8 Sep 2008, 10:31am
Saving Forests The 2008 Fire Season
by admin
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Rattle Fire Musings

As we pointed out yesterday, the Rattle Fire has blown up. Ignited August 18 in the Boulder Creek Wilderness, the Rattle Fire had been subdued by the Northwest Oregon IMT (IC Carl West) with water drops from heavy helicopters. But last Thursday the NWO IMT was ordered off the fire, precisely because they had been so effective at suppressing it.

Sunday the Rattle Fire exploded. It is now over 2,000 acres and burning beyond the wilderness boundary. State Highway 138 is closed from MP 45 to MP 59. Pre-evacuation notices have been issued for Toketee Falls and Clearwater. Pacific Corp powerlines were de-energized for safety.

The local Type 3 firecrew that replaced the NWO IMT (Type 1) were themselves replaced after one day by the Southern Oregon/Northern California Type 2 Team (Paul). ORCA (as the Southern Oregon/Northern California Team is called) just came off the Siskiyou/Blue2 Complex on the Klamath NF, an 80,000 acre megafire that has been burning (and continues to burn) all summer long.

The Umpqua NF Forest Supervisor, Clifford J. Dils, evidently wants the Rattle Fire to burn, baby, burn just like the Siskiyou/Blue2 fires.

Not everybody is completely happy with Dils’ Let It Burn plan for the Umpqua NF. An interesting discussion about the intentional incineration of Oregon old-growth forests appeared in the Roseburg News-Review yesterday [here]

Rattle Fire ignites debate

by Adam Pearson, Roseburg News-Review, Sept 7, 2008

Ask any Hotshot, and he or she would tell you they’d rather dig a fire line than deal with hazard trees. And these snags felled by the Wolf Creek Hotshots Crew were remnants of the 1996 Spring Fire — so old, they have a tendency to fly apart the moment they begin toppling. …

Note: Three years ago Arrowhead Hotshot Danny Holmes was struck and killed by a tree top from a snag he was falling. This year firefighter Andrew Palmer was killed in the same manner. Hotshots are great firefighters but they are not professional, experienced timber fallers. We discussed fire falling last month [here]. More from the News-Review article:

[Wolf Creek Hotshot superintendent Eric] Miller and his crew, on a second 14-day “roll” battling the Rattle Fire in the Boulder Creek Wilderness of the Umpqua National Forest, were busily cutting down dead tree snags along the half-mile trail to the Illahee Lookout. At 1,010 acres Friday, the fire was on a lazy pace in the Rattlesnake Creek drainage since igniting Aug. 23.

Twenty-four hours later, it would burst wide open by another 700 acres, riding on canyon winds and hot temperatures. …

Before its eruption, the Rattle Fire was already creating a stir.

“We hope that it doesn’t blow up and get away in green forest and toward any structures in Dry Creek,” said Bob Ragon, executive director of the Douglas Timber Operators, on Friday.

The Boulder Creek Wilderness was burned in 1996 by the Spring Fire, with two-thirds of the 16,000-acre blaze consuming large swaths of wilderness.

The rest burned in late successional reserves — as drawn out by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan — outside of the Boulder Creek Wilderness.

Ragon said industry lobbied the U.S. Forest Service to design salvage-timber sales for burned trees outside of the wilderness, but “nothing was done.”

Cheryl Caplan, spokeswoman for the Umpqua National Forest, said at the time, forest Supervisor Don Ostby was “responsible” in his decision to not sell a stick of burned timber, as national forests in southern Oregon were still assessing two years later the implications of future actions taken on the late successional reserves.

Forest officials figured there was 4 million board feet of timber waiting to be salvaged outside of the wilderness. Logging is not allowed in wilderness areas.

Ostby decided the small amount of timber outside the wilderness area was not worth the time it would have taken for the Forest Service to plan a timber sale that environmental groups likely would have appealed, and then for timber companies to go in and carefully extract it — most likely by helicopter.

Today, the timber industry points to the dead trees still standing from the Spring Fire — snags — as a hindrance to firefighting activity because of the hazards they present.

Before the Rattle Fire erupted, forest officials figured there were 100 to 125 snags per acre inside and outside the wilderness.

“In these cases you can’t get close to the fire,” Ragon said. “And it will continue until we get a complete burnover.” …

It is important to understand that incinerating forests does not remove the fire hazard. There is more dead fuel today in the Spring Burn than there was before the 1996 fire. In the eleven growing seasons since, the brush has resprouted, and the combination of brushy fine fuels and abundant dead snags makes for a fire fuel nightmare. Flaming brush ignites punky snags which shoot ember like giant Roman candles, and the wind carries those embers a half mile or more beyond the fire front.

Snags that could have been cut by pro timber fallers and sold for a profit are today being cut at huge expense and significant danger to the inexperienced firefighters who are falling them. The post-fire salvage was recommended for more than wood product production; it would have also saved lives and prevented more old-growth forest from being incinerated.

More from the News Review article:

Many people who stand behind issues touted by environmental groups, however, say fire in wilderness areas is good for burning up fuel loads.

In fact, Francis Eatherington, conservation director for Umpqua Watersheds, wonders why any suppression of fire in wilderness should happen at all.

“Why are they spending all that money?” she asks.

At the same time, Eatherington said the Forest Service should focus more on leaving burned areas that are open to logging alone, because snags provide beneficial habitat to wildlife.

In 2006, the Bybee Wildland Fire-Use Complex burned over 1,000 acres in Crater Lake National Park. Firefighters managed it only at its south and west borders so it wouldn’t escape the park. Early snow, because of the park’s high elevation, extinguished it by September.

“Why can’t they do that in the Boulder Creek Wilderness too?” Eatherington said.

To answer poor Francis’ rather ignorant question, again: the reason for rehabilitating forests after fires and for restoring forests before fires is to SAVE our priceless, heritage old-growth forests from TOTAL INCINERATION.

Excuse me for shouting, but when are you dimwit eco-nazi holocauster forkheads going to CATCH A CLUE?????

We professional foresters profess forests. We are stewards of the land. We use our training, experience, and expertise to PROTECT, MAINTAIN, and PERPETUATE forests. We know what we’re doing. People like Francis have zero expertise and don’t know beans about it.

The extreme Leftwing eco-nazi movement is utterly deluded by mythic paranoia about vast conspiracies and imaginary secret plans to eat the Earth and all its inhabitants. Their paranoia is irrational and horribly rude. They are fundamentally insane.

And the direct result of allowing insane fringe groups to dictate forest policy is catastrophic holocaust and destruction of those forests at landscape scales.

My thinking is that it would be better to allow dedicated profession foresters to care for our public forests rather than deferring to insane idiots with a track record of catastrophic failure, holocaust, destruction, and disaster.

Why should we listen to kooks who have decimated millions of acres of old-growth habitat with their kooky, a-scientific, never-been-right-once-yet notions?

And by the way, the entire Umpqua watershed, including Boulder Creek, has been home to human beings for 10,000 years or more, and is perforce NOT wilderness. The whole wilderness myth is not only highly destructive of the very values it purports to protect, it is racist to the core.

We need to stop listening to the ignorance-based jive political doublespeak and get real or we are going to lose all our forests.

An interesting sidebar story: the Dearhorn Fire ignited last week on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in Northern California. The Six Rivers NF has a co-op agreement with the Hoopas to fight fires. The SRNF dawdled on the Deerhorn Fire and left the impression with the Hoopas that they were going to Let It Burn, as the SRNF has done with the Ukonom and Panther Fires this summer.

The Hoopas went ballistic. They took the Incident Commander aside and read him the riot act. This morning a special 209 fire report was issued with words to this effect [here]:

The Tribal Council met with the Type 3 Incident Commander Gary Risling and Tribal OES director Rod Mendes to discuss control strategies and alternatives in the event control strategies failed to achieve the desired outcome.

[IC Risling now understands and wishes to communicate that] ~$109 million in resource value of merchantable timber is in imminent threat. The Bull Creek drainage is also a major watershed that is listed as critical to the tribe for its resource value. The Hoopa Tribe sustains its infrastructure through the sale of timber and other natural resources. The impacts associated with failure to suppress the fire and keep it as small as possible are very significant to the future of the Hoopa Tribe and its people.

The Hoopa are not enamored of Let It Burn racist wilderness jive bullshit. They want the fire out now.

Funny, the radical eco-nazis don’t spout their horrid crap at the Indians. Probably afraid of getting scalped.

Maybe we white people should scalp a few eco-nazis, and then they might leave our forests alone and stop trying to incinerate them for a change.

Lonesome Incineration Planned, Perpetrated

The Rogue River-Siskiyou NF is deliberately incinerating vast tracts of priceless, heritage, old-growth forest today on the Middle Fork of the Rogue River.

On the orders of RR-SNF Supervisor Scott Conroy, crews are backburning in the vicinity of the Middle Fork Fire, one of the Lonesome Complex of fires in the Oregon Cascades [here].

Despite the fact that weather has been cool and rainy, no attempt whatsoever has been made to attack the Middle Fork Fire with intent to contain, control, or extinguish it. The fire has been burning for three weeks and is presently 963 acres. It could have been readily contained, especially considering that nearly $3 million has been spent watching it.

The plan is not to contain the Middle Fork Fire, however, but to expand it across thousands of acres.

The Cascade crest south of Crater Lake is an important historical/cultural area used by First Resident Native Americans from dozens of tribes for thousands of years. Ancient trails pass through tended huckleberry and beargrass fields. It is one of the most valuable anthropological sites in Oregon. It is also home to ancient trees and spotted owl nesting stands.

Yet the avowedly racist and anti-forest RR-SNF is deliberately incinerating this precious landscape with malice aforethought and the intention of converting the forest to “northern chapparal,” otherwise known as tickbrush.

This criminal act is being conducted in secret, with no declaration to the public, no NEPA process, no Congressional mandate, and with taxpayer dollars from an exhausted USFS budget.

Please call Rogue River-Siskiyou NF Forest Supervisor Scott Conroy at (541) 618-2200 and ask him to cease and desist in his illegal incineration of your forests.

Also, please call Congressman Greg Walden at (541) 776-4646 and ask him why he desires the USFS to lay waste to the forests in his district.

Forest Supervisor Explains Jarbidge Firefighting Decision

Today the Elko Free Press published a defense of USFS fire management decisions regarding the East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire written by Edward Monnig, Forest Supervisor of Humboldt-Toiyabe NF [here].

The East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire [here] was ignited by lightning in the Jarbidge Wilderness Area on Aug 8th about 15 miles southeast of Jarbidge, Nevada. The fire was declared a WFU (Wildland Use Fire) by Mr. Monnig and allowed to burn unchecked.

By Aug 20th the fire had grown to 5,000 acres and was threatening 30 historic cabins and the Pole Creek Guard Station. By Aug 21st the fire was nearly 10,000 acres and had spread out of the Maximum Manageable Area (previously established at 113,000 acres). Even so, the WFU designation was retained.

On Aug 21 the ESRR WFU Fire grew to 11,250 acres and the wind was blowing. The WFU designation was scrapped. A Type 1 IMT was requested to suppress the fire [here].

As of yesterday evening the ESRR Fire was reported to be 54,545 acres and 50% contained. Approximately $7,700,000 had been spent suppressing it.

The following is Mr. Monnig’s statement regarding the ESRR WFU Fire. We post it in full, with comments after:

by Edward Monnig, Forest Supervisor, Humboldt-Toiyabe NF

To the Editor: I am sitting in the Incident Command Post of the team of fire fighters that I have charged with controlling the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire. I have just finished a discussion with county law enforcement officials on our joint plans for protecting the public from the fire. These cooperative efforts are an important part of the first priority of our fire fighting efforts - protecting fire fighter and public health and safety.

On Friday I met with Governor Gibbons, Congressman Heller, Commissioner John Ellison, and Assemblyman John Carpenter during their aerial tour of the fire. Their over-flight gave them a greater appreciation of the challenges of managing wildland fire in the rugged terrain of the Jarbidge Wilderness with its large number of dead and dying trees.

During our meeting I also informed the Governor that the Forest Service would be conducting an “After-Action Review” of all decisions and actions taken with the East Slide Rock Fire. I invited him to provide a representative from the Nevada Division of Forestry for this review team.

I recognize the impacts this fire has had on local communities and the questions from the local public on my decisions in managing this fire. I would like to clarify some of the confusion that surrounds this incident and explain my decision process. I have read and heard statements asserting that the fire was allowed to burn unchecked and out of control or that it could have easily been extinguished on the first day. These statements do not accurately capture the reality of this fire or our actions on this fire.

The East Slide Rock Fire was very likely started by a lightning storm on August 8. The fire was actually first discovered by an aerial reconnaissance plane on August 10. We immediately dispatched a helitack crew to the fire. Unfortunately, soon after deployment the helitack crew was diverted to a higher priority fire elsewhere in Elko County.

On August 11 an elite crew of smokejumpers was assigned and jumped the fire. They assessed the feasibility of suppressing the fire safely and efficiently. At that point the fire was 50 to 100 acres in size and burning in steep terrain with spotty but heavy timber. Because of the remote location, the steep terrain, the fuel loads of dead and dying subalpine fir, they validated at ground level that attempting to suppress the fire in this location would be a difficult, dangerous, and costly multi-day exercise with an uncertain outcome.

At that point I had to weigh two things: What were the costs and risks of deploying fire fighters? And, what were the values at risk?

The risk to fire fighters is not insignificant. This year alone we have tragically lost the lives of 19 wildland fire fighters killed in the line of duty. I seriously consider when and where to deploy these men and women and what we are gaining from their effort and risk. In this case, the potential risk to firefighters was very high.

I then discussed with my District Rangers the values at risk from this fire. We have been in the Jarbidge country, and our visits have confirmed what many local people have already observed. Over the past 10 to 15 years many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of subalpine fir trees have been killed by insects and diseases, both inside and outside the Wilderness. The cycle of birth, growth, and eventual death in the forest has been unfolding before us. For thousands of years fire has played a role in recycling and preparing the ground for a new forest.

Are there alternatives to fire? In some instances, yes. In other parts of our National Forests we have been able to alter this cycle somewhat through the judicious harvest of timber. However, even outside the Jarbidge Wilderness I have had no luck in finding a significant market for subalpine fir, a tree generally dismissed in the logging world.

The effects of fire on the ecological system of the wilderness are, of course, only one consideration. I also considered the possibility that the fire would escape the Wilderness. I consulted our fire behavior experts. Computer prediction models based on current fuel moisture, fuel type, past and predicted weather and other factors indicated a less than 2 percent chance that a fire in this remote location would escape the Wilderness.

So as I have done five other times this summer, I decided that the risk to resources inside and outside the wilderness, the effects of the fire on these resources, and the risk to fire fighters did not warrant a full scale assault on this fire. The fire was doing what the fire would eventually do at some point despite our most valiant efforts - consume a lot of dead and dying trees. If we were going to fight this fire, we would have to do it at a less dangerous place of our own choosing.

That does not mean we simply walked away from the fire. We put additional people on the ground on August 13 in order to provide protection to cabins and other resources in the vicinity of the fire. We assigned an additional experienced fire manager to the fire on August 14 to specifically direct this effort. We activated a fire management team on August 18 and gave them specific instructions to confine the fire to the wilderness. As the fire began to threaten the wilderness boundary, they activated hand crews, dozers, a strike team of engines, and air resources to prevent the spread. Unfortunately strong wind events on August 19 and 20 and August 24 and 25 stymied this effort.

On August 22, as fire complexity increased, we activated the best we have, a Type 1 team, one of a select few national teams that handles our most difficult incidents. They have made excellent progress confining spread outside the wilderness.

I fully understand the sense of loss that many people will feel in seeing the forest in parts of the Jarbidge Wilderness disappear in the smoke. Watching the dead and dying trees over the past years has been a bit like watching an old friend succumb to illness. The Jarbidge has been changed for our lifetime. But there is hope and rebirth in a new spring. The grasses, the brush, the trees will again flourish. The elk and the deer will relish their new habitat. The mountains have seen this many times before and will see it again.

Come September, the burning window in these high elevations shuts down, and snows blanket the area. The narrow intense burning period of August will come to an end.

One of the commitments that came from my meeting with the Governor was an agreement to get into the Jarbidge next summer with him to view conditions on the ground and to discuss our management options. Even after the East Slide Rock is extinguished, there will remain many more thousands of acres of dead and dying trees inside and outside the wilderness.

One of our grazing permittees and outfitters who has spent many years in the Jarbidge country has observed “It is no longer question of: ‘if the fire will come’ it is only a question of ‘when it will come.’” I would like to believe that our fire fighting expertise and technology can stop every fire at our choosing; however, we have limits, and we must exercise this power wisely in these remote fire-adapted ecosystems.

I am committed to continuing this dialogue on our management of the National Forests. These lands belong to all of us, and we must all be a part of their management and conservation.

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The South Barker WFU Fire

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. Sawtooth NF officials were quoted in the Idaho Mountain Express in a story dated Aug 15th [here]:

“We were notified about two weeks ago, around Aug. 4, that fire transfer was imminent,” said the Sawtooth National Forest’s Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson. … “We’re doing fire borrowing,” said Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Alicia Bennett. “It’s the first time we’ve done this since 1995.” … “Each region is given the amount of money they have to come up with,” Bennett said. “Then the region tells each of the forests what their share of the regional amount is. Right now we really don’t know what the forest share is.” … “It’s coming out of everybody’s budget,” Bennett said. … “At this point the option the agency has in terms of protective fire costs, we have to look at how we’re going to cover that shortfall and that’s to use the transfer authority and shift money from other programs to cover the estimated fire suppression cost,” Nelson said.

Despite the budget crisis, Sawtooth NF Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer approved the WFU designation on the South Barker Fire.

This morning the South Barker WFU was a reported 32,244 acres (50 square miles) in size and has cost $3,065,807 for “monitoring” to date.

All this is according to plan. The Sawtooth NF has been planning for the South Barker WFU for quite sometime. They have altered their Fire Plan to include WFU. They have mapped a 109,752 acre area they wish to burn, known as the Maximum Manageable Area. They have staffed and trained fire “monitoring” teams known as Fire Use Modules.

Unfortunately most of the public is unaware of these plans and alterations because they were made in secret. There was no NEPA process. The Sawtooth NF never issued an Environmental Impact Statement, never offered alternatives, never engaged the public in scoping or evaluation of their WFU program.

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Put the Gifford Pinchot in the Hands of Professionals

Note: Another commentary regarding our forests worthy of posting at SOS Forests: Frank Backus of Bingen, WA, is a 38-year professional forester who has spent most of his career working in and around the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. He works as chief forester for SDS Lumber Co.

by Frank Backus, opinion in the Clark County Columbian, August 31, 2008 [here]

The Cold Springs Fire in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest has cost taxpayers $11 million to date, destroyed 8,000 acres of varying habitats, including irreplaceable legacy ponderosa pines, wildlife and riparian habitat. State- and private-managed timber damage is yet to be determined but is substantial. There’s got to be a better way.

The original forest-planning effort that culminated in the 1990 Gifford Pinchot Forest Plan involved local people and professional resource managers from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The plan was constructed by people who knew the forest and its needs. It balanced timber production and the local economy with wildlife habitat, stream protection and recognized differing ecosystems.

The ink was barely dry on the plan when environmental appeals and lawsuits hammered local Forest Service land managers. The northern spotted owl became a major litigation and political weapon forcing common sense and professional land managers to the sidelines.

President Clinton’s well-intended 1993 forestry summit brought together renowned specialists who were cloistered in downtown Portland and told to write a plan for Pacific Northwest forests over a few short weeks. The results were unfortunately predictable, and, for the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, enormously harmful.

The Gifford Pinchot Forest spans the Cascade Range, north of the Columbia River Gorge and contains a host of ecosystems. The forest borders on the west are in sight of Vancouver and Portland with typical Western Washington forests. The eastern border of the forest is a completely different environment, typified by dry forests, ponderosa pine, grasslands and the like. No other Pacific Northwest national forest has such a widely varying environment, a situation recognized by local land managers but not “experts” locked in a room.

The unavoidable consequence is that the experts who developed and assigned land use designations created habitat designations and requirements that could not be maintained on large portions of the Gifford Pinchot forest. In today’s language, they were — and are — unsustainable.

‘Too aggressive,’ ‘too vast’

Large swaths of the eastern Gifford Pinchot National Forest are designated as spotted owl habitat. Thousands of acres of this habitat is old growth ponderosa pine forest that is now overstocked with white fir that are growing in areas where they cannot survive long-term. Insects predictably invaded the white fir, killing large areas of trees, creating equally large areas of extreme fire hazard. Adjacent landowners hosted the same dynamics but aggressively dealt with the problems as they arose.

Gifford Pinchot forest managers also recognized what was happening and proposed projects over the years, only to have them criticized as, “too aggressive,” “too vast,” “without foundation.” In fact, the proposals were too little, too late but would have helped avoid what we have today: 8,000 acres of scorched habitat adjacent to vast areas of dead trees just waiting to burn. Federal land managers retreated from doing anything other than mostly cosmetic treatments.

This is what happens when local land management professionals are replaced by theoreticians locked in a room with other governmental agencies, which have no responsibility for the consequences of their decisions. It will continue to happen until experienced local land managers are returned to manage the forest.

So, while we argue over commas and periods in multipound environmental impact statements, and while we spend millions of dollars in arcane court battles, we will continue to spend billions of dollars to watch our forests burn. We will continue to watch gracious old ponderosa pines needlessly torched and watersheds immolated by fire.

The solution is simple: Remove politicians, courts and environmentalists from federal land management and return it to professional federal land managers. Charge our land managers with properly managing our forests and hold them responsible for doing so.

They won’t solve the problems overnight, but there is no time like the present to begin the journey. It’s time we started.

31 Aug 2008, 10:47am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Forest Service Retirees Question Mt. Hood Wilderness Expansion Plan

Note: We post most news stories we find interesting at W.I.S.E. Forest, Fire, and Wildlife News [here]. This article, however, is more than a news clipping. The voices and positions expressed are extremely important. These commentaries regarding our forests deserve our attention here at SOS Forests.

by Raelyn Ricarte, Hood River News,August 27, 2008 [here]

Two former high-ranking officials from the U.S. Forest Service contend that expanding Wilderness areas on Mount Hood will create numerous management challenges.

Linda Goodman and George Leonard believe that retirement has afforded them the opportunity to speak freely and so they can represent the views of many employees with the federal agency.

Goodman was the Region 6 Regional Forester until this spring and supervised activities in 17 national forests — more than 25 million acres — in Oregon and Washington. Leonard served as associate chief for the federal agency until 1993 and is the current president of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees.

Both administrators have many concerns about the latest Wilderness bill, known as Oregon Treasures. That proposal by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., seeks to add 132,000 acres of Wilderness to the existing 186,200 acres. The legislation is awaiting review by the House when Congress reconvenes in September. A similar plan — calling for 127,000 more acres of Wilderness — has been stalled in the Senate since 2007.

Goodman said 4.5 million people visit Mount Hood each year because of its proximity to the Portland metro area. She said a visitor study undertaken by the forest service within the last several years revealed that 67,000 people each year came to the mountain solely for the Wilderness experience.

The remainder of respondents pursued other recreational interests, such as skiing, mountain biking and camping in developed sites, some of which would be eliminated under Oregon Treasures.

“I think this proposal could be doing an economic disservice to the public and communities around the mountain,” said Goodman.

She said it would be more appropriate for Congress to impose a National Recreation Area designation rather than Wilderness.

She said NRAs provide protection for natural resources but leave camp sites open, accommodate mountain biking, which is prohibited in Wilderness, and allow greater efficiency in maintaining hiking trails. She said chain saws could still be used to clear away trees that fall across pathways. Mechanized equipment is prohibited in Wilderness so cross-cut saws are used to clean up trails.

Goodman said the task of sawing up a downed tree then becomes so laborious that Forest Service employees can’t keep up with the workload. She said there are not enough volunteers to make up for the lack of manpower.

“They don’t have enough funding to maintain the Wilderness they have right now, and this plan will be a real problem for employees,” said Goodman.

She believes the purpose of the 1964 Wilderness Act would not be met by scattering more “small narrow corridors” across the slopes of the mountain. She said the existing Mount Hood Wilderness, at 47,160 acres, and the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, 44,600 acres, are large enough to serve as a pristine getaway for hikers. If Congress decides to mandate more Wilderness, Goodman said, it should be attached to the larger locations that are already in existence.

“We all believe in Wilderness but the little spurs in Oregon Treasures don’t meet the intent of the Act to provide solitude,” said Goodman, whose career with the Forest Service spanned 34 years.

Leonard expects Hood River County to face challenges if the bill is approved. He said having the newly expanded Wilderness abut a section of the county’s managed forest near Post Canyon creates the potential for more wildfires.

He said insect-riddled and diseased trees are more at risk during lightening strikes. He said while infested trees can be treated within the national forest, they must be left alone in the Wilderness.

“If I had land that was immediately adjacent to an area classified as Wilderness I’d be pretty concerned,” said Leonard.

“I would expect to have my ability to suppress problems significantly reduced.”

Goodman said even if an exception is made and mechanized equipment is allowed into the Wilderness to combat a fire, there might not be a way to reach the blaze. She said the primitive roadways once used for timber harvest cannot be maintained and some are obliterated altogether.

“Putting equipment in there means that you have to be able to get there; and without a road nearby, you can’t do that,” said Goodman.

She said fires are considered a “natural phenomenon” in a Wilderness area and managed with a lighter touch unless they threaten public safety. She said these fires can burn “explosively” because of the dead and dying trees so they are harder to contain once ignited — and more dangerous for firefighters to battle.

John Marker, a retired forest service employee and upper valley orchardist, believes expanding Wilderness will threaten the most valuable resource on the mountain — its water supply.

“Water is critical to our way of life and the engine for a substantial part of our local economy,” he said.

He said a fire that burns hot enough in the Wilderness to sterilize topsoil creates the potential for erosion since nothing can grow there. He said even rains cannot penetrate the damaged earth and that is not acceptable when Mount Hood’s watersheds provide drinking water for more than one million people — and irrigation water for hundreds of local farms.

“Once a fire gets started in a Wilderness area and starts moving, it will go where it wants to go,” said Marker.

He supported development of a customized management plan for the “urban” mountain that was called for in a 2006 bill co-sponsored by Blumenauer and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. That plan would have established stringent rules for protecting resources, recreation and other uses.

Marker, Goodman and Leonard agree that adding more Wilderness to Mount Hood could end up threatening not only resources but recreational opportunities.

29 Aug 2008, 5:05pm
Saving Forests
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Pyne On the Tragedy of Whoofoos

Stephen J. Pyne, World’s Foremost Authority on fire and one this country’s finest writers on any subject, has done it again.

His recent essay Friendly Fire is a compelling review of the Warm WFU (Wildland Fire Use fire) and it’s effect on forests and those who care for forests. For the entire essay, download from Steve Pyne’s Commentaries site [here] (click on Friendly Fire [pdf] - Wally Covington and the 2006 Warm fire).

For background on the 2006 Warm Whoofoo see [here].

Selected excerpts from Friendly Fire by Stephen J. Pyne:

“If I were the Prince of Darkness, I could not have devised a better way to destroy the Kaibab Plateau.”

Wally Covington, professor, restoration ecologist, and a man who has been around burned woods all of his career, walked through the still-raw scar of a fire that had wiped out nine nesting reserves for the northern goshawk, shut down the only roads to the plateau, including one to Grand Canyon’s North Rim, threatened a substantial chunk of the remaining habitat of the flammulated owl and endemic Kaibab squirrel, may cause a quarter of the old-growth ponderosa pine to die, promoted gully-washing erosion, and rang up suppression costs of $7 million.

To help pay those bills the Forest Service initially proposed to salvage log some 17,000 acres of the burn, which has sparked promises of monkey-wrenching by local environmental activists. When trotted out before cameras after the blowup, the district Fire Staff Officer declared that if he knew then what he knew now, he would have made exactly the same decisions. Fire belonged on the land. This was an inevitable fire, a necessary fire, a good fire.

Wally Covington thought it testified to ideology gone mad, and had the temerity to say so and the clout to be heard.

I was there because I wanted to come home. Forty years before, in June, 1967, I had begun my own career in fire on the North Rim. Only five years previously had the opening salvo in fire’s great cultural revolution sounded. By my second summer the National Park Service had rewritten its policy to encourage more fire on its lands. I wanted to see what that revolution had wrought. …

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21 Aug 2008, 3:02pm
Saving Forests
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The Gordon Meadows Project

SOS Forests is pleased and excited to report that the Gordon Meadows Restoration Plan has been completed and officially released for public distribution. The Cover and Mission Statement is [here] (2.2 MB) and the Plan itself is [here] (13.2 MB).

The Gordon Meadows plan is one of the first in a series of major, landscape-scale restoration projects proposed for Oregon forests by a consortium of interests including lead organizations on this project Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project, Inc. and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Gordon Meadow is a mountain meadow (an ancient cultivated camas field complex) in the South Santiam watershed of the Willamette National Forest. The area was home to the South Santiam Molalla Indians (and the Kalapuya, Klamath, Chinook, and Paiute Indians) for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years prior to Euro-American arrival in Oregon. It is an ancient landscape, populated by human beings from time immemorial.

The Gordon Meadows Project is intended to restore a significant portion of the South Santiam and Blue River headwaters to a cultural landscape pattern representative of Santiam Molalla people at a time prior to the arrival of white occupation. Such a landscape pattern would feature a network of historical ridgeline and riparian trails, stands of old-growth conifer and hardwood trees, and a vast complex of prairies, berry patches, brakes, and meadows teeming with native wildlife, wildflowers, grasses, ferns, fruits, berries, shrubs, and saplings of all varieties.

The Project is designed for 1,900 acres, or about 3 square miles, but the South Santiam Molalla landscape extends for over 45,000 acres or 70 square miles. The ultimate goal is to restore it all to heritage conditions.

The primary purposes of the Gordon Meadows Project are:

1. To restore and maintain Santiam Molallan cultural landscape patterns.

2. To re-create traditional Molallan hunting, gathering, and resource management practices.

3. To reduce wildfire threat to local communities and native wildlife populations.

4. To protect historic old-growth tree populations.

5. To develop local and Tribal employment opportunities.

6. To enhance forest aesthetics, traditional spiritual sites and values, and local recreational opportunities.

The Gordon Meadows Project will achieve those purposes through active stewardship, including removal of excess second-cohort trees and fuels; application of anthropogenic (prescribed) fire intended to protect old-growth trees, reinstate old-growth development pathways, and enhance ancient camas, beargrass, and huckleberry fields; reinvigoration of active harvest of native foods and fibers; and inspiration and active engagement of the local community, Indian and non-Indian alike, in landscape restoration and maintenance.

Collaborators include ORWW, the Grand Ronde Tribes, the US Forest Service, private landowners, and a variety of civic and community groups. Additional collaborators are being encouraged and will be formally invited as the Project proceeds.

An earlier restoration project, the Jim’s Creek Savanna Restoration Project [here], will serve as a demonstration and model for South Santiam forest landscape restoration. Historical research in anthropology, landscape geography, ethno-botany, wildlife ecology, forest science, and fire science will accompany the active stewardship actions. Harvesting of commercial products including sawlogs, biomass for energy, and “wild” foods and fibers will help to fund the Project.

The Gordon Meadows Project represents a refinement of the traditional USFS mission. It will produce commodity and non-commodity values and enhance multiple resource values, but it also advances the more modern mission of restoration forestry. The concept that restoring heritage conditions can and does protect, maintain, and perpetuate all forest values is the new paradigm in forestry.

Stewardship is the practice of meeting current needs while protecting the essential productivity of the land to produce future needs. Utilizing time-honored and tested traditional stewardship methods promotes a sustainable future because it is informed by a sustained past.

Congratulations are extended to all those involved in the Gordon Meadows Project research and planning effort, and especially Dr. Bob Zybach of ORWW and David Lewis of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

We look eagerly forward to a wider collaboration in and implementation of the Gordon Meadows Restoration Project, and to the expansion and replication of this and similar projects across Oregon forests and other Western landscapes. Restoration is the wave of the future in environmental management. So many of our current environmental problems, including catastrophic megafire, will be solved through active restoration. That door is opening now. We hope all environmental scientists, practitioners, community leaders, and residents will embrace the new vision, because it promises so much for all of us.

20 Aug 2008, 12:12pm
Saving Forests
by admin
3 comments

Restoration Forestry Is the Answer

Let us rise above all this whoofoo madness. Instead, let’s discuss the SOLUTION to our forest management difficulties.

Our forest resources are being destroyed. That includes timber, wildlife habitat, watershed values, heritage, soils, air quality, recreation opportunity, scenery, and public health and safety, with damages compounding and accumulating every hour, day, and week, year after year.

Our priceless heritage forests, are being consumed by fire and converted to brush. Something must be done.

Let It Burn, whether by whoofoo (WFU, or Wildland Fire Use), non-suppression “suppression” fires, or deliberate “containment” backburning that extends fires for months across vast acreages, are policies and practices that destroy forests.

Fire “exclusion” is all but impossible, nor is it particularly healthy for forests. Instead fires should be at the right times, in the right places, and done in the right way. Forests also need to be prepared to receive those properly timed, located, and administered fires.

Need a useful phrase to describe all that? Try “restoration forestry.” That’s the term the pros use.

The whole and complete idea of restoration forestry also includes:

1. Heritage landscape renovation
2. Managing for fire resiliency and old-growth development pathways
3. Watershed protection
4. Protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat
5. Active stewardship with positive economic returns
6. Compliance with environmental laws

Restoration forestry is the ticket out of the mess we are in. Restoration forestry does NOT include Let It Burn megafires that ravage entire watersheds, landscapes, and regions. Restoration forestry is about responsible stewardship, not incineration.

We have discussed restoration forestry before on this blog. W.I.S.E. has an entire Colloquium subsite devoted to the topic [here].

The avalanche of bad news has robbed us of the time to fully develop that topic and Colloquium, however. We mean to rectify the situation. For the next few days we intend to discuss restoration forestry in greater detail, and present some exemplary case studies.

If we fail to blog about all the developing forest catastrophes in a timely way, that’s why. We are rededicating this blog to the solution. The catastrophes never seem to end, so to heck with them. It’s the solution that must be presented and discussed. There is no more time to waste.

Federal Forest Management Designed By a Pyromaniac

The Portland Oregonian has had a change of heart. Instead of lambasting private contract firefighters (on the eve of the memorial service) and blaming them for the cost of USFS Let It Burn policies, the Oregonian Editorial Board has zeroed in on the real culprit: irresponsible forest un-management by that shoddy federal agency.

This (signed) editorial showed up Friday and again today:

Fighting fire in Oregon forests

by The Oregonian Editorial Board, August 15, 2008 [here]

The Forest Service invests heavily… in flammable material!

America’s forests are a mess. Overgrown. Under-managed. And tinder-dry.

Here we are, barely half way through the fire season, and — once again — the U. S. Forest Service has run out of money for fighting fires.

That means the Forest Service is being forced — once again — to plunder the other line items of its budget. Sure, that means more shoddy trails, more shuttered campgrounds. But that’s just the bad news.

The far worse news is this means Uncle Sam will again be spending less on the critical work of properly maintaining the forest. On thinning it. On trimming it. On sweeping clean its floor.

Just last week, the Forest Service diverted another $30 million from its commitment to clear duff, that’s the organic debris that carpets so much of the forest floor.

The Forest Service, in other words, just made a massive investment in next year’s supply of flammable material, all but guaranteeing far worse fires in the offing.

This is federal forest management designed by a pyromaniac. Its consequence will be more firefighters killed, more billions of dollars wasted, more millions of acres of national treasure going up in smoke. (emphasis added)

The modern forest is a complex socio-economic, biological, geochemical organism. Managed for multiple uses, it must serve as a:

Source of timber.
Recreational resource.
Haven for flora and fauna.
Warehouse of sequestered carbon.

Each of those roles, each of enormous consequence, is imperiled when forest managers spent most of their time, and much of their budget, fighting fires. Or appearing in court to argue about where, when and just how ferociously to fight fires.

For decades, under the influence of Smokey Bear, America clung to the belief fire was the enemy. It isn’t. There’s a growing recognition of its key role in a balanced ecosystem. Our challenge now is to make our forests healthy enough so that at the right times, in the right places, and in the right way — lightly — we can let them burn.

As a first step in that direction, Congress must immediately move to provide separate dedicated funding for fighting fires. Which means we’d have separate dedicated funds for managing our forests.

Only then can we start fighting fires much more sensibly. And being much more sensible about which we should let burn. — Bob Caldwell

Separate funding is an okay idea. It is really just juggling budgets and does not address the core problem.

Let It Burn is a policy the Media needs to disavow. Give it a rest, please.

But the idea that fires should be at the right times, in the right places, and done the right way is on the mark. Forest also need to be prepared to receive those properly timed, located, and administered fires.

Need a useful phrase to describe all that? Try “restoration forestry.” That’s the phrase the pros use.

The whole and complete idea of restoration forestry also includes:

1. Heritage landscape renovation
2. Managing for fire resiliency and old-growth development pathways
3. Watershed protection
4. Protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat
5. Active stewardship with positive economic returns
6. Compliance with environmental laws

Restoration forestry is the ticket out of the mess we are in. Restoration forestry does NOT include Let It Burn megafires that ravage regions. Restoration forestry is about responsible stewardship, not incineration.

Kudos to the Oregonian for climbing part way out of the Media Mire of Ignorance. Over the next week or two (watch for it, excellent and hopeful restoration forestry news is in the SOSF queue) we will reach down and try to lift and drag the Media a little bit farther up the learning curve.

Mt. Hood Wilderness Expansion Proposal Is Risky

[As the Gnarl Ridge Fire [here] expands in the Mt. Hood Wilderness, causing closure of a large area during peak summer use, threatening Cloud Cap, Tilly Jane, Cold Springs Creek and the Hood River Valley watershed/water supply, Congress is considering the expansion of that Wilderness by 125,000 acres. You might think that some lesson was learned from the Bluegrass Ridge Fire (2006) [here], but apparently not.

Wilderness designation is a kiss of death to forests and forest protection, but you need not take my word for it. Hood River Valley orchardist John Marker has over 50 years of professional forest management experience, is a Director of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, and is one of the most respected foresters in this country. Here are his recent comments regarding the Mt. Hood Wilderness expansion, submitted to the Hood River County Commission last month.]

by John F. Marker, USFS Forester (ret.)

The goal of protecting Mt. Hood, a magnificent natural resource, is commendable, but proposed wilderness expansion will, I believe, place the mountain at greater risk of damage and increase risk of harm to neighboring lands and communities.

The proposal ignores the 1897 Organic Act’s mandate of sustained production of renewable natural resources from the national forests with water and wood priority. Wood may no longer be critical, since the U.S. now imports most of its lumber and wood products, but water is critical to our ability to live in the West. Recreation, wildlife, solitude and scenery are also important to our quality of life and the engines for a substantial part of our local economy.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 provides little protection for the land from impacts of fire, insects, disease, catastrophic storms, air pollution, or climate change. The Act severely limits the ability to control or prevent damage from such forces by strictly restricting management and treatment options. Wilderness constraints also jeopardize protection of adjacent non-wilderness areas such as Hood River County forests, Bull Run, Government Camp and other lands and communities adjacent to the national forest. And bad things can and do come into and out of Wilderness areas.

Currently many areas of forest inside the proposed Wilderness expansions are threatened by lethal insect and disease activity. Fire danger increases with declining forest health. If, as many scientists predict, the Northwest long term climate pattern continues to grow warmer and drier, the risk of destruction will worsen as ecosystems are weakened by climate changes. Burgeoning human use of the mountain raises the threat of damage to the land from overuse and abuse. To ignore these realities contradicts the stated goal of “protecting” and “saving” Mt. Hood.

An alternative for protecting Mt. Hood is available. It is development of the plan called for in the Walden-Blumenauer legislative proposal, starting with an acknowledgement of the biological and climatic forces constantly at work on the mountain, and an understanding that lines on a map will not save land or resources from damage. Mt. Hood’s critical role of providing clean and abundant water for more than a million people living in its shadow is a paramount consideration for this plan.

Rather than Wilderness, a hard-nosed plan for the mountain’s future can be built by establishing rules for protecting watershed values, recreation and other uses. This process can be expedited by using the existing congressionally-mandated national forest plan to start. If planning determines a specific need for protection beyond existing environmental protection laws, specific legislation can be written.

To my way of thinking, priority for Mt. Hood management is water; other uses come second. Locking up the land is not the way to save or protect against challenges from people and nature’s forces. To care for the mountain and the people depending upon on it requires management that can adapt to changing climate patterns and increasing public needs. Stretching and bending the intent of the Wilderness Act to “protect” and “save” this land does a disservice to Act and the memory of those who created it.

12 Aug 2008, 7:38am
Saving Forests
by admin
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Getting to the Goal

by bear bait

“Let is burn” is a random act of violence. To expect universal good to come from it is defies common sense and real world experience.

There is a large and directed campaign by NGOs of the Environment, “the greenies”, to stop fighting all forest fires in “wildlands” because they are “natural” and part of the ecosystem. That campaign defies a large body of academic opinion that “natural” has been mitigated by human land management regimes for at least 10,000 years, and that mitigation took the conflagration inferno part of the equation out of the forest long, long ago.

The greenies societal shortcoming is that they have no sense of history, and are not paying one bit of attention to the historians. The aboriginals SET fires, at OPPORTUNE times. It was never a random event. Lightening is a random event, but shaping a landscape as this one was shaped could only have come from directed set fires over thousands of years, from human beings managing their environment to provide for their welfare and peace of mind.

In addition, humans came here DURING AN ICE AGE, when passage across the Bering Land Bridge was possible because the oceans were lower. The First Peoples were here BEFORE forests in the now temperate zones, when land was covered with snow and great ice sheets. They embraced global warming. Forests arose with humans, and set fire early on determined forest configurations.

The pre-Columbian forest managers, who were able to continue to a degree until disease eliminated Native Americans from some areas of the country entirely and limited their impact on the rest of the U.S. if only because there were less than 10% of their pre-Columbian population left when Europeans expanded from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, created the large singular tree “old growth” forests.

The first residents, and their survivors, managed their landscapes with fire for millennia. Not a hundred years, but for thousands of years. That is how the forests the Europeans found got here.

Those are not the forests we have today. Again, the forests we have today are not the forests Europeans encountered. Disease and genocide, early and hard, erased the native land managers and their efforts, and what we have today is NEW, NEVER BEFORE SEEN forests, of scope and scale.

Essentially, there have been 100 to 200 years up to the present that our wildlands were without the native land managers and their fire regimes that used set fires at appropriate times to keep forests clear of underbrush, conifer regrowth, and fuel overloading. Genocide has its results, some of which are far reaching. Over-loaded forest fuels is but one result.
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11 Aug 2008, 2:34pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
1 comment

Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part IX

Conclusion

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

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

A. Let It Burn fires are illegal.

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

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

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

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

Catastrophic forest fires damage:

- vegetation, especially old-growth forests

- habitat for wildlife, including listed Threatened and Endangered species

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

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

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

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

C. Let It Burn fires are dangerous.

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

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

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

D. Let It Burn fires are expensive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F. Let It Burn is political.

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

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

Coda: The Solution is Stewardship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Aug 2008, 10:52am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
5 comments

Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VIII

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

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

13. Let It Burn Is Politically Motivated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it means the chance for fatal accidents increases.
more »

6 Aug 2008, 6:11pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
2 comments

Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VII

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

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

12. Let It Burn Has Cumulative Impacts

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

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

Sec. 1508.7 Cumulative impact.

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

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

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

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

Old-growth trees were killed in the B&B Fire (90,000 acres in 2003). Subsequent fires have decimated an accumulated 150,000 acres of old-growth on the Deschutes NF. That habitat is gone. The brush and thickets of young trees that are arising in the aftermath will be incinerated in the next Let It Burn fire, and never again will old-growth trees grace the eastern slope of the Cascades.
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