feds called in the National Guard. The Guardsmen have departed now, with pomp and ceremony. Both the Lime and Yolla Bolly Fires continue to burn uncontained. The town of Hayfork has been threatened all summer. No doubt, the town’s residents will be blamed for everything.

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30 Jul 2008, 12:46pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part IV

Continuing our rebuttal of the recent 3-part series the Idaho Statesman that promoted the idea of allowing forest fires to burn unchecked.

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

8. Let It Burn Has Significant Effects on Recreation

Forest fires have significant deleterious effects on flora, fauna, heritage, soils, water quality, and air quality. Those cumulative impacts ruin recreational opportunities, too.

Recreations (hiking, camping, boating, hunting, fishing, etc.) are important and valued uses of the public domain. While always of traditional importance, recreational uses have moved to the forefront as the “replacement” for renewable resource uses such as timber production.

Let It Burn fires have enormous impacts on recreation. Prime recreation areas were on fire during the summers of 2006 and 2007 and are again this year. Whole national forests have been closed to use.

The Los Padres NF has been under a closure due to fires for over a year, first because of the Zaca Fire and then due to Basin/Indians Fires. Nearly 500,000 acres have been scorched, and the trail networks, campgrounds, wildlife, and vegetation have been destroyed.

The Los Padres NF issued the following press release last October:

USDA Forest Service - Los Padres National Forest, 10/04/07

“The Zaca Fire burned in very steep and rugged terrain, and while there are islands of unburned vegetation, there are vast areas that are a moonscape now,” Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez explained. “With the vegetation gone, there is nothing to hold the soil in place, so the land is very unstable. Dry landslides, rockslides and other erosion is occurring on a daily basis. We expect mudslides and flash flooding when the rains come. Out of concern for public safety, and to allow the watersheds to begin to heal, I will keep the burned area closed to public entry at least through spring 2008,” she added.

“The burned or otherwise disturbed soils are very vulnerable, especially to wheeled vehicles, until vegetation gets reestablished,” said Hernandez. “We know people are anxious to get back into their national forest, but we are asking for their patience and cooperation.”

Preliminary surveys of the burned area show that many hiking trails have been severely damaged by the fire and are completely impassable. “Our volunteers are very anxious to get in there and help reestablish the trails. Unfortunately, it may be some time before the ground is stable enough to allow them to be rebuilt,” said Santa Barbara District Ranger Cindy Chojnacky.

The Zaca Fire started on July 4, and burned approximately 240,207 acres before it was contained on September 2. It is the second largest fire in California’s recorded history and the largest in Santa Barbara County’s recorded history.

Flash floods did arrive last Winter. Only this month has the area been partially opened to recreation, but the trail system has been all but erased.
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29 Jul 2008, 10:44am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part III

We continue our rebuttal of the recent 3-part series the Idaho Statesman that promoted the idea of allowing forest fires to burn unchecked.

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

6. Let It Burn Has Significant Effects on Water and Watersheds

Forest fires have significant deleterious effects on water quality, stream flow, forest hydrology, and riparian and aquatic conditions. Allowing forest fires to burn unchecked leads to additional acreage burned, and additional impacts to water-related resources.

Water may be the most valuable resource produced by our national forests. Water yield and water quality from public lands are depended upon by agriculture and every major town and city in West. Degradation and pollution of streams and rivers is the most damaging aspect of catastrophic forest fires in dollar terms (even more than the destruction of flora, fauna, and heritage values).

Severe fires impact soils and cause erosion and mass wastage when rains return. Flash floods have occurred within the Zaca Burn (2007) and (already) the Piute Burn (2008) that have impacted communities far outside the burn areas. Landslides and mudflows have peppered central Idaho following the 800,000 acre burn of 2007 (multiple but contiguous fires), and this summer rivers are running chocolate with silt following every thundershower.

Among the effects of fire on soil and water are (this is a short list):

- Changes in infiltration due to collapse of soil structure, increase in bulk density, removal of organic matter, reduction in soil porosity, clogged soil pores, and increased reaction to rainfall droplet kinetics

- Decrease in soil wettability (hydrophobia), concretion, increased water repellence, increases in surface flow, increase soil particle transport, rilling, gulleying, and increased erosion

- Substantial changes in stream water chemistry, solid and dissolved material transport, pH, bacteriological characteristics, sediment influx and transport, dissolved sulfates, nitrates, nitrites, chlorides, iron, and other cations, and turbidity,

- Increases and decreases in discharge rates and seasonal streamflows, peak flows including flash flooding, minimum flows, as well as total annual streamflows,

- Degradation of aquatic habitat, aquatic biota, spawning gravels, fish populations, cultural resources, and human health and safety.

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28 Jul 2008, 11:12am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part II

We continue our rebuttal of the recent 3-part series the Idaho Statesman that promoted the idea of allowing forest fires to burn unchecked.

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

4. Let It Burn Has Significant Effects on Fauna, Including Threatened and Endangered Species

The effects of fire on wildlife are highly significant. Wildfire has impacted birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and mollusks in habitats across the West, perhaps for thousands of years. Modern forest fires in dense stands tend to kill all the trees and thus alter wildlife habitat for decades or longer.

There are hundreds of animal species with special conservation status (Threatened, Endangered, Candidate, or Special Species) that occur in, or have historic ranges in western forests. Historically western wildfires burned frequently in low- to moderate-intensity fires, most likely of anthropogenic origin. Modern lightning-ignited fires are generally higher in intensity and severity and can have adverse impacts on species with special status.

Animals dependent on deep forests and old-growth conditions are particularly at risk from severe wildfires. These include such notable species as spotted owls, marbled murrelets, fishers, wolverines, salamanders, and frogs. Numerous other species of less notoriety are also impacted by catastrophic fires including entire guilds and communities of bird species, hundreds of arthropod species, turtles and tortoises, squirrels and other arborial mammals, and untold numbers of mollusks (woodland snail species are still being discovered).

A few animal species thrive after catastrophic fires, such as ants, termites, bees, and some species of woodpeckers. These are mainly detritivores that feed on rotting wood, or predators of detritivores. However, those species are abundant in unburned forests as well, are not rare, and are few in number compared to the species eliminated by catastrophic forest fires.

Modern forest fires in dense forests can convert entire ecosystems because the former forests are converted to pyrophytic brush. Whereas a forest ecosystem extends 150 feet or more vertically, the replacement ecosystems are short. Total ecosystem volume can be reduced by 90 percent or more following modern forest fires. So too biodiversity and biological production are reduced by that amount or more.

Conversion of forests to pyrophytic (fire-type) brush can be more or less permanent. Following catastrophic forest fires there is often more dead wood than before the fire because the living green trees are killed. Sprouting brush provides fine fuels and soon the fire hazard has returned, only more so. Recurring fires at 20 to 80 year frequencies eliminate tree species entirely. Thus ecosystems are permanently converted to brush. Entire animal communities are eliminated as well.

Brush dwelling species are common, and growing more common year by year as more heritage forests are eliminated. Forest dwelling animal species are the rarest in the West today, the most at risk, and the most likely to be extirpated by catastrophic forest fires.

The Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to protect listed species, and requires federal agencies to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service prior to undertaking actions which might significantly impact listed species. The US Forest Service has adopted Let It Burn policies with NO consultations as required by ESA. This is yet another example of the slippery slope into criminality that Let It Burn imparts to the USFS.

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27 Jul 2008, 8:29pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part I

In a recent 3-part series the Idaho Statesman asked the rhetorical question, “Are we wasting billions fighting wildfires?” Authors Heath Druzin and Rocky Barker answered their question with, “We can protect cabins, make the forests healthier and save money by allowing more fires to burn,” and parodying Smokey Bear’s famous dictum, “‘Only you’ can change how we deal with fire.”

The 3-part serial is [here, here, and here].

The authors quote yours truly:

Michael Dubrasich, a Lebanon, Ore., consulting forester, is critical of forest policy, too. The federal government is wasting timber and backing away from its historic role of protecting private property.

“The fires that start on unkempt federal land and spread to private property are irresponsible spillovers perpetrated upon American citizens by their own government,” Dubrasich said.

So that was nice. But by and large the authors made a case for Let It Burn, despite my wise words. For that reason, and in defense of our forests and forest-based communities, I offer this rebuttal.

Let It Burn is illegal, destructive of a multitude of forest and human values, is not cost-effective, and is the worst idea that ever came down the forest pike. Let me count the ways.

1. Let It Burn Is Illegal

This is the crux of the matter at hand. The USFS has adopted a policy and is undertaking actions (and an unknown number of future actions) in the form of unfought forest fires that have significant effects upon forests and natural resources and on surrounding properties, communities, habitats, watersheds, and airsheds.

Those significant effects must be evaluated through the NEPA process of drafting an Environmental Impact Statement, together with all the public involvement the EIS process entails. The public must have a suitable opportunity to evaluate and comment upon federal actions that impact the environment under NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act).

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Torching the Budget

Today the Sacramento Bee published an interesting article entitled “Forest Service burns through its budgets” [here]. A quote:

WASHINGTON – The Forest Service has struggled for years to pay for fighting fires that last year alone scorched almost 10 million acres, mainly in the West. As fire seasons grow longer and the blazes more intense in forests stressed by global warming, the agency’s funding woes mount.

In fact, the Forest Service has already spent roughly $900 million this year, almost 75 percent of its fire-suppression budget, and the season is just nearing its peak.

Nearly half the Forest Service’s annual budget now is spent on battling wildfires or trying to prevent them. In 1991, 13 percent of its budget was spent on fires.

As the costs have grown, so has the toll on the agency’s other programs. To pay for its fire programs, the Forest Service has raided accounts used for everything from reforestation to fish and wildlife to building campgrounds and trails. In theory, those accounts are expected to be repaid. In practice, it’s not that easy.

“The whole damn thing is imploding,” said Casey Judd, business manager of the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, in Inkom, Idaho. The group represents firefighters in five federal agencies.

Every year, Congress provides emergency money to bail out the Forest Service and other federal land management agencies. Over the past 10 years, it has provided $3.9 billion in emergency funding to fight fires. But some on Capitol Hill are getting tired of the Forest Service coming hat-in-hand every year because its budgets fail to adequately reflect firefighting costs.

“The Forest Service would be on its knees except for the money Congress provides,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who as chairman of the House interior appropriations subcommittee oversees the agency’s budget. “This thing is pretty close to being out of control.”

Not close, Norm, it’s there. Furthermore the USFS fire budget has been out of control for at least 3 years now. So has the acreage burned, which has been rising steadily for at least five years.

Costs have risen right along with acreage. Already this year we have experienced a 245,000 acre fire (the Basin/Indians Complex [here]) that has burned up $115 million in fire supression dollars to date. It will soon be the most expensive fire in California history.

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A Burning Desire

The following essay was written in 1999, but it is just as valid today because things haven’t changed. We repost from the Free Republic [here].

© 1999 by Mark Edward Vande Pol, all rights reserved.

If environmentalists were left to their own devices, do they have a better way to manage wild-lands? Criticisms by environmentalists about private enterprise are so ubiquitous it is high time to critically analyze of one of their proposals. How often are their plans submitted for scrutiny, peer review, or an EIS? The sad part is that it is so easy to do. The cited text is reprinted off the Sierra Club web site.

Sierra Club Policy: Public Lands Fire Management

Sierra Club Board of Directors March 17-19, 1989:

(Yep, this is the current policy, adopted immediately AFTER the Yellowstone Fire.)

1. Fire is a natural, integral, and valuable component of many ecosystems. Fire management must be a part of the management of public lands. Areas managed for their natural values often benefit from recurring wildfires and may be harmed by a policy of fire suppression. Long-term suppression of small wildfires may build up conditions making occasional catastrophic conflagrations inevitable.”

Recurring fire is a natural occurrence in the West, unless people have suppressed fire for sixty years. That process of suppression has been harmful. The fuel load is not at a ‘natural’ level. It will not result therefore in a ‘natural’ fire. ‘Inevitable’ implies, ‘It is too big a problem and too much potentially harmful work to do anything to mitigate’. It is inferred that nobody is responsible for a conflagration if it happens because it’s ‘natural’. If the fuel level was forced by human activity, does ignition absolve those who had a choice of the time of ignition and the composition of the fuel?

2. Every fire should be monitored. Naturally occurring fires should be allowed to burn in areas where periodic burns are considered beneficial and where they can be expected to burn out before becoming catastrophic. Human-caused fires in such areas should be allowed to burn or be controlled on a case-by-case basis.

Note the prejudice toward unplanned fires. They want monitoring but not planning. Are they crazy? They just said that catastrophic fire was ‘inevitable.’ Who is going to be responsible for determining whether it will go out by itself or progress to a catastrophe on a case-by-case basis? Weather in the mountain regions of California is highly changeable, localized, and unpredictable. Are they going to get everybody together for a meeting before they decide while the fire builds? Who controls the fire if the only plan for ignition is that there should be no plan?
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Are Forests Healthy After Incineration?

Most scientists and fire managers agree that fire is a healthy and necessary part of the forest,” Rocky Barker, a journalist, not a scientist or a forest manager, Idaho Statesman.

The Leftwing wants to burn Idaho forests to the ground. It’s GOOD for forests according to liberal journalists. Here’s what hopping anti-forest extremists did to Idaho forests last summer, cheered on by the liberal toadies at the Boise Idaho Statesman. Do these forests look HEALTHY to you? For more pics of what the wackos did to 800,000 acres (1,250 sq miles) of central Idaho in 2007, click here, here, and here.

PS — You will NEVER see photos like these in the Idaho Statesman.

The Payette Lets It Burn Again

After incinerating 470,529 acres of the Payette NF last summer [here], the Payette NF managers are at it again. The Rush Creek Fire is burning freely and blowing up to mega-proportions in the nation’s leading Let It Burn laboratory.

Sparked by unknown causes on July 15, the Rush Creek Fire is now 200 acres and expanding rapidly. There is no staffing on the Rush Creek Fire, no attempt to contain, control, or extinguish it. Burn, baby, burn is business as usual on the radical and lawless Payette.

This may seem like an innocuous fire, but last year the Payette NF decided to let innocuous fires burn until 800,000 acres were incinerated across three national forests [here, here, here, here, here].

This blurb was spit up last week on the Payette NF website [here]:

McCall, ID (July 18, 2008) – The Krassel Ranger District is currently managing the 30 [sic] acre Rush Creek Fire in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness. The fire is located in the Rush Creek area near Shellrock Creek in a remote area characterized by steep slopes and rocky terrain and is not threatening property or people [just forests, wildlife, watershed, and other resource values].

The cause of the fire is unknown [we're clueless and don't really care]. It began on July 15 and is burning in heavy timber [i.e. forests, the kind with trees]. Currently, the fire is staying on the ground and moving slowly through the forest [until it blew up to 200 acres and is now rapidly growing]. The fire was at 20 acres when it was discovered and grew to an estimated 30-40 acres, due in part to an increase in wind [but she's a roaring now. Whoopsie daisy, another bonehead bad fire behavior prediction]. Thunderstorms are expected to bring wind and rain today and tomorrow but temperatures are predicted to bring hotter and drier conditions over the weekend.

The fire is being closely monitored via over flights by fire staff [no firefighter is going near it]. Fire Management Staff and Forest leadership are monitoring the fire’s progression and will implement point protection if values become threatened [that would be never on the Payette. They have no values]. Fire behavior modeling is also being utilized to help predict the progression and spread of the fire across the landscape [even though the models are funky and wrong].

The Rush Creek Fire is being managed and not immediately suppressed because of its location, the potential for resource benefits associated with fire and the lack of any threat to people or property [WHAT GODDAMN RESOURCE BENEFITS????????????????]. Not suppressing the fire also does not put firefighters at risk unnecessarily [just the forests, wildlife, watersheds, etc.] Firefighter and public safety are priorities as fire managers consider the array of fire management tools available to them [such as sit on their fat cans and do nothing].

This pro-holocauster government babble and horrific abrogation of legally mandated responsibilities is likely to lead to another megafire at the cost of tens of $millions and damages in the hundreds of $millions. They got away with it last year (no Payette person was prosecuted or jailed for burning 1,250 square miles of public forest).

There has been no Environmental Impact Statement written, no hearings, no Declarations by Forest Supervisor Susie Raines, not even the slightest nod towards U.S. environmental laws such as NEPA, ESA, NHPA, NFMA, or all the rest. The Payette don’t need no stinking laws to do Let It Burn.

Please call the Payette National Forest at (208) 634-0700, (208) 634-0784, or (208) 634-6945 to express your displeasure.

Surprising Ruling By the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

by Claudia Elliott, Editor and Publisher of the Southern Sierra Messenger

As fires rage throughout California—and many believe their severity could be reduced by active forest management—there is a hope of a cool breeze coming from the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals.

No, this is not an April Fool’s joke in July. The Ninth Circuit is known for a range of what many people would call “wacky” decisions, particularly concerning environmental issues, which is why a ruling by an 11-judge panel of the court last week has some folks in shock.

Bottom line: The panel ruled that it’s improper for federal judges to act as scientists when weighing in on disputed U.S. Forest Service timber projects.

In their ruling, the judges overturned a July 2007 decision by a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel that halted the Mission Brush timber sale in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. The litigating environmental groups in the case contended that the Forest Service’s logging plan would harm the region’s ecosystem for species including small, migratory owls. The ruling also overturned a 2005 decision concerning a Forest Service project in Western Montana.

U.S. Agriculture Department Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees the Forest Service, told the Associated Press that the ruling was “the most important decision involving a Forest Service environmental case in the last two decades,” saying it restores the ability of federal agencies, not meddling judges, to exercise discretion over timber sales.

“The judges established a much more limited framework for judicial review of Forest Service decisions – a framework that’s much more consistent with the standard use by other circuits,” Rey said last week. “The court says its role is not to act as a panel of scientists. They wanted to move back to a more appropriate role.”

It’s too early to know exactly what ramifications this ruling will have on Sequoia National Forest, Giant Sequoia National Monument, or other public lands throughout California. Environmental groups commenting so far have tried to minimize the importance of the ruling.

Personally, I value environmental review and I value community input in projects involving public lands. But too often, good projects developed with sound science and lots of effort are overturned by judges who have, as the Ninth Circuit panel determined, overstepped their bounds.

Perhaps this decision will level the playing field and return land use decisions to the public agencies who I will expect to follow the laws, rules, and regulations that apply–but hopefully without having a judge side with environmental organizations who want to apply impossible standards without any consideration of the risk we are taking in managing public lands in such a capricious manner.

The Southern Sierra Messenger is published every other Thursday at Springville, California; Mail subscriptions are available; Rates are $24 per year within Tulare County and $32 per year outside Tulare County; US addresses only. Send subscription order with payment to Community Media, PO Box 765, Springville, CA 93265 or call (559) 539-7514.

See also our previous post on this topic [here].

The wood to rebuild Tahoe is sitting there, rotting

The following excellent essay was published last Saturday in the Sacto Bee [here]. We re-post it in full:

By William Wade Keye, professional forester

A year after the Angora fire in South Lake Tahoe, the dead trees, debris and rubble are cleared from the devastated neighborhoods. New homes are sprouting from the earth to the tune of contractors’ blaring rock music, hammers and nail guns.

Lumber to sustain the rhythm is being transported from Canada, Oregon and Washington. Dozens of structures are rising in a cacophony of recovery and new life.

It’s all taking place within the afternoon shadows cast by the thousands of dead trees that remain standing on adjacent national forest lands. Although seared and killed by high heat, inside their charred bark is unburned wood, light and bright.

Yet despite this volume of usable fiber, these cellulose skeletons will never be tapped to help build a single structure.

Rather, the trees killed by the fire will be left to rot, under assault by insects and fungi, as the U.S. Forest Service plans and plans, and then plans some more, about what to do in the aftermath of the last year’s disaster. It doesn’t want to get sued, having lost the will to fight against environmental activists and their attorneys.

Judicial decisions have broken the back of a once-proud federal agency, handing de facto control of the public’s forest to people who don’t like forestry. The wood to rebuild Tahoe is being imported from distant forests hundreds of miles away. This is called protecting the environment.

As an American citizen, I’m troubled that the Toyota Prius was engineered in Japan while Detroit was figuring out how to build a better Hummer. I also don’t understand why we, as Americans, can’t both expand our domestic energy supplies (including fossil fuels and nuclear power) and push for much greater efficiency, alternative sources and new technology.

As a forester, I don’t get the environmental benefit of burning forests down, letting them rot and then – perhaps – trying to clean them up at great expense to taxpayers. I don’t accept that we won’t look to quickly salvage and utilize dead public timber instead of sourcing our wood from living trees in someone else’s backyard, at great cost in terms of wasted energy, carbon emissions and true community. I can’t imagine why we don’t plant trees in denuded areas just as fast as we possibly can to prevent brush encroachment and deforestation.

These behaviors contribute to global warming. A wildfire such as the Angora fire emits massive amounts of greenhouse gases, followed by years of slow methane release. (Methane is 20 times more active as a global warming agent than CO2.) If, instead of allowing dead timber to decompose, we harvest and utilize it in long-lasting products and bioenergy, we can store carbon for long periods and also offset the burning of fossil fuels. Finally, by not reclaiming the site with a growing young forest, we fritter away decades of opportunity to capture and store high levels of atmospheric carbon. This is something that healthy forest ecosystems are remarkably good at doing.

All over the country there is a movement toward locally grown fruits and vegetables, organic foods and community gardens. People are demanding authenticity in terms of what they eat and where it comes from. It helps us make sense of our lives in an increasingly corporate and impersonal world.

In national forest policy, it should be Prius drivers and organic farmers who are leading the way, clamoring for local responsibility and economies of ecological authenticity. Taking wood from distant forests in order to rebuild in Tahoe should be simply unacceptable. Especially when it’s just sitting there, rotting on the stump.

Instead, we accept the grim counsel of the eco-clergy: better to do nothing than risk anything. Burn down the forest, let it go to brush, but just don’t touch it. Where our wood comes from is not important.

No wonder the Forest Service has given up on actively managing its lands, even to the extent of trying to keep them green.

Theodore Roosevelt, who set aside most of our vast system of national forests during his risk-taking years in the White House, is turning over in his grave. Roosevelt intended them to be used, not neglected. Conservation was not about minimizing risk, but about maximizing the social good.

Forestry, like sustainable agriculture, is a “can do” enterprise, as integral to the human experience as rebuilding homes after a terrible catastrophe. When we suppress something so wholesome and engaging, we kill off a bit of ourselves. We become poorer, more afraid, easier to corral into a world of diminished possibilities.

The post-wildfire blight and deforestation in Tahoe, and spreading throughout our national forests in the American West, is a Hummer we are driving, wasting resources and spewing greenhouse gases while new life – and fresh oxygen – is so abundantly available.

William Wade Keye is a California registered professional forester.

 
  
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