13 Sep 2009, 10:59am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
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Who Needs Science When the Gods Are Managing Your Forests?

Fire Gods and Federal Policy, an essay by Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, Ph.D. published in American Forests in 1989, was controversial then and remains so. It is also an honest and accurate assessment of the a-scientific, mythology-based management philosophy of the National Park Service, and is as true today as it was in 1989.

The full text of Thomas M. Bonnicksen. 1989. Fire Gods and Federal Policy. American Forests 95(7 & 8): 14-16, 66-68 is now posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

Some excerpts:

… The wildfires that swept through Yellowstone and surrounding wilderness areas during the summer of 1988 were not a natural event. Unlike the eruption of Mount St. Helens (which could not be controlled) the number, size and destructiveness of the Yellowstone wildfires could have been substantially reduced. The changes that took place in the vegetation mosaic and fuels in Yellowstone during nearly a century of fire suppression were preventable and reversible. The Park Service was aware of the risks of letting lightning fires burn, especially during a drought. … Thus the Yellowstone wildfires were caused by a combination of decades of neglect and incredibly poor judgment. …

[I]t is likely that the wildfires would not have reached the mammoth size of 1.4 million acres if only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars used to fight the Yellowstone wildfires had been spent on scientific management that utilized prescribed burning, especially if vigorous suppression efforts had been undertaken by the Park Service when each fire began.

The Yellowstone wildfires were only the symptom of a far more serious problem. That problem is the profound deterioration in vegetation and wildlife that is taking place throughout the national park and wilderness systems because of the lack of scientific management. The widespread damage caused by the Yellowstone wildfires, especially the destruction of the historic vegetation mosaic and its replacement with a monoculture of lodgepole pine, is a conspicuous example of deterioration. …

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Crater Lake National Park, no effort is being made by the Park Service to adjust burning prescriptions even though the fires are killing hundreds of ancient ponderosa and sugar pine trees. Dr. Edward C. Stone, from the University of California-Berkeley, and I warned the Park Service twelve years ago that these fires were killing unusually large numbers of large trees. We recommended that action be taken to reduce the mortality, but the warning was ignored. A study conducted by the Forest Service last summer proved that we were correct. The study showed that burning heavy litter that accumulated during the past century due to fire suppression is producing lethal temperatures deep within the soil that are cooking the tree roots. Numerous other examples could be cited, but the main point is that irreplaceable resources are deteriorating over millions of acres of land because the Park Service rejects scientific management. …

The deterioration of precious park and wilderness resources can be traced to an anti-scientific management philosophy in the Park Service, and to a lesser extent in the Forest Service, that is known as “letting nature take its course.” This philosophy embodies the view that national park and wilderness areas are quasi-religious sanctuaries where “Mother Nature” resides and rules. People may enter these sanctuaries to see the forces of nature at work but they must not interfere with those forces. Adherents to this philosophy naively assume, without a shred of scientific evidence, that “Mother Nature” (i.e., lightning fires) will restore an undefined state of “naturalness” to park and wilderness areas. …

The philosophy of “letting nature take its course” has turned the clock back thousands of years to a time when people placed their fate in the hands of mythical gods. You may think that this is silly, and it is, but it is also true. Decades of research have brought us to the point where scientific management is feasible, yet today the Park Service is relying instead on “Mother Nature” or God. Park and wilderness mangers no longer need a degree in science to manage resources, they need a degree in mythology. In the future, managing a park or wilderness will only require that rangers stand on mountaintops making incantations to the Greek god Zeus asking him to send thunderbolts to earth and fashion a new forest with fire. Who needs science when you believe that the gods are managing your forest?

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9 Sep 2009, 10:29pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Wakimoto Discourses On Anthropogenic Fire

Dr. Ronald H. Wakimoto is Professor of Forestry at The University of Montana, Missoula. He received his B.S. in Forestry and M.S. and Ph.D. in Wildland Resource Science from the University of California at Berkeley, studying under the legendary Harold Biswell.

Dr. Harold “Doc” Biswell was a pioneering advocate for the study of the ecological role of fire, for the use of prescribed fire in land management, and for fuels management. Dr. Biswell passed in 1992. Ron Wakimoto was one his last graduate students (I believe Dr. Biswell was already emeritus at that time). Ron’s Ph.D. dissertation (Wakimoto, R. H. 1978. Responses of southern California brushland vegetation to fuel modification. UC Berkeley, 278 p.) is well known and respected in forestry circles. Both men advocated prescribed burning and fuels management in chaparral and other vegetation types to mitigate and ameliorate the hazards of severe and catastrophic fire.

I was an undergrad at Berkeley in the early 70’s and had the occasion to meet and talk with both Ron and Harold. I have studied their research papers in the intervening years. My feeling is that a great many extreme and tragic fires could have been avoided if federal, state, and county officials and land management agencies had taken their advice. I still feel that way, in that future tragedies could be avoided if we listened to these great forest scientists and took better care of our landscapes.

Dr. Wakimoto has been at The University of Montana since 1982 teaching and conducting research in wildland fire management. He teaches academic courses in wildland fire management, fuel management and fire ecology. Dr. Wakimoto currently conducts research on the social acceptability of fuel management treatments, smoke quality and quantity from smoldering combustion, fire fighter safety, crown fire spread and the fire ecology of the Northern Mixed Prairie.

Yesterday Forest Service retirees meeting in Missoula were privileged to receive a discourse from Dr. Wakimoto on anthropogenic fire. I wasn’t there (sadly) but received this report over the ether:

Forest Service reunion in Missoula explores myths, realities of wildfires

By KIM BRIGGEMAN of the Missoulian, September 9, 2009 [here]

For most of his life, Ed Heilman has been thinking about wildfires and what to do about them.

The Missoula man retired from the U.S. Forest Service after 35 years as director of fire management in the Northern Region.

So Heilman listened with skepticism to what University of Montana professor Ron Wakimoto had to say Tuesday about Native Americans and their historic use of fire.

Then the Missoula man chuckled at himself.

“He changed my mind today,” he said of Wakimoto. “And that doesn’t come easy, by the way.”

Wakimoto is part of a heavyweight lineup of speakers and panelists at the 2009 Forest Service Reunion at the Hilton Garden Inn, which started Monday and runs through Friday morning.

His topic was billed “Fire in the Forest: Myths and Realities” and among the myths he dispelled was the notion voiced in 1959 by Raymond Clar of the California Division of Forestry.

Clar wrote that it was a “fantastic notion” that Indians systematically used fires to improve the forest.

Wakimoto said there has been “a tremendous amount of research” in the past 50 years to prove they did.

They set fires to clear trees to improve hunting prospects, to enhance the production of berries and medicinal plants, to improve grazing lands for their horses. They did it to clear lodgepole pine blowdown, to clear space for campsites and to remove cover that enemies could use to sneak up on them.

While white settlers viewed the land they claimed as wilderness, it actually bore extensive marks of management by fire over the centuries. As early as the 1750s, Wakimoto said, New York and other colonies were passing laws to outlaw Native Americans’ use of fire.

“Think about it. There was that much fire,” he said.

Heilman read the book “California Government and Forestry” in which Clar made his assertions soon after it was published, and he still has a copy.

“That was kind of the start of my foundation, you might say,” he said. “In all these years I believed it. I thought the Indians set plenty of fires, whether accidental or to get even with somebody. But ecology? Come on now.

“It turns out there was a deliberate pattern to it. And I don’t doubt Ron. I would take his word over Clar’s.”

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Why Spend Money On Fire Suppression?

Today yet another Government Accounting Office report on fire suppression costs was issued. It is Wildland Fire Management: Federal Agencies Have Taken Important Steps Forward, but Additional, Strategic Action Is Needed to Capitalize on Those Steps GAO-09-877 (49 pages; 1.33 MB) [here].

It the fiftieth or so such report from the GAO on that topic since 1999. Like the others, it is useless.

GAO-09-877 decries all the funds spent on firefighting. They are just too much, according to author Robin Navarro, Director, Natural Resources and Environment, GAO.

Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, federal agency officials,and others have expressed concern about mounting federal wildland fire expenditures. Federal appropriations to the Forest Service and the Interior agencies to prepare for and respond to wildland fires, including appropriations for reducing fuels, have more than doubled, from an average of $1.2 billion from fiscal years 1996 through 2000 to an average of $2.9 billion from fiscal years 2001 through 2007. Adjusting for inflation, the average annual appropriations to the agencies for these periods increased from $1.5 billion to $3.1 billion (in 2007 dollars).

The report then blathers on about this funding problem and offers less than the usual non-solutions. USFS Chief Tom Tidwell acknowledges the report in an appended letter, stating:

The Forest Service generally agrees with GAO’s findings and confirms the validity of this draft report, which contained no recommendations for further actions.

Now, that’s a non-responsive response if there ever was one, but who can blame him? Trading blather is what bureaucrats do.

Nowhere in this GAO report, or in any of the preceding 50, is a fundamental question asked: Why spend any money on fire suppression at all?

That question is a very worthy one, and pertains, and ought to be considered when contemplating this issue. After all, the feds are not the only governmental body to fund firefighting. Every state has a fire suppression budget, as do all the counties and cities in the USA. You can’t go anywhere in this country, or to most other countries on Earth, and not find a fire department.

There must be some reason for that. Every government, large and small, in democracies and dictatorships, funds fire suppression. It’s a universal function of government. Every government, benevolent or tyrannical, envisages some need for firefighting. Every government allocates funds for that purpose, and must make some sort of analysis as to how much spending is appropriate.

That’s the unaddressed question behind all the blather in the GAO report. How much funding for fire suppression is appropriate?

And that begs the fundamental question: Why spend anything at all to put out fires?

In economic terms, the question is better stated in technical language: What is the economic utility of fire suppression?

It’s a heck of a question, and one that ought to be asked to the GAO, and to every Congressperson, and to Chief Tom Tidwell and the USFS, and to every government official, large or small, who oversees and/or makes allocation decisions about money spent on firefighting.

There is an answer, a valid, rational, and logical one, and it is obvious if you think about it.

The economic utility of fire suppression funding is the reduction in potential damages caused by fires.

Fires damage stuff. Homes are valuable commodities, as are the possessions within homes, and fires can burn homes to cinders, destroying all that valuable stuff. It is cheaper and better to spent a few dollars on putting the fire out than on letting it burn and doing many times more dollars worth of destruction.

Fires can kill people, and people are also valuable, at least to themselves and sometimes to their families and friends. It is better to extinguish a fire before it harms human lives. Animals are valuable too, and societies large and small see utility in putting out the fire before the pets and livestock succumb.

Even tyrannical dictators value their stuff, the opulent palaces, garages full of limousines, etc. Your average tyrannical dictator had to go to some effort to murder his way to the top, and he is generally less than enthusiastic about having his ill-gotten gains combusted when he gets there. So even murderous thugs see a need for a competent, well-equipped fire department close by the palace grounds.

The thinking worldwide is to spend some amount on fire suppression so that a greater amount of damages are prevented.

One way to phrase this thinking, in technical economic language, is that the economic utility of fire suppression is to minimize the cost-plus-loss from fires.

That language is not difficult to understand. The cost is the fire suppression expense, and the losses are the damages that fires inflict. The total of those is cost-plus-loss, and the idea is to make the total as small as possible.

It is a balancing act. If the fire suppression outlays are too small, the damages mount up, and the total cost-plus-loss can be huge. If the fire suppression outlays are profligate, there may be few damages, but the total sum can still be large. The trick is to find the most efficient amount of suppression that achieves the least amount of damages so that the total cost-plus-loss is as small as possible.

That’s the REAL calculation that governments face and must solve. Unfortunately, the GAO is off on some sidetrack and does not even acknowledge fire damages, let alone express the need to minimize them. They never heard of cost-plus-loss. Their only desire is to reduce suppression expenses. But that’s not the goal of fire suppression funding. The goal is to minimize cost-plus-loss. The GAO doesn’t get it, has never got it, and probably never will get it, sad to say.

It is not clear whether Congress gets it, or the USFS, or anybody except maybe insurance companies, economists, accountants, homeowners, foresters, the peasantry, and assorted riffraff like that.

In order to educate and inform the otherwise ignorant hoi polloi and ruling elites on this very important concept, some folks put together the Wildland Fire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project and wrote a paper about cost-plus-loss [here].

We (I was one of the authors) pointed out that the losses (damages) from wildfires are anywhere from 20 to 50 times greater than the costs (fire suppression expenses). Therefore, when contemplating fire suppression funding, it would behoove the ruling elites to consider the losses, to tally or otherwise estimate them, in order to arrive at the efficient funding amount. If total cost-plus-loss is not considered, then the goal of fire suppression funding cannot be achieved, unless by accident, which is unlikely.

However, to date the GAO has not glommed onto the concept, and neither has the Forest Service or Congress. Our ruling elites continue to skip down the garden path in blissful ignorance about what it is they supposed to doing and why.

Hence the question posed in the title of this essay. You know the answer to that question now. Wouldn’t it be revealing and possibly helpful in some respect to ask your Congressperson the question?

Try it and find out if they know the answer. And if they don’t know, as is likely, please inform them. You have only yourself and your stuff and your family and your town, forests, watersheds, neighbors, landscapes, nation, and planet to save.

8 Sep 2009, 1:00pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Is it Time to Give Our Federal Forests Back to the Indians?

James D. Petersen, Executive Director of The Evergreen Foundation [here] and one of the most knowledgeable, indefatigable, literate, and leading voices for responsible forest stewardship ever, gave a wonderful speech two years ago at Thirty-first Annual National Indian Timber Symposium.

His topic was a philosophical discussion of the decline in federal forest management, and whether it might be the best thing to simply give our national forests back to their original owners, Native Americans. As far fetched as that idea is, it makes sense in the following ways:

* Federal forest management has collapsed into megafire and devastation. Our forests, watersheds, wildlife habitat, rivers and streams, and rural communities have suffered enormously from abandonment of stewardship by ignorant political forces far from the national forest locales.

* Tribal forests, on the other hand, have experienced a renaissance of stewardship. Both traditional and modern techniques are used, and the forests are managed by the residents, who have the most to gain, or lose, by their actions.

* Putting federal forests back into local control would protect and enhance a variety of forest values that are currently in precipitous decline.

* Native American tribes are well-organized and staffed with professionals these days, and so they could step in immediately to correct the glaring deficiencies engendered by absentee, incompetent, centralized government bureaucracies.

There is little likelihood of such an ownership conversion in the near future, but it’s something to think about — if for no other reason than to spur the federal bureaucrats and politicians into a rude awakening.

The entire Petersen speech is [here]. Some excerpts follow:

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Indian Forestry vs. Federal Forestry

Newly posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Science [here] is Two Forests Under The Big Sky: Tribal V. Federal Management, PERC Policy Series No. 45, by Alison Berry, a research fellow with the Property and Environment Research Center [here].

Two Forests Under the Big Sky compares the management styles on adjacent forest ownerships in western Montana - the first being that of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the second being the Lolo National Forest.

Some reviewer comments:

We have long been enthusiastic supporters of tribal forestry and less than enthusiastic observers of what is wrong with current federal forest management policy. Two Forests Under the Big Sky strikes deep at the heart of everything that is wrong with the way our national forests are being managed today—and everything that is right about the way Indians manage their forests. I’ve said for years that it is time for America to give its federal forests back to the tribes from whom these once beautiful lands were taken more than a century ago. Alison Berry’s essay only adds to my belief. — Jim Peterson, Evergreen Foundation [here].

Why is it that neighboring forests of similar size and makeup produce different economic and environmental outputs? In this essay, Alison Berry again demonstrates PERC’s unique ability to analyze how different governance structures, and their inherent incentive systems, impact the ability of land managers to achieve their objectives. The comparison Berry provides between federal and tribal forest management is a clever way to demonstrate what works, what doesn’t, and why. — Doug Crandall, Director, Legislative Affairs, USDA Forest Service

The Lolo National Forest (LNF) and the forests of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) are comparable in area, species composition, and ecological factors. The LNF is larger and has a larger timber sale program, but the CSKT actually earns a positive return from timber sales while the LNF loses money.

As one consequence, the CSKT has an effective conservation program and their forests provide “a range of products and amenities including not only timber, but grazing, recreational opportunities, wilderness areas, and habitat for fish and wildlife such as grizzly bears and Canada lynx.” The CSKT has managed for and increased the populations of peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans, northern leopard frogs, and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.

In contrast, the LNF is beset by widespread beetle infestations and megafires. The ecosystems there are in collapse, including populations of the aforementioned wildlife.

Ms. Berry posits some explanations for these differences:

Since the CSKT rely on timber revenues to support tribal operations, they have a vested interest in the continuing vitality of their natural resources. Tribal forest manager Jim Durglo comments, “Our forest is a vital part of everyday tribal life. Timber production, non-timber forest products, and grazing provide jobs and income for tribal members and enhance the economic life of surrounding communities” (Azure 2005). The tribes stand to benefit from responsible forest stewardship — or bear the burden of mismanagement.

In contrast, on the Lolo, there is little connection between performance and reward. Management decisions are often dictated by politics rather than local conditions. National forests receive funding from Congressional appropriations apparently regardless of timber revenues or ecological concerns. Revenues from forest operations are sent to the general treasury. The disconnect between budget inputs and revenues generated means there is scant incentive to operate efficiently, or to manage the forest for future productivity. Moreover, there is no direct constituency for cost-effective national forest management comparable to the tribal members on the reservation. …

She also notes that

Some problems stem from a rash of environmental litigation on the Lolo National Forest, which diverts time and resources from on-the-ground management (USDA Forest Service 2002b, 2002c). Between 1998 and 2005, nineteen cases were filed against the Lolo (USDA Forest Service 2007a). In 2007, more than 21 million board feet were held up in appeals and litigation (Backus 2007) — about the equivalent of an average year’s harvest for the forest since 2000 (USDA Forest Service 2008a).

In contrast, tribal forest management is rarely challenged in court, so managers are more able to address environmental concerns in a timely fashion (Skinner 2005–2006). As Jim Peterson, editor of Evergreen Magazine said, “The tribes do a lot of things I wish we were doing on our federal forest lands if we weren’t all knotted up in litigation” (quoted in Hagengruber 2004). Only one timber sale has been appealed on the Flathead Reservation.

In the 1980s, Friends of the Wild Swan brought suit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The case was dropped, however, when the court required Friends of the Wild Swan to post a bond to process the appeal. “If they lost the appeal, they would lose the bond” (Jim Durglo, quoted in Skinner 2005–2006).

The CSKT is managed by and for the resident owners. The LNF is managed by an absentee government, politicized confusion, and enviro lawsuits. The former has a vibrant, conservation-minded stewardship program and healthy ecosystems. The latter is in ecological disarray and prone to megafire, insect infestations, and disaster.

Can we afford to allow our public forests to be the play toys of lawyers? Are we content to sit back and watch our priceless heritage forests being destroyed by nincompoops? Or should we learn a lesson from the First Residents and tend our lands with care and respect?

The Liberal Stewardship Agenda Is Deliberate Failure

by bear bait

I am NOT a scientist. No credentials at all. But I can smell a smear job a mile away. The attacks on Bonnicksen are murders of character, murders of the messenger.

The first issue in fire in these United States is that since the coming of Europeans to this land, fires have been extinguished by accident or intent. The accident was the pandemics that were brought here, extinguishing the native population of humans who molded the landscape with set fire. The Euro-thought of metes and bounds, the descriptive and prescriptive ownership of land, its uses, and the concept of trespass, changed fire regimes if only because fire destroyed what were valuable assets in the mind’s eye of the new inhabitants. Fire as a landscape management tool used by man on this landscape for more than 10,000 years has been a victim of endemic racism that floated across the Atlantic on boats. It is still with us. PhD scholars still cannot fathom that man created the forests, shaped them, and tended the wild, not unlike the fields and forests of Europe. Can’t and won’t. Endemic Old Country racism won’t let them.

The huge disconnect by True Believers of the Gore Global Warming scenario (it is Sept 7, 62 degrees outside… snow forecast for the mountains) from the impacts of natural air inputs from earth sciences like wildland fire, volcanoes, organic decomposition, wind and currents working on the ocean biology, cannot be dismissed. The True Believers stated intent to make man the fall guy for every perceived change in local and global climate, is not science, nor does it serve the betterment of mankind. Academic science needs work. Boy oh howdy, does global warming serve that end.

We now have a self-appointed elite cadre of politically oriented humans, all packing personal baggage of some sort about their findings and educations, determined to demean and extinguish any and all “science” that does not meet their criteria of political (read financial) need at this time in this world. How we got here is by liberal educations at the University, where I saw recent numbers that over 95% of faculty identified themselves as liberals and supporting of the left, liberal agenda. It has become apparent, that earth science is no more than political science in drag and printed in the ever diminishing dead tree press.

Science today is about money, and money comes from government. Witness the Newport, Oregon landing of the West Coast hub for NOAA marine activities. Being billed as a job creator, it is nothing more than a move by a government agency to new offices, all paid for by tax monies. The new jobs are nothing more than a redistribution of wealth to a new area, by government. But the political take is still that of accomplishment, not unlike an eagle stealing a fish from an osprey, by local government. Science is not the reason for the move. Nor easier access to the North Pacific, since many safer, better developed, and more centrally located ports exist (like Seattle). It was a payoff to Lubchenco’s home base, to feather her nest after her stint as NOAA director is over.

When ten thousand or more years of directed, planned, and intentional land management, carried out by the burning brand in hand, is extinguished by racist invaders, you do know that there had to be a change in vegetation and the expression of ecosystems. New managers with a new agenda, and 500 years later the new agenda has been exposed as a failure. The blame has been worded as the failure of the land management agencies to allow fires to burn. Not a word about setting fires at provident times of the years to gain management goals.

The only way to regain that past management, and the forests defined by that activity, is to have a proactive plan in place and carry it out. That we now have to do it with very restrictive job descriptions, planning sessions, with a human element grossly lacking in experience and direction, all now politically determined, is an indication that help is not on the way, and change is not on the way, and rhetoric is all that the citizenry might expect from our leaders in the present situation. Heralds for the present defective condition are all that we hear from on high. And there is a huge, well funded, non-profit machine in place to not change how we do things.

The solution is in the people. Leadership (by elected and appointed elites) has failed us. In time, I would hope concerned laymen might avail themselves to the “one pager” fire assessment program from the creators of the “Wildland Fire Economics Project” (did I get that name right?) to begin a process of assembling a record of fire impacts on the local community, and wherever else any one fire might have changed the local landscape, watersheds, habitats, and qualities.

The solutions won’t come from Academe. Academics are used by liberals to bolster their idea of the world, not from a science platform but from an idealist platform. They are bought and paid for by interests who use them to demean the rigor of science, employing the tactics of personal attack. Dueling academics are producing little good and lots of bad press.

A grassroots movement to record and document definitive, empirical wildland fire outcomes, in terms of dollars, is the best hope to change how we now do business in this climate of racist, dollar driven attacks on common sense from the liberal fire apologists.

When I think about how to change the landscape to one that humanity can live with, I often wonder what would happen if public lands were still public but managed by Native Americans in the old ways. At the very least, a pilot project in that vein on a defined area of magnitude might be worthwhile. Better that than this benign neglect scheme that is nothing more than serial conflagrations to no productive end.

Choking Smoke from LA Fires Denied By Enviro Wackos

W.I.S.E. announced the web publication of Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen’s Impacts of California Wildfires on Climate and Forests: A Study of Seven Years of Wildfires (2001-2007), FCEM Report No. 3 last month [here].

The Executive Summary and link to the full text are now posted at the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here]. The Forest Carbon And Emissions Model Reports No. 1 and 2 are [here].

Last week the SoCal media reported on FCEM Report No. 3:

Study: Greenhouse gases from wildfires damaging

By BEN GOAD, Riverside Press-Enterprise, September 3, 2009 [here]

Wildfires raging across California have belched out hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases since the beginning of the century, significantly adding to the problem of global warming, a new study has concluded.

State and federal officials have speculated for years that increasingly long and severe fire seasons can be partly attributed to the effects of climate change.

But the study, released by forest expert and author Thomas Bonnicksen, is novel in that it suggests the trend isn’t a product of global warming — it’s causing it. The assertions have met with a mixture of interest and skepticism.

Between 2001 and 2007, fires in California torched about 4 million acres and spewed 277 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Bonnicksen found.

That’s the equivalent of running all of California’s 14 million cars for about 3 1/2 years, according to the study.

“If we really are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first place to look is to reduce the severity and extent of wildfires,” Bonnicksen said Thursday. “We could make a greater impact in the short run than we could ever make by converting to hybrid vehicles.”

Much of the carbon dioxide emitted during fires is later absorbed back into the vegetation as it grows back. But Bonnicksen contends that fires destroy more than 100,000 acres of forest in California every year, leaving less vegetation to absorb the growing amounts of pollutants.

Bonnicksen’s calculations, he said, don’t involve any new science, but rather reflect a combination of previously published and accepted formulas relating to the density and types of vegetation in forests, the amount of carbon they store and the wildfires that have torn through the state in recent years.

He proposes a far more aggressive federal policy of thinning the nation’s forests, and harvesting the wood for a wide variety of products. He also favors more replanting programs after fires, since dead, decaying trees also emit greenhouse gases long after the smoke has cleared.

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Acornistas Sue for Holocaust

Yep, while megafires rage across the West, the Sierra Club is suing the USFS, again, to halt another forest restoration project.

Groups Fight Forest Thinning Project

By Sonya Angelica Diehn, September 3, 2009 [here]

Eugene, Oregon (CN) - Environmentalists sued the U.S. Forest Service over its thinning plan for Umatilla National Forest in Oregon, which they say will fail to serve its purpose and hurt adjacent roadless areas.

The League of Wilderness Defenders-Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and the Sierra Club say the Wildcat Fuels Reduction and Vegetation Management Project was approved after a deficient environmental assessment.

The project is intended to reduce timber losses from insect infestation and restore historic forest conditions, among other purposes, the lawsuit states.

But instead of benefiting the forest, the plan will cut old-growth trees and build roads that damage ecological integrity, hurt sensitive specie, degrade water quality and increase the risk of severe fire, the groups say.

The assessment failed to consider impacts to two contiguous roadless expanses, one at 23,000 acres south of the project area, and another 17,000 acres north of it.

Those areas include inventoried and uninventoried roadless areas, and areas with wilderness potential.

The faulty environmental assessment is based on controversial science that proposes to remove up to two-thirds of the trees to deal with insect outbreaks, the suit states.

Represented by Sean Malone, the plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief.

Some facts, just in case you’re interested, from the Wildcat Fuels Reduction and Vegetation Management Project, Heppner Ranger District, EIS Purpose and Need (the entire NEPA document set is [here):

The Wildcat project area is located in the eastern portion of the Heppner Ranger District in Morrow and Grant counties, Oregon, about 15 miles south of the town of Heppner. The project area comprises about 25,450 acres within the National Forest boundary in the Little Wall Creek, Skookum Creek, and Swale Creek subwatersheds located within the Wall Creek Watershed which drains into the North Fork John Day River. The topography is generally a south aspect with 10 to 20% slopes. The elevation ranges between 3600 feet and 5280 feet. There is 4,150 acres of the Monument Big Game Winter Range in the southern portion of the project area.

There are no inventoried roadless areas, no wilderness areas and no wild and scenic rivers within the project area.

The northern portion of the project area is comprised mostly of cold and moist upland forest. Spruce budworm caused widespread mortality in Douglas-fir and grand fir species in the late 1980s and early 1990s resulting in abundant snags, dead topped trees, and down woody material up to 70 tons/acre. A result of this insect outbreak was a change in the tree structure.

In the dry upland forest, stands once dominated by open park-like stands of ponderosa pine have closed in with shade tolerant species such as Douglas-fir and grand fir.

Today, the dry upland forests are comprised of dense multi layered canopies of shade tolerant/fire intolerant species, which are not characteristic of historic conditions. The cold and moist upland forest areas are an open structure with a low to moderate overstory density and abundant reproduction in the understory. Bark beetles and root rot are continuing to cause mortality in ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine. Dwarf mistletoe is prevalent in both western larch and Douglas-fir and is infecting the reproduction coming in underneath the overstory.

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4 Sep 2009, 10:00am
Forestry education Saving Forests
by admin
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No Natural Fire Regimes in Old-Growth Redwood

In a stunning and gutsy scientific study, it has been revealed that old-growth redwood forests of California were dominated by anthropogenic (human-set) fires for hundreds and probably thousands of years.

Dr. Steven P. Norman (currently of the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station), working out of the U.S. Forest Service Redwood Sciences Laboratory in Arcata CA, has discovered that the historical fire frequency in old-growth redwood was cultural, not “natural”.

His paper, A 500-Year Record of Fire from a Humid Coast Redwood Forest, is in the form of a report to the Save the Redwoods League [here], the 90-year-old organization dedicated to saving redwoods. Interestingly, the verbiage from the Save the Redwoods League extols “naturalness”:

Since 1918, Save the Redwoods League has saved ancient redwood forests and redwood ecosystems to ensure that current and future generations can feel the awe and peace that these precious natural wonders inspire. We also save redwoods because they are rare — their natural range is only in central and northern California and southern Oregon — and because they are Earth’s tallest and some of the oldest and most massive living beings.

Yet the redwoods have been tended by human beings for millennia. Human burning on a frequent, seasonal basis in an eco-zone with little lightning kept redwoods free from severe fire as well as competition and allowed trees to reach phenomenal ages.

Absent frequent, ground-hugging, anthropogenic fire, infrequent severe, stand-replacing fire would have shortened tree life-spans considerably. Biologically, redwoods do not require long life spans to reproduce. There is no biological imperative for great ages. The long lives of redwood trees are an artifact of human intervention in the ecosystem, without which redwoods may have gone extinct during the Holocene.

We have not been given permission to post Dr. Norman’s paper in toto, but the abstract follows (at present the entire paper may be downloaded from the SRL site [here]):

California’s coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests have long been associated with moderately frequent to frequent fire, particularly in the southern and interior portions of the species range. The historical importance of fire in northern coast redwood forests is generally thought to be much less because lightning ignitions are rare, and cool coastal temperatures and summer fog ameliorate the fire hazard. Support for this climate-fire gradient hypothesis has been limited because of insufficient fire history data from the northern coast redwood range. Past efforts to test this hypothesis range-wide are made difficult because of methodological differences among studies and problems with scar preservation in redwood. This research revisits the fire history of an area thought to have experienced fire only a few times per millennium in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. I found that fire frequency was substantially more frequent than previously thought. Between 1700 and 1850, mean fire intervals within 0.25 to 1 ha sample areas varied from 11 to 26 years. Fire intervals did not correspond to a latitudinal, coast-interior or a topographically defined moisture gradient. Instead, patterns of fire frequency better fit a cultural burning gradient inferred from the ethnographic and historical record. Areas close to aboriginal villages and camps burned considerably more often than areas that were probably less utilized. Summer season fires, the ones most likely set by the Native Tolowa for resource needs, were 10 years shorter than the mean fire interval of autumn season fires. In the dryer eastern portion of the study area, frequent fire resulted in unimodal or bimodal pulses of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) establishment suggesting moderate to high fire severity. Near a Tolowa village site, a frequent fire regime before the late 1700s initiated a pulse of Douglas fir establishment that dominated the forest canopy for centuries; long after the village was abandoned, possibly due to epidemic disease. While variability in coastal fog-stratus and drought may also influence fire regimes, these relationships provide a weaker explanation than human ignition history. Variable human and climate influence on old-growth redwood fire regimes suggests that old growth redwood forests are not in equilibrium, but are dynamic due to a long history of variable human influence. Remnant old growth forests are likely to continue to evolve in response to human management. Efforts by managers to restore and sustain these remarkable forests can be enhanced by understanding how complex histories give rise to biodiversity. [emphasis added].

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Forest Carbon Emissions Model Report No. 3

W.I.S.E. is pleased and honored to announce the web publication of Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen’s Impacts of California Wildfires on Climate and Forests: A Study of Seven Years of Wildfires (2001-2007), FCEM Report No. 3. The Executive Summary and link to the full text are now posted at the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here]. The Forest Carbon And Emissions Model Reports No. 1 and 2 are [here].

For Immediate Release:

To Offset Greenhouse Gas Damage Caused From California Wildfires During 2001-2007, State’s 14 Million Cars Would Need To Be Locked In Garages For 3 1/2 Years, Study Finds

A raging wildfire can burn out of control for a long period of time, but eventually it will be extinguished. However, the effects of that wildfire can linger for years and be a prime contributor to global warming.

A study by Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, Professor Emeritus of Forest Science at Texas A&M University, released today found that California’s increasing wildfire crisis is causing more destruction and undoing much of the progress California is making to fight global warming.

Dr. Bonnicksen, who holds a Ph.D. in forestry from the University of California, Berkeley, and has studied California forests for more than 30 years, is author of America’s Ancient Forests: from the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery (John Wiley, 2000).

This report, entitled “Impacts of California Wildfires on Climate and Forests,” chronicles how the wildfires that scorched California from 2001 to 2007 seriously degraded the forests in the state and contributed to global warming. The report notes that political and economic obstacles to managing and restoring forests contribute to causing the wildfire crisis.

Emissions from the last seven years of wildfires documented in this study are equivalent to adding an estimated 50 million more cars onto California’s highways for one year, each spewing tons of greenhouse gases. To offset this damage, all 14 million cars in California would have to be locked in garages for 3 1/2 years to make up for the global warming impact of these wildfires.

From 2001 to 2007, fires burned more than 4 million California acres and released an estimated 277 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting from combustion and the post-fire decay of dead trees. That is an average of 68 tons per acre.

This study and previous studies use a new computer model, the Forest Carbon and Emissions Model (FCEM), to estimate greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires and insect infestations, and opportunities to recover these emissions and prevent future losses.

“Our most important question is: Can we recover from our mistake of letting forests become unnaturally overcrowded with trees and vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires?” said Dr. Bonnicksen, “the answer is yes, if we care about restoring our forests and fighting global warming.”

There are many other harmful effects of these wildfires as well, including killing wildlife, polluting the air and water, and stripping soil from hillsides. Ironically, the greenhouse gases they emit are wiping out much of what is being achieved to reduce emissions from fossil fuels to battle global warming.

“While California’s actions to reduce global warming are significant, reducing the number and severity of wildfires may be the single most important action we can take in the short-term to lower greenhouse gas emissions and really fight global warming,” Bonnicksen said.

Some public forests in California have more than 1,000 trees per acre when 40 to 60 trees per acre would be natural. These dense forests contain small trees that can carry fire into the canopy, and heavy concentrations of woody debris lying on the ground intensify the flames, which helps increase the size and severity of forest fires. Reducing the number of all sizes of trees per acre by thinning is effective in helping prevent crown fires in forests.

Yet that is only part of the wildfire tragedy.

During the seven years covered by this study, California wildfires deforested about 882,759 acres of public and private land. Only an estimated 120,755 acres were replanted. That means about 762,004 acres of forest was converted permanently to brush because no live trees remain standing to provide seed for a new forest. That is an average loss of 109,000 acres of forests each year, or the equivalent of nearly four times the area of San Francisco.

California’s forests are dwindling due to permanent deforestation from wildfire. In addition, the estimated 134 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) released by fires and the decay of dead trees from forests that were permanently converted to brush from 2001 to 2007 will continue to worsen global warming.

Harvesting dead trees to prevent them from releasing CO2 from decay, storing the carbon they contain in long-lasting wood products, and using the money from the sale of the wood to replant a young forest that absorbs CO2 through photosynthesis, is the only way to restore deforested areas and recover this greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, Dr. Bonnicksen said. He added that this is done routinely on private industrial forestland but rarely on public forestland. Therefore, he said, it is critical to expedite and increase the harvesting of fire-killed trees and replanting of young trees on public forests destroyed by wildfire.

The immensity of greenhouse gas emissions from California’s wildfires and the permanent loss of huge areas of forest are a warning.

The report emphasizes that every effort must be made to reduce the amount of fuel in public and private forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires. That means managing forests to make them healthy, productive, and resistant to crown fires.

Major constraints to managing and thinning private forests are government regulations and the high cost of Timber Harvest Plans (THPs). Solving this problem by streamlining regulations and reducing THP costs on private forests, and expediting environmental reviews for thinning and timber harvesting on public forests, could dramatically reduce wildfires and greenhouse gas emissions.

Data used in this report come from a variety of government and other sources. They include the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region Ecosystem Planning Staff, U.S. Forest Service Region 5 Silviculturalist, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

For a copy of the full report please visit the Western Institute for Study of the Environment at https://westinstenv.org/ffsci


A Sane Proposal for a Middle Path to Wilderness Fires

By Charley Fitch

It appears to me that the U.S. Forest Service took a middle path on the recent Backbone Fire. After failing to control the fire in the first few days, they decided to work on indirect firelines some distance from the actual fire. But after many days of no real movement in the actual fire, the completion of those indirect firelines and numerous local concerns about another summer of smoke choked skies, a proposal was developed that instructed the firefighters build fireline directly on the fire edge. And that is how the fire was safely contained.

In the mid-Nineties the USFS undertook a study of the Trinity Alps Wilderness to see what could be done to “allow” fire to burn in the Alps. The study concluded that there are areas in the eastern portion of the Alps where fire could be allowed to burn within certain weather parameters without becoming a major wildfire. The middle and western portions were found to be a fairly continuous green forest, which means that once a fire starts it will continue until extinguished by man or wet weather. This we have seen in three of the last ten years in the western Alps.

So the real key is the weather. Allowing a fire that starts prior to late September to burn unchecked will most always result in a long duration large fire. A midsummer fire will most always lead to a very hot, stand destroying fire before it would be extinguished naturally. A stand destroying fire is one that most fire advocates do not want to talk about. It burns off all of the live and dead woody material, the top layers of soil measured in inches, and removes all available nutrients, microbes and protective layers from the soil. The subsequent rains will continue to remove more soil and deposit it in streams that we value for clarity and purity. Lost will be several hundred years of soil formation and require several hundred years to replace what was lost. The post-fire landscape is more like a moonscape than a forest.

Here is a proposal for a middle path. No longer consider indiscriminately started natural wildfires to be good things. Instead, use the science and technology that we possess and use only fire that is “prescribed”. This means that a fire would only be ignited when the appropriate weather and fuel conditions exist to achieve the desired results.

The other condition that must exist is that fire management and firefighting must be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and have an appropriate EA or EIS approved prior to any ignitions. The so-called environmentalists look these documents over quite extensively for any actions on National Forest lands, yet are turning blind eyes to “allowing” wildfires to burn. The law (NEPA) does not exclude the action of allowing a wildfire to burn from the requirement of documentation of effects.

All citizens could help the Forest Service prepare the appropriate documents to comply with NEPA. The NEPA process would give everyone concerned a full opportunity to present scientific assertions about the damage done by fighting a fire compared to allowing it to burn over thousands of acres, put hundreds of thousand of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere, destroy wildlife habitat, increase global warming by releasing carbon monoxide and dioxide into the air rather than keeping this carbon in a solid state in the form of woody material, destroying hundreds of years of soil formation and polluting our pristine waters that flow from our wilderness areas.

Some vocal eco-activists, whose opinions have been expressed in newspapers recently, do not live in the Klamath Mtns but rather in Eugene, OR. So it is very understandable that they are not concerned with the health effects caused by fires and smoke on residents in the Klamath Mtns. Those vocal eco-activists are not foresters or firefighters, either.

Local residents do not wish to breathe the smoke from their forests afire or to look upon the snag patch for the next many decades. Folks from the big cities should be grateful to local residents for saving forests from devastating fires and protecting watersheds and recreation opportunities.

Those who advocate the protection of communities should remember that a community is more than a group of houses. When people are protecting their rural communities we know that what lies with in the town boundaries needs protection, but so do the forests, the air, and the waters running nearby. The Klamath Mtns are as much a part of us as we are of them.

Charley Fitch, a member of the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Fire Management [here], was District Ranger on the Big Bar Ranger District, Trinity NF, for twenty years. He is a professional forester with a degree from Colorado State University in Forest Management. He has over 35 years of forest and fire management experience.

Rod Mendes: Does anyone care about our air?

By Rod Mendes, Redding Record Searchlight, August 24, 2009 [here]

For nearly four months last summer, thousands of Northern Californians sat shrouded in thick, brown smoke. Lots of people got sick. Many still have trouble breathing.

Smoke from wildfires that burned more than 200,000 acres blanketed Trinity and Humboldt counties and smothered roughly 4,000 people who live on and around the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.

No tribal lands burned, but lightning strikes ignited fires all over the national forests that surround Hoopa land. Those forests were dangerously overgrown, overstocked and choked with dead and dying trees. There was little effort made to extinguish the fires despite the public health threat. Instead, fires were encouraged to burn toward and into designated wilderness areas.

The smoke observed no such boundaries. It settled everywhere.

Vulnerable residents were evacuated, high-efficiency air filters distributed and two public clean-air facilities established. The tribe provided emergency medical treatment for tribal members, non-tribal members, firefighters and residents from nearby communities. Eventually Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and even President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency, clearing the way for the tribe to recover some of the costs incurred trying to protect its people.

While fire is part of the rural-California experience, long-term exposure to bad air need not be.

The Hoopa Tribe manages its forestland to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. It does so sustainably, relying on timber revenues to fund tribal government, support the tribal economy, and provide for its people. Watersheds and wildlife habitat are conserved, invested in and nurtured. Families work in and with the forest.

The forest management directed by the tribal commitment to sustain culture and environment together produces beautiful, healthy, resilient forests.

But the lightning storm proved it’s not enough to take care of your own lands. When tens of thousands of your neighbor’s acres are overgrown, susceptible to insect infestation and catastrophic wildfire, you stand to face long-lasting health consequences regardless of how well you’ve prepared your own forests.

Government agency resources may be strained, but policymakers must be held accountable for land management and firefighting policies that harm the public health. Wildfire smoke causes asthma and exacerbates existing heart and lung issues. Tiny particulates in the smoke can lodge deep in human lungs. For weeks on end, Hoopa residents drove with their lights on during the day because the sun never penetrated the smoke.

We knew exactly what we were breathing, we just couldn’t escape it.

The best way to lower the public health threat is to reduce the fuel loads that drive catastrophic fire and smoke events. An ounce of prevention would go a long way - not just in terms of saving dollars and forests, but in terms of avoiding human suffering.

Forests need to be thinned, and harvested trees and vegetation put to good use. Doing so can enhance biodiversity, protect soils and watersheds, improve public safety and help clear the air. Too often forest management is blocked by administrative appeals when there is overwhelming evidence of an immediate threat to people and communities.

Land-management policies on public lands, including wilderness areas, must be changed to address accumulated fuels before wildfires start, and firefighting policies must change to put greater emphasis on the public’s best interests when they inevitably do. Currently, smoke-related public-health risks are given very low priority in firefighting policies. Firefighter safety is paramount, but when fires can be fought to reduce the smoke impacts on communities, they should be.

There have been encouraging signs recently. Incident commanders in the June 2009 Backbone Fire opened new lines of communication with the community and took steps to address the concerns that were raised. Tribal air quality data was considered by the command team and the initial attack on the fire was more aggressive than originally suggested. Rather than deal with more long-term smoke exposure, our air cleared relatively quickly.

The aggressive suppression tactics used in fighting the Backbone Fire spared a community that has endured more than its share of bad air. But we witnessed the exception rather than the rule. The long- and short-term public-health impacts of smoke have to figure higher in firefighting policy so they consistently receive greater priority in firefighting practice.

Still, the focus should be on prevention and sustainability. Forestry that conserves forest resources protects forests against catastrophic wildfire and people living in those forests from excessive smoke.

Yet while many of California’s public forestlands succumb to unprecedented tree mortality and stand dangerously overcrowded, most fuel-reduction projects planned by the Forest Service are blocked by procedural delays. While ideologies are debated and courts scrutinize paperwork details, real people are breathing real bad air and millions of acres are primed to burn.

When wildfire smoke causes widespread health problems we have a responsibility to consider alternatives to letting unmanaged forests burn. It’s time to clean up our forests and clear the air.

Rod Mendes is the director of the Office of Emergency Services for the Hoopa Valley Tribe in Humboldt County. Courtesy of California Forests magazine.

Time to Fight Back

by bear bait

I read today in the paper that a tree fell and killed a USFS employee near Baker City, Oregon, who was involved in pulling marijuana plants from a grow on the Wallowa-Whitman NF. Sad deal. Not what forest protectors and nurturers had in mind when they signed on. The family has my sincerest regrets and sympathy.

It appears this fire deal, burning up our public forests, is part of a plan to expand the Mexican Dope Cartel’s drug plantations. Get rid of the canopy, keep people out, and it all goes to dope growing. In Western Oregon, in the Coast Range, we have had two opium poppy fields discovered and pulled this summer in Yamhill county. The Trout Creek mountains of far southeastern Oregon saw a dope bust with over 30,000 plants and 8 people arrested and now indicted in Federal court in Eugene, Oregon.

The minders of the Federal Estate have become overwhelmed by their job requirements and red tape, due to extensive congressional nit-picking, poorly written law, and excessive “human resource” systems, and the local areas bear the burden of poor Congressional oversight and the disinterest of a distant absentee landlord as a matter of course.

The national enviro lobby has local shrills to keep disorder the way they want it, and willingly pay themselves well enough to warrant limousines and gracious benefits fit for kings. The Environmental Cartel is in tight control. Burning off our national forest heritage is a mindless goal, but when oligarchs of the environment are in control, it is about power, not good sense, and it is about the money they make, as per Al Gore, the newly coined billionaire of selling carbon credits, akin to trading in seines full of flatulence. Ethereal. Hard to grasp. But you know it is there by the smell.

These United States and we the people, especially states where liberal local politics rule, have lost control of our public lands. They have been systematically closed to the public by taking out roads, banning logging, and allowing fires to rage unchecked - managing to burn all too much of their charge in a mindless exercise of benign neglect.

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14 Aug 2009, 3:45pm
Saving Forests The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

Overgrown Ohlone Garden Aflame

Much media attention is focused today on the Lockheed Fire [here] burning in the coastal hills north of Santa Cruz. The last report I have seen was 4,170 acres, 5 percent contained, 2,400 people evacuated, and 250 residences threatened.

The Lockheed Fire got its name from the Lockheed Martin top-security rocket science facility/campus on Empire Grade Road, which may be overrun if the winds shift. There is some irony in all that.

Among the 1,400 news stories (flagged by a Google search just now) on the Lockheed Fire was this one from the San Jose Mercury:

2004 Cal Fire report called area near Lockheed county’s worst fire hazard

By Genevieve Bookwalter, MercuryNews.com, 08/14/2009 [here]

SANTA CRUZ — In 2004, a Cal Fire report called land where the Lockheed Fire appears to have started the worst wildfire hazard in Santa Cruz County.

In February, North Coast residents at a community meeting circled the property, near Lockheed Martin’s Santa Cruz Mountains campus near the end of Empire Grade Road, on a map as one of their top wildfire concerns, said Ron Christy, president of the Rural Bonny Doon Association.

Now, instead of using that information to apply for brush-clearing grants and justify fire-prevention efforts, firefighters and nearby residents are responding to a dire prediction come true. …

One fascinating paragraph from that story:

At Big Basin Redwoods State Park, interpreter Susan Blake said the Ohlone Indians once set their own burns as a way of rejuvenating the land, and recent efforts to prevent forest fires have allowed it to become unnaturally overgrown.

“History shows there is a lot of natural burns by Ohlone that used to cultivate the area,” Blake said. “What we have now is an overgrown garden.” …

Meanwhile Big Name “fire ecologists” are shooting sparks about “natural fire regimes” and “fire adapted ecosystems”. Susan Blake is bullseye correct, however, and the Big Names are missing the mark.

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Without Preliminary Thinning, Fires Are Deadly to Old-Growth

The following article appeared last week in the Payson Roundup. [Note: Payson is located approximately ninety minutes North of Phoenix, AZ in the heart of Arizona's Rim Country. Ninety-seven percent of the land around Payson is under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service (Payson is surrounded by the Tonto National Forest) or by tribal governments.]

The article was written by Pete Aleshire, Southwestern journalist, editor, and author. [Note: As a senior lecturer at Arizona State University's West Campus since 1992, Mr. Aleshire has taught journalism, magazine writing, creative nonfiction and other courses. He has published four history books about Arizona's Apache Wars -- "Reaping the Whirlwind," "Cochise," "Warrior Woman" and "The Fox and the Whirlwind." His articles have been published in Phoenix Magazine, Geo, Reader's Digest, Cerca, Arizona Highways, and other magazines.]

The article is about the work of Dr. W. Wallace Covington, Regents’ Professor of Forest Ecology at Northern Arizona University and Director of the Ecological Restoration Institute [here]. Dr. Covington been a professor teaching and researching fire ecology and restoration management at NAU since 1975 and is widely recognized as a founder and world-class expert in forest restoration.

An earlier essay about Dr. Covington, Friendly Fire by Stephen J. Pyne, may be found in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Restoration Forestry [here]. Dr. Covington’s 2002 testimony to Congress regarding the Wildland Firefighting and National Fire Plan is also posted in that Colloquium [here].

Mr. Aleshire’s article (emphases in bold by SOSF):


Saving the Pine Forest

Wally Covington has shaped the debate and befuddled critics with woodsy charm and the tenacity of a badger

By Pete Aleshire, The Payson Roundup, August 7, 2009 [here]

Wally Covington, who has spent a quarter century reshaping the debate about forest management, leaned forward excitedly across the boundary between his biggest disappointment and his dearest hope.

On one hand, lush grass and scattered flowers swayed in the dappled sunlight in an open forest dominated by widely spaced, ponderosa pines.

On the other side of a wire fence huddled a dark, thick forest, with the smattering of grand old trees besieged by tangles of spindly saplings — the ground covered by pine needles rather than grass.

The contrast between those two patches of forest underlies his unsettling conclusion that the forests of the Southwest sway at the edge of ecological disaster, which can only be averted by a politically unlikely reinvention of the timber industry to thin millions of acres as a prelude to restoring fire to its rightful role.

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