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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disaster threatens

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

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

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

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

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

September 27, 2008 | 1 Comment | Topic:  Saving Forests, Politics and politicians, Federal forest policy

E&E Daily, a subscription-only Web news service, has broken a story regarding illegal collusion between Bureau of Land Management officials and environmental lobbyists groups:

IG investigating coordination by BLM and enviro groups, congressman says

Noelle Straub, E&E Daily reporter, Sept 20, 2008

The Interior inspector general is investigating possible illegal coordination between lobbyists for environmental groups and federal officials of the National Landscape Conservation System, Rep. Rob Bishop said yesterday.

Interior officials informed his office about the investigation into the NLCS, which is a division of the Bureau of Land Management, the Utah Republican said in a statement.

E-mails and other documents show extensive coordination between top NLCS officials and environmental lobbyists, said Bishop, the top Republican on the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.

The main groups involved appear to be the Wilderness Society and the National Wildlife Federation, a House GOP aide said. At some point NLCS officials had weekly meetings with these and other groups, often at the Wilderness Society’s office, to coordinate lobbying strategy and messaging, the aide said.

E-mails show that NLCS officials requested environmental groups to write budget language, the aide added. E-mails also talk about coordinating lobbying efforts, setting up NLCS events, sending out draft memorandums for each other to review and preparing for congressional hearing.

The federal and advocacy officials exchanged resumes and job announcements in their respective organizations and BLM, the aide said. Travel documents are still being collected and reviewed and will be part of the investigation, the aide added.

Federal law generally prohibits federal employees from using appropriated funds or their official positions to lobby Congress.

The National Landscape Conservation System is a sub-agency of the BLM. The NLCS website is [here].

The NLCS was established in 2000 by Interior Secretary Babbitt

The System contains more than 850 federally recognized units

It encompasses approximately 27 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Managements

The NLCS has four categories of federally designated areas:

National Monuments, National Conservation Area (NCAs) and similar designations. ‘Similar designations’ includes National Recreation Areas, Cooperative Management and Protection Areas, Outstanding Natural Areas, and Forest Reserves

Wilderness. This category includes Designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas

Wild and Scenic Rivers

National Trails. This category includes National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails

Read more

September 25, 2008 | Leave a Comment | Topic:  Politics and politicians, Federal forest policy

The USFS is planning to celebrate megafires and the wholesale destruction of America’s forests. It’s a Party!!! according to Brett French of the Billings Gazette:

New method of fighting wildfires to get airing

By BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff, September 23, 2008 [here]

In a conference at Jackson, Wyo., dedicated to wildfire issues, Timothy Engalsbee sees a “coming-out party” of sorts for the Forest Service’s latest means of directing responses to wildfires.

Appropriate Management Response (AMR) will be discussed by its authors Thursday at “The ‘88 Fires: Yellowstone and Beyond.”

Engalsbee calls it a coming-out party because AMR has largely been drafted in secrecy, he said.

Tim Engalsbee of Eugene, Oregon was featured in a series by the Eugene Weekly, Flames of Dissent: The local spark that ignited an eco-sabotage boom — and bust [here].

But Tim has graduated from all that and is now allegedly a spokesperson for firefighters. At least, the Billings Gazette thinks so:

As executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology [acronym: FUSEE, like the pyrotechnic device also called a flare] and a former wildland firefighter [among other pursuits, read Flames of Dissent], Engalsbee sees AMR as the best way to guide fire management in the future.

But all that aside, the USFS is having a party, a festival of fire. There will fun and games. Fire is the new toy of the USFS, according to Brett French:

The Forest Service has toyed with AMR for years. It was employed in 2007 on fires in southwestern Montana, where it met with mixed reviews by firefighters, the public and fire managers.

The idea behind AMR is that a fire is allowed to burn in areas where it’s deemed ecologically appropriate, such as a wilderness area, while being fought if it is next to valuable resources, such as homes, or where it threatens lives.

As it was initially written, under AMR one fire could be managed for both scenarios if it were burning on the edge of a wilderness area near a community. But directives implemented by the Bush administration in 2003 overrode that scenario, requiring that a fire either be suppressed or allowed to burn. The directives also required suppression of all wildland fires if they were human-caused - again defying the original intent of AMR.

Fun and games with fire, that is, and AMR has replaced whoofoos as the arsonistic game of choice. The “original intent” of AMR is a matter of some speculation, but French is right in that the Bush Administration did not create it and tried to put the kibosh on it.

The decision to rewrite AMR and turn it into a Let It Burn program was made this year, not by the Bush Administration per se, but by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC), the federal advisory board that oversees the National Fire Plan [here]. The WFLC has been captured by radical environmental groups, none of whom support or have ever supported George W. Bush. Sadly, GWB has lost control over the Executive Branch and pro-holocaust crazies have subverted the WFLC.

More from Brett French and the Billings Gazette:

With implementation of AMR, the Forest Service would do away with Wildland Fire Use - or allowing naturally ignited fires to burn in remote and roadless areas where they don’t threaten property, lives or other valuable resources. Managing a fire for such ecological benefits is based on fuels, weather forecasts and the terrain in which the fire is burning.

What ecological benefits? That contention is so far off the mark as to be from the Planet Neptune. There are no ecological benefits from catastrophic fire. None. Zip, zero, nada.

Catastrophic mid-summer fires in dense and overgrown forests cause massive biological death, erosion, air and water pollution, and lingering effects such as conversion of forest to fire-type brush. The impacts to vegetation, wildlife habitat, recreation, scenery, fisheries, downstream water users, and forest-based communities are deleterious and debilitating.

Fire hazard is not abated by burning forests. Often there is more dead fuels after the fire than before. Instead of being precluded, future fires are made more frequent and more catastrophic. The Silver Fire (1987, 100,000 acres) was followed 15 years later by the Biscuit Fire (2002, 500,000 acres). The Marble Cone Fire (1977, 187,000 acres) was followed by the Indians/Basin Fire (2008, 244,000 acres). And so on.

The USFS has NEVER made the scientific case for ecological benefit from fire. The process to do that is via NEPA, but AMR (like WFU) has never been subjected to any NEPA examination. No Environmental Impact Statement has ever been written for AMR. No scientific analysis of the alleged benefits and/or obvious detriments of AMR has seen the light of day.

The USFS is toying with AMR. They are not experimenting. There has been ZERO scientific evaluation. All the pro-AMR contentions are specious nonsense without foundation in the environmental sciences.

In full realization of the above, the USFS wants to change the subject of the AMR debate from science to economics. From French’s article:

Yet AMR would contain many of the same tenets as Wildland Fire Use. In 2007, federal firefighting agencies defined AMR as moving “from aggressively attacking wildfires of all sizes to a more risk-informed performance-based strategy that will reduce costs by increasing flexibility in wildland firefighting decisions.”

Saving money is one of the main reasons for implementing AMR. As wildfires have grown in size and intensity because of drought, climate change and reduced logging, the costs of fighting them has also increased dramatically. Last year, more than 85,700 wildfires burned 9.3 million acres at a cost to the Forest Service of $1.4 billion. The Interior Department spent an additional $450 million.

The plan to “save money” (if in fact there ever was one) has failed utterly and miserably. In 2008, the year of AMR implementation (new fangled version), the USFS has spent over $2 billion dollars on fire “suppression” when only 4.7 million acres have burned. That does not include DoI expenditures. Toying with AMR has resulted in a 40 percent increase in expenditures despite burning only half the acres!

It doesn’t take an economist to see the bankruptcy of the “save money with AMR” notion.

What about those glaring facts that contradict the Government babble? French has an answer:

The increasing number of homes being built near public lands has also escalated suppression costs. This year, almost half of the Forest Service’s budget was dedicated to fighting fires, an amount that has been exceeded in part because of large fires in populated areas of California.

False. The expensive megafires in California were mostly in UNPOPULATED areas. Megafires burned 640,000 acres in NorCal in the least populated area of the state at a “suppression” cost of nearly $400 million and not one home has burned. That’s AMR for you.

On the Central Coast behind Big Sur the Indians/Basin Fire burned 244,000 acres at a “suppression” cost of $120 million where 28 residences were burned. But the bulk of the money was not spent defending residences in the Ventana Wilderness where there are no homes. In fact, when the fire reached homes the federal firefighters turned tail and ran, and homeowners had to crash road barriers to defend their own homes without federal assistance. It was Katrina all over again. (Surprising that the Mainstream Media was so agog about the lack of federal assistance in New Orleans during Katrina but so nonchalant about it in Big Sur during the Basin Fire).

The doubletalk jabber coming from the Mainstream Media could explain a problem the USFS is having: they can’t seem to communicate the wonderfulness of AMR:

Explaining Appropriate Management Response to the public, firefighters and fire managers poses its own problems.

A Forest Service study found confusion over exactly what AMR entails, outlining the difficulty the agency has in explaining the program to the public, as well as to its own personnel and cooperators.

“Describing AMR as new, or as a significant policy change, had confused agency personnel, interagency partners, and the public,” a 2007 report stated.

The report goes on to state that “many unresolved issues remain,” including getting state agencies to buy into the concept.

Buy in? We have already bought into the tune of $2 billion. The buy-in is so enormous that the 2008 budget of the USFS has been shredded and blown away on Let It Burn. With no public oversight whatsoever. Just like the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fiasco. Taxpayer dollars heaved into a burn barrel by secret conspirators holding secret meetings, jamming their pockets with our money and jamming the gears of good government.

But let’s have a party to celebrate all that. Whoopee. Have some cake. The peasants can eat fire.

September 23, 2008 | 1 Comment | Topic:  The 2008 Fire Season, Politics and politicians, Federal forest policy

After five weeks of Let It Burn firefighters have finally engaged the Middlefork Fire in SW Oregon. Last night’s 209 report indicated that direct fireline construction has been implemented in Crater Lake National Park to stop the northerly spread of the fire. Also, direct checking action by two 20-man crews has begun on the Fremont-Winema National Forest on the east side of the Cascades.

The Middlefork Fire [here] was ignited by lightning on August 16th on the Rogue River-Siskiyou NF near the Middle Fork of the Rogue River. To date the fire has consumed 18,238 acres including the entire Middle Fork watershed. The fire has spread 8 miles east across the Pacific Crest Trail and is within 3 miles of the upper Klamath Valley. It has also spread 12 miles to the north into Crater Lake NP to the north side of Union Peak.

To date the Middlefork Fire has cost $11,380,951 in “suppression” expenses although little or no suppression has taken place.

Click map for larger image [1.9 MB].

From Aug 16 to Sept. 10 a skeleton crew from the RR-SNF watched the fire burn. By then it had grown to 3,500 acres and was pluming (fire storm vortex) and spotting in every compass direction. The RR-SNF had spent $4.5 million by that date. On Sept. 11 the Blue Mountain Type 2 IMT (Batten) was assigned and they brought in over 350 firefighting personnel.

Still, no direct suppression was employed. Backburns were attempted from contingency lines miles away from the actual fire. On Sept. 13 over 500 personnel were engaged in not fighting the fire, which had grown to 6,000 acres. The new Region 6 Regional Forester Mary Wagner sent a Review Team to evaluate fire planning.

But no substantive change in firefighting tactics resulted. Between Sept 13 and Sept 18 the Middlefork Fire blew up and tripled in size.

Old-growth forest has been incinerated in repeated firestorm canopy fire events that have formed massive smoke plumes. Heritage sites of human occupation and use dating back thousands of years have been obliterated. The soil has been roasted and sucked away in the vortex fire plumes. Spotted owl nesting stands have been utterly destroyed. Recreational use has been curtailed, the trails and campgrounds closed, and the scenery converted to charred snags punctuated by ashy dust storms. The Rogue River has been polluted with ash and soot and will run chocolate with eroded sediment next year.

Today over 1,000 personnel are on the fire. The Blue Mountain Type 2 team is being replaced by the PNW Team 3 Type 1 IMT (Pendleton). And for the first time, direct attack is being utilized.

The direct attack is taking place in a National Park and a designated Wilderness Area on the north and east flanks of the fire. This is unusual because the NPS generally eschews direct attack. For instance, two fires are burning freely today in Kings Canyon NP. Tehipite Fire [here] began July 19 and is still burning two months later. It has plumed and grown to over 10,000 acres. While not an official WFU, like the Middlefork Fire it has been monitored, not fought. The Hidden Fire [here] began Sept 10 and is being managed using the Wildland Fire Decision Support System. That also means no direct attack and massive backburns on one side of the fire. The Hidden Fire has grown to over 1,500 acres and is being Let Burn on the KCNP side.

The Middlefork Fire was predicted, indeed threatened by the RR-SNF. In March 2008 Scott Conroy, Forest Supervisor of the RR-SNF issued a Notice indicating that he intended to alter the RR-SNF Fire Plan by incorporating WFU and AMR (Appropriate Management Response). The Notice was supposed to be a first step in preparation of an EA (Environmental Assessment) as required under NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act). W.I.S.E. submitted comments as requested and authorized under NEPA process guidelines [here].

The RR-SNF never responded. They evidently bagged the NEPA process and adopted WFU and AMR anyway. Or perhaps not; there is no way of knowing. In June W.I.S.E. requested the RR-SNF Fire Plan under the Freedom of Information Act. The RR-SNF refused to comply and has not sent their Fire Plan to us as required by federal law.

These repeated violations of law culminated in the Middlefork Fire. W.I.S.E. warned every county commission in SW Oregon that the RR-SNF intended to do Let It Burn and that another Biscuit Fire was in the offing. Those county commissions did not respond. Maybe they thought it was a joke.

But it was not a joke. The RR-SNF had every intention of promulgating another megafire and indeed have done so.

The weather is expected to dry with strong winds arising by the end of the week. Hopefully direct attack can halt the progress of the Middlefork Fire before then. If not, expect another 10,000 acres of priceless heritage forests to be incinerated.

September 23, 2008 | Leave a Comment | Topic:  The 2008 Fire Season, Federal forest policy

by Julie Kay Smithson, property rights researcher, recreationist, and lover of truth [here]This email in its entirety, including headers, is to be accepted and construed at my official public comments regarding the “Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests Potential Wilderness Area Evaluations.”

My recommendation is that the USDA Forest Service add zero (0) acres of “recommended wilderness areas” in its latest Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS. I also direct this federal agency and its partners to cease adding any acres to the current obscene number of acres that have been “declared” to be “wilderness” — many of which are not “wilderness.” There is no need for such “designations” or their accompanying restrictions. They are fraught with language deception.

One of the thickly baited hooks in the “Roadless” scheme was/is “Inventoried Roadless Areas.” From that illegitimate, language deception loaded plan came “Recommended Wilderness Areas.” My considerable research and study on these and other related matters helps me conclude that such things were hatched in order to “create wilderness” where there is none and to forbid people in such areas, where people have been since time immemorial.

Thus, the Forest Service and other various and sundry agencies of the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, etc., are using a false premise in order to lay waste to many things related to these areas.

I describe these actions as laying waste because they grind timber harvest and other related, responsible resource providing uses to a halt and incrementally eliminate access by those with grazing, mineral, gas, timber, and recreational interests. All these things are important to the economic health of America. None of these uses may be falsely served up at the altar of “protection” or “management” when both “protection” and “management” is actually lock-up and Control.

According to one of federal government’s most conspicuous “public-private partners,” “The Nature Conservancy,” each and every place, both in America and worldwide, is special, in and of itself, and is “in need of protection.”

Since each of these places is special in its own right, according to “The Nature Conservancy” and its methodology of determining “last great places,” each is a separate and distinct recreational experience and as such, cannot be lumped with any other location/locale. Every place I choose to recreate — be it by over-the-snow vehicle, off-road vehicle, horseback, on foot (by foot, snowshoe or snow ski), or by dogsled — is separate and distinct, and has its own facets of the “Recreational Opportunity Spectrum.” Some facets are visual; others delight in other ways (smell, air quality, water quality, the mix of forest types, open meadows, rock formations, and many more: too many to count!).

I find it highly offensive that any agency, organization or individual would seek to stop access by over-the-snow and/or other motorized vehicle to these places. Not everyone is as physically fit or mobile as “wilderness restrictions” demand. Would the Forest Service deny a Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan or Desert Storm or World War II veteran the joy and experience of visiting these places simply by the Closed sign that a “wilderness” designation would mean to them? Irreparable harm is done to every American that needs motorized recreation and access for their health and well-being. Congress just passed the No Child Left Inside Act — but any further addition of “wilderness designation” means more places that are Closed to all but the most fit Americans and others that visit America from around the world (family and friends of Americans).

Think about this and its implications when these patriot veterans cast their votes on Election Day! No, Forest Service employees aren’t elected, but elected officials do have a say in who staffs your agency and others.

None of these places warrants, needs or belongs in a “wilderness” category of any type. These places are home to many roads, from old logging roads to “wildlife roads” to “pioneer roads,” but each is a road, just the same, so none are “wilderness” areas.

To reiterate: My recommendation is that the USDA Forest Service add zero (0) acres of “recommended wilderness areas” in its latest Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS.

I didn’t just ride into town last week on a turnip wagon. The word “protection” is false, as is “management.” What is sought is the Control of what is tantamount to everywhere. No conquering hordes of Romans, Huns or Vikings ever lusted after Control of the World like government and its allies. The use of unconstitutional (and according to Marbury v. Madison, null and void) legislation, which is repugnant to the Constitution, is being employed to decimate property rights and resource providing in America. “Wilderness designation” is one of several ways in which Control of property — resources, water, access — is being wrested from those who have responsibly utilized that property for many years. It appears that unadulterated greed is driving this runaway train of “wilderness designation,” a runaway train that must be stopped or derailed ASAP.

From timber growing and harvest to subsistence and other hunting; from commercial and recreational fishing to winter recreation, both motorized over-the-snow vehicle access and other motorized access at other times of the year; from usage of “endangered,” “threatened,” “candidate,” “at-risk,” and other terms associated with the “Endangered Species Act,” to other concocted “threats” to places whose only threat is government interference; this “Potential Wilderness Area” “evaluation” smacks of false premise, from A to Z.

In closing: My recommendation is that the USDA Forest Service add zero (0) acres of “recommended wilderness areas” in its latest Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS.

Additional facts:

There are 663 wilderness areas in the United States covering almost 106 million acres. This is an area larger than the state of California, or about the size of Oregon and Washington put together.

Alaska has 48 wildernesses that contain a total of 57,425,569 acres of designated wilderness

California has 138 wildernesses that contain a total of 14,335,878 acres of designated wilderness

Colorado has 41 wildernesses that contain a total of 3,390,635 acres of designated wilderness

Idaho has 6 wildernesses that contain a total of 4,005,754 acres of designated wilderness

Montana has 15 wildernesses that contain a total of 3,443,038 acres of designated wilderness

Nevada has 68 wildernesses that contain a total of 3,450,986 acres of designated wilderness

Oregon has 40 wildernesses that contain a total of 2,273,614 acres of designated wilderness

Utah has 16 wildernesses that contain a total of 900,614 acres of designated wilderness

Washington has 30 wildernesses that contain a total of 4,317,099 acres of designated wilderness

Wyoming has 15 wildernesses that contain a total of 3,111,232 acres of designated wilderness

September 22, 2008 | 1 Comment | Topic:  Federal forest policy

by Royal Burnett, Speak Your Piece at the Redding Record Searchlight, September 21, 2008 [here]

Fire season is on the wane and now is the time to discuss fire issues. This is the third summer in a row where the citizens of Shasta County have been forced to endure long periods of hazardous air quality caused by ongoing forest fires. Wildfires are to be expected, but everything should be done to minimize the impact of those fires.

A large portion of the smoke that has burned our airways and caused our eyes to water has been generated from fires burning on U.S. Forest Service land. Tons of greenhouse gases were emitted. The USFS has demonstrated that it either cannot or will not put those fires out as quickly as possible.

The reasons are many; the USFS is a land management agency, not a fire department. Much of the land is in designated wilderness areas. Wilderness areas are huge, often roadless areas that can be enjoyed by only a small percentage of the population, those who backpack or horseback into the area.

Since machine use is prohibited in wilderness areas, special fire control tactics must be used. These tactics vary from forest to forest. On one nearby forest, fires that are lightning caused are allowed to bum while man-caused fires are extinguished. Another boldly says it has a “total suppression” policy. What they all have is a modified suppression policy that calls for a “light hand on the land.” These policies do not work in California, where homes and private holdings co-exist with the federal lands. It’s akin to sending your firefighters into the fray with one hand tied behind their backs.

In those designated wilderness areas, fires are allowed or encouraged by burnouts to burn to natural boundaries such as creeks or rock outcroppings. The construction of fire line is discouraged or minimized, often resulting in large, long-lasting fires. These fires cost millions of dollars, endanger nearby properties and communities, and cause widespread smoke pollution.

Early in California history, uncontained fire was recognized as a public nuisance and laws were passed to prevent a person from allowing a fire to exist on his land or spread to the lands of a neighbor, yet the USFS flouts these laws with regularity.

The USFS can be compared to a bad neighbor who doesn’t clean up his property. When the property catches fire, he doesn’t put it out; he uses it as a measure to clean up his land. While he’s doing that, his neighbors are exposed to choking smoke, health hazards and the risk of escaped fire onto private property. To make it even worse, he then expects the neighbors to pay for the cost of the fire.

The costs in recent years have been staggering. The Iron Complex, which threatened Junction City this summer, cost $74 million dollars. The Lime Complex, which threatened Hayfork and Hyampom, cost $60 million. Fourteen lives have been lost on these fires.

When these fires occur there is little or no follow-up fuel reduction, resulting in a more flammable forest condition, one that is fuel loaded with snags and dead and down material that will only make the next fire worse.

Do we want a huge unmanageable fire hazard that is used by a select few or do we want an accessible well-managed forest that can be used by many? Logging has been used as a forest management tool for timber stand improvement as well as for fuel reduction. Re-introduction of logging on federal lands would create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The keeping of status quo on our national forest lands will only result in bigger, longer-lasting fires. The USFS has no incentive to reduce fire size. Big fires equal big budgets.

It is time for the citizens of California to demand the federal government to act in a responsible manner, clean up its lands and put out its fires in a timely fashion.

Royal Burnett is a retired CDF wildland firefighter and a member of the Wildland Firefighters Foundation. He lives in Redding, CA.

September 21, 2008 | 1 Comment | Topic:  The 2008 Fire Season, Federal forest policy

Remember the old-growth? You know, the ancient forests that were in such dire peril that the largest sector of Oregon’s economy had to be shut down to save them? Remember the Clinton Plan and northern spotted owls?

Nobody logs old-growth anymore, but the USFS sure does burn it to a crisp.

Oregon old-growth is going up in flames and smoke today in a slew of USFS Let It Burn fires. Among them:

The Middlefork Fire has been “monitored” for a month while it grew to 20,000+ acres. It spread from a tiny spot to encompass the entire Middle Fork Rogue River watershed. It burned in every compass direction including east over the Cascade crest toward Klamath Falls. Now it has moved into Crater Lake National Park. This is all according to plan. Firefighters gape and gawk, and occasionally set backfires from a long distance.

The forests burning in the Middlefork Fire are not second growth plantations. They are “unmanaged” old-growth, spotted owl nesting forests. Trees as old as 600 years are being incinerated. The plan all along was to incinerate them. “Save the Old-Growth” was always a euphemism for “Screw the Economy” and “Lay Waste to the Land.”

Three weeks ago the Rattle Fire in the Boulder Creek Wilderness was less than 1,000 acres and under control. Then the fire management team was ordered off because they had done too good a job of suppression. Yesterday the Rattle Fire was pegged at 15,000 acres and still growing. Two-thirds of the BC Wilderness has been roasted and the fire has spread out of the wilderness to the west, south, and east. The goal is to incinerate the entire thing and whatever collateral forests get in the way.

Is the Boulder Creek Wilderness old-growth? This is what Wilderness.net has to say about it [here]:

Small waterfalls and rapids connect the series of quiet pools that make up Boulder Creek, a tributary of the North Umpqua River. The rapids run south and west, channeling through the heart of the Wilderness. Numerous streams feed into Boulder Creek, quenching the thirst of the old-growth timber that towers over its banks. Ponderosa pines flourish on Pine Bench, near the lower end of the Wilderness, and are thought to be the largest such stand this far northwest of the crest of the Cascade Mountains. The rocky monoliths and outcroppings attract (and challenge) technical rock climbers, especially in the southern portion’s Umpqua Rocks Special Interest Geologic Area. Elevations range from 1,600 feet to 5,600 feet. Low elevation means the 15 miles of maintained trails remain clear and can provide access to the Wilderness year-round.

Burn, baby, burn the most precious forests in Oregon and some of the most magnificent forests in the world. That’s the plan. It’s being done on purpose. We have to “reintroduce” catastrophic stand-replacement fire in order to recycle the forest. The new push from the enviro-nazis is to scrub the landscape clean of old-growth to make room for widdle baby twees.

Westside Cascade old-growth in Bull of the Woods Wilderness is being incinerated as you read this by the Lake Lenore Fire. That’s just east of Opal Creek, the vaunted old-growth battle ground. Same forest, but now it’s not being “preserved” by brave hippies who sit in trees. Nope, it’s being incinerated as the USFS watches (whoops, I mean monitors) the fire. No hippies in those trees today. If there were, they’d be toast.

All the Portland enviro set were just gaga over new wilderness on the Mt. Hood National Forest. A million postcards (or something like that) were sent to the Oregon Congressional Delegation demanding, cajoling, and threatening violence if they didn’t declare new wilderness on Mt. Hood.

Today that “wilderness” is aflame in the Gnarl Ridge Fire, a fire that was contained and controlled a month ago but allowed to smolder by the USFS. Now it has exploded from 500 acres to 2,500 acres and is threatening homes on private land.

One of the quiet complaints about wilderness designation is that fires that erupt in wilderness do not stay there. Occasionally (almost invariably) the fires spread to private property. That’s a bummer for the homeowners, but the wilderness freaks don’t give a shit. They blame the homeowners for the audacity of living in their homes on private property within 30 miles of the wilderness incineration areas.

The wilderness freaks are loud and belligerent. They demonstrate and shout and carry on like crazed monkeys. The homeowners are not heard. As a result, megafires explode out of wilderness areas every year and destroy private homes, much to the delight of the wilderness freaks who hate the human race with a fiery passion.

Guess who steers the USFS fire policy? Is it rural residents or the urban howling inflammatory, anti-human, anti-forest freaks?

The unrestrained megafires burning today in Oregon old-growth forests answer that question pretty clearly.

September 19, 2008 | 2 Comments | Topic:  The 2008 Fire Season, Saving Forests, Federal forest policy

On Sept. 11 United States District Judge Michael R. Hogan enjoined the Five Buttes Project on the Crescent Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest. His decision is [here].

The planning for the Five Buttes Project has been going on since 2004. An Environmental Impact Statement was prepared [here, 6.7 MB]. All NEPA procedures were followed including a public comment period and consideration of the comments received. On June 8, 2007 Leslie Weldon, now transferred Forest Supervisor for the Deschutes National Forest, signed the Record of Decision authorizing the Five Buttes Project.

Four “environmental” groups appealed and in April 2008 filed a motion in the US District Court in Oregon requesting the project be enjoined [here]. The Plaintiffs are the League of Wilderness Defenders, the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Cascadia Wildlands Project, and the Sierra Club.

The first three groups are Earth First! affiliates as described by the Center for Consumer Freedom [here].

League of Wilderness DefendersThe League of Wilderness Defenders (LOWD) describes itself as a “501(c)(3) non-profit providing fiscal sponsorship to grassroots projects and organizations throughout Oregon who are working to defend wilderness.” These projects include the Oregon Forest Research & Education Group, which boasts: “Members of the OFREG collective gained experience working with groups such as Cascadia Forest Defenders, Canopy Action Network, Cascadia Forest Alliance, and various Earth First! groups.” Another LOWD project is the McKenzie River Printers Guild, which proclaims: “We are a collectively run outfit primarily made up of former editors of the Earth First! Journal.” LOWD has paid Daily Planet Publishing, the legal entity behind the Journal, “to perform educational reporting work.”

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project (BMBP) is a project of the League of Wilderness Defenders. It is run by Karen Coulter and Asante Riverwind (a.k.a. Michael Christian). Promoting an appearance by Coulter, one group describes her as an “active Earth First!er.” She is also a longtime board member of the Fund for Wild Nature, which has funded BMBP and other LOWD projects. Riverwind was fined for his participation in an Oregon logging protest/blockade and has, along with Earth First!, conducted seminars on “tactics used to block roads, harbors, and entrances to buildings.”

Cascadia Wildlands Project

The Cascadia Wildlands Project (CWP) board and staff are heavily populated with prominent Earth First!ers. President Lauren Reagan, according to the Eugene Weekly, “represents many activists here, including Earth First!ers.” When CWP hired Josh Laughlin as communications director, the group boasted that “his most recent gainful employment was as an editor for the Earth First! Journal.” Another Journal veteran, Jim Flynn, (no stranger to direct action himself), is on the CWP board. And board member Mick Garvin is a self-described “long-time Earth First!er.”

Karen Coulter and Asante Riverwind (a.k.a. Michael Christian) were respondents to the Five Buttes Project EIS, as was Daniel Kruse of the Cascadia Wildlands Project. Asante Riverwind identified himself as an officer of the Eastern Oregon Sierra Club. Daniel Kruse is one of the attorneys who filed the motion to enjoin.
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September 15, 2008 | 11 Comments | Topic:  Federal forest policy

I posted previously on the South Barker WFU Fire [here].

On August 7th a thunderstorm passed over the Sawtooth National Forest. Lightning struck and a tree burst into flames about a mile north of Featherville in Elmore County, Idaho. For four days the fire smoldered.

The Sawtooth NF officials could have sent a fire crew in to douse the flames. It would have cost a few thousand dollars to extinguish the tiny blaze. But they chose not to, and instead declared the South Barker Fire to be a “wildland fire use” (WFU) fire.

By that date the USFS had spent its entire 2008 fire budget and was transferring funds from other programs. The Sawtooth NF was well aware of this. … Despite the budget crisis, Sawtooth NF Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer approved the WFU designation on the South Barker Fire.

To date the South Barker WFU Fire has burned 34,250 acres and cost an estimated $5.2 million dollars [here]. (As of 09/14 suppression costs were reported to be $6,719,437).

On Sept 8 journalist Joe Jaszewski of the Idaho Statesman wrote an article in defense of the Sawtooth NF decision to incinerate 53.5 square miles of central Idaho [here]. The story for the most part parroted the party line fed to Jaszewski by USFS officials and attacked residents who regretted the fire:

Fire Wise? Officials look to fire to safeguard forest

But residents have their doubts about letting the South Barker blaze burn

by Joe Jaszewski, Idaho Statesman,09/08/08

FEATHERVILLE - What the South Barker Fire is not: a wall of flames barreling through the wilderness, incinerating anything in its path and leaving a blackened moonscape in its wake, hundreds of years away from rejuvenation.

What the South Barker Fire is: creeping flames meandering through dead pine needles, built-up underbrush and small saplings, mostly leaving larger trees unscathed.

Forest managers hope that by allowing this low-intensity fire to burn away shrubs and dead trees, they can protect the area from larger, catastrophic fires for decades to come - lessening the risk to recreation areas, private property and lives.

The fire in the Fairfield Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest - which started Aug. 7 - is being managed as a “fire-use” fire. This means that fire officials have outlined a safe perimeter within which they will allow the fire to burn. When the fire exceeds those boundaries, immediate suppression actions are taken.

When flames spotted into the Boise National Forest, that part of the fire was immediately attacked.

Within 48 hours, the northwest flank of the fire was fully contained by seven hot-shot crews, helicopters, airplanes and engines.

“We threw everything we could get on it,” said Val Norman, logistics chief for the fire.

Fire information officer Chris Wehrli emphasizes that “fire use” does not mean fire has free rein to go wherever it wants.

“There are 200 firefighters out there who monitor this and are actively managing it,” he said. “We’re not just standing back and watching it burn.” …

They’re like soldiers on a peacekeeping mission. Working behind the scenes, keeping an eye on things, but ready to pounce if the situation warrants. …

Officials estimated in August that the South Barker Fire had cost $99 per acre. Soper estimates that fire suppression fires cost about $3,000 per acre. However, fire-use fires usually burn more acreage, which dilutes their per-acre costs.

Actual per acre costs on the South Barker Fire were $150 per acre (do the math, Joe!). But more importantly, total costs were $5.2 million that the USFS did not have and that required cancellation of other programs, such as fuels management, trail maintenance, and forest research, and every other activity the USFS engages in.

It’s total costs, not costs per acre, that make affect the bottom line. And the suppression costs do not reflect the damages to resources inflicted by the fire, which include destruction of soils, vegetation, habitat, water quality and quantity, fisheries, air quality, recreation, scenery, etc.

And spending millions on suppressing a fire doesn’t necessarily put it out, Norman said.

“It’s Mother Nature that puts out fires - it’s not us,” he said.

Val Norman may not be able to contain, control, or extinguish fires (I accept his admission of total incompetence), but other firefighters can, do, and have put out thousands of fires this year alone. It is a gross insult to the fire community at large to plea total incompetence on behalf of everyone else, when such is abundantly and patently false.

Forest scientists say many fires are natural and needed in the woods, allowing healthy trees to thrive and eliminating deadfall and other easily burned materials that can strengthen the intensity of catastrophic fires. …

The unnamed “forest scientists” are dead wrong. The South Barker WFU Fire killed large green trees and left more dead fuels on the 53.5 square miles than existed prior to the fire. Every day of this fire the (209) fire reports stated that whole tree torching and crown fire was ripping through forests. Duff and deadfall do not crown. Only live green trees crown.

The fire hazard has not been abated. The Sawtooth NF has not been fireproofed. In case after case this year, old burns (some less than 15 years old) have exploded into new fires. The Rattle Fire on the Umpqua NF is currently reburning the Spring Burn (1996). The Biscuit Fire (2002) reburned the Silver Fire (1987). Catastrophic fires do not eliminate large woody fuels, they merely rearrange them. Subsequent vegetative growth replenishes fine fuels and the hazard returns relatively quickly.
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September 14, 2008 | 7 Comments | Topic:  The 2008 Fire Season, Federal forest policy

I have written about the depletion of the USFS 2008 fire budget before, [here] for instance. Today the Billings Gazette printed yet another article about it [here], one of hundreds that have appeared across the nation.

The BG article brings up a couple of interesting points:

Fire costs limit forest budgets

by Brett French, the Billings Gazette, 09/11/2008 [here]

Even though Montana has had a mild wildfire season, the state’s national forest budgets have been scorched a bit.

Wildfires that burned more than 4.5 million acres across the U.S. so far this year - 1.2 million acres in California alone - have left the Forest Service mandating cost savings from forests to cover the agency’s over-budget fire suppression costs.

“The way we view the whole fire transfer thing is sort of like when a family suffers a family emergency, you tighten your belt,” said Dave Cunningham, information officer for the Lewis and Clark National Forest, which had to trim $475,000 from its budget.

That amount included $95,000 for three bridges proposed north of Martinsdale to protect Daisy Dean Creek’s native fish from ATV traffic. The project is one of many across the nation that will be put on hold or cancelled as the Forest Service struggles to pay a record firefighting tab estimated at $1.6 billion. …

What is of interest is that the 4.5 million burned acres to date (4.67 million actually) is not a record. In fact, it is small potatoes compared to prior years. From the NIFC’s National Fire News today [here]:

Year-to-date statistics

2008 (1/1/08 - 9/11/08) - Fires: 66,162 - Acres: 4,669,330
2007 (1/1/07 - 9/11/07) - Fires: 69,320 - Acres: 7,407,669
2006 (1/1/06 - 9/11/06) - Fires: 81,518 - Acres: 8,694,479
2005 (1/1/05 - 9/11/05) - Fires: 47,786 - Acres: 8,037,248
2004 (1/1/04 - 9/11/04) - Fires: 56,318 - Acres: 7,674,218
2003 (1/1/03 - 9/11/03) - Fires: 47,220 - Acres: 3,029,677
2002 (1/1/02 - 9/11/02) - Fires: 63,294 - Acres: 6,373,709
2001 (1/1/01 - 9/11/01) - Fires: 59,525 - Acres: 3,017,463
2000 (1/1/00 - 9/11/00) - Fires: 76,742 - Acres: 6,653,068

5-year average 2003 - 2007 - Fires: 64,221 - Acres: 7,296,589

10-year average 1999 - 2008 - Fires: 64,557 - Acres: 6,018,707

As you can see, 2008 fire acreage to date is the lowest since 2003 and only the third highest in the last 9 seasons. This year’s acreage to date is only 64% of the five-year average and 77% of the 10-year average.

Yet a record amount of money has been spent. This is curious, since the USFS has adopted WFU, Appropriate Management Response, and the Accountable Cost Management Strategy, all designed to reduce fire suppression expenditures. In fact, reduction of per acre costs has been the stated goal.

Other mandated USFS goals, such as protecting forests from incineration, preventing destruction of old-growth and endangered species habitat, enhancing watersheds, water quality, and air quality, maintaining scenic beauty, etc. have been cast aside in the name of fire suppression cost efficiency.

The USFS has claimed that their Let It Burn policies are driven by budget constraints, yet they have overspent their fire budget, and $400 million to $700 million besides, while burning a fraction of the acres that burned in prior years.

What’s going on here? The lip service has been about saving money, yet the money has been squandered (incinerated) in record amounts.

The idea behind Let It Burn, as stated in a variety of USFS, OMB, and OIG documents, has been to minimize fire cost per acre. Yet costs per acre have soared to record levels. Less acres burned have cost more money than ever before.

Evidently Let It Burn is not as cheap as promised.

Evidently Let It Burn costs an arm and a leg, because it has broken the budget while incinerating only 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the average acres.

Now we all know that minimizing costs per acre is an irrational and fiducially incompetent goal. The rational purpose should be to minimize total costs. But the USFS has failed on both counts!

The Basin/Indians Fire consumed 244,000 acres and was the 3rd largest fire in California history. With more than $120,000,000 spent on fire “suppression,” it is the 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). The effort there was to burn as much acreage as possible for the least cost per acre, but it ended up costing $490 per acre anyway.

Similarly, the Iron Complex has been allowed to burn all summer, with lots of backburning to expand the acreage. So far (it’s still going) $75 million has been spent to burn 106,000 acres. That’s $707 per acre.

The Siskiyou/Blue2 Complex is still raging away. Yesterday another 500 acres of spotted owl habitat were incinerated. After almost three months of burning, more than $65 million has spent spent to destroy over 80,000 acres of prime western forest. That’s $812 per acre. Of course, considering that at least $10,000 per acre of timber value was destroyed, and watershed and habitat values worth more than that, the real losses on this one fire alone are well over $2 billion.

Some fires are difficult to figure, because the numbers have been juggled and hidden. My best estimate for the Ukonom Fire is that $30 million have been spent to burn 60,000 acres, quite deliberately. That fire could have been put out in June, but it’s still blazing away. The Ukonom Fire is a bargain at only $500 per acre to destroy a priceless, heritage, westside forest worth $tens of thousands per acre.

What’s going on here? The USFS seems to be a) lying about true fire costs and losses, and b) deliberately incinerating both public forests and the Public Treasury.

Why would they do that?

Is the USFS barkingly incompetent, or is all this a deliberate strategy to bankrupt the agency and destroy the property at the same time? Why would they do that? Who or what benefits?

I’ll let you ponder those questions. Ask your Congressperson and his or her challenger. Email SOSF their answers. And send in your own speculations as well.

I think this is a worthy topic for group discussion. After all, it’s your money and your forests. How, and more particularly why, did a record amount get spent not suppressing fires on a fraction of the average incinerated acres?

September 11, 2008 | 10 Comments | Topic:  The 2008 Fire Season, Politics and politicians, Federal forest policy

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