Congress Questions USFS About Station Fire Response

A congressional panel questioned USFS and interagency fire officials yesterday regarding the delay of aerial tankers during the Station Fire [here, here, here]

Station fire’s lost ‘window of opportunity’ recounted

By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2010 [here]

Under intense questioning by House members, the former U.S. Forest Service commander who led the initial attack on last year’s Station fire conceded Tuesday that a “window of opportunity” to contain the flames was lost when aircraft arrived two hours late on the critical second morning of the blaze.

Members of the bipartisan congressional panel spent much of the four-hour-plus session in Pasadena grilling the now-retired commander and current Forest Service officials about the response to the fire, sometimes expressing frustration that they were not getting the full story.

“I have a feeling we’re not being told what happened,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D- Sherman Oaks) said after posing numerous questions about why the Forest Service did not fill an order for air tankers that would have hit the fire at 7 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2009, when it was still small. …

Will Spyrison, the then-division chief who oversaw the operation on the second morning, said before a standing-room-only, often boisterous audience Tuesday that he made several calls for the air tankers between about 12:30 and 3:25 a.m. and was never told that they would not arrive until two hours after he needed them.

“I knew if I didn’t have the aircraft at 7 o’clock in the morning, there’s a very short window of time … between 7 and 9 a.m. was that window of opportunity to make a difference,” said Spyrison, whose account had not been made public before. …

[Rep. Adam Schiff (D- Burbank)] called for the House inquiry after The Times reported last year that Forest Service officials misjudged the threat presented by the fire, rolled back their attack at the end of the first day and failed to promptly fill the aircraft orders. Also on the panel, which convened at the U.S. Court of Appeals Building, were Reps. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) and Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park). …

To loud applause, L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich suggested that the county Fire Department become the lead agency for fires in the Angeles National Forest.

Duncan Baird, a retired Pasadena Fire Department battalion chief, said he and other Big Tujunga Canyon residents lost their homes because, later in the fight, the Forest Service and county Fire Department decided not to defend the area as part of a strategy to avoid directly attacking the blaze in the backcountry. “It seems that our enclave of homes may have therefore been sacrificed,” he said.

Baird said he agreed with John Tripp, the county Fire Department’s chief deputy, that the fire eventually became too fierce to confront safely, but he said retardant dumps in the first days of the blaze could have slowed the flames. … [more]

In September, 2009, the Station Fire ignited in the Angeles National Forest, burned 160,600 acres, and destroyed 90 homes. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were fatally injured during the fire. The Station Fire was the largest fire in LA County history, cost nearly $100 million in suppression expenses alone, and inflicted economic damages of 10 to 50 times that amount.

Last December two dozen “retired officials”, among them former Forest Supervisors, Regional Foresters, Deputy Chiefs, and Special Agents, contacted USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and Region 5 Regional Forester Randy Moore and requested a more comprehensive review of the Station Fire.

That effort ultimately resulted in the meeting yesterday. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) is also investigating. The retired officials are also engaged in further efforts to review the procedures followed and recommend improvements.

One of those retired officials is William A. Derr, former USFS Special Agent in Charge of the Law Enforcement and Investigative Program in California. His testimony to the Schiff Panel yesterday is [here]. In addition to raising key questions regarding the delay in aerial attack and the possible reasons for it, Mr. Derr noted:

The Forest and Incident Management Team’s “major objective of allowing the fire to move up into the Forest and wilderness areas” resulted in unacceptable damage to the critical watersheds of the Los Angeles basin and caused significant property loss, harm to recreational facilities and the loss of outdoor enjoyment opportunities to millions of forest users.

Los Angeles has a brush fire problem and everybody knows it. However, the USFS is handicapped by lawsuits (and internal problems) and has not been able to implement an effective landscape-scale fuel management program in any Southern California national forest.

So they are doing Let It Burn instead. But Let It Burn fires do not reduce the fire hazard so much as actualize it.

Residents of affected watersheds have ample reason to be concerned about federal fire and land management. The Station Fire is only one of numerous disasters in the last few years that have arisen from the generally poor job our federal land and fire agencies are doing.

Letter to the Salt Lake Tribune Re the Twitchell Canyon Fire

Dear Sirs and Madams,

Your reportage of the Twitchell Canyon Fire leaves out some important facts and context.

The Twitchell Canyon Let It Burn Fire has been burning on the Fishlake National Forest since July 20th [here].

It was declared a Let It Burn fire from the get go, without any NEPA process or public oversight. In the words of the USFS:

The fire is being managed for multiple objectives, which included providing for the safety of the public and firefighters, to increase structural diversity in forest and shrubland ecosystems through use of fire, reducing fuels in a mosaic pattern to effectively manage future fires, and to manage the fire for a scenic vegetation mosaic effect in the Manderfield Reservoir viewshed.

Get that? The “purpose” of this wildfire is to create a scenic “mosaic” of incinerated forest with “structural diversity”. Those are environmental “objectives” but without any sort of environmental analysis or EIS as required by law.

A barebones crew of 26 were assigned to “monitor” the fire. They watched while the fire grew and grew. By August 14th the fire had grown to 4,128 acres and a real fire crew was called in. Over 200 personnel fought the Twitchell Fire for a week, but then they went home. By August 26th the fire was 4,508 acres and a “monitoring” crew of 20 was all that were left. By that date $2.5 million had been spent to “achieve objectives”.

On Sept. 3 the Twitchell Fiasco Fire blew up to 5,400 acres. Two days later the fire was 7,000 acres and the Kimberly Mining District was evacuated. The Great Basin Type 2 Incident Management Team was been called in. $3.2 million had been spent on “suppression” by that date.

Again, no effort was made to contain the fire, but it settled down at around 11,000 acres on Sept. 7. For a week. Then on Sept. 14 it blew up again. As of last night the fire was over 20,000 acres and was impinging on I-70 and the adjacent power line corridor.

Over $6 million has been spent not suppressing this Let It Burn fire to-date. Aerial firefighting has been undertaken with the attendant ratcheting up of costs.

Rather than “creating a scenic mosaic” the fire has displayed flame lengths of over 200 feet. Historically high ERC’s (Energy Release Components, an index that measures fire intensity) have been recorded. This fire is burning VERY HOT. It is not a lazy or light “mosaic” burn. It is total incineration. Nothing is left alive withing the perimeter, animal or vegetable.

Numerous historical structures have been burned. More are threatened. I-70 has been closed. Smoke has poured to points east for two solid months.

The watershed being incinerated contains a number of reservoirs. $Millions are being spent to turn that watershed into a moonscape. Flash floods are sure to follow this winter. The government functionary directly responsible is Fishlake NF Supervisor Allen Rowley. No NEPA process was followed. This Let It Burn fire is patently illegal.

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6 Sep 2010, 2:43pm
The 2009 Fire Season
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Final Report Issued on Deadly 2009 Victoria AU Fires

The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission has presented their Final Report to the Governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser AC. A copy of the report can be viewed or downloaded [here].

In February 2009 wildfires ravaged the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia. 173 people were killed and 2,133 homes incinerated. Termed “Black Saturday”, it was the worst fire disaster in Australian history, a history replete with fire disasters, most notably in 1939, 1944, 1969, 1977, 1983, 2003, 2005, and 2006.

A Royal Commission was formed to inquire, consult, and report on the fires and the fire suppression efforts associated with “an unprecedented loss of life, extreme property damage, and major community trauma and displacement.”

An Interim Report [here] was released a year ago containing 51 recommendations focused predominantly on changes to be implemented prior to the 2009–10 bushfire season.

The Final Report contains an additional 67 recommendations which will now be considered by the Victorian Government and others.

Some (not all) previous posts on the 2009 fires and related matters are [here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here].

Some excerpts from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission Final Report:

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Station Fire Probe - The View From Under the Bus

The LA Times reported today that CA Congress-types are called for a “sweeping probe” into the actions (and/or inactions) of the US Forest Service during the Station Fire.

Lawmakers seek broad probe into Forest Service response to Station fire

By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, August 6, 2010 [here]

California’s two U.S. senators and several local House members Thursday called on Congress’ investigative arm to launch a sweeping probe into the Forest Service’s response to last summer’s disastrous Station fire.

In asking for the investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which typically grants such requests, the lawmakers recommended a broad examination of the Forest Service’s decisions and tactics. Those include the use of aircraft early in the fight and the question of whether everything possible was done to protect homes that burned in Big Tujunga Canyon.

The legislators also cited the disclosure this week that telephone dispatch recordings made during the fire were withheld from a Forest Service review team and the public. The Times requested the recordings last year and again this year, but Forest Service officials said they did not exist. …

In addition to Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, the signers include Reps. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), Judy Chu (D-El Monte) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). …

The aforementioned letter [here] states in part:

Both the Forest Service and Los Angeles County Fire Department have conducted reviews of the fire and the response from both of these agencies. However, we have learned today that critical Forest Service dispatch recordings from the start of the fire were withheld from federal review teams. This casts a dark cloud over the findings of the review panel and immediately warrants an independent review of the Station Fire response.

Our purpose for this review is to ensure that all actions in the response to the fire were taken swiftly, properly and competently. Our constituents must know that every possible, reasonable and proper action was taken to fight the fire, and if there were instances where the proper actions were not taken, we must know why.”
It continues:

Most important, we must establish what lessons were learned from this devastating fire. By identifying mistakes made and where different choices would have caused better outcomes, agencies tasked with preventing and fighting fires will be able to better prepare and respond in the future.

We have discussed the Station Fire previously [here, here, here, here].

We have noted how the LA Times has flip-flopped from advocating cutbacks in aerial firefighting, because it is allegedly a waste of money, to decrying the alleged failure to employ timely and expensive aerial firefighting on the Station Fire.

Now Congress is joining the critics.

The USFS made a decision years ago to kowtow to the pro-holocausters, instituting a program of allowing wildfires to burn without any effort to contain, control, or extinguish them. Many of those fires have blown up and caused devastating damage to natural and human-built resources. It must have seemed to the USFS to be the politically expedient thing to do, because there is no other justification for incinerating vast tracts of America’s heritage forests, watersheds, homes, and towns.

Now, when a wildfire has impacted the heart of pro-holocauster neighborhoods in LaLa, the political goodwill the USFS thought it was accumulating has disappeared in a puff (or plume) of smoke. Their supposed political allies have thrown the Agency under the bus.

Let that be a Lesson Learned.

Political types are fickle. They have no loyalty, especially when their policies are ignorant, malformed, and destructive. Political expediency is a slippery prey. Instead of lunging for the expedient, the USFS should remain true to their statutory mission of good stewardship, regardless of whichever way the political winds might blow.

Now the piper has come home to roost. The view from under the bus is not a happy one.

How is the USFS responding? Have they learned their lesson? Not yet. The LA Times reports:

Meanwhile, the inspector general also will examine whether the Forest Service had the legal authority to record phone calls to the Angeles dispatch center without the consent of all callers. Radio dispatch communications are routinely recorded, but the Forest Service wants the inspector general to determine whether the phone recordings violated privacy rights, agency officials said.

In an internal memorandum Wednesday that was obtained by The Times, Forest Service Deputy Chief James Hubbard ordered all dispatch centers to stop recording calls until the matter is resolved.

That is called “circling the wagons” and it is ill-advised.

The USFS has suspended recording emergency dispatch calls? Whom in those communications is a “private” party? Do we suspend recording of 911 calls because some government official screwed up in an emergency?

Is secrecy the best course of action? Has stonewalling worked to date? A famous rule of excavation is: if you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging.

The USFS needs to realize that full transparency and honest stewardship efforts will serve them best in the long run. Otherwise they will be tire-tracked by the Big Political Bus again and again.

As Yellow As Journalism Gets

The LA Times is reporting that a federal inspector general has launched an investigation of possible negligence by the US Forest Service in fighting the Station Fire [here, here, here].

Last September the Station Fire (Angeles NF) burned 160,600 acres, and destroyed 90 homes. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were fatally injured during the fire. The Station Fire was the largest fire in LA County history, cost nearly $100 million in suppression expenses alone, and inflicted economic damages of 10 to 50 times that amount.

Shortly after the fire was contained, the LA Times charged that mistakes had been made in fighting the fire [here]. Specifically, the newspaper alleged that aerial attacks were delayed in the first hours of the Station Fire, and the delay led to the fire growing out of control.

Those charges were bolstered by questions raised by a number of retired USFS experts, including former Forest Supervisors, Regional Foresters, Deputy Chiefs, and Special Agents.

It has come to light that critical dispatch communications were recorded, but those recordings were not provided to the after-action review panel last November. The surfacing of the recordings prompted the inspector general investigation. The Obama Administration has also invited a Congressional inquiry.

Federal inspector general launches probe of Station fire

The Obama administration also invites Congress to order a broad inquiry after it is learned that dispatch recordings from the early hours of the blaze were withheld from a Forest Service review team.

By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2010 [here]

A federal inspector general has launched an investigation and the Obama administration has invited Congress to order a broad inquiry into last summer’s disastrous Station fire after learning that dispatch recordings had been withheld from a U.S. Forest Service review team.

The telephone recordings, from the critical early hours of the blaze, also were withheld from The Times, which requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.

The inspector general’s probe will focus on why the several days of recordings were not provided to The Times or turned over to the Forest Service inquiry, which concluded that the agency’s initial attack on the fire was proper.

“I find this very serious,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said Tuesday. “I’m very concerned and troubled that this was not found earlier. … We want to get this information to learn what occurred on the Station fire.”

Tidwell said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department runs the Forest Service, invited Congress to request the fuller investigation of the agency’s handling of the fire in the Angeles National Forest, a probe that would be conducted by the Government Accountability Office.

The content of the withheld recordings is not known. Tidwell said officials were still transcribing them and the results would be released in coming days.

He said the recordings were found after he ordered a reexamination of all records on the fire and the agency’s response to The Times’ requests for copies of audio dispatch communications, a number of which have been released. …

He said he wanted the reexamination completed before a panel of local members of Congress convened by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) holds a public meeting on the Station fire next Tuesday in Pasadena. Schiff scheduled the session after The Times reported that the Forest Service had misjudged the threat posed by the fire, scaled back the initial attack and failed to fill crucial orders for air tankers on the second morning. …

According to federal records and state officials, other tankers were available sooner, but the Forest Service failed to complete an order for them made by its own commander on the ground.

Dispatch records show that a Forest Service officer again asked for tankers about 7 a.m. Aug. 27, six hours after the initial request. Three Forest Service tankers were subsequently deployed, but did not reach the fire until after it began racing through the forest.

Most of the questions about how the fire became so destructive have focused on the absence of a fierce air attack in the hours after dawn on Day 2, as well as a decision the previous evening to reduce the number of ground crews. The flames had been nearly contained, in part because of a sustained pounding by helicopters and planes. After the aircraft returned to base at nightfall, the fire began to gather strength.

Officials said in September that they had believed enough aircraft were deployed early on Day 2. In the review conducted by the Forest Service, the agency concluded that aerial dumps during the hours after first light would have been ineffective because the blaze was burning in a canyon too steep for ground crews to safely finish extinguishing the flames.

After that finding was disputed by firefighters at the scene as well as by the Forest Service’s own records, officials told The Times and the Senate panel that the tankers were not sent sooner because of a shortage of rested pilots and relief aircraft.

Records and interviews later showed that state tankers were available. …

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Douglas Co. Commissioner Joe Laurance July 15 Testimony

Today the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held an Oversight Hearing on “Locally Grown: Creating Rural Jobs with America’s Public Lands”. Among the testimonies [here] was that of Joseph Laurance, County Commissioner, Douglas County, Oregon.

Commissioner Laurance brought up many important points, not the least of which is that that our national forests today are unnaturally loaded with fuels. Over 110 million acres are in Fire Regime Condition Class 2 and 3, the most hazardous conditions.

The safest condition is FRCC 1, of which there are 60 to million acres. Commissioner Laurance noted that FRCC 1 closely approximates the natural, historic conditions “characteristic of the ‘anthropogenic’ forest in the year 1800, immediately prior to the European American presence.”

The following is the full text of his remarks, with complementary photographs:

Testimony of Joseph Laurance, County Commissioner, Douglas County, Oregon before the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, July 15, 2010.

Distinguished members of the committee,

At a meeting of Oregon county commissioners last summer, I complained to my colleagues that while endless debate continued in congress about how federal forests should be managed, fires were ravaging federal timberlands in my county and throughout the western United States. The worldwide financial crisis that was draining the national treasury made re-authorization of “Secure Rural Schools” funding seem doubtful, threatening many of Oregon’s 36 counties with social and economic ruin. Bad news just kept coming with the word that unemployment in Douglas County had reached 16.4% and if unreported joblessness was considered, was probably greater than the 19% experienced here during the height of the “Great Depression”.

Talks were ongoing in Copenhagen about greenhouse gas emissions while the three fires in my county burned toward an eventual total of 20,000 acres, equal to the greenhouse gasses emitted by one million cars in a year’s time. My fellow commissioners suggested that I craft a solution to the problems you of this body are all too familiar with. The resultant resolution* has been carefully considered by commissioners from across the western United States who helped in its preparation. It has been unanimously adopted by the Association of Oregon Counties, Western Interstate Region of Counties, and the National Association of Counties (NACo) Public Lands Committee and is expected to be adopted by NACo at its annual national conference next week.

Twenty years and twenty days ago the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as threatened under the federal “Endangered Species Act”. It was then thought that loss of old growth habitat through logging was the culprit causing a declining population. In response, federal timber harvests were vastly curtailed. The Umpqua National Forest in my county saw an annual harvest of 397 million board feet in 1988 reduced to 4 million board feet in 2002. In the years since a policy of “benevolent neglect” of federal lands has seen Spotted Owl numbers continue to decline through habitat destruction caused by increasingly numerous and intense forest fires and through predation by the Barred Owl which favors this new “unmanaged” forest habitat. Federal policy, which had been multiple use of the forest with an emphasis on industrial harvest, sought a new strategy which has yet to be formulated in all these intervening years.

The resolution presented you provides that needed new strategy, not only for Oregon but for all of our nation’s federal forests from Appalachia to Alaska. Federal forest managers would now have a clearly defined desired forest condition that must be obtained within a specified time. If this becomes the “Intent of Congress”, the Forest Service and BLM would join with private industry to restore forest health and rural economies without drawing on the national treasury.

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16 Jun 2010, 8:56am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Station Fire Questions Not Going Away

The LA Times continues to probe alleged mistakes made in fighting the Station Fire [here, here]. Last September the Station Fire (Angeles NF) burned 160,600 acres, and destroyed 90 homes. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were fatally injured during the fire. The Station Fire was the largest fire in LA County history, cost nearly $100 million in suppression expenses alone, and inflicted economic damages of 10 to 50 times that amount.

U.S. failed to fill order for aircraft in Station fire

The agency didn’t press to get tankers in the air quickly, despite its own commanders’ urgent request, records and interviews show.

By Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2010 [here]

The U.S. Forest Service failed to fill an order for air tankers that its own commanders urgently requested for an assault on the disastrous Station fire before it began raging out of control, according to records and state officials — a finding that rebuts months of assertions by the federal agency that it took every step to deploy the planes as quickly as possible.

The state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said it could have made as many as four tankers available to the Forest Service on the fateful second morning of the blaze. Two could have reached the fire by 7 a.m. and a third shortly after 7:30 a.m., but the Forest Service did not order them, said Janet Upton, a spokeswoman for the state agency, known as CalFire.

“We never received an order for the aircraft,” she said.

An early assault by the heavy tankers could have helped ground crews contain the blaze that morning, when it was still small, firefighters at the scene have said. The fire jumped a key defense line about 8 a.m. and spread rapidly. It eventually killed two firefighters, destroyed scores of structures and became the largest fire in Los Angeles County history. …

Former Forest Service officials and other experts termed the failure to fill the tanker order a monumental error. They said it was unfathomable that the agency could have overlooked such a critical misstep in its official review of the blaze, a probe that found no faults in the management of the fire fight.

“It’s an absolute cover-up,” said Don Feser, the Forest Service’s former fire chief for the Angeles.

He said Congress should investigate whether the order was deliberately not placed, perhaps as a cost-saving measure. Three weeks before the Station fire, the Forest Service issued a memorandum directing its supervisors to keep expenses down by limiting use of aircraft and ground crews from other agencies. …

Most of the questions about how the fire became so destructive have focused on the absence of a fierce air attack in the hours after dawn on Day 2. The flames had been nearly contained the evening before, in part because of a sustained pounding by helicopters and planes. …

The Times has reported that deployment documents showed the tanker request had been canceled. Noiron said the request was marked canceled by mistake because, due to “messy paperwork,” a dispatcher identified it as a duplicate of the order placed later in the morning.

By the time the planes were over the flames, the fire had scaled Angeles Crest Highway, a crucial battle line, and was exploding through tall trees and paper-dry brush. … [more]

Revisiting the Station Fire

Last September the Station Fire [here] ignited in the Angeles National Forest, burned 160,600 acres, and destroyed 90 homes. Two Los Angeles County firefighters were fatally injured during the fire. The Station Fire was the largest fire in LA County history, cost nearly $100 million in suppression expenses alone, and inflicted economic damages of 10 to 50 times that amount.

Shortly after the fire was contained, the LA Times charged that mistakes had been made in fighting the fire [here]. Specifically, the newspaper alleged that aerial attacks were delayed in the first hours of the Station Fire, and the delay led to the fire growing out of control.

It was more than an hour after first light, and some six hours after U.S. Forest Service commanders had determined that the fire required a more aggressive air attack. But the skies remained empty of water-dropping helicopters — tankers that were readily available.

There was uncomfortable irony to the LA Times allegations. One year earlier LA Times reporter Bettina Boxall won a Pulitzer Prize for a series condemning aerial firefighting as a waste of money [here]:

Air tanker drops in wildfires are often just for show

The bulky aircraft are reassuring sights to those in harm’s way, but their use can be a needless and expensive exercise to appease politicians. Fire officials call them ‘CNN drops.’

In November an after-action review panel made up of two representatives of the U. S. Forest Service, one from L.A. County Fire Department, one from CalFire, and a private consultant determined that decisions made by Incident Commanders on the Station Fire were reasonable and prudent.

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The True Crisis

The LA Times spit out an editorial today that missed the mark by a mile.

Climate change is the true crisis

LA Times Editorial, May 10, 2010 [here]

West Virginia’s mining disaster and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were disastrous and investigations are justified, but the real threat is much worse. …

Blah, blah, blah…

… beaches are going to vanish within half a century (along with much of Miami) under the worst-case scenarios presented by climate modelers.

Blah, blah, blah…

Lawmakers today aren’t seeing the forest for the trees; that will change when the forest has burned or been destroyed by bark beetles, but by then it will be too late.

It may be too late for the LA Times, and for “climate modelers”, but you can be assured the beaches of Florida are not disappearing. Global sea level rise since 2005 is a whopping 1 millimeter per year, down from 2 millimeters per year over the last century or so. And now that global ice caps are growing again, it is likely that sea levels will fall; over the next 30 years at least. In fact, sea levels may have peaked in this interglacial (the Holocene) and could fall for the next 100,000 years or thereabouts.

More important to the principal theme of SOS Forests, we must point out (yet again) that even the most generous estimates of US temperature change indicate that over the last 130 years temperatures have risen no more than 1 deg C.

That’s 2 deg F. On a day when it might have been 90 deg F 130 years ago, today it might be 92 deg F. That change is so small as to be largely undetectable, unnoticeable, and of no significant consequence to forests.

We have been experiencing a forest fire crisis, however, and bark beetle infestations, but they are not due to temperature change.

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The GAO Let It Burn Policy

The newly reconstituted Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) has embarked on a “Cohesive Strategy” planning process [here, here, here].

The “Cohesive Strategy” was mandated by the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement or FLAME Act [here, here, here].

National Blueprint on Wildfire Management

by Phil Leggiere, HS Today, 26 April 2010 [here]

On Wednesday April 21 at the Wildland Fire Leadership Council in Washington, DC, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar jointly announced a blueprint for the first comprehensive national strategy for wildfire management. …

The new strategy will analyze three key components: landscape restoration, fire-adapted communities, and response to wildfire and is scheduled to be completed this fall in accordance with a recent act of Congress.

The FLAME Act of 2009 requires the Forest Service and Department of Interior to submit to Congress a report that contains a cohesive wildfire management strategy consistent with recommendations in recent General Accountability Office (GAO) reports regarding management strategies. Following its formal approval by the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Interior by October 2010, the Cohesive Wildfire Management Strategy is to be revised at least once during each five year period to address any changes with respect to landscape, vegetation, climate, and weather conditions.

According to the legislation the Cohesive Strategy is required to provide for the identification of the most cost effective means for allocating fire management budget resources. This includes the reinvestment in non-fire programs by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, employing the appropriate management response to wildfire, assessing the level of risk to communities, allocation of hazardous fuels reduction funds based on the priority of hazardous fuels reduction projects, and assessing the impacts of climate change on the frequency and impact of wildfire. …

Note two key points. First, the “Cohesive Strategy” is to be consistent with recent General Accountability Office (GAO) reports regarding fire management strategies. Second, the goal is “cost effective” fire management budgeting.

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DOI Responds to W.I.S.E. Letter to Salazar re WFLC

On March 6, 2010, in my capacity as Executive Director of W.I.S.E., I wrote an Open Letter to Ken Salazar regarding the reconvening of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) [here]. In that letter I observed that in the past 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).

I also observed that:

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.

and furthermore:

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.

Finally, I advised Sec. Salazar that:

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.

Yesterday I received a response from DOI, a very nice letter from Pamela Haze, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, Finance, Performance and Acquisition acting on behalf of Ms. Rhea Suh, Assistant Secretary for Management & Budget and CFO.

That letter in its entirety follows:

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Backroom Deal Brewing On Carbon Taxzilla

The biggest single tax in the history of civilization is about to be imposed by the Obama Administration and his Democrat cronies in Congress — without due process and using the same dirty tricks that were used to pass ObamaCare.

Carbon Taxzilla will smack every man, woman, and child with a $10,000 per year Godzilla of a tax, that will not change global temperatures one scintilla of a degree.

Algore’s massive carbon hoax/scam is about to come to fruition, and the result will be the flushing of the American economy down the proverbial toilet.

Taxzilla will not go through any Senate committee. It will not be read by any member of the Senate, much less the public, before a parliamentary end-around will make it law.

Already Obama henchman Rahm Emanuel has met with the Goreacle’s money men and Democratic leaders to plan the stealth legislative strategy.

The WaPo announced yesterday that Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman will slip Taxzilla into the hands of Harry Reid on April 26, not April 21 as we reported [here].

Senators will unveil climate bill April 26

By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, April 15, 2010 [here]

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) will roll out their compromise climate proposal April 26, according to several sources.

While the date is a bit later than originally expected — many environmentalists had anticipated it would become public next week, in time for Earth Day next Thursday — the definitive date shows the senators are coming close to finalizing their package. …

Kerry, Liebermann and Graham will not be introducing their bill. Instead, Harry Reid will take it straight to the Senate floor and bypass the committees.

In Liebermann’s own words: “If we introduce [the carbon tax bill], it’ll get referred to committees,” Lieberman said. “We want [Majority Leader Reid] to be able to work with it and bring it out onto the floor as a leader whenever he’s ready.”

Reid to ‘Backroom’ National Energy Tax Bill

HUMAN EVENTS, 04/14/2010 [here]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is set to take charge of new legislation aimed at imposing a national energy tax on all Americans, according to Greenwire, the news service for all things environment (article available on the Senate Republican Environment and Public Works “EPW” Press Blog here.)

Called “cap-and-trade” or “climate change” or “global warming” legislation, the new attempt to place a crippling national tax on America’s energy resources is being cobbled together by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). According to the new report, the trio will not formally introduce the bill in the Senate when it’s unveiled next week.

“If we introduce it, it’ll get referred to committees,” Lieberman said. “We want him to be able to work with it and bring it out onto the floor as a leader whenever he’s ready.”

This opens the doors for more Reid backroom deals on the bill instead of going through the normal committee process. …

Backroom deals will be cut, and the normal Committee processes will be circumvented. The same game plan, secret deals made behind closed doors and stifling of open debate, that was used to pass ObamaCare will be employed by the same power elite for Carbon Taxzilla.

And for what? Taxzilla will not have any effect on mythical global warming or dependence on foreign oil. It will merely jack up prices on everything and send the economy into a tailspin.

There is a big rush to get Taxzilla into law before outraged voters send every Democrat packing next November. By then, the scammers hope, severe and irreversible damage will be done to America.

QLG Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blame the Victims: The Mill Flat Whoofoo Cover-up

The US Forest Service has issued a “Lessons Learned” report blaming the citizens of New Harmony, Utah for burning their own homes down in a whoofoo (wildland fire use fire).

The Mill Flat WFU Fire (2009, Dixie NF, 12,607 acres) [here] 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.

Now the USFS blames the victims for failing to express their wishes that the Agency put the fire out before it blew up. The Mill Flat Fire Review (4.5 MB PDF) was posted 4/2/2010 at the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center (WFLLC) [here]. (Note: The WFLLC is part of the National Advanced Fire & Resource Institute (NAFRI) [here], an “interagency consortium” supported by the USFS, BLM, NPS, BIA, and USFWS.)

Background [here]: The Mill Flat WFU Fire ignited July 25, 2009, in the Dixie National Forest. Bevan Killpack, Pine Valley District Ranger and Rob MacWhorter, Forest Supervisor for the Dixie NF, decided the fire should be allowed to burn unchecked. One person was assigned to monitor the fire and a 29,000 acre “maximum manageable area” was designated. The Mill Flat Fire was declared a foofurb, a “fire used for resource benefit”, despite the fact that no benefits were elucidated, no EIS created, and no public involvement or hearings held.

Note: Foofurb is the new (2009) designation for whoofoo. After eight years of promoting “wildland fire use” (WFU or whoofoo), the propaganda meisters decided to change the name to foofurb, “fire used for resource benefit”. In fact, whoofoos and foofurbs are Let It Burn fires. The USFS hates the term “Let It Burn” so they desperately seek obfuscations.

As of August 22 the fire was 550 acres. Then a week later the wind came up, the fire blew up, and by August 31 the fire was 10,382 acres. The fire roared into New Harmony, Utah, forced the evacuation of 170 New Harmony residents, destroyed three homes and damaged eight buildings.

Some benefit, eh?

At the time Utah Governor Gary Herbert criticized the USFS [here]

“It appears the Forest Service started the fire,” Herbert said Sunday. “They should take responsibility.” …

Herbert also took aim at restrictions on federal wilderness areas. The Mill Flat fire started July 25 within the Pine Valley Mountain Wilderness Area.

Before Congress designated the area as protected wilderness, livestock grazing controlled vegetation overgrowth that causes fires to burn more intensely when they do start, he said.

“With wilderness, our hands are tied behind our backs,” Herbert said. “It sets us up for a tragedy.” …

Fire spokesman Kenton Call said questions about cost and the decision not to fight the fire earlier will be addressed at a later date.

The later date has arrived and the questions answered: the fire blow up and destruction it caused were the fault of the New Harmony residents, not the USFS.

According to the Lessons Learned report, one of the factors that led to the fire reaching town was that residents failed to inform the USFS that they did not wish to be burned out:

Several folks interviewed shared that although they had concerns or doubts about continuing with the strategy to manage the Mill Flat Fire after August 25, 2009, they did not speak up.

Evidently if you don’t scream in their ears, the USFS cannot hear you. Officious blobs of stupid will incinerate you, and then blame you for not explaining to them what a poor decision choice that might be.

According to the Lessons Learned report, the public was “confused” by the “multiple terms for various management options for wildland fire”.

“Fire for Resource Benefit”, “Suppression Fire” and “Benefit Fires” are terms and ideas that continue to narrow our vision. Labels can narrow one’s vision of management options and perhaps contribute to reduced situational awareness. … There were misconceptions among the participants regarding the interactions between wilderness and fire management policy.

One of the narrow visions that confused the public was that the USFS fuel break designed to protect the community of New Harmony would be effective at stopping a fire. The report clarifies that misunderstanding:

* The fuel break had not been maintained for years…

* The original design of the fuel break required all vegetation to be left in the drainages. This resulted in two “wicks” that, if left untreated, provided a clear path for the fire to cross. …

* The fuel break was built on the USFS property boundary; in many cases this was not best tactical location to be effective.

* The width of the fuel break was not adequate for the fire behavior that occurred.

* The fuel break was never intended to “stop” a fire but rather to reduce fire intensity to a more manageable level by reducing fuel loading and breaking the continuity between the wildlands and the community.

The fuel break was a joke. The residents of New Harmony should have known they were being played. They were told that “public safety” was the principal concern of the USFS in any fire situation. The residents were gullible enough to believe that, when the policy of the USFS over years and years was to ignore public safety with a fake fuel break that the USFS knew was inadequate and poorly designed.

Now the USFS says the purpose of the fuel break was NOT to stop fires from burning into town. The residents should have known that all along.

The Lesson Learned conclusions:

The team found that managers performed within the context of their experience and training. Their actions were reasonable based on what they knew and what they expected to happen and the policy available to guide their decisions.

Fire managers consistently made firefighter and public safety the highest priority on the Mill Flat Fire. Strong interagency relationships helped communicate with partners on fire status.


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All this talk of forests as carbon caches just a smokescreen

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

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

First, however, some basic information.

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

The article’s errors in logic are less obvious.

Is this even news?

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


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

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

Does that even make sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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