3 Aug 2008, 11:30am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part VI

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

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

11. Let It Burn Has Significant Regional Economic Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part V

10. Let It Burn Has Significant National Economic Impact

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

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

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

Where did the money go? Some for instances:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part IV

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

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

8. Let It Burn Has Significant Effects on Recreation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part I

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

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

The authors quote yours truly:

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

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

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

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

1. Let It Burn Is Illegal

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

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

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Surprising Ruling By the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wood to rebuild Tahoe is sitting there, rotting

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

By William Wade Keye, professional forester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Wade Keye is a California registered professional forester.

15 Jul 2008, 1:16pm
Saving Forests The 2008 Fire Season
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About W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking

This Spring W.I.S.E. initiated a Fire Tracking site [here]. We have been endeavoring to track the larger fires in the West. So far we have tracked over 110 fires, many still active.

The way W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking works is that each fire (that we choose to track) gets it’s own post. That post is updated periodically. We try to update on a daily basis while the fire is active, but some days the information is not available.

If a fire you are interested in is not on the main page (it only holds 15 posts), then there are a few ways you can find it. First, try typing the name of the fire in the search applet in the upper righthand sidebar. Second, you can click on the “state” category if you know what state the fire is in. Third, if you know what month the fire started, you can look in the archives under that month.

For each fire we are attempting to post daily stats for acreage, personnel, percent containment, and suppression costs to date. That way each post becomes a historical record for that fire. You can see how the fire grew day by day, along with the changes in the other stats. That’s something InciWeb doesn’t do.

W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking is in blog form, designed for feedback. People on the scene, or anywhere else for that matter, can contribute information, photos, or ask questions. It’s a two-way communication, something else InciWeb does not do.

W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking is free. It costs the taxpayers nothing. That’s definitely not the case with InciWeb. Your donations are sincerely appreciated, in any case.

Unlike other fire sites, W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking is not designed by and for firefighters. Our expertise and concern is about forests and other landscape types, and so we can provide indepth analysis regarding the effects of a particular fire on multiple forest values and resources. By collecting and posting the daily record for each fire, we are establishing the basic information needed to analyze fire effects.

InciWeb, the government fire reporting site, has been up and down this year. Right now it is functional again. If the InciWebbers show they can report fires consistently and without server glitches, we may pick and choose which fires we track more selectively. Our intention was never to compete with InciWeb or supplant them. We only provided a comprehensive fire reporting service because we thought such was needed during their long absence.

Due to the workload involved with W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking, the other subsites at W.I.S.E. have been neglected. Sorry about that. Hopefully in a week or two the fire season will calm down a bit and the other subsites will get more attention.

In that regard, if you feel like reviewing a new book or paper of exceptional quality and cutting-edge, new paradigm thinking in the environmental sciences, please do so. We are always happy to post contributions from the experts.

For those select few among you to whom we have promised specific projects, please bear with us. We have not forgotten. The list is still right here on the W.I.S.E. bulletin board. Your project is circled in red. We will get to it when we can and eventually for sure.

Please take some time to explore W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking. There is a wealth of information being collected there. Sometimes you may need to read between the lines because the whole truth is only hinted at. Your analysis of specific fires is also welcome, as are your photos, maps, and on-the-ground observations.

Rep. Goodlatte on Exploding Fire Suppression Costs

Statement of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Ranking Member, House Committee on Agriculture

RE: H.R. 5541, the Forest Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act (FLAME Act)

July 9, 2008

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my disappointment with the bill before us today, H.R. 5541 the Forest Land Assistance, Management, and Enhancement Act or the FLAME Act. Mr. Speaker, I believe that the authors of this bill are well intentioned and truly want to solve the wildfire funding problem, but, sadly, the FLAME Act does not provide the comprehensive solution needed to adequately resolve this problem.

With the unhealthy conditions in our forests, extreme drought, and the increasing influx of people building in fire-prone areas, the size and severity of wildfires has dramatically increased. In the 90’s, an average of 3.2 million acres burned each year. Since 2000, that annual average has doubled to 7.1 million acres. The cost of fighting these wildfires has skyrocketed, from averages of $400 million annually in the 90’s to roughly $1.4 billion in 2007. This year an area roughly the size of Connecticut has already burned, at cost of over $665 million to date.

This is not just a western issue. In my home state of Virginia, more acres have burned already this year than in any single entire year since 1963 at a cost of millions of dollars.

As firefighting costs have increased, the overall USDA Forest Service and Department of the Interior budgets have not. So, the Forest Service and DOI are footing the bill for these large, unpredictable emergency wildfires within the confines of a flat budget. For the Forest Service, this has meant a 77 percent increase in fire expenditures, a 23 percent decrease in funds to manage the national forests, and a 38 percent decrease in funds to help states and private owners manage their forests. Whether you’re a wilderness advocate, a hunter, a mountain biker, or a logger, everyone will be impacted if we don’t solve this problem.

Wildfires are not only consuming more forestland, they are consuming the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior themselves.

The FLAME Act falls short of protecting the Agencies’ budgets from this continued erosion. H.R. 5541 does not change the current budget practice of funding firefighting based on the average expenses over the previous decade. Without this change, we will continue to see more and more of the Agencies’ budgets go toward fire and less towards taking care of our nation’s forests.

In addition to this shortfall, the FLAME Act lacks a comprehensive set of solutions to the problem. Fixes to the wildfire budgeting system must be accompanied by strong cost containment and accountability standards while also ensuring fire fighter safety, incentives to encourage communities to step up to the plate and reduce wildfire risks, and more tools to prevent or minimize damage due to catastrophic wildfires, particularly in our federal forests.

H.R. 5648, the Emergency Wildland Fire Response Act of 2008 which Chairman Peterson and I introduced along with a bipartisan group of our colleagues, provides this comprehensive solution. Unfortunately, negotiations for a more comprehensive solution were cut short.

I’m pleased to see that the authors of the FLAME Act have incorporated aspects of H.R. 5648 that encourage communities to step up to the plate and become “fire-ready” and encourage the Agencies to contain costs in their firefighting efforts.

Unfortunately, even with these improvements, the FLAME Act ignores the underlying problem causing the increases in firefighting costs- the unhealthy condition of our federal forests. We will continue to see skyrocketing firefighting costs and more damage to our forests, watersheds, and communities unless we take steps to reduce fire risk in our federal forests. We must provide the Agencies additional tools to get our federal forests in a healthy, more fire resilient condition.

My alternative bill, H.R. 5648 provides a new contracting tool for the Forest Service to partner with states to address these unhealthy conditions in federal forests. This authority has been tested in Colorado and Utah where it’s proven to be very effective. Unfortunately, HR 5541 contains no such tools.

Mr. Speaker, as California and other states are dealing with massive wildfires even as we speak, we shouldn’t squander our time with legislation that is only half the solution. H.R. 5541 is akin to using the watering can to fight a wildfire: it might have some short-term benefit of slowing down the flames, but ultimately, it won’t stop the fire.

That being said, I will vote for this bill because it does move the ball forward. I’m hopeful that we can improve it as we move forward and ask my colleagues to join me in this effort.

8 Jul 2008, 9:30pm
Saving Forests
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The Mystery of the Older Cohort

When I began SOS Forests in Sept. 2005, this is one of the first photos I posted:

It is not a particularly artistic shot, but it is illustrative of the mystery of the older cohort. The picture is of the East Fork of the Hood River about 6 or 7 miles south of the community of Mt. Hood. The forest pictured is typical of the slopes in the upper watershed.

If you look carefully, you will notice there are two distinct cohorts. The older trees are ponderosa pines ranging from 150 to 350+ years old. They are taller and their tops are often broken. Up close they are much bigger in diameter than the younger cohort trees, which are mostly Douglas-fir, grand fir, and western larch. The younger trees range from 25 to 100 years old.

That presents a mystery: why was this forest dominated by ponderosa pine for 200+ years with very few of the other species present? Is it because the other species wouldn’t grow there due to climate or soils?

No, the soils and climate are just the same as they were. The other species grow just fine there. In fact, they out-compete the ponderosa pine in the younger cohort. After a stand-replacing fire, all the species germinate, but the pines are soon overtopped by the others. They get spindly and die in dense thickets.

But for some mysterious reason, there are few if any Douglas-fir, grand fir, and western larch in the older cohort. The older trees are almost pure ponderosa pine. Look carefully and you will see that. If you can’t see it, take my word for it; that’s the situation. The ponderosa dominate the older cohort, but not the younger one.

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8 Jul 2008, 2:08pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
7 comments

Old-Growth Trees vs Old-Growth Stands

For many veteran readers of SOS Forests, this post is going to seem repetitious. But we have many new readers and so please bear with me.

Old-growth are old trees. Generally speaking, true old-growth trees are those that germinated prior to Euro-American contact with the aboriginal (Native American) populations in a region. In Oregon true old-growth trees are 175+ years old.

In most regions, including all of Oregon, true old-growth trees arose in an age of frequent, regular, seasonal anthropogenic fire. Indian burning maintained prairies and savannas. Hence true old-growth trees were open-grown in open, park-like stands.

Following elimination and/or removal of Indian populations, the anthropogenic fires stopped. Thickets of young trees, so-called second growth, arose under the open canopies of the park-like stands. What resulted are multi-cohort forests.

Multi-cohort forests have 5 to 10 true old-growth trees per acre and the rest are second growth, sometimes numbering as many as 500+ trees per acre. The increased tree density makes those forests susceptible to catastrophic stand-replacing fires.

Previously, when the Indians were burning, fires would stay low to the ground and not kill many trees. In contrast, our modern fires kill all the trees, old and young alike.

It has been recognized that to save and preserve old-growth we must thin out the second growth, younger cohort trees. That was the gist of the important testimony given by Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin last December [here].

No longer do forest scientists view entire stands as old-growth. That was the old paradigm. Today the general understanding is that only a few trees in most “old-growth” stands are actually old. The concept (forest condition) is called multi-cohortedness.
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7 Jul 2008, 9:31pm
Saving Forests
by admin
5 comments

Siuslaw NF “Old-Growth”

Guest post by Bob Zybach

To the Editor of the Eugene Register Guard:

I enjoyed the July 5 article on the centennial celebration of the Siuslaw National Forest. For many years I was a friend and neighbor of Rex Wakefield, who was Supervisor of the Siuslaw in the 1950s, when timber harvests were intensified to meet national housing demands. Rex was also a great forester, and pioneered many of the site preparation and Douglas-fir plantation methods that were widely used by federal land managers and industrial foresters in subsequent decades.

About 20 years ago I was commissioned to write a detailed land-ownership history of the Siuslaw, and relied upon Rex for much personal recollection, as well as important historical records he had retained from his years as a Supervisor. One of the most interesting records was a history of the Forest written in 1940 by one of Rex’s predecessors, Dahl Kirkpatrick. This report was later updated during WW II, but I was fortunate to be able to read the original type-written document.

A very common — and important — misconception about the history of the Siuslaw NF is similar to what you report in your paper, that of the “two billion” feet of timber sold from the Forest between 1960 and 1990 “much of it [was] old growth giants that today are a rare find.” That is simply not true. Almost all of the timber sold from the Siuslaw during its entire existence has been second-growth, not old-growth.

In 1940 Dahl Kirkpatrick noted that only 35,000 acres or so of the 600,000 total acreage in the Siuslaw was old-growth. That is about the same figure as exists today. People often think the trees are much older because they are so large and grow so fast, as Phyllis Steeves is quoted as saying in your article.

The reason the Siuslaw has never contained very much old-growth during its 100-year history is because of the “Great” Yaquina, Coos, and Nestucca Fires of 1849-1868 which killed most of the trees over the landscape during those years. Trees logged between 1960 and 1990 were almost entirely large second-growth, between 90 and 140 years of age, not old-growth.

The Great Fires of the 1800s were similar to the Big Sur, San Diego, Biscuit, and B&B wildfires of today in that they killed almost everything in their path and were hundreds of thousands of acres in size. Kay King, also quoted in your article, is entirely correct when she worries about all of the huge fuel build-up of the past 20 years, which she terms “biomass for fires.” If this biomass isn’t reduced by regular burning — such as practiced by local Indians before 1849, by grazing, by logging, or by some other means, the Siuslaw NF is destined to be the site of another “Great Fire” sometime soon, in the foreseeable future. That is its history, and also the nature of untended forestlands.

Hearing On S.2593 Thursday By Deaf Senators

The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008, S. 2593, will be the subject of a hearing Thursday, July 10, before the US Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands [here].

Just in case you don’t know what S. 2593 is all about, click the Category “Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008″ in the right hand sidebar. You will see that the Western Institute for Study of the Environment analyzed this bill and wrote a lengthy set of suggested amendments.

We sent those in to our US Senators and to the Subcommittee but never heard boo from any of them. Now they will be holding a hearing sans our input. How the US Senate can hold hearings when they are terminally deaf is beyond me.

Now, I don’t expect the US Senate to respond to every piece of mail they get, but a collaboration of the top forest scientists in Oregon put together our suggested amendments and we sent them in four months ago. I did expect our Oregon Senators to respond, since S. 2593 concerns Oregon. That bill is a thousand times better than the piece of crap bill Ron Wyden put forth last month [here].

Wyden’s bill, the Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act,
(no number that we are aware of) is dead in the water from the get-go. It has numerous poison pills. It will never be passed, and if passed will screw up forest management in Oregon even worse than it already is.

The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008, on the other hand, holds considerable promise, especially if the amendments we suggested are adopted.

Unfortunately, the US Senate has ignored our input, as I said. We did not jam sacks of hundred dollar bills in any Senator’s freezer. We did not provide them with free trips to fabulous resorts with hookers and coke and all the accoutrement they expect. It’s not that we didn’t want to; we simply cannot afford it on our limited incomes.

You would think that Gordon Smith might be interested, since he is running again. You would think Ron Wyden might be interested, since he has put forth a weak and stupid forestry bill of his own. If so, you would think wrong.

So the hearing will happen in our absence, much palavering will be done, and then the bill will be buried in the mud of the Potomac, and that’s it for that.

But we tried. You can’t say we didn’t try. It’s not our fault that our government is of, by, and for the criminal elite. Maybe if we elect a Maoist Shining Path Communist revolutionary (there is one running), then things will change. A new class of criminals will take over. That will be better, right?

3 Jul 2008, 1:08pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
8 comments

Ninth Circuit Court Okays Thinning Project

As California suffers under a fire bust of historic proportion, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court has decided that thinning forests to prevent catastrophic fire storms in constitutional after all.

In a landmark turn of the worm, yesterday the 9th Court overturned itself and denied a motion by enviro-litigious plaintiffs the Lands Council and the Wild West Institute that would have enjoined the Mission Brush Project, a selective logging of 3,829 acres of forest in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

The Court en banc (Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Pamela Ann Rymer, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Michael Daly Hawkins, Barry G. Silverman, M. Margaret McKeown, Raymond C. Fisher, Marsha S. Berzon, Richard R. Clifton, Milan D. Smith, Jr., and N. Randy Smith) reversed an earlier decision by a three-judge panel of the same court.

The opinion written by Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. contained some pithy remarks. The entire Decision is [here]. We extract some of the more important statements:

We took this case en banc to clarify some of our environmental jurisprudence with respect to our review of the actions of the United States Forest Service. …

Boundary County, City of Bonners Ferry, City of Moyie Springs, Everhart Logging, Inc., and Regehr Logging, Inc. (collectively, Intervenors) intervened on behalf of the Forest Service. The district court denied Lands Council’s motion for a preliminary injunction. A three-judge panel of this court reversed the district court’s decision and remanded for entry of a preliminary injunction in Lands Council v. McNair, 494 F.3d 771 (9th Cir. 2007). We vacate that decision and affirm the district court. …

The Mission Brush Area (or Project Area) encompasses approximately 31,350 acres and is located in the northeastern portion of the Bonners Ferry Ranger District. Approximately 16,550 acres of the Project Area are National Forest System lands, which are home to a variety of species (or their habitats), including the northern gray wolf, Canada lynx, grizzly bear, black-backed woodpecker, flammulated owl, fisher, western toad, pileated woodpecker, and the white-tailed deer. The Project Area is also home to old-growth trees.

The current structure and composition of the forest in the Project Area differs significantly from the forest’s historic composition. While the Project Area previously consisted of relatively open ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir stands, today it is crowded with stands of shade-tolerant, younger Douglas-firs and other mid-to late-successional species. The suppression of naturally occurring fires, past logging practices, and disease are primarily responsible for this shift in forest composition.

The increased density of trees has proven deleterious to the old-growth trees and the Project Area’s ecology. First, old-growth trees need relatively open conditions to survive and maintain their growth rates. Second, the increased density is causing a decline in the health and vigor of all trees because they must compete for moisture, sunlight, and nutrients, and the densely clustered trees are less tolerant of insects and disease. Third, dense, dry forests are at risk for large, stand-replacing fires, due to the build-up of fuels. Lastly, wildlife species that prefer a relatively open forest composition with more old-growth trees have suffered a decline in habitat.

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