Baden-Powell and Australian Bushfire Policy

A new essay about fire and forestry in 19th Century India and modern Australia may be found in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here]. It is Baden-Powell and Australian Bushfire Policy by Roger Underwood, renowned Australian forester and fire expert.

This is the sixth essay by Roger Underwood posted at W.I.S.E. [here]. That shows how much we respect and appreciate his writings. The only authors with more entries in the W.I.S.E. Library are Dr. Charles E. Kay (13) and Dr. Stephen J. Pyne (16). Not that we’re keeping score; it’s not a contest. Our goal is to post the best cutting-edge research and thought in the environmental sciences today. Those guys just happen to be outstanding leaders in that regard.

Mr. Underwood’s perspective is distinctly Australian. Application of his ideas here might not be an exact fit. His ideas are certainly worthy of discussion in any case. If you have comments, pro or con, on his latest essay, please append them to this post.

QLG Update

An excellent news report written by Joshua Sebold of the Plumas County News follows this essay. He reports on the progress that has been made by the Plumas National Forest working in collaboration with the Quincy Library Group [here].

The Quincy Library Group is a grassroots effort initiated in 1992 in Quincy, California. A group of citizens were concerned over the demise of the timber industry and the concomitant build up of hazardous fuels in the National Forests surrounding their communities. Discussions held at the local library led to a series of proposals recommending improvements for management of the Lassen N.F., the Plumas N.F., and the Sierraville Ranger District of the Tahoe N.F.

The strong community involvement also led to the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act [here]. In October, 1998, the United States Senate approved the legislation introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and Representative Wally Herger (R-Chico).

The HFQLGFR Act directed National Forests in the QLG area to do 40 to 60 thousand acres per year of strategic fuel reduction in defensible fuelbreaks for five years and to implement group selection silviculture on an area-wide basis.

Numerous appeals and lawsuits followed. The usual suspects, eco-litigious pro-fire anti-logging groups, threw up roadblock after roadblock. The fuelbreaks and the thinnings were delayed. One outcome of the delays was the 2007 Moonlight Fire [here] that burned 65,000 acres and destroyed old-growth and spotted owl habitat.

See [here] for photos of the damages caused by wildfires in Plumas County and the Sierras.

But the Quincy Library Group forged ahead undeterred. In 2008 the HFQLGFR Act was extended to 2012 [here]. The fuelbreak construction has never met the 40 to 60 thousand acres per year target, exceeding 30,000 acres only once, in 2006 [here]. However, over 200,000 acres have been treated despite all the hurdles erected by eco-litigious groups.

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Jim’s Creek Restoration Photos

The Jim’s Creek Savanna Restoration Project [here] on the Middle Fork District of the Willamette National Forest is a demonstration project and model for forest restoration in Oregon. An ancient oak/pine savanna, maintained by Molalla and Kalapuya Indians, formerly extended deep into the mountains along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River above Oakridge. Today remnant old oaks, open-grown old-growth ponderosa pines, and tarweed (Madia spp) fields can still be seen, although a thicket of Douglas-fir has invaded in the last 100 years.

The USFS identified, mapped, planned, and is engaged in restoring a 450 acres near Jim’s Creek. We have received permission to share some recent photographs of the Jim’s Creek Project and nearby unrestored areas taken by Bob Zybach, Program Manager, Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project, Inc. [here]. An ORWW directory [here] containes more of Bob’s photos. Note: any use of these photos MUST include attribution to Bob Zybach and ORWW as stated above.

A culturally modified tree (CMT). The scar on this old-growth ponderosa pine was made by Molalla Indians who peeled the bark and collected the pine sap. Click for larger image.

Pictured is USFS forester/silviculturalist Tim Bailey who master-minded and manages the Jim’s Creek Savanna Restoration Project. Other key USFS personnel involved were the late Carol Winkler, USFS archaeologist, Chip Weber, former District Ranger and now Forest Supervisor on the Kootenai NF, and Dallas Emch, now retired former Willamette NF Forest Supervisor.

Elk favor the new openings created by removing the invasive, young-growth Douglas-fir. Click for larger image.

Volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have been involved in this project from its inception and built the initial exclosures about 10 years ago to measure forage response to burning and grazing by elk and deer. Bill Richardson, RMEF Oregon and Washington Lands Program Manager led the contingent, who also planted oak seedlings on the Project site last month.

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Easter Sunday Sunrise at Honomalino Beach

Reposted from SOS Forests, Version 1, April 15th, 2006

Honomalino Bay, one of the most protected bays in South Kona, once supported a large fishing and farming community. Numerous pre-contact cultural sites are located along the perimeter of the bay and in the amphitheater-shaped gulch inland of the sand beach. …

Low sea cliffs line most of the water’s edge of Honomalino, but a beautiful pocket beach is set into the northern corner of the bay. The beach consists primarily of black sand, but it appears gray because of an admixture of olivines and calcareous white sand. A shallow sand bar fronts the beach, but drops off quickly on the seaward side to overhead depths and a flat, rocky ocean bottom. … An extensive cocoanut grove, perpetuated by regular replanting by the area residents, covers both the backshore of the beach and adjoining Kapalua Point. Sand drifts extend a considerable distance from the nearshore vegetation into the inland kiawe groves. …

Honomalino Bay cannot be reached from the Hawai’i Belt Highway without a vehicle with four-wheel drive and without crossing private property. There is no convenient public access.

-– from Beaches of the Big Island, by John R.K. Clark. Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1985.

The ocean snores at Honomalino.

At night the only sound is the rhythmic rumble of the surf, crashing and foaming every 10 to 15 seconds. Snoring people make the most noise on the inhale; the ocean makes the most noise on the exhale, sonorously breathing out the energy of ocean swells in curling drumbeats on the sand. The waves rise and fall in a chorus line, closing their hollow tubes like long zippers around the half moon of Honomalino Beach.

Just before dawn on Easter Sunday, in a handful of colorful dome and tarpaulin tents set back in the coconut grove, sleepy campers sit up, rub their eyes, and huddling in their sleeping bags, gaze out through tent flaps at the vast Pacific Ocean. Honomalino is on the leeward side, the western side of the Big Island. The sun rises, at Honomalino, behind the huge shield of Mauna Loa, and strikes the water first while the beach and coconut grove are still shadowed in twilight. The shining ocean, the cool dawn breeze off the water, and the hypnotic snoring of the surf make it very difficult to shrug off the sleepiness.

This being Easter Sunday, however, efforts are made. Short, fat candles are lit and placed in the sand in front of tents. Prayers are said, silently and individually, by the early risers. Then one by one or in small groups, the people walk slowly down to the water, wade into the waist-high surf, and perform ablutions.

Splashing water in ritual bathing, and chanting ancient Hawaiian invocations and supplications, the worshipers sing praises first to the sea, and then turning their backs to the waves, sing praises to the island. A couple, bound at the waist by a silky white rope made of native fibers, wade together into the waves and renew their vows, to the sea, the land, the sky, and to each other.

A young man, large and strapping with long black hair over his shoulders, marches into the surf. He shouts his vows over the ocean’s roar and beats his flattened palms against the water. Throwing spray high above his head, he forms sparkling halos in the side-shafting morning sunlight. Devotions complete, he backs out of the water, always facing the sea in a gesture of respect and brotherhood. Back on damp sand, he turns, bends down, and scratches something in the sand with his finger.

He has written PA’A.

PA’A is Hawaiian for steadfastness, to hold on tight, the way a limpet clings to the rock. Even the endless, pounding surf cannot break the mighty grip of the tiny limpet. That is PA’A.

Children start to gather near the water. Little kids, toddlers even, begin to dig and splash and generally frolic in the frothy skim flowing up and back, up and back. Under the coconut trees, large women in flowered muumuus open ice chests and place enormous quantities of food on rickety picnic tables. Barbeques are lit, and the faint aroma of lighter fluid and burning briquettes spice the sea breeze. It is going to be one heck of a great breakfast. Laughter, chatter, and Hawaiian music from assorted boom boxes obscure the rumbles of the waves. The ocean keeps on snoring anyway, seemingly oblivious.

In the dawning light of Easter Sunday morning at Honomalino Beach, vows are made in front of God and Man. Bonds are reconfirmed, and commitments recommitted. Symbolic acts of devotion, love, and celebration, and expressions of unwavering resolve, are performed where sea meets land meets sky meets the caretakers, God’s Children, the keepers of the Promise, the tenders of Creation.

Restoring the Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest has instituted a program to restore a portion of the Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields.

The Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields are on the west side of Mt. Adams between 3,900 and 4,700 feet. In 1900 the fields covered 6,000 to 8,000 acres but probably covered 15,000 acres a hundred years earlier. At present the Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields are estimated to cover approximately 1,500 acres. Only 200 acres of those are open berry fields.

From the Sawtooth Huckleberry Restoration Environmental Assessment (EA):

The Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields have served as a destination point for Indian people for thousands of years. Today huckleberries continue to be honored by Yakama Indians as a sacred food, with a ceremony that marks the beginning of the summer gathering season. In recognition of its importance to Yakama Indians, a portion of the Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields was set aside for exclusive Indian berrypicking use in 1932. In the Treaty of 1855, the Yakama Nation reserved the right to gather berries on ceded lands.

Strong historical evidence suggests (really there is no doubt) that anthropogenic fire (Indian burning) maintained the huckleberry fields for millennia. In the absence of deliberate burning, trees have invaded the open berry fields. Douglas-fir, true firs, mountain hemlock, and other tree species shade the berry plants, reduce flowering and fruiting, and eventually eliminate the huckleberries (primarily big huckleberry, Vaccinium membranaceum).

Research by Dr. Don Minore and others (see Minore, Don; Smart, Alan W.; Dubrasich, Michael E. 1979. Huckleberry and ecology management research in the Pacific Northwest.Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-093 [here]) found that killing the invasive trees enhances huckleberry growth and fruit production.

Experiments testing a variety of tree removal methods were undertaken. Girdling the trees had the best and most immediate effect on the huckleberry plants. Other methods, including prescribed burning, proved to be as tough on the huckleberries as on the invading trees. After 20 to 25 years, however, the burned huckleberry plants had recovered (sprouting from underground rhizomes) and were producing abundant fruit. The long recovery period may be expected given the short growing season at the high elevations of the Sawtooth Huckleberry Fields.

The GPNF proposes to use a variety of treatment methods to remove trees, including hand lopping, girdling, mechanical mulching, commercial timber harvest, and prescribed burning on 1,212 acres. A total of 19 units will be treated. About 400 acres will be underburned; the rest will be piled and burned or else the slash will be lopped and scattered.

Selected excerpts of the Decision Notice follow, with links to the EA.

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3 Apr 2010, 10:54am
Forestry education Saving Forests
by admin
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A Factual History of the Americas for Younger Scholars

A review of:

Charles C. Mann and Rebecca Stefoff. 2009. Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster.

Available [here]

This book should be in every school.

The study of historical human influences on the environment is hampered by stubborn adherence to myths and falsehoods developed in childhood. Schools teach that Native Americans were few, savage, and insignificant wandering nomads who lived in a wilderness before Europeans arrived to tame the Americas.

Charles C. Mann’s 2005 bestseller, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus [here], exploded many of those myths. He essayed the new, developing ideas and evidence regarding pre-Columbian America indicating that the Western Hemisphere was populated by millions of people living in civilizations older and more advanced than those of the invading Europeans.

Now Mann and co-author Rebecca Stefoff have adapted 1491 into a book for school children. Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 is a gorgeous “coffee table” book filled with vibrant pictures and a text that is exciting and understandable for younger scholars.

Teachers and parents take note. Don’t let your kids grow up to be ignorant of their roots. The landscapes we live in have been cultural landscapes, shaped by humanity, for thousands of years. The heritage of place is your heritage and that of your children.

Part One of Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 examines the question “How Old was the New World?” Archaeologists keep pushing the date back, but without a doubt human beings were living throughout the Americas 10,000 years ago (8,000 BC). The first cities may have been along the Peruvian coast. The pyramids at Huaricanga are at least 5,500 years old. The residents there also built irrigation canals to water cotton fields, from which they made nets to harvest fish. Ancient mariners sailed far out into the Pacific to net anchovies, sardines, and other seafood. Their cultural stamp (the distinctive gods carved on gourds) can be seen in rock carvings and temples crafted thousands of years later at Lake Titicaca, the cradle of Incan civilization.

Part Two asks “Why Did Europe Succeed?” and includes four chapters on “The Great Meeting” (Cortez and the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan), “Long, Long Ago” (the first Americans, the PaleoIndians, and Monte Verde in Chile), “Extinction” (the demise of the megafauna, including mammoths), and “Disease-Free Paradise? (the impact of European disease on the Native Americans).”

Part Three examines “Were the Americas really a Wilderness?” It’s chapters include “Amazonia” with discussion of the fruit and nut orchards found across the Amazon Basin and the anthropogenic soils called terra preta. “Land of Fire” discusses the way in which Indians maintained an anthropogenic mosaic of prairies, savannas, and open, park-like forests, principally through the use of controlled burning. In “The Created Wilderness” the authors explain how those human-shaped landscapes were abandoned when the Indian populations nearly disappeared following the introduction of Old World diseases.

We cannot plan for the future if we do not understand the past. Forests cannot be cared for, the desired future conditions cannot be achieved, if we do not have a firm grasp on how our forests developed in the first place.

Mann and Stefoff seek to instruct our youth with the historical truth, so that as adults they can make informed judgments about environmental stewardship.

Buy this book. Better yet, buy a dozen copies and donate them to your local schools. Raise the consciousness about the distant past so that our coming future is guided by knowledge instead of myth.

The Smoke-Tainted 2008 Wine Vintage

Back in November, 2008, I predicted that the winegrape crop in California would be tainted by the smoke from all the fires [here].

A number of sources are reporting that the smoke from this summer’s wildfires in California may have tainted the 2008 winegrape crop. Megafires from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border poured smoke into the prime Cal winegrape growing regions for three solid months, with probable deleterious effect to this year’s wine vintage. …

The Cal wine industry is a $100 billion per year affair. …

It is not yet known what the economic impact is of wildfire smoke on the 2008 winegrape crop. What is known is that smoke can taint the taste of wine, adding a tinge of “ashtray” flavor.

The wine growers were furious with me. They did not appreciate any bad-mouthing of their product before it even hit anybody’s taste buds.

Many wine growers consider themselves to be “environmentalists” and support organizations that sue, sue, sue to stop forest management and fire-resiliency forest health treatments. They do not make the connection that banning forestry could end up in megafires that emit smoke that ruins winegrapes. Too many dots to connect.

But lo and behold, the Wall Street Journal has reported that the 2008 wine vintage tastes like wet ashtrays:

Sipping These Wines Is Like Smoking and Drinking at the Same Time

Forest Fires Taint the Pinot Noir; Eliminating the ‘Wet Ashtray’ Effect

By BEN WORTHEN,, March 31, 2010 [here]

PHILO, Calif.—In wine vernacular, “smoky bacon” is a prized flavor for pinot noir. Not so is “wet ashtray,” which is where the powdered sturgeon bladders come in.

The 2008 pinot noirs from here in California’s Anderson Valley are starting to show up in stores. But severe forest fires during the growing season hit the grape crop that year. The fires left much of the resulting wine with “smoke taint,” according to many local winemakers, a condition similar to that in a “corked” bottle in which one unwanted taste overwhelms everything else.

Sturgeon-bladder powder, called isinglass, is what winemaker Larry Londer added to a few gallons of his 2008 pinot noir to try to fix it. Isinglass has long been used to clear wine of unwanted elements, and Mr. Londer hoped it would remove what he and other vintners call the wet-ashtray taste.

It didn’t. …

The 2008 vintage is one some winemakers are ready to stick a cork in. Many say they are only releasing a small percentage of their wine or are reducing prices to ensure good value for consumers. …

The trouble started June 20, 2008, when a lightening [sic] storm struck. Within hours, the sky was filled with smoke. Over the next weeks, the air in Anderson Valley remained dense with soot. …

Mr. Londer, however, wasn’t satisfied with the techniques he tried. He was able to get rid of the smoke if he ran his wine through a pump with a charcoal pad at the end, but says “it left us with a one-dimensional, uninteresting wine.”

So he sold 5,600 of his 8,000 gallons of wine for about $10 each on the bulk market—which collapsed from $30 to $40 per gallon—where it will be blended with wine from across the state. He ran the rest through a reverse-osmosis machine.

He plans to produce 1,000 cases of his Anderson Valley blend, which he will sell for under $35 a bottle. He typically charges $48 or $54 for higher-end products. “There will be some real bargains out there,” he says.

Winemaker Toby Hill from Phillips Hill Vineyards, meanwhile, decided to have some fun. He blended 2008 pinots from two Anderson Valley vineyards and called the finished product “Ring of Fire.”

Recently, a couple stopped by his tasting room in Philo and asked to try it. The wife thought that it was overwhelming, but the husband liked it. “It tastes smoky,” he said.

Fires burned in Northern California for three months in 2008. Some grew to mega-size. When the fire season ended, over 650,000 acres of forest had gone up in smoke in western Northern California alone. Communities and vineyards were inundated with chocking smoke for three solid months.

In Zybach, Bob, Michael Dubrasich, Gregory Brenner, and John Marker. 2009. U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project: The “One-Pager” Checklist. Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Advances in Fire Practices, Fall 2009 [here], we wrote:

What are the actual costs of a wildfire?

Large wildfires consume more than just suppression expenses (“costs”) – they also do measurable short- and long-term damages (“loss”) to public and private equity and resources. …

Recently analysts, government officials, and the media have drawn increasing attention to the escalating frequency, severity, and costs over and above fire suppression associated with large-scale forest wildfires – including losses of human lives, homes, pets, crops, livestock and environmental damage. …

To date, our own findings paint a far different picture than that commonly reported by the media or understood by the public. We have found that total short-term and long-term cost-plus-loss attributed to wildfires typically attains amounts that are ten, 20, or 30 times reported suppression expenses. …

Using standard cost-plus-loss methods, our initial estimates are that total damages for the 2008 California wildfires will likely be at least $10 billion, and may eventually total $30 billion, or even more — and that is just one state, for just one year! …

[P]reliminary research indicates that wildfire agencies’ suppression costs may represent only 2% to 10% of the total cost-plus-loss damages to burned forests – that is, recent public losses attributable to major forest wildfires may likely, and more accurately, total anywhere from $20 billion to more than $100 billion per year. …

On private land vegetation losses include timber and agricultural crops burned or impacted by wildfire smoke, such as winegrapes

In a post at SOS Forests in 2009, Wildfire ‘Benefit’ Double Talk Jive Is Over [here], I noted that the U.S. Dept. of Justice, representing the USFS, had been awarded over $100 million in a lawsuit against the Union Pacific Railroad Company, for a fire that the USDoJ said damaged the “grandeur” of the forested landscape. The courts set a precedent in that case: “grandeur” is now a compensable loss due to forest fires.

That’s on top of all the more tangible losses, such as tainting a multi-billion dollar wine vintage, jamming hospitals with smoke-inhalation victims, and devastating vegetation, soils, habitat, wildlife, watersheds, airsheds, scenery, recreation, heritage, public health and safety, and the economy on public and private lands.

Next time you hear somebody make the claim that “re-introducing fire” to forests is a necessary thing, or that wildfires can used to benefit resources, or that we should burn our forests today because global warming is going to burn them later anyhow, stop and think it through.

It is not “necessary” to inflict $100 billion a year in damages via forest fires. There are better ways to manage our forests than burning them down in megafires. Certain “externalities” can be avoided if we encourage science-based forest stewardship rather than Let It Burn catastrophic disasters.

We might even save the winegrape crop at the same time. You can drink to that.

31 Mar 2010, 12:08am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

USFS Chief Tom Tidwell on the Increasing Forest Fire Hazard

USFS Chief Tom Tidwell spoke today at the 2010 Wildland Urban Interface Conference [here] being held this year in Reno. The WUI Conference is produced by the International Association of Fire Chiefs [here].

I did not attend and do not have a transcript of Chief Tidwell’s speech. All I have to go by is a journalist’s report. There is always some risk of mistakes and wrong emphasis inherent in a journalist’s interpretation. It would be better to have Chief Tidwell’s exact words, and perhaps we can obtain those sometime in the future. But for now, this is what we have:

Wildfire danger increasing across U.S., federal official tells Reno audience

By Jeff DeLong,, March 30, 2010 [here]

A combination of forest restoration projects, creation of communities that can survive fire and aggressive fire fighting will be needed as wildfire danger increases across the country, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday.

Wildfires are getting larger and burning more fiercely, Tom Tidwell told a Reno conference of wildfire experts.

Warming climate and increasing development near forested terrain will result in increasingly dangerous fire behavior, Tidwell, chief of the Forest Service since June 2009, said.

“The fire behavior that we’re seeing, that people say surprises them, that is what we should expect,” Tidwell said. “I think we should no longer be surprised.”

Climate change, Tidwell said, is “one of the major drivers” in drying overgrown forests drying and make them susceptible to insect attack, with 17 million acres of pine forest across the interior West dead or dying due to bark beetles.

“In terms of fire fuel, we’re in a whole new era,” Tidwell said.

Serious wildfire years such as 2007, when more than 9 million acres burned nationwide, could soon be surpassed by seasons consuming 12 to 15 million acres, Tidwell said.

The danger is increased as more people move closer to fire-prone public land. Between 1990 and 2000, 28 million housing units were built within 30 miles of national forests, he said. Now nearly 70,000 communities across the country are deemed at risk from wildfire, Tidwell said.

Tidwell says forest restoration projects are crucial to thin overgrown forests and treat the landscape with prescribed fire.

Between 2001 — when Congress adopted the National Fire Plan — and 2008, nearly 30 million acres of federal land were treated to prevent fire. Tidwell said at that pace, it will take 35 years to treat the amount of terrain needed.

“It is essential we build support for the type of treatment that has to occur,” Tidwell said. …

As near as I can judge given the journalistic filter, Chief Tidwell mentioned restoration, fuels, preparedness, and the threat of increasingly severe fire seasons.

By restoration, he meant thinning overgrown forests and using prescribed fire (according to the journalist). Of course, restoration is much more complex than that, but it is good that Tidwell is on the right course. Restoration does involve active management. The word does not mean abandoning forests to the vagaries of nature.

Although there was the obligate genuflection to global warming now required of all bureaucrats, the real cause of our forest fire crisis is fuel build up. Forest fires burn in forests from the Amazon to Alaska, across every climate zone. Temperature is not the driver; fuel is. A one or two degree difference in temperature makes little difference, whereas the accumulated fuels of decades of untouched growth make a huge difference in the likelihood, intensity, and severity of fires.

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All this talk of forests as carbon caches just a smokescreen

By Bob Zybach, Guest Viewpoint, Eugene Register Guard, Mar 29, 2010 [here]

Some of the basic ideas presented by Susan Palmer in her March 16 article in The Register-Guard, “A great state of carbon caches,” need to be rebutted — in particular, the concept of managing a forest primarily for carbon storage.

First, however, some basic information.

Wood is not usually considered a “fossil fuel.” Federal forests in the United States total more than 190 million acres (not 19 million). And the Willamette National Forest probably contains about 164 metric tons of carbon per acre (not total).

The article’s errors in logic are less obvious.

Is this even news?

A well-known political advocacy group, the Wilderness Society, compiles a list of “the 10 U.S. national forests with the highest carbon density.” Nine of the 10 are in the Northwest; six are in Oregon, with No. 1 (the Willamette National Forest) being located primarily in Lane County. The Register-Guard prints these assertions on its front page and produces an editorial in support of the listing.


No one in history has ever managed a forest for “carbon density,” for a number of good reasons. What happened to jobs, clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation as socially accepted forest management goals?

A “senior resource analyst” for the Wilderness Society is quoted as saying the Willamette “has always been seen as an especially productive forest,” but somehow its carbon density provides “yet another reason to refrain from cutting” its trees.

Does that even make sense?

A few years ago, local environmentalists were complaining loudly that the Willamette’s managers employed too many roads and clear-cuts, used too many herbicides, planted too many seedlings, suppressed all wildfires and did not do enough prescribed burning. Couldn’t that history be a more logical cause of its current high carbon density?

Why would the Wilderness Society favor the result of all those management actions, and then call for no management now? Is the Wilderness Society simply promoting its list to help justify an agenda to stop logging in all national forests?

The average citizen likely couldn’t care less about the “carbon density” of our local forests, and probably doesn’t even know what that phrase actually means. And for those of us who do know: So what?

Is carbon more valuable than fresh water, jobs, energy production, wildlife or recreational access? The idea of managing a forest for carbon storage makes no sense at all, given the increased likelihood that coniferous forests will burn catastrophically as fuels build over time.

Some people argue that storing carbon is important because it allows people to moderate or control the climate to socially desired conditions.

This idea is becoming less popular as more scientific information becomes available, but many (including some scientists) still subscribe to this concept. Is the Wilderness Society seeking to stop logging in order to (theoretically) control climate?

Then there is the reality that the Willamette National Forest’s “carbon stock” does not even equal two years of the nation’s carbon release due to fossil fuels burning.

Last summer’s Tumblebug Fire [here], the third-largest fire in the history of the Willamette National Forest, spread ash, smoke and carbon dioxide throughout the southern Willamette Valley. Over several weeks’ time it burned nearly 15,000 acres, destroyed about 5,000 acres of old growth spotted owl habitat and killed nearly $100 million worth of timber.

About 20 million tons of dead wood were created by this catastrophic event, oozing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment for years as the timber rots, with no plans to salvage any of it.

Wildfires such as the Tumblebug are one consequence of not actively managing our forests. Untended forests predictably are killed by bugs or erupt into catastrophic wildfires.

So what can be done to manage our forests to reduce their carbon outputs, as well as promote their other beneficial uses?

One answer might be to compare the condition of the remains of the Tumblebug Fire with another area of the Willamette: the Jim’s Creek restoration project [here].

On Jim’s Creek, old growth oaks and pine are being released from invasive (and profitable) fir trees. Native species are being encouraged to repopulate the area. And fire is planned to be reintroduced carefully, to maintain and protect these important characteristics.

Local jobs are being created to accomplish these results — to the benefit of local residents and American taxpayers — and the threat of wildfire and dying trees is significantly reduced. Active management produces desired results; passive management produces catastrophic events.

It would be nice to see Oregon’s forests promoted at some point as the U.S. Forest Service’s “best managed” forests. Having an advocacy group promote them as leading candidates to avoid management because they hold so much carbon is something else entirely.

If this development is news at all, it is certainly not good news.

Bob Zybach, a forest scientist with a doctorate in the study of catastrophic wildfires, is program manager for the Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project Inc., which can be found online [here].

18 Mar 2010, 12:14pm
Climate and Weather Saving Forests
by admin

Active Forest Management Can Save the Entire Planet

The following interesting article appeared today in the New York Times. According to the authors, active forest management via prescribed burning can prevent “scorched earth” stand-replacing wildfires. As an added benefit, CO2 emissions due to catastrophic megafires would be significantly reduced, thus saving the globe from the terrible fate of global warming.

We demur from the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis, but we strongly endorse the implementation of restoration forestry to prevent the destruction of forests.

Forest restoration means active management to bring back historical cultural landscapes, historical forest development pathways, and traditional ecological stewardship to achieve historical resiliency to fire and insects and to preclude and prevent a-historical catastrophic fires that decimate and destroy myriad resource values. Those values include [here]:

1. Heritage and history
2. Ecological functions including old-growth development
3. Fire resiliency and the reduction of catastrophic fires
4. Watershed functions
5. Wildlife habitat
6. Public health and safety
7. Biomass energy
8. Carbon sequestration
9. Jobs and the economy

But if saving the planet from CO2 emissions is what floats your boat, then restoration forestry works for that, too.

Excerpts from the article, with emphasis added:

Study Calls for More Prescribed Burns to Reduce Forest Fire Emissions

By JESSICA LEBER of ClimateWire, NY Times, March 18, 2010 [here]

A new study offers a prescription to increase carbon storage in western U.S. forests: Use more controlled burns to prevent a completely scorched earth.

Increasingly, forest managers are setting so-called “prescribed” fires to clear out underbrush and small trees that, if left to accumulate, can quickly escalate a single spark into a catastrophic blaze.

Prescribed practices mimic the natural, smaller burns, caused by lightning or set by Indians, that were all but eliminated by decades of unnatural fire suppression. Today, in many Western forests, piles of fuels are just waiting for a spark.

Wildfires can also contribute to climate change. Because they are much more intense than prescribed fires, they often kill many old-growth trees that store the most carbon, a consequence that hazardous-fuel reduction programs are meant to avoid. No one before, however, has measured the carbon savings of better fire management on any large scale, according to Christine Wiedinmyer, the study’s lead author.

“We know that prescribed fire can burn less fuel than a large, stand-replacing wildfire. The question was how much? Is it enough that it should be a management technique worth perusing if you want to store more carbon?” asked Wiedinmyer, an atmospheric chemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

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The Tumblebug Fire

On September 12, 2010, two lightning-ignited fires were reported to be burning in Tumblebug Creek, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. Three weeks later 14,570 acres had burned, including ~5,000 acres of old-growth spotted owl forests, and $100 million in timber had been destroyed. The real tragedy, however, is that the Tumblebug Fire is a harbinger of larger, more severe, and more damaging fires to come.

How this fire happened, and why it is a prelude to even greater disaster, is the subject of this essay.

The 1.7 million acre Willamette National Forest [here] extends from the Calapooia Divide in Douglas County, Oregon, to the Santiam Divide in Marion County. It encompasses the headwaters of following major watersheds: the Middle and North Forks of the Willamette River, the McKenzie River, and the North and South Forks of the Santiam River. East to west the Willamette NF begins at the crest of the Oregon Cascades and slopes westward to the foothills of the Willamette Valley.

Situated as it is on the west side of the Cascades, the Willamette NF is one of the most productive forests in the world. Temperate climate, abundant rainfall, and rich volcanic soils engender forests that are capable of growing nearly a billion (with a “b”) board feet per year.

In 2009 28 million board feet (MMBF) were harvested, less than 3% of the annual growth. In prior years the harvest was:

2008 _ 30.6 MMBF
2007 _ 29.6
2006 _ 49.8
2005 _ 71.1
2004 _ 59.9
2003 _ 20.5
2002 _ 20.2
2001 _ 18.8

Source: Region 6 Cut and Sold Reports and Volume Under Contract [here]

In no year in the past decade has more than 7.1% of annual growth been harvested. Yet the forests have continued to grow, not only the trees but also the brush, and the biomass has built up.

Biomass is fuel — the accumulated growth is accumulated fuel that will burn. The more fuel, the hotter and more intense the fires.

The Willamette NF is primed to burn in a forest fire larger and more intense than any in state history.

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16 Mar 2010, 10:03pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
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D-bug Hazard Reduction and Timber Sale Project DEIS Comments Requested

Notice of Informational Public Meeting, Umpqua NF, posted March 4, 2010 [here]

It has been nearly a year since the Forest sent out the D-Bug Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public comment and review. Since then changes in regional and national policy have kept the project in a state of flux, and the Forest has been evaluating and responding to these policy changes along with the public comments received on the Draft EIS.

The Forest would like to re-engage with the public to share information on the current status of the D-Bug project and allow an opportunity for comment and dialogue on an implementable path forward for this important fuels reduction project.

To facilitate this information sharing and discussion, a facilitated public meeting is planned for:

Friday, March 19, 2010
1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Douglas County Library
Ford Community Meeting Room
1409 NE Diamond Lake Blvd

Note: Extending Comment Period to Monday June 8, 2009

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Prescribed Burning and Assuming Responsibility

Note: the author is a registered professional consulting forester (#475) in South Carolina and principal of Carolina Forest Stewards, Inc. headquartered in Georgetown, SC.

by Travis C. Cork, III

Last Tuesday I finished burning one of my client’s quail havens. The area is divided into 6 blocks, and weather permitting, I burn 3 blocks (2,4,6) one year and three the next (1,3,5). In last 25 years, I have burned this property 10-12 times. Pictures are attached. In confirmation of findings of research at Santee Experimental Forest in Francis Marion National Forest, you can see the damned sweet gum is still there. Unfortunately, so is Smilax sp. and Rubus.

Before and after prescribed burning in a South Carolina loblolly pine plantation. Photos by Travis C. Cork, III.

It would be hard to find a safer place to burn. Fuel loads are low. The only hazard is smoke, and the property is isolated enough for that concern to be minimal. Besides, I started fire about 11:30 and was finished by 3:00. By dark there was no smoke to puddle if we had a temperature inversion.

Yet, I still get nervous before I set the fire. For those who burn under the umbrella of having the taxpayer cover your liability, imagine setting a fire with the knowledge that if you screw up, that it can cost you everything you own. I have liability insurance, but in today’s litigious society, it may not be enough.

South Carolina legislature is considering a law to protect foresters from liability if they screw up on a fire “unless they were grossly negligent.” I am opposed to this. I think that it is good to be nervous before setting a fire. Part of being good at prescribed burning is understanding that things sometimes change quickly, or understanding that the wind forecast may be flawed.

Not surprisingly, one of experts testifying for this law was from The Nature Conservancy. He was quoted as saying “[O]ur primary tool for managing our lands is prescribed fires. If we don’t burn when we choose, then it’s going to burn when it wants to burn.”

This statement is crap. To start with, no forest burns “when it wants to burn.” Forests are not capable of purposeful action. Excepting the rare lightning strike (here in the Southeast), they burn when someone sets them. For example, the recent catastrophic fire at Myrtle Beach started because someone set it. It spread because government firefighters failed to put it out. Had they done their job thoroughly, the fire would have been nothing but a small trash fire.

Prescribed burning may be a primary tool for TNC as they do not like intensive forestry, but it certainly is not a primary tool for NIPF’s [non-industrial private forestlands]. That TNC wants to be shielded from liability is understandable as it has preserve type properties (Sandy Island and Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach) that it wants burned. If their fires smoke up the homes on Pawleys Island, so what. The “ecosystem” is more important than the people.

The reality is that prescribed burning is going to have less and less application as a forest management tool, primarily because of smoke issues. Public and quasi-public (TNC) foresters may ignore that, but private sector foresters are not. Responsibility for screw-ups is a good thing. Being able to socialize individual liability creates a moral hazard and makes it more likely there will be a catastrophic screw-up, not less.

Another dumb idea by a forestry profession hopelessly wedded to the State.

11 Mar 2010, 3:34pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Wilderness Recognized As Fire Hazard

Well, what do you know? It turns out that some other folks (beside us) have recognized that wilderness designation does not “protect” resources; instead it endangers them.

Forest Service assesses effects of Wilderness on firefighting

Opinions differ among feds, firefighters and Wilderness advocates

Scott Condon, The Aspen Times, Thursday, March 11, 2010 [here]

BASALT — Turning Basalt Mountain into Wilderness wouldn’t prohibit firefighting there but it would eliminate opportunities to reduce dead trees and fuels that have built up for decades, the top official in the White River National Forest said Wednesday. …

Basalt firefighters and Wilderness activists disagreed with parts of the assessment made by Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, showing how difficult it is to sort through some implications of the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign.

Fitzwilliams said the Forest Service assesses and makes an appropriate response to every fire in the national forest, regardless of whether or not it is in Wilderness.

In a location like Basalt Mountain, the decision to fight a fire will be made most of the time, Fitzwilliams said. “Whether that’s Wilderness or not, the response is probably going to be the same,” he said.

Whenever a fire poses a threat to the town of Basalt or homes in Missouri Heights, the decision would be made to fight the fire, he said. Fires in Wilderness areas are allowed to burn when they don’t pose a threat to lives, houses or infrastructure.

Fitzwilliams conceded that federal land managers are responsible for leaving Wilderness “pretty much as it is.” Using heavy equipment to gouge a fire break in the earth, for example, might require an extra call for clearance, he said.

That’s why the Basalt Fire Department is concerned. Fire Chief Scott Thompson said that, with all due respect to the Forest Service, the written rules and the application of rules aren’t always the same. Written rules that appear to provide flexibility can actually provide an extra hurdle.

The fire department typically handles the first response to wildfires on Basalt Mountain. Requiring an extra step of approval to fight a fire in a Wilderness area might take “hours or days,” Thompson said.

He said his assessment comes from practical, in the field experience in dealing with the Forest Service on Wilderness issues for 15 years as a former Pitkin County deputy sheriff and for 10 years as the fire chief. That experience indicates it won’t always be a speedy process to get approval to fight a fire in Wilderness. And that, he said, could result in a catastrophic fire for the homeowners of Basalt.

Here we have an experienced Forest Service person, White River NF Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, admitting that wilderness fires do not (cannot) receive the same aggressive rapid response that non-wilderness fires do. Mr. Fitzwilliams also notes that fuel build-up in wilderness areas cannot be dealt with under current laws. And he warns that fires in wilderness area can (and do) propagate beyond wilderness boundaries and subsequently endanger communities.

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Climate Change, Bioenergy and Sustaining Forests of Idaho and Montana

Thoughts and comments by Ned Pence
March 3 and 4, 2010
Boise, Idaho

The following are my thoughts and comments on a recent conference sponsored by the Society of American Foresters and the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resource. Others involved were the Forest Service, the BLM, the Intermountain Forest Association, Idaho Conservation League, the Wilderness Society, Idaho Department of Lands, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy. The Snake River Chapter of SAF deserves credit for the hard work that went into the conference. A similar convention was held in Missoula last fall.

I attended the conference seeking information on the possibility of a bioenergy industry utilizing forest fuels with the possibility of sustaining forests in the inland empire. Attendance at the conference were a mix of foresters, environmentalists, and persons involved in attempts at collaboration between the federal agencies, public, forest industry and environmentalists in an attempt to find a solution to the current gridlock of forest management on federal lands.

The stated purpose was, “This conference will help people connect with global-scale issues regarding climate change, renewable energy, and carbon emissions on forests in Idaho and Montana. Discussions centered on strategies for sustaining our forests and the services people expect from them.”

Sponsors recognized the “sustainability premise” identified as “the current and future conditions of our forests determines their ability to contribute to our society’s energy security, climate change mitigation, and resilience goals.” It was recognized that the current forested conditions put the forests at risk of stand-replacing wildfire and insect and disease outbreaks. A key statement of the conference was that forest management actions must be ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially desirable to be sustainable. It is felt by conference organizers that forest managers can take action to meet “sustainability” only by obtaining a “social license” through collaboration. A few collaborative efforts are currently underway in Washington, Idaho, and Montana and the conference had sessions to discuss what has worked well and not so well.

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