Open Letter to Ken Salazar Re WFLC

Letter in pdf format may be downloaded [here]

To: The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

Re: Reconvening the Wildland Fire Leadership Council

Dear Secretary Salazar,

In a letter to western governors dated February 19, 2010, you indicated your desire to reconvene the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC). You also stated in that letter that you are committed working closely with “key stakeholders at all levels” to address wildfire issues.

Please be advised that the prior manifestation of the WFLC did not work with stakeholders but instead was a closed door, exclusionary, non-transparent Federal advisory group that violated various laws with impunity. The laws repeatedly violated by the WFLC include the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The WFLC excluded the public and the press from their meetings. They did however seat deep-pocket lobby groups including the Nature Conservancy and the Wilderness Society. Federal funds were passed to these lobby groups through the WFLC. The lobby groups also provide a “revolving door” of high-paying positions to former government employees formerly seated on the WFLC.

During closed door meetings in 2008 the WFLC directed the five Federal land management agencies under their purview to adopt Appropriate Management Response (AMR) and Wildland Fire Use (WFU). The agencies did so without implementing any NEPA process, without public comment or review, and in violation of the laws listed above.

As a result, numerous wildfires were allowed to burn without aggressive suppression actions. Tremendous destruction and degradation of natural resource values occurred. Some examples:

* South Barker WFU Fire (2008, Sawtooth NF, 38,583 acres) – The South Barker WFU Fire escaped and burned 38,583 acres. The fire eventually cost over $7 million to suppress. It incinerated miles of riparian zones, stripped erodable hillsides of vegetation, and destroyed forest plantations that had been carefully tended for 50 years.

* Gunbarrel WFU Fire (2008, Shoshone NF, 67,141 acres ) – The Gunbarrel WFU Fire was allowed to burn until it blew up. The fire eventually cost over $11 million to suppress. An estimated 420 residences, 11 commercial buildings, and 149 outbuildings were threatened and 7 buildings destroyed. The highway leading to Yellowstone Park was closed, and numerous residents were evacuated. During the fire USFS officials proudly declared that the MMA (Maximum Manageable Area, or desired incineration zone) was 417,000 acres (652 sq miles) and included public and private properties north and south of Highway 14.

* East Slide Rock Ridge WFU Fire (2008, Humboldt-Toiyabe NF, 54,549 acres) – The ESRR WFU Fire was allowed to burn unchecked until it blew up and threatened the community of Murphy Hot Springs, ID, as well as numerous rural ranches and farms. The fire eventually cost over $9 million to suppress. Riparian zones adjacent to stream habitat for endangered bull trout were incinerated.

* Mill Flat WFU Fire (2009, Dixie NF, 12,607 acres) – The Mill Flat WFU Fire was monitored until it blew up. The fire roared into New Harmony, Utah, forced the evacuation of 170 New Harmony residents, destroyed three homes and damaged eight buildings. The fire eventually cost over $6.5 million to suppress.

* Iron Complex AMR Fire (2008) – Including this fire, 650,000 acres were incinerated in Northern California on the Shasta-Trinity, Six Rivers, and Klamath National Forests. The fires were allowed to burn vast tracts for three months in implementation of “Appropriate Management Response.” Building firelines miles away from the fires and backburning hundreds of thousands of acres of private and public land alike, including habitat for two endangered species, Salmon and Spotted Owl, were deemed “appropriate.” Despite the indirect firefighting techniques, ostensibly intended to save money and protect firefighters, over $400 million was spent on suppression and 12 firefighters were killed.

* Basin/Indians AMR Fire (2008) – 244,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest and private lands were incinerated in 3rd largest fire in California history. Despite indirect AMR methods, more than $120,000,000 was spent on fire suppression, making the Basin/Indians AMR Fire the most expensive fire in California history, and the 2nd most expensive in U.S. history (the Biscuit Fire in Oregon in 2002 cost $150,000,000). In addition, 26 private residences were destroyed.

Numerous other disastrous AMR and WFU fires could be cited. The suppression costs noted above do not begin to account for the cost-plus-loss damages inflicted, which were 10 to 30 times the nominal suppression expenses. Nor do they express the tragic loss of human life.

Both Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and US Forest Service Chief Tidwell have recognized (in public speeches) that an increasing number of catastrophic wildfires are plaguing the Nation, and that a collaborative management approach to restoration and conservation are needed.

The secretive and non-collaborative WFLC has been the cause, not a source of solutions, of our ongoing forest fire crisis.

The Obama Administration has promised transparency, accountability, and tougher restrictions on lobbyists. In his 2009 State of the Union address, President Obama said, “Let me say it as simply as I can – transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

The WFLC in its prior manifestation violated transparency and the rule of law with disastrous consequences.

Please be advised that if you reconvene the WFLC under the previous format and model, you will be doing a great disservice to America.


Mike Dubrasich
Executive Director, the Western Institute for Study of the Environment

cc: Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack
Chief of the US Forest Service Tom Tidwell
Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis
Governor Brian Schweitzer, Chairman, Western Governors Assoc.
Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter, Vice Chairman, Western Governors Assoc.
Ann M. Walker, Forest & Rangeland Health Program Director - WGA
NM State Forester Arthur Blazer, Chair, Western Forestry Leadership Coalition
AK State Forester Chris Maisch, Chair-Elect, Western Forestry Leadership Coalition
Congressman Doc Hastings (WA-04)
Congressman Greg Walden (OR-02)
Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (WY)
Congressman Wally Herger (CA-02)
Congressman Denny Rehberg (MT)
Congressman Norm Dicks (WA-06)
Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva, (AZ-07)
Congressman Peter A. DeFazio, (OR-04)
Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, (SD)
Senator Ron Wyden (OR)
Senator Maria Cantwell (WA)
Senator John Barrasso (WY)
Senator James E. Risch (ID)
Senator Robert Bennett (UT)

1 Mar 2010, 12:39pm
Saving Forests
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Where Have All the Fires Gone?

Stephen J. Pyne. 2000. Where Have All the Fires Gone? Fire Management Today, Vol 60, No. 3, Summer 2000

Full text:

IN the United States, few places know as much fire today as they did a century ago. Fires have fled from regions like the Northeast that formerly relied on them for farming and grazing. They have receded from the Great Plains, once near-annual seas of flame, ebbing and flowing with seasonal tides. They burn in the South at only a fraction of their former grandeur. They have faded from the mountains and mesas, valleys and basins of the West. They are even disappearing from yards and hearths. One can view the dimming panorama of fire in the same way that observers at the close of the 19th century viewed the specter of the vanishing American Indian.

Missing Fires, Missing Peoples

And with some cause: Those missing fires and the missing peoples are linked. The fires that once flushed the myriad landscapes of North America and have faded away are not fires that were kindled by nature and suppressed, but rather fires that people once set and no longer do. In some places, lightning has filled the void. But mostly it has not, and even where lightning has reasserted itself, it has introduced a fire regime that can be quite distinct from those shaped by the torch.

Anthropogenic (human-caused) fire comes with a different seasonal signature and frequency than natural fire. Moreover, it is profoundly interactive. It burns in a context of general landscape meddling by humans—hunting, foraging, planting—in ways that shape both the flame and its effects. So reliant are people on their fire monopoly that what makes fire possible generally makes human societies possible. What prevents one retards the other. Places that escaped anthropogenic fire likely escaped fire altogether.

Pre-Columbian Fire Practices

Did American Indians really burn the land? Of course they did. All peoples do, even those committed to industrial combustion, who disguise their fires in machines. The issue is whether and how those fires affected the landscape. Much of the burning was systematic. Pre-Columbian peoples fired along routes of travel, and they burned patches where flame could help them extract some resource — camas, deer, huckleberries, maize. The outcome was a kind of fire foraging, even fire cultivating, such that strips and patches burned as fuel became available. But much burning resulted from malice, play, war, accident, escapes, and sheer fire littering. The land was peppered with human-inspired embers.

The aboriginal lines and fields of fire inscribed a landscape mosaic (see Lewis and Ferguson (1988) for a different terminology). Some tiles were immense, some tiny. Some experienced fire annually, some on the scale of decades. In most years, fires burned to the edge of the corridor or patch and then stopped, melting away before damp understories, snow, or wet-flushed greenery. But in other years, when the land was groaning with excess fuels and parched by droughts, fires kindled by intent or accident roared deep into the landscape. People move and fire propagates; humanity’s fiery reach far exceeds its grasp of the firestick. Remove those flames and the structure of even seldom-visited forests eventually looks very different.

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25 Feb 2010, 11:13am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Nicholas Dennis: Put National Forests To Work For Community

Note: This guest editorial appeared in the February 14th edition of the Redding Searchlight [here], and at Evergreen Magazine Online [here]

By Nicholas Dennis

Last August, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Seattle to deliver a speech laying out the Obama administration’s goals for conserving the national forests. Vilsack noted that polarization has long dominated the national forest agenda, but that the threats currently facing the forests make it imperative to move toward a shared vision “that conserves our forests and the vital resources important to our survival while wisely respecting the need for a forest economy that creates jobs and vibrant rural communities. Our shared vision begins with restoration. Restoration means managing forest lands first and foremost to protect our water resources, while making our forests more resilient to climate change.” Closer to home, California Regional Forester Randy Moore lists five strategic priorities for managing the state’s national forests on the region’s Web site. Unfortunately, sustaining rural communities isn’t mentioned.

Restoration forestry is not the way national forests were managed before the spotted owl listing. Restoration does not involve clear-cutting, at least not in our mixed-conifer forests. It involves selecting smaller trees from crowded patches in the forest understory, patches that if unmanaged would likely fall prey to insects, diseases or stand-replacing wildfires. Who would oppose forest restoration? Professional appellants, such as the Montana-based Conservation Congress, who make their living filing claims for legal fees have used appeals and litigation to stop or stall several local restoration projects that would otherwise have improved forest health and created dozens of well-paid jobs. These self-serving outsider legal challenges have increased unemployment, decreased revenues for schools and county governments, and undermined economic opportunities in our rural communities.

Last year, a Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman lauded the 700,000-acre addition to the federal wilderness system in California, proclaiming wilderness the “gold standard for forest protection.” Shasta-Trinity and Klamath National forests neighbors will see the irony in this statement after the fires that burned uncontrolled through the forests, including wilderness areas, in three of the past four summers, causing sickening air quality. Protecting forests takes more than Congress redrawing maps. It requires the hard work of restoration by a skilled forest work force.

Rural communities in Shasta, Siskiyou and Trinity counties are not economically vibrant today. The recent recession has only deepened a downward trend that’s continued since federal timber harvests plunged in the early 1990s. Layoffs and social service cutbacks have taken a heavy toll on families. Essential public infrastructure repairs have been postponed indefinitely. Empty storefronts are gradually dominating our main streets. The Siskiyou County district attorney recently opted not to prosecute an alleged child murderer based on fiscal considerations. But bad as things are, wait until Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act funding runs out in three years, as it surely will. Then the pinched budgets for the three counties will have to absorb an additional $18 million hit and our collective belt-tightening will take on a different specter.

All conceptions of forest sustainability give social and economic resources equal priority to environmental resources. The Northwest Forest Plan was intended to restore national forests and rural communities. Yet of all the major commitments in that plan, only one has never come close to being met: the commitment to harvest enough timber to sustain reasonable levels of forest-sector employment. Over the past decade, the Shasta-Trinity and Klamath National forests have sold less than half the timber called for in their land management plans.

The need to manage our national forest assets so as to provide sustainable income sources is as valid today as ever. A 2009 economic study for the National Association of Forest Owners found that the average per-acre contribution to gross domestic product from public forests in California was only 18 percent of the average contribution from privately owned forests. When public forests don’t do their share to create wealth, they become more of a liability and less of an asset for rural communities.

The U.S. Forest Service has been doing its best to get forest management projects approved and implemented, but it’s fighting a losing battle. The ground rules are stacked against it, varying from abuses of the Equal Access to Justice Act, which rewards nearly all litigants, to planning rules addressing sensitive species that are so complex that even in-depth expert assessments can’t pass legal muster. Former Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth aptly described this as “analysis paralysis.”

Two things need to happen to put the national forests to work for our communities. The agency’s planning rules must be changed to make it feasible to get projects through the environmental compliance process. And we must align behind a shared vision for forest restoration and make clear to its opponents that their obstructionism is counterproductive and unwelcome.

Nicholas Dennis is chairman of the Northern California Society of American Foresters. He lives in Weed.

Trick or Treaty?

Tim Findley of Range Magazine has written lovely article about the apocalyptic kleptocrat roots of the global enviro swindle movement, entitled Trick or Treaty?: One-world socialists want to save the planet by spreading the weath and collapsing the economy. Range Magazine has generously placed the article (Sp, 2010 issue) on the Web, free for the downloading [here].

Mr. Findley is the premier rural West journalist today. Whether you agree with his investigative findings or not, you have to enjoy and admire his literary style. His musing may also be read at RangeFire [here], the new blog produced by Range Magazine.

Range Magazine [here] is an award-winning quarterly devoted to issues that threaten the West, its people, lifestyles, lands, and wildlife. It has consistently great articles and great photos. I subscribe. So should you.

The Fire Next Time

By Jim Petersen, Co-founder and Executive Director, the non-profit Evergreen Foundation

Remarks at the Annual Meeting of Intermountain Forestry Association, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, December 10, 2009

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

…[M]y friend Dick Bennett asked me recently… if I knew where we might find a map showing all of the timberland ownerships in northern Idaho — not just an ordinary map, but one that had an overlay that shows at risk federal forest lands — these being lands that pose an insect, disease or fire risk to adjacent private and state timberland owners.

I thought for sure that the Forest Service’s Region 1 office in Missoula would have one, but they don’t.

How strange that the very public agency charged with protecting our region’s great forests from catastrophic fire would not have such a map. …

If we had the map Dick hoped I would find we could illustrate the problem with the very cavalier attitude the federal government seems to be taking toward dying national forests and resulting big fires.

Among other things, we could show the public what will happen when the Day of Reckoning finally arrives — and we have another 1910-scale fire or perhaps something even larger, which I think is entirely possible. …

I have photographs of my grandfather’s first mill. It doesn’t look like much, but it was all that he had, so I can’t begin to comprehend what he must have felt on the afternoon of August 20, 1910. That was the afternoon when all hell broke loose in northern Idaho: Day 1 of the three-day holocaust we still call the Great 1910 Fire.

Much has been written about the 1910 fire, not just in Evergreen Magazine but also in many other publications by other fine writers who were drawn to it as I was — all of us like moths to a flame. …

I won’t bore you with the reasons why the West’s forests are burning in horrific wildfires because you already know the story as well as I do. But if you are one of the fortunate few who saved their copies of The West is Burning Up, our first big 1910 story — portions of which still grace the Idaho Forest Products Commission website — you know that the fire made front page news all across the nation. …

In two terrifying day and nights, more than 3 million acres of timber and grassland in northern Idaho and western Montana was incinerated. It is all very difficult to comprehend until you realize that the Great 1910 Fire was not one big fire when it started. It was several hundred smaller fires that were blown together by the force of 80-100 mile an hour winds that blew in from the Palouse on the afternoon of August 20. It was the wind that transformed all of those little fires into one big blowtorch.

Along the Idaho-Montana border, south of the Lookout Pass ski area, there are still spots were nothing grows. Heat from the fire melted the organic layer in which early succession plants normally take root after a fire. The area is windswept, so it may be hundreds of years before the slowly accumulating soil is again deep enough to support plant life.

People who know that I know a little bit about the 1910 Fire sometimes ask me if I think there is another fire like it in our future. The odds certainly favor it. All we need are a few hundred spot fires - probably set by lightning - and a big wind. The stars in this terrible constellation have been in near-perfect alignment several times in recent years.

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Your Story Is Your Brand

Note: I am busy preparing my comments for the National Forest System land management planning rule DEIS. In the meantime, for your reading pleasure and general edification, I highly recommend:

Your Story Is Your Brand

A speech by Jim Petersen, Co-founder and Executive Director, the non-profit Evergreen Foundation

To the Thirty-third Annual National Indian Timber Symposium, Lewiston, Idaho, April 20-23, 2009

which may be viewed [here].

Selected excerpts:

Scientific forestry has been with us for a very long time. Its principles come to us from the Prussian School of Forestry. They were first taught in our country by Bernard Fernow, who set up the old Division of Forestry, which later became the U.S. Forest Service, and Carl Schrenk, who set up the first demonstration forest at Biltmore, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s fabulous country estate in North Carolina. I believe both Fernow and Schrenk were graduates of the Prussian School of Forestry.

But there are much earlier examples of the successful manipulation of land by people in pursuit of civilization’s most basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter. One of them is referenced in the diary of a soldier who was part of the Desoto Expedition that marched the length of Florida in the 1500s. He wrote about the vast corn fields that he observed - part of the highly advanced maize-based culture Indians established along the eastern seaboard in Lord only knows when.

Archeologists were to later discover remnants of water diversion systems in the Southwest, where some of your ancestors irrigated crops hundreds if not thousands of years ago.

Early white explorers also found you using fire to manage your forests - in many ways a tool every bit as efficient as chain saws and mechanical harvesting systems.

Today, we are again using fire in our forests, and some of us think we invented it. Of course, we did not - you did - and I tend to think its modern-day use is as much for political purposes as it is for reasons have to do with the need to remove excess biomass from forests.

Although you ancestors did not have science in the same way we have science today, they were nonetheless very keen observers of nature - and equally important - they were pursuing a goal or objective, which was to feed, clothe and shelter their number by first manipulating nature. …

Somehow, we need to find a way to build on this idea. What passes for forestry on federal lands today is a travesty. Even so, it’s unlikely that the Congress is simply going to hand you the keys to the national forest system. But they might be interested in setting up some very large demonstration projects that you could manage the way you manage your own forests. What if the Colville tribe had the chance to actually manage say, half the Colville National Forest through the next rotation? What if the same opportunity were given to the White Mountain Apache or the Yakama or any other tribe that owns and manages timberland adjacent to a national forest?

Does this idea have any validity? I’d like to think so, but then I am biased in your favor. Be that as it may, I sincerely believe that a side-by-side comparison of what you are doing on your lands with what the government is doing on federal lands would give the public the opportunity they need to decide once and for all which management program yields the results they prefer: yours or the governments. I can’t help but think they’ll like what you do much better than they like what the government is doing.

As you can readily see, there is a lot to think about in the larger context of what branding is, how brands are created and what branding may bring to tribes that own and manage timberland in these United States. Since 1986, we have made it our mission at Evergreen to tell the forestry story in all of its grandeur - and where forestry converges with cultural, historic and spiritual values I know of no grander story than yours.

Always, always, always remember, your story is your brand, and thus a window on your soul. And always remember that where your story is concerned, we will be with you every step of the way.

13 Feb 2010, 11:34am
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Zybach On Alseya

We have presented some important works of Anthropogenic Ecology, the study of historical human influences on the environment, in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: History of Western Landscapes. Today we are pleased to present another seminal work in AE, The Alseya Valley Prairie Complex, ca. 1850: Native Landscapes in Western GLO Surveys by Dr. Bob Zybach [here].

The Alsea [the common spelling, but Alseya is more euphoniously accurate] Valley lies in the Coast Range between Corvallis in the Willamette Valley and Waldport on the Pacific Ocean. The name of the valley refers to the Alsi, or Alseyah, or Alciyeh Indians that were resident there for 4,000 years or more prior to fatal contact with European diseases. The Alseya prairie complex refers to the culturally-modified landscape tended and cared for by the Alseya people over those millennia.

Today Alsea is a typical Oregon rural community, a small town center with rural homes, farms, fields and pastures, and a thick Douglas-fir forest blanketing the hills. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Alsea Valley has been thus for thousands of years, with the exception of the Douglas-fir thicket.

Over past few dozen centuries, the Alseya Valley has been a bustling community with fields and roads, much like today. The Alsi people were traders and merchants, as well as farmers. Their landscape was modified by anthropogenic fire which served to create and maintain an anthropogenic mosaic, a landscape that served the needs of the residents far better than dense forest.

Evidence indicates that in the 1850s, the time of initial White settlement in the area, the Alseya Valley existed as a series of prairies, brakes, balds, openings, patches and meadows connected by a network of foot trails, horse trails, and canoe routes, and bounded by stands of even-aged forest trees, burns, seedlings and saplings. This condition has been described as “yards, corridors, and mosaics” (Lewis and Ferguson 1999). Lewis and Ferguson initially used the phrase to describe a cultural landscape pattern maintained by Native people who lived in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, but determined that similar management patterns were also used by people in the conifer forests of the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas, northwest California, western Washington, Australia, and Tasmania (Lewis and Ferguson 1999:164-178). These researchers found that in each instance, fire was the tool most commonly used to establish and maintain grasslands and other openings (“fire yards”), bounded by stands of trees and open transportation routes (“fire corridors”). Fire was also the agent that entered unmanaged forested areas, whether by human cause or lightning, and caused burns that regenerated to a shifting mosaic of evenaged stands of seedlings, saplings, and trees (Lewis and Ferguson 1999:164-165).

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9 Feb 2010, 8:41am
Saving Forests
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The Benefits of Forest Restoration

Note: This essay, with references, is now available for downloading as W.I.S.E. White Paper 2010-2 [here]

By Mike Dubrasich

Restoration forestry aims to recover our nation’s forest heritage while also restoring the productive and harmonious relationship between people and forests that existed in historic forests. Restoration forestry is a vision for the future rooted in respect for the past. — Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, Protecting Communities and Saving Forests–Solving the Wildfire Crisis Through Restoration Forestry.

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.

Forest restoration is beneficial to man and nature in numerous ways. The following describes these benefits in general.

1. Heritage and history

To restore means to return to a former or original state. In the case of forests, restoration requires knowledge of and respect for forest history as a starting point. Forest restoration looks to pre-Contact forest conditions as a guideline.

Many (if not most) North American forests were at one time (prior to ~120 years ago) open and park-like, with widely spaced, large, old trees. Forests were conditioned to be that way by frequent, non-stand-replacing, anthropogenic fires. Historical human features included village sites; sacred and ceremonial sites; hunting, gathering, agricultural and proto-agricultural fields; extensive trail networks; prairies and savannas; and other features induced and maintained by ancient human tending through the use of traditional ecological knowledge.

Forest restoration, properly researched, designed, and implemented, restores, protects, and perpetuates many of the heritage features of forested landscapes.

2. Ecological functions including old-growth development

Our old-growth trees arose under much different conditions than today. The forest development pathways of pre-Contact eras were not punctuated by catastrophic stand-replacing fires but instead were the outcomes of frequent, seasonal, light-burning fires in open, park-like forests. Those fires were largely anthropogenic (human-set by the indigenous residents). Because the fires of historic eras were frequent and seasonal, they gently removed fuels without killing all the trees. The widely-spaced trees thus survived repeated burning and grew to very old ages.

As more and more forests have been investigated for actual age distribution, it has been discovered that “old-growth” forests, are not even-aged. Instead, many (if not most) older forests are distinctly multi-cohort. That is, forests often have two or more widely divergent age classes of trees. This fact tends to disprove the “stand replacement fire” theory, at least in regards to older forests. Their development pathways must have been different than that. It is now widely concluded that many (if not most) North American forests were at one time (120 to 500 years ago) open and park-like with widely spaced, large, old trees, and that forests were conditioned to be that way by frequent, anthropogenic fires. That is, the actual historical forest development pathways for many (if not most) of our forests involved frequent, light-burning fires, not stand-replacing fire.

Restoration forestry seeks to restore, maintain, and perpetuate historical forest development pathways that engender old-growth trees.

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3 Feb 2010, 10:03am
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Defining, Identifying, and Protecting Old-Growth Trees

Note: This essay, with references, is now available for downloading as W.I.S.E. White Paper 2010-1 [here]

By Mike Dubrasich, Western Institute for Study of the Environment, Feb. 3, 2010

IN ORDER TO SOLVE our current forest crisis and protect our old-growth, it is useful to understand what old-growth trees are and how to identify them in the field.

At first blush this may seem to be a simple problem, but it is not, and much confusion and debate abounds over the issue. Old-growth trees are “old,” but how old does a tree have to be to qualify as “old-growth”? And what is the difference between an individual old-growth tree and an old-growth stand of trees? Why does it matter?

Some rather sophisticated understanding of forest development is required to get at the root of these questions.

Frequent Fire and Multicohortedness

As we have discussed at SOS Forests numerous times, so-called old growth stands are actually multicohort, meaning separate and distinct age classes of trees coexist in the same stand. Typically the older cohort consists of trees that arose in the frequent fire era, while the younger cohort of trees arose after the frequent fire era ended.

The frequent fire era is more properly termed the anthropogenic fire era — the last 6,000 to 12,000 years during which the indigenous residents managed landscapes with frequent, seasonal, deliberate burning.

That deliberate burning gave rise to an anthropogenic mosaic. The fires set by human beings may have sometimes been accidental, but by and large the fires were set intentionally to modify the vegetation for purposes of human survival. Carefully timed and located burning was used by the First Residents to develop and maintain berry patches, for instance. Some of those “patches” covered thousands or even tens of thousands of acres, so the word “patch” is an understatement in this case.

Deliberate burning also gave rise to oak and conifer savannas that covered millions of acres. Every year (or two or three) the inhabitants set the prairie grasses on fire. The fires were light-burning, but they killed most of the tree seedlings that might have been present.

Across the West, and in other regions of North and South America, trees readily establish themselves. But frequent anthropogenic fire favors grasses, not trees. Historically, only a very few seedlings survived the frequent fires. Perhaps one seedling per acre every 20 to 40 years survived the repeated burning and grew to a fire-resilient size. Over time, 5 to 25 large trees per acre comprised the oak and conifer savannas. Beneath the trees, grasses and other prairie plants dominated the “understory.”

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AGW, the SEC, and the Decline and Fall of Civilization

As predicted [here], on January 27th the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an “interpretive guidance” on climate change. The new rule requires corporations to disclose “business or legal developments relating to the issue of “climate change” [here]. The SEC explained:

… [A] company must consider whether potential legislation — whether that legislation concerns climate change or new licensing requirements — is likely to occur. If so, then under our traditional framework the company must then evaluate the impact it would have on the company’s liquidity, capital resources, or results of operations, and disclose to shareholders when that potential impact will be material. Similarly, a company must disclose the significant risks that it faces, whether those risks are due to increased competition or severe weather. These principles of materiality form the bedrock of our disclosure framework.

This new knife cuts in a variety of ways. One implication is that companies must disclose to shareholders how Cap-and-Trade legislation might impact their bottom lines. Dr. Tom Borelli, Ph.D., director of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project, applauds this aspect [here].

Corporate CEOs who have been actively lobbying for cap-and-trade climate legislation may soon find themselves in an embarrassing position thanks to a new Securities and Exchange Commission regulation, says Tom Borelli, Ph.D., director of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project.

The SEC voted January 27 to provide public companies with interpretive guidance that encourages corporations to disclose the possible business and legal impact of climate change to shareholders. Full disclosure will require companies to assess and describe how cap-and-trade legislation can harm company earnings.

“Fully disclosing the business risk of cap-and-trade will embarrass many CEOs who are lobbying for emissions regulations. Shareholders will discover that these CEOs are pursuing legislation that will negatively impact their company,” said Borelli. …

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Poor Forest Science Leads to Forest Policy Failures

It is a truism that reliance on defective forest science leads to defective forest policies which then fail miserably. The prime ignominious example in Oregon is the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP).

The NWFP was based on outmoded and outdated forest ecology theories that were originally proposed by Frederic Edward Clements (1874-1945) in the early 1900’s. From the Wiki [here]:

Clements suggested that the development of vegetation can be understood as a sequence of stages resembling the development of an individual organism. After a complete or partial disturbance, vegetation grows back (under ideal conditions) towards a mature “climax state,” which describes the vegetation best suited to the local conditions. Though any actual instance of vegetation might follow the ideal sequence towards climax, it can be interpreted in relation to that sequence, as a deviation from it due to non-ideal conditions.

Clements’ climax theory of vegetation dominated plant ecology during the first decades of the twentieth century, though it was criticized significantly by ecologists Henry Gleason and Arthur Tansley early on, and by Robert Whittaker mid-century, and largely fell out of favor. However, significant Clementsian trends in ecology re-emerged towards the end of the twentieth century.

Modern day Clementsians ascribe to “natural succession” that leads to “climax” forests, aka “old-growth.” The modern Clementsian theories have been promulgated by numerous individuals, but championed especially by Dr. Jerry Franklin of the UW School of Forest Resources.

In a recent Guest Opinion [here] in the Eugene Register Guard (co-authored by Dr. Norm Johnson of OSU), Dr. Franklin opined the following:

… Most BLM forests are growing on “moist forest” sites, outside of the interior Rogue River and Umpqua River valleys. These moist forests — typified by Douglas fir and Western hemlock — evolved with infrequent but relatively severe disturbance events, such as intense wildfires and windstorms. These disturbances allowed new generations of trees to become established.

Generally, it is unnecessary to do silvicultural treatments such as thinning to maintain existing old-growth forests on moist forest sites — in fact, such activities generally degrade these forests ecologically. Left alone, these old-growth forests can perpetuate themselves for centuries, barring one of those severe natural disturbances. …

There are many scientific errors in that statement. First, forests do not evolve, species do. Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection applies to species, not aggregations of species. The forests of today are not mutualistic associations of interdependent plant species co-evolved over millions of years; rather they are chance combinations of competitive species filling temporary niches during a temporary break in the Ice Ages [here].

The plant mixes in this interglacial are not the same mixes that occurred in prior interglacials, nor (in most respects) anything like the plant communities of the Miocene, the last time it was as warm (continuously) as today.

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25 Jan 2010, 11:17am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Montana DNRC Advises Against “Fires for Resource Benefit”

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation convened a working group to evaluate “lessons learned” from the 2009 Fire Season. Their conclusions matched those of the Oregon Department of Forestry Perspective on 2009 Federal Wildfire Policy Guidance [here] — let it burn fires use for “resource benefit” don’t benefit resources and should not be allowed:

Given the breadth and scope of the concerns raised by use of resource benefit fire management strategies, many state fire agencies agree that broad application of such strategies –- particularly adjacent to the WUI, commercially viable timber stands, or critical watersheds/wildlife habitat is not advisable.

Which watersheds are not “critical”? None — all the watersheds in Montana are critical and vital to the well-being of society and the environment. The Montana DNRC would just as soon the USFS and BLM bagged the concept of “resource benefit” wildfires. They said it nicely, though:

Here are some recommendations that merit additional discussions by the work group:

1. The USFS should limit the use of resource benefit fire strategies to those areas where priority areas identified in local CWPPs have been treated either through mechanical means and/or prescribed fire.

2. Expanded use of resource benefit fire management strategies may transfer a significant amount of financial and safety risk to state and local governments. Consequently, representatives from these entities should be informed well before the fire season and directly involved with any decisions to expand use of this tool.

In other words, Let It Burn wildfires (LIBWF’s) should only be undertaken where the watershed has been prepared to receive the wildfire via “mechanical means and/or prescribed fire” — the techniques of restoration forestry. Hopefully, the mechanical means and prescribed fires are not ends in and of themselves, but rather treatments carried out under a framework of scientific restoration to achieve multiple resource goals based on a collaboratively agreed upon desired future condition.

Simply put, first we agree on the multiple resource goals, then we apply active management to establish those desired conditions, and then and only then do we allow wildfires to burn through (only) the treated areas.

Fire can be a useful tool to achieve resource goals, but it is a tool, not a weapon. You don’t throw hammers and nails at the boards — you use the hammers and nails in a thoughtful and expert way to build the desired structure.

If our land management agencies allow LIBWF’s to run willy-nilly wherever and whenever such wildfires accidentally erupt, then we might as well use our national forests as bombing ranges — the real world impacts are very similar.

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23 Jan 2010, 1:32pm
Saving Forests
by admin
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Some California Forest Statistics

The following comes from the Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment [here]

Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment, Inc., (TuCARE) was established to enlighten and advise the public on conservation and the wise use of natural resources.

TuCARE believes in the multiple-use of the many natural resources on our public lands. … TuCARE is committed to ensuring the long-term viability of all of our natural resources through an ecosystem management approach toward the stewardship of our public lands. Man must play an active role to ensure our forests are not destroyed by wildfires and that our resources are available for all to use and enjoy. …

TuCARE advocates an increased awareness in schools and communities, believing a more informed public will make better decisions regarding how natural resources are respected, utilized, and for the care they receive. …

TuCARE also publishes a quarterly newsletter updating the membership on issues of concern as well as TuCARE activities. Visit the news page on the web for excerpts from the newsletter and be sure to visit the membership page and become a TuCARE member to become active in the conservation and wise use of our natural resources.

Statistical Data on Region 5 Forests

from the TuCARE website, January 19, 2010 [here]

Percent of target log-volume goal sold by USDA Forest Service, Stanislaus National Forest, 2008… 32 %

Percent of target log-volume goal sold by USDA Forest Service, Eldorado National Forest, 2008… 74 %

Percent of target log-volume goal achieved by USDA Forest Service, statewide 2008… 54 %

Average annual log-volume delivered from Stanislaus National Forest, 1980-1990… 132 mmbf

Average annual log-volume delivered from Stanislaus National Forest, 1998 – 2008… 17 mmbf

Log-volume delivered from Stanislaus National Forest, 2008… 12 mmbf

Average annual log-volume delivered from Eldorado National Forest, 1980-1990… 147 mmbf

Average annual log-volume delivered from Eldorado National Forest, 1998 – 2008… 45 mmbf

Log-volume delivered from Eldorado National Forest, 2008… 24 mmbf

Percent of planned forest thinning blocked due to litigation, Stanislaus National Forest, 2008… 41%

Percent of annual Forest Service wood volume blocked by litigation, statewide… 33 %

Approximate percent of forest thinning in the Sierra Nevada that would be blocked by the most recent lawsuit against the USDA Forest Service… 95 %

Estimated percent of USDA Forest Service resources spent on planning, administrative appeals or litigation… 40 %

Volume of wood on California’s national forestlands currently blocked by litigation… 400 mmbf

Number of average-size sawmills that could operate for a year on 400 mmbf… 5 sawmills

Percentage of wood used in California that is imported… 75 %

Percent decrease in timber harvest on federal lands since 1990… 90 %

Percent of California sawmills closed since 1990… 70 %

Potential direct jobs created by returning harvest to half of 1990 levels… 3,000 jobs

Tree mortality, Stanislaus National Forest, 2008… 38 %

Increase in acres burned by severe wildfire in California in 2007 and 2008 respectively, over previous five-year average… 300 % and 315 %

Cost per acre to taxpayers to reduce fuel loads in the Sierra Nevada, with local sawmills… $500-$2,500

Cost per acre to taxpayers to reduce fuel loads in the Sierra Nevada, without local sawmills… $1,000-$5,000

Potential cost per acre to reduce fuel loads through public-private partnerships… $0

Acres of productive national forestland at serious risk of catastrophic wildfire… 7,000,000 acres

Percent reduction possible, in severe wildfire through increased forest management… 50-60 %

Taxpayer costs to fight wildfire, 2008… $1.4 billion

Data sources: U.S. Forest Service, Calif. Dept of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Board of Equalization or analysis of Forest Service data by California Forestry Association

19 Jan 2010, 3:19pm
Saving Forests
by admin
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Indian Forestry: Imagine the Possibilities

Note: the following essay was first posted at Evergreen Magazine Online [here]. For more on Indian Forestry see special issues of Evergreen Magazine: “Forestry in Indian Country - Progress and Promise” was published in June 1998 [here] and “Forestry in Indian Country - Models of Sustainability for our National Forests” was published in the winter of 2005-2006 [here].

Evergreen Foundation managing director, Jim Petersen, has also twice spoken publicly in support of Indian forestry: “Is it Time to Give our Federal Forests Back to the Indians,” in June of 2007 [here] and “Gifford Pinchot is Rolling Over in His Grave,” in March 2008 [here]

About the authors: Jim Erickson was associated with the Colville Reservation’s tribal forestry program for 25 years and served as its director for several years before starting his own consulting business. Gary Morishima has been a technical advisor to the Quinault Nation for more than 30 years. He holds a Ph.D. in Quantitative Science and Environmental Management and is a expert in computer simulation modeling.

Indian Forestry: Imagine the Possibilities

by Jim Erickson and Gary Morishima, Evergreen Magazine, 2010-01-14 [here]

What do you really know about Indian forestry and the long tradition of resource management? Contrary to the beliefs of some, the landscape that Columbus encountered when he glimpsed the Americas was not a vast wilderness untouched by the hand of man. The park-like forests of Ponderosa Pine, the grasslands, prairies and savannas, and groves of acorns and date palms were all produced by the stewardship of the tribes that had lived on the land for thousands of years. Tribes did not just gather the fruits of the land, they managed the resources relying on lessons learned over the generations and passed on through practice, tradition, and stories of people, places, and events.

Indian forests are found in many diverse ecotypes, from the black spruce forests of Alaska, to coastal rainforests in the Pacific Northwest, to the Ponderosa Pine forests and woodlands of the intermountain region, to the hardwoods of the lake states. Like our forests, our cultures and traditions are diverse, developed over generations of relying on the gifts of the land to meet daily needs for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter. We survived on this land for millennia by relying on the wisdom, knowledge, and native science gleaned from years of observation, experience, and interpretation. Our strength lies in our differences, our resilience, our adaptability, and in our capacity to live within limits sustainable by available resources. While we depend heavily on commodity production from our forests, like state forests, Indian forests are managed for multiple purposes, providing timber, firewood, foods, medicines, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and sacred places where we worship and find spiritual renewal.

We respect our resources by managing them. We understand that we cannot fulfill our stewardship obligations if we abandon our resources to neglect or allow ourselves to become paralyzed by inaction or stalemate. We live with the consequences of our decisions every day in innumerable and unimaginable ways. And we understand that our duty for resource stewardship extends beyond today to the generations yet unborn.

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13 Jan 2010, 7:12pm
Saving Forests
by admin

Biochar Is a Sidetrack

I attended an interesting mini-conference on “biomass” yesterday. All the speakers were engaging. One of the topics discussed was biochar, charcoal incorporated into soils.

Charcoal has been identified as an important soil constituent in anthropogenic enriched dark soil (Amazonian dark earths or terra preta) found throughout the Amazon Basin.

Biochar is a valuable soil amendment in heavily leached soils because carbon binds to and stores the metallic oxide nutrients essential to plant growth. The addition of charcoal as well as organic detritus and “night soil” to Amazonian lateritic soils helped to create and sustain terra preta over centuries.

But singular additions of biochar to soils do not have much effect, even to very poor and weathered soils [here]. Incorporating compost and wood ash is more beneficial. That was the strategy of the ancient indigenes who created terra preta. Charcoal was not necessarily the key ingredient. Further, biochar is a very expensive soil amendment [here]. It is far cheaper and more effective (at increasing soil productivity) to apply manure straight, rather than to cook the manure in ovens first.

Nor is biochar the solution to global warming. The globe is not warming, CO2 is not a significant driver of global temperatures, and biochar is not made from fossil fuels. Biochar is a part of the natural, organic, carbon cycle. There will never be enough man-made biochar produced to make a detectable difference in atmospheric CO2.

Terra preta has other charms, though. The most significant finding from terra preta research is the reconstruction of human history. Historical human influences over millennia have dramatically altered the landscapes and vegetation in Amazonia and on every continent save Antarctica.

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