19 Jul 2009, 10:58am
Federal forest policy Forestry education
by admin

Ecobabble from the Fire Community

As we have pointed out repeatedly [here and here, for instance], the fire community is largely ignorant of forest science. They see wildfire as a glorious panacea for whatever ails forests, and they stoop to new levels of ecobabble to justify their prejudices.

Ecobabble is the misuse and abuse of terminology from the ecological sciences to paint a false picture and to imply that the user knows something that they manifestly do not. I didn’t invent the term; see some Web definitions [here].

When the fire community uses ecobabble, it is particularly offensive because they abuse the terminology to cover up their abuse of the environment. Some examples and explanatory comments follow. I have not cited the actual ecobabblers, although I could do so, out of compassion for the low-level functionaries who spew propaganda as ordered by higher ups.

Fires recycle the forest — Forests are not garbage; they do not require “recycling.” This ecobabble canard is an outgrowth of the “decadent forest” agitprop that was used to justify old-growth logging. The logging of old-growth was halted 20 years ago (or more) but ironically the protesters of by-gone eras now use their adversaries’ ecobabble to justify incinerating old-growth forests today. Forests develop and change over time. They are aggregations of organisms in various conditions. Forests are not single organisms that get old and must be killed dead so new forests can grow there. That sort of thinking is a-scientific.

Fires rejuvenate the forest — This is the same type of ecobabble as above. “Rejuvenate” means to make young again. There is no ecological reason to kill old-growth forests and replace them with baby forests. Indeed, there is ample reason to protect, maintain, and perpetuate old-growth forests.

The “rejuvenation” ecobabble has been applied (by the fire community) to return fires. Return fires are reburns of older burns, often within 15 years or less. The first fire killed all the old-growth and left a sea of snags and brush. The second fire is supposed to “rejuvenate” the burn. But if wildfire was so rejuvenational, why didn’t the first fire accomplish the feat? And how will the second fire do what the first did not? In fact, return fires often cement the conversion of forests to fire-type brush.

Ensuring that fire plays its natural ecological role in fire-adapted forests — This is double ecobabble. First, most Western Hemisphere forests have been subject to human-set (anthropogenic) fires for millennia. Human tending through anthropogenic fire gave rise to open, park-like forests and induced the forest development pathways that led to old-growth trees. The “natural ecological role” of fire in our forests is to convert them to tick brush, the historical human role has been to manage fire regimes to tend forests.

The fire community is sadly ignorant of actual, historical forest development pathways. It could be said that much of the forest science community is equally sad and ignorant of the ecological processes that have nurtured our forests for thousands of years. The denial of historical human influences is a-scientific, a-historical, and seen by many as racist. Denying the presence and actions of millions of human residents over millennia is a pernicious myth rooted in extreme cultural prejudice.

All forests are “adapted” to fire, but not all fires are alike. The frequent, seasonal, human-set and tended fires that guided forest development during the entire Holocene were materially different from the catastrophic holocausts perpetrated by the Federal Government today. The severe burns that denude whole landscapes and convert them from forest to brush fields are not “ecological” or desirable in terms of forest maintenance or resource protection.

Fires like this do not “rejuvenate,” “play a natural ecological role,” or “benefit resources.”

Fires reduce fuel loadings — That frequent claim is not ecobabble per se, because it is closer to fire engineering than ecological terminology. The statement is counter-factual nonetheless, as can be seen in the photo above. The severe fires that the Federal fire bosses are so fond of kill green trees and leave more dead and dry fuel than was present before the fire. The fire hazard is increased, not mitigated, by catastrophic fire.

Fire suppression in the past is responsible for fires today — Another ecobabble statement with no basis in fact. Catastrophic fires are nothing new. The First Residents experienced landscape-scale severe fires that destroyed whole regions and left the people starving. They soon learned, from painful experience, that human beings could reduce the holocausts that challenged survival itself by setting frequent, seasonal, light burning fires.

It was the elimination of stewardship and anthropogenic fire, steeped in millennia of traditional ecological knowledge, that led to modern fuel build-ups and the catastrophic megafires of today.

Had the government NOT attempted to suppress fires over the last 100 years or so, those fires would have been megafire holocausts (such as the Idaho fires of 1910). Backing off and letting fires burn does not reduce the fire hazard; it actualizes it.


Ecobabble is nothing new; some might contend that most of ecological science is babble. But the egregious use of ecobabble to justify catastrophic forest fires is a modern invention, recent propaganda designed to excuse horrifically bad forest management.

Based on a-historical myths and lies, modern ecobabble promulgated by the fire community is harmful and destructive. It does not justify — it exacerbates the harm done by adding insult to injury.

We have barely scratched the surface in this post. Send us your own favorite ecobabble phrases. We will disabuse the abusers of the terminology and set the record straight here.

WOPR, 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan Withdrawn

The Obama Administration has withdrawn the Western Oregon Plan Revisions and the 2008 Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan:

U.S. Dept. of the Interior Press Release, July 16, 2009 [here]

Interior Withdraws Legally Flawed Plan for Oregon Forests, Presses For Sustainable Timber Harvests

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Because the previous Administration failed to follow established administrative procedure before leaving office, its plan to intensify logging in western Oregon – known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) – is legally indefensible and must be withdrawn, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said today.

Moreover, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Thomas Strickland said that the federal government will ask the District Court to vacate the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 revision of the critical habitat for the spotted owl, on which the WOPR was in part based, because Interior’s Inspector General determined that the decisionmaking process for the owl’s recovery plan was potentially jeopardized by improper political influence. …

The 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan presented last May [here], 18 years after the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered species (1990). The USFWS is required by law to develop a recovery plan within 3 years of listing under the Endangered Species Act, but had delayed that action for almost two decades.

A Recovery Plan was issued in 2007 but withdrawn after criticism. The USFWS then revised the 2007 plan after holding a year-long series of public meetings with expert panels. The experts testified that catastrophic fire in spotted owl forests is often fatal to all the trees, old-growth and young growth alike, and that some careful forest restoration treatments are necessary to save the old-growth and protect the owl habitat.

After extensive public involvement, the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan was issued. But the election of B. H. Obama brought radical holocausters to power, and yesterday they exercised their political muscle and threw out the Plan.

The claim was that Bush Administration officials somehow tainted the owl plan by failing to “follow established administrative procedure,” whereas the fact is that the owl plan was the most open, transparent, and scientifically supported recovery plan the USFWS has ever created. It is Obama officials that have tainted the process with political machinations.

Obama appointees were not responding to any court decisions — lawsuits brought by radical extremists have not been adjudicated as yet. Instead the political functionaries jumped the courts and withdrew the recovery plan before the courts could rule.

The BLM Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) was also withdrawn by Obama appointees before any court rulings had been issued. The WOPR applied to only O&C lands, some 2 million acres in Western Oregon (less than 10% of federal forest lands in the state). The WOPR was also created via a lengthy and public process and was consistent with the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan. However, the extremist anti-forest-pro-holocaust political set within the Obama Administration feel that cutting the throat of rural Oregon and burning millions of acres of public forests in catastrophic fires is preferable to scientific management that might preserve, protect, and maintain forests.

Elections have effects. In this case, the election of Far Left crazies has led to the elimination of responsible, science-based programs that might have saved endangered species and their habitat, the priceless heritage forests of Oregon. There have been other deleterious outgrowths from the Obama election, and this one may slip under most radar screens. But the tragic consequences of the megafires that result will not be so easy to ignore.

Wildfire — Beneficial or Damaging?

The US Forest Service is incinerating millions of acres this year with dozens of wildfires they Let Burn under the rubric of “fires used for resource benefit” (FUFRB’s), or as we called them, foofurbs. Foofurbs have replaced whoofoos (Wildland Fire Use fires or WFU’s) [here].

Background: the illegally constituted Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) [here] is the Federal Advisory Committee that oversees firefighting on Federal land, including USFS, BLM, NPS, USFWS, and BIA. The WFLC seated radical enviro lobbyist groups such as the Wilderness Society, promulgated a “Black, Dead Forests Are Beautiful” campaign [here] and invented whoofoos [here] as a substitute for Let It Burn. After complaints were received, the WFLC went underground. They no longer post meeting notices or minutes [here] or even their membership list [here] (note that the names and dates are over a year out-of-date).

This year, in secret backroom meetings with radical enviro holocaust advocates, the WFLC dumped whoofoo and replaced it with foofurb. This is despite the push over the last two years to write WFU into over 30 National Forest Plans nationwide. Now the WFU language is defunct, and all the illegal altering of Forest Plans must happen again.

In the meantime, foofurbs have sprung up all over. The Southwest Region has already burned a half million acres this year in foofurbs. The Southern California, Alaska, Eastern Great Basin, and Rocky Mountain Regions all have foofurbs burning right now.

Interestingly, in none of these foofurb fires has the USFS specified exactly what the alleged benefits of “fires used for resource benefit” are. There have been no analyses made, no declarations, no public hearings, and most importantly, no Environmental Impact Statements produced.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is quite clear in stating that any major Federal action that will have significant effects and impacts on resources and the human environment requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to implementation of that action. Potential “significant effects” require an EIS whether or not those effects are characterized as detrimental or beneficial:

“Significantly” as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity:

(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both short- and long-term effects are relevant.

(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of impact. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action. The following should be considered in evaluating intensity:

Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse. A significant effect may exist even if the Federal agency believes that on balance the effect will be beneficial.

From Sec. 1508.27, the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), sec. 309 of the Clean Air Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 7609), and E.O. 11514 (Mar. 5, 1970, as amended by E.O. 11991, May 24, 1977). Source: 43 FR 56003, Nov. 29, 1978, unless otherwise noted.

When the USFS deliberately conducts foofurb fires, it does not matter what their excuse is. “Restore ecological function” or “rejuvenate wildlands” are largely pseudo-scientific BS, but they are also tacit admissions that the actions will have significant effect on the environment. Ergo, the USFS is in multiple violation of NEPA and they know it.

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Beetle Epidemic Caused by Misguided Dogma of Extremists

by Fred Hodgeboom, Guest Commentary, Clark Fork Chronicle, July 09 2009 [here]

The recent New York Times article (”A House in the Woods When the Woods are Gone,” [here]) is the latest example of the urban myth misinformation that the mainstream media routinely provides to the masses by blaming everything undesirable on “climate change.”

The article ignored the natural role of forest and insect ecology regarding the hundreds of thousands of acres of even-aged (80-100+ year old, near mono-cultures of lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir on federal land surrounding the private property near Helena featured in the article. In the western United States, the period of 1880-1930 was one of huge forest fires, illustrated by the well known 1910 holocaust that burned nearly 3 million continuous acres in Idaho and Montana in two days. The new forests that re-grew from these burns have now matured into optimal feeding and breeding habitat for bark beetles and spruce budworm, especially on federal lands where management of the 100-year-old burn areas has been scant. The insect outbreaks and resulting fire hazard on federal lands has been predicted by forest and fire scientists for decades and are nothing new.

Insect epidemics will always occur when you have vast areas of ideal habitat for the bugs that allow their populations to escape all natural checks. A cold winter or two, or even pesticide spraying, only delays the inevitable bug population explosion until favorable conditions occur. Dry years inevitably occur as they have historically. As long as the perfect habitat exists over vast areas, the bugs will eventually outbreak into an epidemic and reduce their habitat by killing the trees if humans don’t alter the insect habitat first. There is simply no way to “protect” huge areas of prime bug habitat for long.

We (the public, the Congress, and federal land managers) failed miserably in the last two decades to actively create age and tree species diversity in the vast even-aged stands dominated by lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir that resulted from the huge fires of 1880-1930 period, especially in the western federal forests. We are now experiencing the insect epidemics and the re-occurrence of the huge turn of the 19th century fires as forests are pre-disposed to catastrophic fires by unbroken expanses of bug-killed trees. These fires commonly have energy releases equivalent to an atomic bomb exploding every 5-10 minutes. No amount of firefighting expenditure will control the fire until it runs out of the heavy fuels or the weather changes. After the forest is killed, the commercial value of the wood is rapidly lost, and if there is no market for cracked and worm riddled dead wood, the area is doomed to a catastrophic fire at some future time.

We are all now paying the price for the misguided dogma of so called “conservation groups” very successful campaign to “preserve and protect” the federal forests by prohibiting roads and timber harvests over the past several decades. The preservation lobby industry has been so successful that the states of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico essentially have no timber infrastructure left and no markets for excess wood, live or dead. Montana is not too far behind with only one pulp mill and a few sawmills left, struggling to survive primarily on limited raw material from state and private land.

Now that the dead and/or burned forests cover so many of Montana’s mountains, the real consequences of the preservation urban myth dogma is exposed to the public. Many “conservation” lobbyists and government officials are rushing to blame the adverse effects and costs of the failed preservation efforts on another urban myth-”climate change.”

Fred Hodgeboom is a retired USFS forester and currently President of Montanans For Multiple Use [here]

Forest Fires and Biomass Skipped Over at Boxer Cap-and-Trade Hearing

by Randy Shipman, W.I.S.E. Correspondent

Yesterday the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, questioned heads of departments regarding the Climate Change and Energy (Cap-and-Trade) Bill now before them.

The opening statement provided by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did not mention public forest lands. He did not mention the US Forest Service by name during the hearing (even when asked about wood pellet utilization in Vermont schools) until Senator Udall of New Mexico questioned the water capability provided by the Colorado River Compact, alluding to early snowpack melt, drought, and assumptions held in the Compact from “100 years ago” of river capacity. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley posed the last question of that session pertaining to federal forested lands, thinning fuels, and using USFS forests in the equation of carbon offsets while gearing something up resembling the Secure Rural Schools Act.

Although vague at best, Secretary Vilsack said USDA was looking into how all of its agencies will be involved in biomass and renewable energy (mentioning NRCS, farmers, ranching and private forest land often) and most hesitantly mentioned that he personally thought USFS might also have a role.

I doubt his answer reflects this administration’s position however, and that is the reason Vilsack was reluctant to bring USFS into the mix in his opening statement.

But Vilsack did say that presently the USFS was going through a new 5-year strategic plan for water and forests based on human-caused climate change. Human-caused global warming is considered by Energy Secretary Steven Chu (reflecting the Obama Administration) to be a fact of science.

Senator Merkley was very specific on two occasions in his limited 3 minutes of questioning, voicing concerns about managing “locked-up” lands to assist local communities while at the same time figuring federal lands into carbon offsets. Vilsack was at a loss to respond directly to those questions which apparently arose out of the 2007 and 2008 energy bills locking those lands out. He seemed to base his stance on waiting for the USFS strategic plan. Roadless areas were never specifically mentioned by anyone and smoke from wildfires was never mentioned during pollution talks (regarding asthmatic children) when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was asked about global warming conspiracies by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Secretary Salazar did mention biomass on 500 million acres of DOI lands and indicated they were under consideration for carbon offsets, but overall both federal land management agencies are attempting to convince the “rural” farmers, ranchers and private forest land owners what a great deal they are about to receive.

Secretary Salazar was big into wind energy off the Atlantic coast and other areas, and also hit hard on his department’s assertion that 29% of America’s electrical energy needs can be produced by solar thermal energy generation in the Southwest. Those projects should be under construction by end of 2010, and are projected to create some 50,000 jobs.

Secretary Salazar maintained that wildfires, bark beetles, fishery problems, and Midwest agricultural shifts are all due to climate change. His three main goals are to reduce dependence of foreign oil, head off climate change, and save our children. He said his department consists of some 6,000 scientists and 14,000 land managers who will accomplish this feat, but he also mentioned that DOI produces over 50% of the coal and 25% of the nation’s domestic oil and gas.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said something to the effect that climate change technology will amount to about a cost of one USPS letter stamp per day for the average American family, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson thought any parent would go that amount to protect their children.

Jackson and Chu disagreed, however, about whether the Cap-and-Trade Bill (if enacted) would actually have any effect of climate. EPA Administrator Jackson confirmed an EPA analysis showing that unilateral U.S. action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have no effect on climate. When presented with an EPA chart depicting that outcome, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he disagreed with EPA’s analysis.

Some of the questioning regarded the alleged failure of Congress to remove personal vehicles and trucks off the highways. The Administration desires more mass public transportation and moving freight by train. Lisa Jackson stated that union workers were behind them 100 percent, but I am not certain she meant auto industry workers or teamsters.

Nuclear and other issues were discussed as well. The hearing can be viewed on C-Span.

Two Forest Restoration Letters

Restoration forestry is the art and science of returning forests to heritage conditions of fire resilient, open and park-like structures [here]. Restoration forestry protects, maintains, and perpetuates forests, wildlife, water and air, public health and safety, heritage, and our economy.

Restoring forests is active management that takes place before forests burn. After a forest is destroyed by catastrophic fire, there may be attempts to rehabilitate it, but rehab is after-the-fact. Restoration is before-the-fact, preparing forests to receive fire and to be resilient to fire before they burn.

The term “restoration” has been injected into at least two important laws: The Healthy Forests Restoration Act (2003) and Title IV of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act Of 2009, aka the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 (FLRA).

In both cases “restoration” is used as I noted above, to describe (in general) forest treatments applied prior to catastrophic forest fires in order to make forests resilient to fire, i.e. to avoid the catastrophes of forest destruction by fire (and insect infestations).

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) has adopted a pro-active position regarding restoration forestry. They recognize that restoration is the best and possibly only way to protect, maintain, and perpetuate our public forests.

Last May the SAF promulgated two letters to Congress that expressed (in part) their support for real restoration forestry (and their opposition to ersatz restoration).

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1 Jul 2009, 9:32pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Active Forest Management Is the Solution to Bark Beetles

Dr. Peter Kolb, Montana State University Extension Forestry Specialist and an Associate Professor of Forest Ecology and Management at the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation, testified last month before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power Hearing on Mountain Pine Beetle: Strategies For Protecting The West.

His testimony is now posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

It is a very interesting and powerful testimony. Dr. Kolb correctly described bark beetles as:

… a chronic population within pine forests, colonizing and killing trees that are unable or incapable of defending themselves due to a variety of physiological, genetic or environmental factors.

He further described bark beetle ecology and some of the factors that lead to large outbreaks, including mild winters, long summers, and forest conditions that provide ample susceptible trees.

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Is There a Forest Fire-Climate Connection?

by Mike Dubrasich

The Web is all atwitter with the latest news about an alleged global warming - forest fire relationship. The buzz was instigated by a new research paper published in the June issue of Ecological Applications.

The paper is Climate and wildfire area burned in western U.S. ecoprovinces, 1916–2003 by Jeremy S. Littell, Donald Mckenzie, David L. Peterson, and Anthony L. Westerling. The full text is [here]*, generously provided to us by the lead author**.

*The original link to the full text was withdrawn following threats made by Ecological Applications. For more discussion regarding that worm can, see [here].

** A new “legal” link to the full paper [here] has been supplied by the lead author, Jeremy S. Littell of the Univ. of Washington. Thank you, Dr. Littell.

The USFS PNW Research Station (where co-author David L. Peterson works) posted a News Release about the paper [here].

In the warming West, climate most significant factor in fanning wildfire flames

Study finds that climate influence on production, drying of fuels-not higher temperatures or longer fire seasons alone-critical determinant of Western wildfire burned area

PORTLAND, Ore. June 26, 2009. The recent increase in area burned by wildfires in the Western United States is a product not of higher temperatures or longer fire seasons alone, but a complex relationship between climate and fuels that varies among different ecosystems, according to a study conducted by U.S. Forest Service and university scientists. The study is the most detailed examination of wildfire in the United States to date and appears in the current issue of the journal Ecological Applications. …

“We found that what matters most in accounting for large wildfires in the Western United States is how climate influences the build up-or production-and drying of fuels,” said Jeremy Littell, a research scientist with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and lead investigator of the study. “Climate affects fuels in different ecosystems differently, meaning that future wildfire size and, likely, severity depends on interactions between climate and fuel availability and production.” …

Note the careful use of the word “climate.” And note the disclaimer: global warming is NOT implicated. The News Release and the paper itself do not blame global warming (aka “higher temperatures”) for forest fires.

Instead, the researchers found that a combination of weather factors, including precipitation in the years immediately prior to the fires, may be partially correlated with fire acreage.

Note my use of the term “weather”. Average precipitation has not changed. Some years are dry, some are wet. Note also my use of the term “correlation.” Correlation is NOT causation. Note also my use of the term “partial.” The correlations found by the researchers were weak.

However, that did not stop the USFS PNW Research Station from leaping to conclusions that are at odds with what was carefully parsed in the paper:

Findings from the study suggest that, as the climate continues to warm, more area can be expected to burn, at least in northern portions of the West, corroborating what researchers have projected in previous studies. In addition, cooler, wetter areas that are relatively fire-free today, such as the west side of the Cascade Range, may be more prone to fire by mid-century if climate projections hold and weather becomes more extreme.

Note that the USFS PNW Research Station uses the word “warming” in their headline and in the paragraph quoted above, despite the fact that “warming” was not even studied or correlated, much less causational.

Note that the conclusions of the USFS PNW Research Station rely on “climate projections” that have nothing to do with the paper and are themselves unskillful and largely failures at predicting anything.

So what did the researchers actually find, and how skillful were they at their historical analysis (note again that they attempted no “projections” or “predictions” as those words are generally interpreted)?

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29 Jun 2009, 10:02pm
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Whoofoo Kaput?

The latest scuttlebutt from fire community insiders is that whoofoo is no more.

Orders have come down from on high forbidding the use of WFU, aka whoofoo, aka Wildland Fire Use.

The new terminology is “fires used for resource benefit,” or foofurb.

Evidently my invention of the term “whoofoo” got under their skin. After three years of my needling the National Interagency Fire Center with whoofoo, they decided to dumpsterize it.

Unfortunately, nobody told the 30 or so National Forests that wrote whoofoo (WFU) into their Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMP’s).

Granted, the secret conversion of LRMP language constituted Federal crimes in the first place. Altering any National Forest plan is supposed to require a NEPA process, but there were no (none, zero, zip) NEPA processes invoked when the LRMP’s were rewritten, clandestinely, in the dark of night, by gremlins, across the Nation.

Now, however, all those altered plans must be altered again because foofurb has replaced whoofoo in the parlance.

The Kaibab NF, home of the Warm Whoofoo, now has a foofurb going (the Ruby Foofurb) that has topped 4,600 acres. That’s just a midget compared to the 58,400 acre Warm Whoofoo, but it could be a record for foofurbs.

Foofurbs don’t really “benefit resources.” If they did, the USFS would be willing if not anxious to demonstrate such with normal NEPA exercises. But they know that the whole foofurb deal is a Big Lie and are desperately afraid of transparency of any kind. Can’t let the public in on what transpires on public lands.

It’s hush hush. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Just ignore the fire plume, the choking smoke, the forests burned black, the streams filled with poisonous ash and mudslides.

That’s just Smokey the Foofurb doing his thing. And before you know it, Smokey will be foofurbing your property with his handy aerial drip torches. It’s for your benefit. Be sure to thank him.

25 Jun 2009, 12:22pm
Federal forest policy The 2008 Fire Season
by admin
1 comment

Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management Report

Last October (while the fires were still burning) the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management, a group made up of professional foresters resident in Trinity County, CA, critiqued USFS fire suppression practices in a (now) 48-page report to Congressman Wally Herger.

That report has now been posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

The nine authors (David Rhodes, Charley Fitch, Michael Jameson, Clarence Rose, Jerry McDonald, Frank Grovers, Stan Stetson, Dana Hord, Gay Berrien) have a combined professional forestry experience of over 220 years, most of those in fire prevention and suppression.

Their conclusions, expressed in the report, are that the US Forest Service leadership has altered (for the worse) Federal fire and fuels policies, and the new policies have led to repeated failures in fire management.

If these management policies in suppression are not addressed and changed, then we can look forward to the same catastrophic fire scenario each summer until our Trinity forest is no longer a forest.

As noted in a previous SOSF post [here], the Concern Citizens report also offered these comments:

… [A] lack of responsible suppression policies and actions … in the past several years have caused great damage and negative impacts to private property (timber, watersheds, water lines), the local economy, watersheds and soils, wildlife, aesthetics, cultural resources, and air quality–sometimes in radical proportions. Safety in firefighting is also challenged. When fires continue for such long periods of time, there is increased potential for accidents and, yes, fatalities. …

The fire suppression organization has been adversely affected due to retirement of many of the older, more experienced people in the last 20 years. This has left a void in the top incident command management positions as well as in line personnel. …

If the tactics were as aggressive and reasonable as they were several years ago, these fires would have been contained several ridges over from where they were finally stopped. …

Although we agree that fuels are a problem, something to consider in fire management, they are not THE cause of large-scale and long-enduring fires–the cause is changes in fire suppression practices. …

A few people think all fires are beneficial, irregardless of the reality. This is what is promoted by many environmental groups who do not seems to want any management of the National Forests. Under controlled circumstances… prescribed fire can be beneficial. Uncontrolled wildfire is NOT beneficial. …

The people of Trinity County are not happy with the mismanagement in the way fires are being suppressed, and the way the Forest Service is being managed. Something needs to change.

We need to (1) get the Forest Service back to managing the timber and other resources on National Forest Lands, (2) change fire management suppression tactics–if this includes adding more firefighters, then that is what should be done, (3) re-staff stations in remote areas, and (4) have the Forest Service address and resolve the “liability” issue. …

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Roadless Rule Enjoined — Again

On June 15th US District 10 Judge Clarence A. Brimmer reinstated his injunction against the Clinton-Dombeck Roadless Rule for the third time [here, here, here, here]. Technically speaking, he denied a USDA motion to suspend his previous injunctions, which has the same effect.

The motion had been made by the USDA and intervenor the Wyoming Outdoor Council in response to the suit (dating back to 2002) brought by the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association. The attorney representing the CMA, Harriet Hageman, wrote an excellent synopsis of the long-running case [here].

Judge Brimmer’s new ruling is clear and concise [here]. Some excerpts:

Once again this Court is faced with determining the validity of the 2001 Roadless Rule. On two different occasions this Court has held that the Roadless Rule is invalid as it was promulgated in violation of this nation’s environmental laws. …

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19 Jun 2009, 10:59am
Federal forest policy
by admin

Tidwell Interviewed by the Missoulian

Newly appointed Chief of the US Forests Service Tom Tidwell was interviewed by the Missoulian, published today. The questions were weak, the answers fairly stock.

Personally, I take little inference from the interview. The emphasis on climate change is not realistic, in the sense that climate realism provides evidence that global warming is a hoax and fraud. There has been global cooling for 10 years. There has been no change in snowpack. There has been no change in date of snowmelt. Catastrophic fires are late-season, anyway. But official obeisance to irrational paranoia might be expected in today’s political climate of global warming madness. The implication is that “climate change” will continue to be used as an excuse for megafire. That is not reassuring.

Tidwell’s emphasis on water and watersheds is a refreshing change, however. I am also pleased that he did not use the term “wildlands.”

The interview:

New USFS chief to address climate effects, watersheds

By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian, June 19, 2009 [here]

Watershed management and climate change science will become top priorities for national forest management, according to newly designated U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

The 32-year veteran of the Forest Service spent the past two years leading the Region 1 headquarters in Missoula. He spoke with the Missoulian on Thursday while wrapping up a senior executive service training session in Maine.

Missoulian: Tell us about the selection process. Who was in charge of the choice, and what were they looking for in a new chief of the Forest Service?

Tidwell: The Secretary of Agriculture (Tom Vilsack) was in charge. They wanted someone who had demonstrated they can work with people, be able to reach out. I expect to develop a collaborative approach. We’ve very successfully been able to move those concepts forward in the Northern Region. And also to have someone who’s been with the agency.

Missoulian: Homer Wilkes backed out of the undersecretary of agriculture job last week. That was the post formerly held by Mark Rey, and it oversees the chief of the Forest Service. Who’s going to be your boss?

Tidwell: Jay Jensen is our acting undersecretary. He’s my boss.

more »

18 Jun 2009, 11:22pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

Addressing Forest Service Employee Morale

by Doug MacCleery, 06/18/2009

This is a follow-up to the note I sent on June 3 on the Forest Service’s abysmal rating in the recently released Best Places to Work survey. The agency was 206 out of 216. In this survey, 945 people from the Forest Service responded, a healthy 3% of agency employees. The results are [here].

I understand this issue was discussed briefly at the Forest Service National Leadership Team meeting last week. I believe that it is important to ponder ways to address this critical issue, even as the leadership of the agency is in transition. It would be difficult to conceive of a issue more important to the future of the Forest Service.

Last week (June 10) the Washington Post ran a story on the topic “The Forest Service Struggling with Morale” [here]. This story discussed the Best Places survey, as well as a March 19, 2009 hearing before the National Parks, Forest and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

This hearing, “Restoring the Federal Public Lands Workforce,” focused on management and morale issues in three federal land managing agencies — the Forest Service, BLM and National Park Service. Hank Kashtan provided testimony for the Forest Service. Several other government and outside witnesses testified, including George Leonard for the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, and Ron Thatcher, President, Forest Service Council, National Federation of Federal Employees.

Last Friday (June 12), Chief Kimbell issued a letter to all employees discussing the Best Places survey and the Washington Post story. Chief Kimbell reinforced the importance of the issue by stating that it “deserves leadership’s attention and your attention at every level of the agency.” Clearly, this issue is a major one for all those who care about this agency and its future.

There are certainly a variety of factors that have contributed to this situation, several of which were mentioned by Chief Kimbell, including fire transfer and downsizing. Other factors were mentioned by Kank Kashtan at the hearing mentioned above, including centralizing business and human resources in Albuquerque, and others.

But the Forest Service is an agency which has faced many challenges in the past and has found ways to overcome them. In writing about Forest Service history, I reviewed many of these challenges in a brief history, released in 2008: “Reinventing the U.S. Forest Service: evolution from custodial management, to production forestry to ecosystem management” [here]. See, in particular, pp. 62-71. Given our impressive history and important mission, there is no doubt that we can address this challenge — if we will only devote ourselves fully to the task.

The hearing mentioned above provided a wealth of information about the Best Places survey and its implications for the Forest Service, BLM and NPS. It provided detailed information on the causes of the situation, as well as suggestions and recommendations for addressing it. The full hearing record can be accessed [here].

Kevin Simpson, Executive Vice President of the Partnership for Public Service (which helped compile the Best Places to Work survey) testified and discussed in detail the Best Places survey and its implications. This testimony was delivered before the recent ratings were released, which saw the Forest Service decline and BLM and NPS improve somewhat. His summary of the situation (p.6) is that:

The Forest Service, NPS and BLM are fortunate to have workforces that are highly committed to their respective missions and who generally believe their immediate supervisors are doing a good job. But these are also workforces who say they lack the resources to do the job required of them, that their agencies do not excel in recruiting new talent with needed skills, that their leaders fail to inspire and motivate high performance, and that the skill level of the agencies is stagnant. We can say with confidence that an under-resourced, under-trained workforce will not be able to perform at its best on behalf of the American people.

Mr. Simpson also discussed what he thinks should be done to address this issue. He described a NPS case study (p.6 of his testimony) that focused on the situation and made specific recommendations as to what might be done to address it. Most of these recommendations would be applicable to the Forest Service as well. Many could be put in place immediately at various Forest Service organizational levels. Kevin Simpson’s testimony is [here].

There are also other excellent assessments of the situation, as well as recommendations, in the testimonies of George Leonard, Ron Thatcher and others, which can be accessed from the full hearing record link provided above. Mr. Thatcher’s testimony contains both his recommendations and those of 37 district rangers who sent them to the Forest Service National Leadership Team (Exhibit 1).

Many Forest Service retirees are very concerned about the situation and could be called upon to help. For example, I have spoken to a former Chief and a former Associate Chief who both brought up an arrangement called the “Junior Staff” that used to exist in the Forest Service. It was a group of staff level employees (from a variety of resource areas) who had direct access to leadership (no gatekeepers) and who were expected to alert leadership as to important management issues affecting lower level employees.

We clearly do not need to start from scratch to analyze this issue or wait to develop more centralized solutions. We have some capacity at all levels to begin to deal with it appropriately.

Very respectfully,

Doug MacCleery

Douglas W. MacCleery is Senior Policy Analyst and Assistant Director, Strategic and Emerging Issues, Forest Management, National Forest System, USDA Forest Service

“Conservation is our attempt to put human ecology on a permanent footing.” — Aldo Leopold

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” — Colin Powell

18 Jun 2009, 10:30am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

An Open Letter to Tom Tidwell

Dear Tom,

SOS Forests welcomes you as the next Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. We salute your prior accomplishments, share in the excitement of your appointment, and wish you every possible success.

And we really mean that. We really do wish your tenure as Chief to be successful. It is going to be a difficult road, though. The deck is stacked against you, but we will help you all we can.

You need our help because the USFS has lost more than half of its staffing over the last 20 years. Many District, Forest, and Regional offices have closed, and those that remain open have skeleton crews. Active management has ground nearly to a standstill.

As a result, megafires are exploding out of control every summer. 2008 saw the California fire bust, with over a million acres burned in that state alone, and more than a dozen firefighter fatalities. 2007 was the worst fire season in five decades, with nearly 10 million acres burned by wildfires and 20 firefighter lives lost. Over 800,000 acres burned in Central Idaho alone, and the aftermath brought catastrophic erosion and degradation of soils and waterways. 2006 was another record-breaking fire season. This year promises to be even worse, if national USFS fire policies do not change.

Halting our current crisis of megafires is a very tall order. You can, however, take a few initial actions that will start your administration off on the right foot.

First, please use the word “forests” in speeches and writings. You are going to be Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The ground you will oversee is neither “timberlands” nor “wildlands.” It is forests, or forestland. Please refer to it as such.

This is easy to do, costs you nothing, and will demonstrate your core values. (Not to mention that failing to do so will handicap you right away, and come back to haunt you later, too, as it did your predecessor.)

Second, cancel the Whoofoo program. Whoofoo’s (wildland fire use fires) are accidental fires in accidental locations started by lightning during the height of the fire season. Such fires should be suppressed with rapid initial attack, not left to burn. Whoofoo’s led to enormous and expensive tragedies like the Warm Fire, the Tripod Fire, the Tatoosh Fire, the Middle Fork Fire, the South Barker Fire, the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire, the Cedar Fire, and many others.

Whoofoo’s are the renamed equivalents of “prescribed natural fires” which caused catastrophes such as the 1988 incineration of Yellowstone National Park. The lack of rapid initial response with adequate firefighting forces was directly responsible for the 500,000 acre Biscuit Fire of 2003 and dozens of other megafires in the last two decades. Inadequate initial response has been ultimately responsible for every modern megafire, as a matter of fact.

You should also reconsider Appropriate Management Response, a euphemism for Let It Burn. AMR has led to over 1,000 square miles of unnecessary forest destruction in each of the last two years, including the Payette fires of 2007 and the Northern California fires of 2008. Decision made under AMR have huge ecological consequences but never go through normal NEPA processes. It does not serve our national forests, the Agency, or the mission to avoid proper legal and public involvement procedures.

Third, please initiate a national program to develop natural histories for every National Forest in the System. The histories should reach back at least 10,000 years, and should document the actual, historic, forest development pathways that occurred, in reality, location by location.

We cannot care for our forests, or restore them, or prevent megafires, if we don’t have a good handle on how our forests got here in the first place. Emphasis in the histories should be on ancient anthropogenic fire and the actual human/forest relationships that have had so much impact on the conditions, indeed the very existence, of our forests today.

Fourth, it is time to reconsider and restate the mission of the USFS. In the absence of a clear mission the Agency is rudderless. All resource values are threatened. I encourage you to engage in a national dialog in that regard.

Fifth, please look to forest experts outside of government for advice on forest stewardship. We have much to offer. Ignoring our expertise and deep concern for our public forests is a grievous mistake made by prior Chiefs, much to the detriment of our forests and the Agency. We are ready, willing, and able to assist you. Do not dismiss or discount outside expertise.

We extend our best wishes to you, and to your family and friends, as you embark on this important voyage. We wish you every success. We really do. Because the survival of our priceless, heritage, American forests depends on it.


Mike Dubrasich
SOS Forests

16 Jun 2009, 5:02pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Water supplies at risk from fires in dead forests

By JOAN LOWY, AP, Google News, June 16, 2006 [here]

WASHINGTON (AP) — Water supplies for 33 million people could be endangered if millions of acres of beetle-ravaged forests in the Rocky Mountains catch fire, a U.S. Forest Service official said Tuesday.

Rick Cables, the chief forester for the Rocky Mountain region, told a House panel that the headwaters of the Colorado River, an important water source for residents of 13 states, are in the middle of 2.5 million acres of dead or dying forests in Colorado and southern Wyoming. Severe fires, fueled by these trees, could damage or destroy reservoirs, pipes and other infrastructure that supplies water to millions of people in the Rocky Mountain region.

Moreover, wildfires can “literally bake the soil,” leaving behind a water-repellant surface that sheds rain and leads to severe erosion and debris, he said. The loss of so many trees also will reduce shade in the region, which in turn could reduce water supplies in the hot, dry summer months and accelerate snowmelt in the spring, he said.

A Forest Service analysis indicates people in San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tucson, Ariz. who get their tap water from the Colorado River get one quart of every gallon from national forests in the Rocky Mountain region.

“The arid West absolutely depends on national forests as the source for their water,” Cables said. “The reach of this watershed is unparalleled in the West.”

While bark beetle outbreaks are naturally recurring events in the West, the current outbreak — which has killed nearly 8 million acres of trees — is the biggest in recorded history, Barbara Bentz, a research entomologist with the Forest Service, told the committee.

Besides Colorado and Wyoming, other states especially hard hit include Idaho, Montana, Oregon and eastern Washington. In Canada, more than 22 million acres have been affected and scientists suspect that the death of so many trees is altering local weather patterns and air quality.

Officials from affected states who testified said they need help to avoid a potential catastrophe. Local officials said want more money to clear trees from buildings, transmissions lines and other facilities. They also seek government help for companies trying to turn dead trees into wood products, especially pellets that can be burned to produce energy. If a market can be created for the dead trees, it can help offset their costly removal, they said.

“We need resources on the ground,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, a Colorado conservation group.

Protecting lives is the top concern. At least a dozen Colorado towns are surrounding by dead forests and another dozen towns border the forests. The region is also home to ski resorts like Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park. Trees falling across roads, blocking potential evacuation routes in event of a fire is a key concern.

Another concern is thousands of miles of electricity transmission lines that run through the forests. There is a possibility that multiple fires at the same time could cause widespread regional power outages, Ron Turley, special projects manager for the Western Area Power Administration, told the committee.

“This could have significant regional and potentially national consequences,” Turley said.

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