11 Sep 2009, 12:58am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Indian Firefighting: The Little People Fire

The following fire report was compiled from various information sources and posted at W.I.S.E. Fire Tracking [here]. I thought it might interest SOS Forests readers, so I am posting it here, too.

I post daily about many active fires. This one was different. On this fire the landowners jumped on it aggressively and put it out forthwith. On many fires that I report, the landowner is the US Government and many of the fires are not fought at all or half-heartedly at best. The landowner on the Little People Fire is not the Feds. They are resident landowners, not the absentee kind. It makes a big difference.

Little People Fire

Location: Crow Reservation, 16 miles E of Bridger, Big Horn Co., MT
Specific Location: Pryor Creek above Pryor Gap, 45.313 latitude, -108.528 longitude

Date of Origin: August 31, 2009
Cause: Lightning

Situation as of 09/10/2009 6:00 pm
Personnel: not specifically reported
Size: 126 acres
Percent contained: 100%

Little People Photographs [here]

Incident Overview [here]

More than 3000 lightning strikes hit the Crow Reservation as a cold front passed through Monday, August 31. Lots of rain accompanied the storm, yet smoldering smokes appeared for several days afterward.

The Flatlip fire was reported at 12:30 Wednesday, September 2 in Lost Creek Canyon by homeowners south of Pryor. A squad from Crow and 16 smokejumpers contained that fire September 6. Responding to the Flatlip fire Wednesday Sept. 2, at 12:40 Pryor Engine Boss Darin Plain Bull saw a second smoke behind the Castle Rocks.

Recognizing that the second fire would have more burn potential and better access, he brought the Pryor squad and Engine 204 to the Little People fire, calling for air support. The firefighters had to ford Pryor Creek six times and climb almost 1000′ to the fire.

Within a half hour after the crew arrived, single engine and heavy air tankers from Billings supported by an aerial observer (”air attack”) were dropping retardant on the Little People fire, which then burned across retardant lines during the night two nights in a row.

Firefighters needed the fire to be dampened by water or retardant before they could dig line on the extremely steep, inaccessible canyon slopes at the fire. The fire area was too hazardous and inaccessible for work after dark.

Five helicopters and about 130 line firefighters were on the fire during its most intense fire behavior. Crews came from the Blackfeet, Crow, Ft. Peck, and Rocky Boy Reservations, and from the Bighorn National Forest. Helitack came from Yellowstone National Park and the Boise National Forest. Photos of crews and helitack are posted at “Photographs” above.

The fire slopped across containment lines for two nights due to rolling material. To rectify that, smokejumpers from the Flatlip fire spiked out on the fireline two nights to catch any fire growth early in the morning.

On September 6 crews maintained lines around the 126 acre fire for a full day without any further slopovers. Wetting rain of 0.13″ or so fell on September 7, the same day the fire was declared contained. Two crews demobed September 8. Two more crews worked through the day extinguishing hotspots, and putting water bars into fireline to prevent erosion. Most personnel demobed September 9, when the fire was turned over to Type 4 management from Crow BIA Forestry.

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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5 Sep 2009, 5:24am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Air Tankers, Politics, and Turf

The following editorial and comments appeared in the Idaho Mountain Express last month. We thought they were interesting, and not just because of the clever use of terms like “idiocracy”, “acornists”, and “large women”. Thanks and a tip of the hardhat to RRsue and the YP Times for the link up.

‘Fire bombers’ needed now

Idaho Mountain Express Editorial, August 12, 2009 [here]

A bureaucratic snag that doesn’t make sense to most mortals is holding up $2.5 billion needed to expand and upgrade the Agriculture Department’s fleet of aerial firefighting tankers.

Why? Because Congress wants more detailed justification.

Justification? Hundreds of pages of statistics and graphs available now show conclusively the Forest Service aviation operation is in dire need. Of the 44 tankers it had in 2002, only 19 are now flying, some 50 years old. The others were grounded as unsafe because of age.

So, the agency turns to leasing or renting from a pool of some 800 privately owned fire bombers and helicopters, plus a few U.S. Air Force tankers, at premium rates.

Because of the shortage of Forest Service tankers, about 150 fires that were not attacked early led to additional suppression costs of between $300 million and $450 million. A large new air tanker reportedly costs about $75 million.

Fighting wildfires is big and costly business. Considering just fires of 40,000 acres or more in 2008, tentative costs were estimated at $706 million. During the year, air tankers dropped more than 12 million gallons of retardant.

States such as Idaho, whose spectacular forests always are vulnerable to rapacious fires, should pressure Congress to end the delay and get on with procuring new aircraft.

Aircraft deliveries take time, but fires don’t wait. The federal government shouldn’t risk destruction of entire communities, whose restoration can take years, in wrangling over saving a dime.

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The comments below are from the readers of mtexpress.com and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing Inc.

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Duncan – Ketchum, Id 08/14/09 - I am a former air tanker pilot. I worked for the company that lost two aircraft in ‘02 due to structural failure. Currently I am flying as an “Air Attack,” and I’m flying on the La Brea fire in Santa Barbara County.

Your article is mostly correct. In 2002 we actually had 56 air tankers available nationwide as well as many others owned by individual states. Currently, there are 16 available nationwide. This does not include the ill-advised DC-10 and 747 VLAT (Very Large Air Tankers). There has been a proliferation of the smaller SEATS (single Engine Air Tankers) and massive expansion in the helicopter capability. California has upgraded and modernized its fleet of 16 S-2’s and converted them to turbine engines, increasing the capacity and capability.

Fire fighting is unfortunately very political. In its sweeping decision of 2002 the FEDS threw out the baby with the bathwater. Fearing liability, all tankers were grounded and only the P2’s and P-3’s were eventually allowed to return to service after much lobbying by those who had the right contacts. ALL Douglass aircraft, the 4’s, 6’s and 7’s were denied returning to service. This deprived the country of nearly 20 capable and reliable aircraft. The hypocrisy of the FEDS became apparent when they continue to fly the Douglass DC-3 converted to the Bassler BT-67 used by the smokejumpers. Politics.

There are literally dozens of P-3 aircraft sitting in the desert at Davis Mothan outside of Tuscon. These aircraft will NOT be released to the few remaining tanker operators, because private individuals are not allowed, by law, to possess front line military aircraft.

Ultimately, what is going to happen is the responsibility for flying air tankers will be assumed by the military at ten times the costs and one tenth of the effectiveness. It’s not the military’s fault, and I do respect them, it’s just that they rotate personnel and their protocols prevent them from being effective. This is an inherently hazardous business and is best left to the professionals.

What is truly needed to avert this folly is for a National Fire Service to be set up and run as an agency similar to the Coast Guard. This will never happened either, the USFS derives the greatest portion of its budget from firefighting and will not willingly give up this cash cow. They will continue to fight over turf, hoard resources, and generally do a poor job. So poor in fact, that their performance would get them fired in the private sector. But thank god for government employment. It is a perfect example of the “Peter Principle” in action. I have witnessed it over 12 years in my career and frankly am disgusted by the waste and inefficiency.

Yes, the Castle Rock fire was a great success. But remember, it was the political clout of this valley that brought in all the tools and made that fire a national priority. This does not happen everywhere and is not the norm.

Those of us who fly the planes on fire in this country live a ground hog day existence.
Some things never change.

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Duncan – Ketchum, Idaho 08/20/09 - The sad thing is, I am working on the La Brea fire with Pincha-Tulley. I took OPS up for a recon yesterday early, we were told, “kill it, do whatever it takes to knock this sucker out.” Five hours later a NIMO Team showed up and said shut down the tanker base, you are spending too much money. They cut off food, and water. Never mind that contractually, food and water are provisions of the service we provide.

So then we had to leave the base and go to town and buy our own food on our own time.
Sounds not so bad right?

We”ll guess what happened when all the flight crews were in town having lunch at different restaraunts on their own dime? If you guessed the fire blew up and crossed the containment lines, then you win… more tax dollars spent.

The effort to save money on meals (around $1000.00 for all base personnel) ended up costing over $75,000.00 because of terrain compromised and increased efforts after everyone made it back from town.

Now the dispatchers, mind you, are not subject to these rules, they are feds, are well fed, and if you are not careful, they will eat not only your lunches while you are up flying, but if you try and grab any leftovers, they will eat your fingers. These large women are the problem, they are entrenched bureaucrats who scream discrimination if you try and get them to do their jobs, for which they are paid.

Grabass is the name of the game. They can all be found in the bar at the nearest hotel after sunset. Meanwhile, we pilots can be found walking along the highway to the nearest Taco Bell to try and get some sort of nourishment before we fly again in the morning.

So the fire has once again escaped containment lines, more money is being spent. Lives are at risk. And they shut down the base Tuesday afternoon, sent everyone home. Ooopps, Wednesday morning they brought everyone back, and had to take the time to reset what they had spent the previous day undoing. All in the name of saving money, hundreds of thousands more was spent.

The “Feral” government is the Peter Principle in action. There are good people trying to fight the idiocracy of “Change we can believe in,” but these voices are drowned out by the acornists who call us dinosaurs.

I am truly afraid we are witnessing the last days of the American republic. We will soon be a backwater banana republic where buffoons like like Pat Murphy are our leaders, pied pipers leading us all over a cliff. Goodnight Gracie

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NOrdas – NV 09/02/09 - Duncan, your comments are factual and correct. Those from the aviation know truth. The P-3 are the perfect solution. But that’s only if you wanted to put the out fires. (loaded Wass in Minden) I knew that day it would change aviation fire fighting forever, but not for the better.

I also witnessed the Feds actions against the State of Nevada NDF pilots. False charges and destroying pilots careers are not becoming attribute of the federal government. Getting rid of pilots and grounding aircraft is the fuel for a spending out-of-control intoxicated government.

I too share your disgust… glad I am no longer in the business!

3 Sep 2009, 3:54pm
Climate and Weather The 2009 Fire Season
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Mega Smoke in LA

The Station Fire [here] is 145,000+ acres and growing, and it has churned out smoke in unbelievably vast quantities. The smoke consists of ash and pyrolytic compounds such as carbon monoxide and dioxide. The smoke particles range in size from large embers down to a micron or less in diameter.

The fire has produced its own weather, including pyrocumulus clouds:

Time lapse pyrocumulus for the LA Station Fire

by Anthony Watts, Watts Up With That, Sept 2, 2009 [here]

Like volcanic eruptions, some fires grow large enough to make their own weather with the heat being released acting like convection. Witness this neat time lapse in HD showing the “Station” fire in the Angeles National Forest.

This video was made by photographer Brandon Riza on August 30th, 2009. It is quite well done and quite visually stunning. Click image for time lapse video.

pyrocumulus — A pyrocumulus or fire cloud is a dense cumuliform cloud associated with fire or volcanic activity.

A pyrocumulus cloud is produced by the intense heating of the air from the surface. The intense heat induces convection which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, usually in the presence of moisture. Phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and occasionally industrial activities can induce formation of this cloud. The detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere will also produce a pyrocumulus in the form of a mushroom cloud which is made by the same mechanism. The presence of a low level jet stream can enhance its formation. Condensation of ambient moisture (moisture already present in the atmosphere) as well as moisture evaporated from burnt vegetation or volcanic outgassing occurs readily on particles of ash.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia. Click for larger image.

Pyrocumuli contain severe turbulence which also results in strong gusts at the surface which can exacerbate a large conflagration. A large pyrocumulus, particularly one associated with a volcanic eruption, may also produce lightning. This is a process not fully understood as of yet, but is probably in some way associated with charge separation induced by severe turbulence, and perhaps, by the nature of the particles of ash in the cloud. Large pyrocumuli can contain temperatures well below freezing, and the electrostatic properties of any ice that forms may also play a role. A pyrocumulus which produces lightning is actually a type of cumulonimbus, a thundercloud and is called pyrocumulonimbus.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia. Click for larger image.

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Utah Governor Slams USFS for Foofurb Disaster

Utah Governor Gary Herbert criticized the US Forest Service for the Mill Flat Fire that burned into New Harmony, destroying three homes, damaging others, and forcing the evacuation of the town.

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

The Mill Flat Fire [here] ignited July 25 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.

As of August 22 the fire was 550 acres. Then last Saturday the wind came up, the fire blew up, and by Monday the fire was 10,382 acres. The fire is still only 5 percent contained and it may be another 10 to 12 days before full containment is achieved. Over 700 firefighters are engaged. The suppression costs have not been reported as yet.

No estimates of the damages have been made yet either, although Killpack warned that floods next spring could cause additional losses [here]:

One of the biggest future problems with the Mill Flat fire, Killpack said, could be flooding in the spring created from loss of vegetation. Killpack said he has already put in a request for Forest Service for funds to help mitigate flooding. Requested items might include sandbags, square baskets full of rocks to impede stream flow or other recommendations from an agency hydrologists.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s comments were reported yesterday:

Herbert views fire, criticizes federal policies

By Mark Havnes, The Salt Lake Tribune, 08/31/2009 [here]

New Harmony » Gov. Gary Herbert on Sunday joined critics questioning why the 10,000-acre Mill Flat fire that destroyed at least three structures and threatened more than 600 others was not suppressed earlier.

After flying over the blaze’s towering smoke column in a helicopter, he aimed his criticism at a decision to let the lightning-caused fire burn as a way to clear old growth and invite rejuvenation.

“A lighting strike may be a good way to manage resources but [it] may not be the best practice,” the governor said. …

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

Perhaps sheep should be allowed to graze in now-restricted areas, he said.

Officials had been monitoring the fire mostly burning through dead vegetation for nearly a month before it exploded in size on Saturday as heavy winds quickly pushed it closer and closer to residential areas.

At a town meeting Sunday afternoon, Patricia Smith asked how much money would have been saved had officials opted to suppress the fire earlier. …

Jon Petersen, who lives in Las Vegas but whose family has a house in New Harmony, said the Forest Service “screwed up.”

He said he went up to a ridge top to look at the fire two weeks ago and saw tragedy coming.

“The smoke would flare up in Pine Valley and drop its ashes [and embers] on New Harmony.

His brother, Ralph Petersen, also criticized slow response to fight the flames.

“My solution is the first five days [the fire] is nature made, after that it should be treated as manmade,” he said.

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

For his part, Herbert said he wants to ensure state taxpayers won’t bear the cost.

“It appears the Forest Service started the fire; they should take responsibility,” he said.

Some conflicting statements: the USFS claimed the fire would “benefit” resources but never presented any explanation of what those benefits might be. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the “benefits” were to “clear old growth and invite rejuvenation.” Yet clearing old-growth is not generally recognized as a benefit. In fact, clearing old growth is something that “environmentalists” rail at length against.

The SL Tribune also reported that “the fire mostly burning through dead vegetation for nearly a month” and that the purpose of the fire was to “reduce the amount of available fuel.”

That is, a wildfire was allowed to burn unchecked in mid-summer because there was a significant threat to resources and to public health and safety from a fire in those fuels.

Next week the USFS will be driving all its vehicles over a cliff because there is a threat that the vehicles may fall off a cliff someday.

In another SL Tribune report [here] Killpack was quoted:

“We have an unhealthy ecosystem with a lot of stressed trees so bugs are able to kill them,” he said. “We have 35 percent dead trees in tight vegetation above the towns of Pine Valley, New Harmony and Leeds, and one day that will burn. It’s not if, it’s when.”

Evidently he thought the middle of summer was the best time to incinerate his Ranger District.

Environmentalists blamed the victims:

“New Harmony is no longer New Harmony,” [long-time Utah wilderness activist Dick] Carter said of building homes in fire-prone areas. “It’s out of harmony and it’s been out of harmony a long time because we have failed to understand the consequences of growth and that’s the thing Governor Herbert and others will have to deal with.”

Carter did not blame himself for insisting on wilderness designation, even though that designation precludes any sort of true restoration that might benefit resources. Indeed, wilderness designation is an invitation to catastrophic fire:

In managing wildfires in wilderness, district rangers such as Killpack must request permission from supervisors at the forest and regional level to use chain saws, land helicopters or drop water or retardants from the air in wilderness areas. For the Mill Flat fire, that permission was granted last Thursday, Killpack said.

Unfortunately, that was a little too late to save the town or the forest.

The site of the conflagration, Pine Valley, has been home to human beings for more than 10,000 years. It is not “wilderness,” not “untrammeled,” and not “pristine.” It is and has been homeland and was managed by the residents with anthropogenic fire for millennia. Traditional management precluded catastrophic fires, which would have been disastrous, would have destroyed resources, and would have compromised the survival of the residents. Hence they burned the landscape on a frequent, seasonal, regular basis with light, low intensity fires. Frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fires engendered the pine savanna which gave the valley its name.

In the absence of traditional stewardship, and indeed in the absence of any stewardship at all, the pine savanna has been destroyed and severe damage has been done to environmental and human-built resources. And that destruction has come at great expense, far greater than common sense traditional stewardship would have cost.

The Mill Flat Fire is another forest fire tragedy and disaster that arose from fatheaded politics and unmanagement in support of a myth. Similar tragedies arising from the same causes have ravaged western landscapes in recent years, and there appears to be no light at the end of that tunnel.

AU Royal Commission Interim Report Released

The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission presented their Interim Report to the Victorian Lieutenant Governor on 17 August 2009. A copy of the report can be viewed or downloaded [here].

Last February wildfires ravaged the state of Victoria in southeastern Australia. Close to 200 people were killed and more than 2,000 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.”

The Commission held 26 community consultations in 14 fire locations. Some 1200 people attended. Public submissions were invited and over 1200 submissions were received from people in fire-affected and unaffected areas, and from around Australia and overseas.

Interim Report contains 51 recommendations focused predominantly on changes that can be implemented prior to the 2009–10 bushfire season. An Implementation Plan will be issued by September 30, 2009, and a Delivery Report by 31 March 2010.

The Interim Report is critical of the warning and fire information system in Victoria and of the “Leave Early Or Stay And Defend” policy. That policy, which led directly to mass death, was recommended and promoted for use in this country by the US Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the National Association of State Foresters in their Quadrennial Fire Review 2009 issued last January [here].

The QFR advances new core strategies for reinforcing fire management’s role in ecosystem sustainability by developing strategic management response capabilities that are more flexible and agile and further in line with the national response framework. While continuing to promote the concept of fire-adapted human communities, the QFR outlines new strategies to realign fire governance by rethinking federal, tribal, and state and local roles and responsibilities for wildland urban interface fire prevention and protection. Tied to this mission strategy of building a new national intergovernmental wildfire policy framework, are specific strategy elements for developing community fuels reduction zones in the interface, supporting leave-early or stay-and-defend alternatives for property owners while working with communities to assure that community fire prevention regulations are in place along with adequate local response capability.

The massive failure of “Leave Early Or Stay And Defend” in Australia one month later has not yet entered into the consciousness of our federal land management agencies. It is hoped that the Royal Commission report will sink in here where it is also desperately needed. Generating mass death disasters is not good government, and our federal agencies should not barge blindly down that road.

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16 Aug 2009, 9:04pm
The 2009 Fire Season
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Mexican Drug Cartel Marijuana Operation Caused La Brea Fire

Fire Investigators Determine Cause of La Brea Fire

Incident: La Brea Wildfire

Released: 24 hrs. ago

Date: August 15, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE*

FIRE INVESTIGATORS DETERMINE CAUSE OF LA BREA FIRE

GOLETA, CA… A week-long investigation by U.S. Forest Service Special Agents, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit and Fire Investigators has revealed the cause of the La Brea Fire. Investigators revealed that the La Brea Fire was started by a cooking fire in a marijuana drug trafficking operation.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit has confirmed that the camp at the origin of the fire was an illegal marijuana operation believed to be run by a Mexican National Drug Organization. The Narcotics Unit has been working in the area within the last month eradicating other nearby marijuana cultivation sites.

Although the La Brea Fire started more than one week ago, there is evidence that the unburned marijuana garden area has been occupied within the last several days. The Narcotics Unit has secured the camp area which was located in remote and rugged terrain. It is also believed that the suspects are still within the San Rafael Wilderness trying to leave the area on foot. Officials warn not to approach anyone who looks suspicious but to instead contact the nearest law enforcement agency.

Anyone with further information is urged to contact U.S. Forest Service, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department or local law enforcement agencies.

The investigation continues with cooperating agencies including Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire, and other local agencies.

The La Brea Fire Tip Line is still open, and anyone with additional information helpful to this ongoing investigation is urged to contact investigators at (805) 686-5074. Your call may remain anonymous.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department will release more information regarding the Narcotics investigation on Monday. The media contact at the Sheriff’s Department is Drew Sugars, Public Information Officer, at 805.681.4192.

For media inquiries regarding the investigation of the cause and origin of the La Brea Fire, contact the U.S. Forest Service at (805) 961-5707, and an investigator will return you call.

*Jointly released with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit

The La Brea Fire [here] in Santa Barbara County is now up to 86,811 acres and is 64% contained. At last report (6:00pm this evening) 2,080 firefighters and other personnel are engaged in fighting the fire. There are 141 engines, 59 firecrews, 29 dozers, 54 water tenders, 14 helicopters, and 5 fixed wing aircraft including the Martin Mars super scooper, an aircraft with a 200 foot wingspan that can hold 7,200 gallons of water. It is the world’s largest scooping water bomber. Suppression costs to date are an estimated $18 to $20 million. The fire is in Unified Command with the USFS and Cal Fire; J. Pincha-Tulley and R. Lewin are joint Incident Commanders.

Structures threatened include 243 residences and 16 outbuildings. An evacuation order is still in effect for the 23 threatened residences on Foothill Road, 7 residences on Buckhorn Ridge, 5 Pine Canyon, and 199 in Tepusquet. The White Oaks Ranger Station has been incinerated.

The La Brea Fire ignited in Cottonwood Canyon and has spread south and east to the Cuyama Valley. Three days ago it jumped the Sisquoc River by the Manzana Schoolhouse Campground. The fire reached the edge of the Zaca Burn (2007) but instead of stopping it continued south and is burning within the old Zaca perimeter.

Flash flooding next winter is expected, as occurred after the Zaca Fire. Officials are concerned that protective levees from Santa Maria to Guadalupe may be overwhelmed due to the significant loss of soil infiltration and water holding capacity within the burned watershed.

14 Aug 2009, 3:45pm
Saving Forests The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
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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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5 Aug 2009, 8:11pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
5 comments

Another Foofurb Blows Up

The Kootenai Creek Foofurb Fire blew up yesterday, almost tripling in size from 768 acres to 2,033 acres.

“Foofurb” is a euphemism for “fire used for resource benefit.” However, as is usual with foofurbs, no benefits have been elucidated for the Kootenai Creek Fire, no EIS created, and no NEPA process undertaken or envisioned. Even though the fire management actions promulgated by the Bitterroot National Forest have had significant impact, and the National Environmental Policy Act requires that such actions be preceded by a NEPA process, none were undertaken — in direct violation of the law.

The Kootenai Creek Foofurb Fire [here] was ignited by lightning almost a month ago (July 12). The Bitterroot NF immediately declared it a foofurb, a Let It Burn fire. They promised a long term plan which was never forthcoming. They announced no maximum burn zone or estimated date of containment.

On June 24 fire crews “temporarily securing the SE/SW corners of the fire by utilizing natural barriers and aircraft.” Then they left the fire smoldering.

Temporary is right. Yesterday strong winds sparked the embers and blew the fire up. From the Missoulian this morning:

Kootenai Creek fire: Blaze blows up - Heavy winds fan wildfire as it more than doubles in size

By Rob Chaney, The Missoulian, August 05 2009 [here]

Unexpectedly strong afternoon winds whipped the Kootenai Creek fire into a frenzy Tuesday, more than doubling the blaze from 900 acres to about 2,000.

The wildfire - which is being allowed to burn - started moving west along the steep canyon walls where it has burned since a mid-July lightning storm, then took a run into dense timber along the divide between Kootenai and Bass creek canyons.

The resulting plume of smoke could be seen throughout the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys. The fire is burning due west of Stevensville, two miles into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

Bitterroot National Forest spokeswoman Nan Christianson said flames were running through the tree crowns and spotting across Kootenai Canyon trail and creek to the south. Strong winds were pushing it up a north-facing slope toward the ridgeline, and also toward the eastern mouth of the canyon. …

Tuesday’s late-day winds were so strong that [Stevensville District Ranger Dan] Ritter had to ground the helicopter flying water to the fire. No ground firefighters are assigned to Kootenai Creek, as it is being allowed to burn as a lightning-caused wilderness fire.

Fire managers intended to take infrared readings of the burned area overnight, then “we’ll decide what to do,” Ritter said. “It’s still in the wilderness and in rugged terrain. It’s too steep for hand crews.”

Because no buildings or private property is threatened, the fire will likely be allowed to continue burning. It is now the largest wildfire in the state of Montana.

Unexpected? Hardly. Strong winds blow every August across the Bitterroot Range. Unplanned? No, the USFS long ago declared a 4 million acre Let It Burn zone in Montana. Legal? No, nothing about Let It Burn fires are legal.

Are resources “benefiting”? No, the following resources are being devastated: vegetation, wildlife, wildlife habitat, soils, air quality, hydrology, water quality, recreation, scenery, public health and safety, historic cultural resources, fisheries and aquatic ecosystems, and local, regional, and national economies. In addition, long-term significant cumulative impacts will occur to all the above.

There is a purpose to NEPA, and that is to evaluate the environmental effects of Federal actions before they are implemented. Violation of NEPA can lead to environmental degradation and devastation. In this case, exactly that happened and is happening.

There are those who argue that burning the Bitterroot is preferable to stewarding our public lands. If they really believe that, they are welcome to make their case in a lawful NEPA process before inflicting devastation on the rest of us. However, making that case in the absence of a NEPA process, as an after-the-fact justification for illegal activities such as Let It Burn fires, is dishonest and shows a complete disregard for the law.

Those who sanction and excuse lawbreaking by Federal land overseers invite the worst form of government: tyranny and authoritarianism. That is not what America is all about.

Sadly, the largest fire in Montana is raging out of control and incinerating natural resources precisely because the USFS refuses to obey the law.

3 Aug 2009, 2:44pm
The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
4 comments

More Eightmile Foofurb Obfuscations

The Boise NF issued a press release about the Eightmile Foofurb Fire [here] this morning. The press release is not yet up on their website but can be viewed at InciWeb [here].

Some high- and lowlights, with commentary:

Lowman, ID – The lightning caused Eightmile Creek Fire, continues to burn and is being managed by the Boise National Forest as a “wildfire managed for resource benefits”. The fire is located about 12 miles northeast of Lowman.

They have dropped the “in the Lowman Burn” counter-factual verbiage. That’s just about the only highlight.

The Type 3 Incident Management Team assigned to this incident is completing development of a Long Term Implementation Plan (LTIP). The LTIP will aid in the management of this incident until a season ending event occurs. The LTIP will address the anticipated fluctuations in growth and predicted long-term weather.

Type 3 means local. The fire managers and crews are from the Boise NF. They plan on Letting It Burn until the snow flies (otherwise they would not need a LTIP).

Late on the evening of Sunday, August 2, management actions taken to help contain the fire in the main Eightmile Creek drainage included water application from Type 1 and Type 2 helicopters and several retardant drops from small fixed wing aircraft. These actions were successful in checking the fire. …

Some sort of half-assed suppression is underway. No line building is mentioned, just aviation. Without line building the fire will not be contained, controlled, or extinguished.

The fire has been burning since July 12 and has grown to 630 acres as of Monday, August 3. It is burning in a management area that is Proposed Wilderness and continues to show low to moderate fire intensity with small uphill runs resulting in tree torching. Other areas within the fire are experiencing creeping ground fire. Current resource objectives are being met. …

The fire doubled in size over the weekend. “Proposed wilderness” is a red herring; Let It Burn with zero fire suppression is not a legal requirement in wilderness, designated or not. Wilderness fires can be suppressed. In fact, every time that wilderness is proposed, the argument is made that the USFS will suppress the fires despite the lack of roads. They have developed special minimum impact techniques for wilderness fires. The idea that their hands are tied and they can’t suppress fires because the area is “proposed wilderness” is hideous obfuscation and totally objectionable.

Besides, the area has been occupied and managed by human beings for 11,000+ years. It isn’t “untrammeled” because human transportation networks, ancient and modern, crisscross the area.

When trees torch, they die. The “resource objectives” are unstated and have never been subjected to any NEPA evaluation or process.

The fire began on the west side of the Eightmile Creek drainage and has been burning in a west and southwest direction. It spotted across Eightmile Creek to the east and is now burning near the ridge line between Eightmile and the East Fork of Eightmile Creek. …

More obfuscation and a pathetic attempt to say that they knew all along the fire was not in the 1989 Lowman Burn. That’s either an admission that they lied, or an admission of incompetence at mapping. The fire has spread in every cardinal direction from the ignition point, something the press release minces around about.

As big game seasons approach, those hunters who desire to scout the Eightmile Creek and neighboring drainages should contact Fire Information 208-259-3729, or the Lowman District Office 208-259-3361, for current fire conditions. No closures or restrictions are in effect at this time due to the fire, but current information could be important to a successful recreational or hunting trip.

There is no game in the burned over area. The deer and elk either ran away or got fried. All forage and browse has been incinerated. If you want to hunt in an active fire that the USFS plans to keep burning until November, you must be a real idiot. Recreational use, including hunting, is kaput for this year. That resource category has been eliminated by this “fire for resource benefit.”

Smoke can be seen within the Highway 21 corridor in the evening and through early morning hours. Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has installed a Real Time Smoke Monitor to measure air quality. Local air quality is also being affected by drift smoke coming from wildland fires in eastern Oregon, where 132 new fires were started Sunday from lightning storms. In addition, several new fires were started on the Boise National Forest.

The IDEQ installed a smoke monitor on private property in the community of Eightmile, at the request of a private property owner. The USFS had nothing to do with it, it wasn’t their idea, and it freaked them out. Here are the early readings:

Note that for the first 24 hours the device was malfunctioning. The smoke has been (still is) very thick, and the declining readings during the first 24 hours are anomalous and incorrect. For more on health damage from wildfire smoke see [here and here].

The smoke impacting the residents is 99+ percent from the Eightmile Foofurb Fire. It is not Oregon smoke. That’s another specious claim made by the Boise NF. You would think that having been caught in other lies about this fire, the Boise NF would start telling the truth. If so, you would think wrong.

Jackson Peak Lookout continues to closely monitor the fire and reports to the Incident Management Team twice daily. Adequate suppression resources are available if needed.

More specious claims. When this fire blows up the Boise NF will be begging for help, and help is already detailed to other fires. They could have doused this fire when it was one tree aflame for far less than they have already spent. When all is said and done, it is likely that millions of taxpayers dollars will have been spent incinerating the Boise NF (par for the course) and $millions more in damages will have been inflicted.

The Boise NF is out of control and so are their fires. Their game is Burn Baby Burn America’s forests, for specious reasons, attended by out-and-out lies and feeble attempts at cover up. This forest needs a management overhaul and complete house cleaning. The citizenry cannot trust the current crop of Boise NF leadership, and should not, and should seek a new crop immediately.

Eightmile Old-Growth Forest Incineration With Glee

America’s Let It Burn laboratory, the Boise National Forest, is on fire once again. Surprise, surprise.

The Eightmile Foofurb* Fire [here] is over 600 acres and headed for Montana.

*foofurb: euphemism for “fire used for resource benefit.” However, as is usual with foofurbs, no benefits have been elucidated, no EIS created, no NEPA process undertaken or envisioned [here].

The Boise NF is famous for Let It Burn, or should we say infamous. The USFS announced in 2006 that they intended to burn Idaho severely, and then in the middle of the 2007 fire season they declared Idaho forests to be national “Let It Burn Laboratories.” And Let It Burn they did! Over 2 million acres in Idaho were burned deliberately in this fashion by the USFS, including 1,250 square miles of the erosion-sensitive Idaho Batholith in the Payette, Boise, and Nez Perce National Forests [here].

With only 60 percent of the average fire starts, 2007 should have been a mild fire year. However, due to a national policy of Let It Burn, numerous small fires were allowed (encouraged) to become megafires. Approximately 9.75 million acres were roasted nationally in 2007, second only to 2006 (9.89 million acres) since the 1950’s(before cooperative fire protection was fully implemented).

Let It Burn is particularly popular in Idaho, where the National Interagency Fire Center is located (in Boise, where else?). Fire guys like fires. It’s their bread and butter, They see forests as piles of fuel — opportunity knocking, in other words — double-overtime hazard pay when those forest fuel piles are torching away. Hence the Boise NF is one of NIFC’s pet incineration projects, for which they feel the same sort of affection that jet fighter pilots feel for a bombing range.

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30 Jul 2009, 11:17pm
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
8 comments

NPS — Noxious Pseudo Scientists

The National Park Service is currently incinerating 400-year-old old-growth in Olympic National Park. As of today six fires are burning, the largest being the Constance Foofurb Fire at 180 acres.

Foofurb is slang for “fire used for resource benefit,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. Foofurbs are Let It Burn fires; letting fires rip through our National Parks is a practice the NPS is in love with.

With any luck (the bad kind — Murphy’s Law variety), an uncontained fire in old-growth forests in July will burn for two or three more months. The Constance Foofurb Fire go mega, ala the Tillamook Burn. Hundreds of thousands of acres could be catastrophically destroyed. The fuel loadings are enormous, the vegetation is dry, and rain is not expected until Fall.

In two or thee weeks the fire could reach the communities of Duckabush, Brinnon, and Quilcene on Dabob Bay and Hood Canal. Hopefully those broad arms of Puget Sound will stop it, because the NPS isn’t going to.

The NPS is famous for Let It Burn megafires. In 1988 they burned 1.2 million acres in and around Yellowstone NP. The strategy was Let It Burn until things got out of hand, but by then it was too late. In the end, $120 million was spent suppressing fires that could have been doused weeks earlier for a whole lot less.

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Wildfire ‘Benefit’ Double Talk Jive Is Over

The U.S. Forest Service, proud purveyor of foofurbs (fires used for resource benefit), is guilty of double talk jive hypocrisy. It turns out, that when there’s a deep pocket to sue, the USFS flip flops and claims that wildfires damage resources!

Yesterday the U.S. Dept. of Justice announced that the USFS had been awarded a $14.75 million windfall settlement from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for “damages” resulting from the 1999 Pendola Fire.

Second Largest Settlement In A Forest Fire Case

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, Yahoo News, Jul 28, 2009 [here]

To: NATIONAL EDITORS

PG&E Pays $14.75 Million to Settle Claims Arising from the 1999 Pendola Fire

SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has agreed to pay $14.75 million to settle the government’s claims of damages resulting from the 1999 Pendola fire in the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests in Northern California. The settlement is the second largest recovery in United States Forest Service history in a forest fire case.

“This substantial settlement reflects the value we all place on such treasures as the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests,” stated Acting United States Attorney Lawrence G. Brown.

The Pendola fire started in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 1999, on privately owned land near Pendola Ranch in Camptonville. A large ponderosa pine tree fell onto a 12kV power distribution line owned by PG&E, and electricity shorted through it, causing the tree to ignite and drop burning embers to the ground. The fire quickly spread to the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests, burning a total of 11,725 acres - 3,866 acres were National Forest Systems land.

The Forest Service mobilized more than 2,500 firefighters and their equipment to fight the Pendola fire. The fire burned for 11 days before it was fully extinguished. Fire crews successfully suppressed the fire without the loss of any life at a cost of approximately $4.2 million. The United States alleged that the tree that fell into the power line was rotten and hazardous, and PG&E or its contractors should have inspected and removed the tree, preventing the fire.

The fire caused substantial damage to National Forest Systems lands, including harm to ecological habitat and loss of timber values, and required forest restoration efforts that continue to date. More than $10 million of the settlement is to compensate the United States for damages to its natural resources. The majority of the settlement monies will go directly to the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests to help remedy the resource devastation from the fire. The settlement was reached through mediation without the necessity of the United States filing a lawsuit.

“Recovering the funds needed to restore the damaged National Forests, and to compensate for the tremendous expense of fighting wildfires, without time consuming and costly litigation, is always in the public interest,” said John Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“We place a very high priority on fire investigations due to the threat to our precious natural resources and public treasures and want to ensure that we have the ability to restore our lands when catastrophe strikes,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kendall J. Newman.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

Let’s parse that. The suppression costs were $4.2 million, but an additional $10.55 million were tacked on in penalties for “resource devastation.”

Apparently wildfires don’t benefit resources, they devastate them.

Who’d a thunk it?????

Considering that the USFS has perpetrated dozens of foofurbs this year alone, with no explication of the alleged “benefits,” with no NEPA process, with no legal authority whatsoever, but based solely the sorry and pathetic claim that wildfires are “beneficial,” it is the height of galloping hypocrisy to claim the exact opposite in Federal Court.

And the Federal Court, mind you, has repeatedly enjoined nearly every healthy forest treatment that would potentially SAVE resources and protect them from the DEVASTATION of wildfires. Isn’t it inexplicably odd that our esteemed Federal Judiciary would suddenly discover that wildfires inflict multi-million dollar damages to those selfsame resources that they spit upon in other cases?

When the pro-holocaust lobby litigates, Fed judges bend over backwards to accommodate them. Burn Baby Burn. But when there’s a rich pigeon to roast, suddenly the TRUE effects of fire on forests get acknowledged.

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22 Jul 2009, 11:14am
Saving Forests The 2009 Fire Season
by admin
12 comments

The Unfinished Saga of the Backbone Fire

By Mike Dubrasich

The Backbone Fire was ignited by lightning on July 1st and is currently burning in the Salmon Mountains of Trinity County in Northern California. As I write, the Backbone Fire [here] is reported to be 6,324 acres and 80 percent contained. Both direct and indirect fire suppression actions are being undertaken.

Thus the Saga of the Backbone Fire has no ending, yet. Furthermore, surprising as it may seem, the story begins deep in the misty past, long before there was even a forest there.

In this essay we will attempt to tell the saga, as best we are able, in full knowledge that the whole story is beyond the scope, backwards and forwards, which we peer through. And we hope to add to this essay in the future, when it arrives, and the final chapters transpire in the present-to-be.

Ancient History

Before the Great Warming occurred that signaled the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation about 12,500 years ago, the Salmon Mountains were icy peaks laden with glaciers. Along the California coast to the west was an Ice Age refugia, warmed by oceanic currents and kept free of ice. There towering Pleistocene redwoods grew, isolated from the rest of the continent by tundra and ice.

Some 13,000 years ago, or perhaps earlier, hardy bands of human beings made their way south to the redwoods from the Bering Land Bridge, or perhaps north from already inhabited South America, no one knows for sure. They were likely a maritime people, living on the edge of the ocean and dining mainly on seafood. Some evidence (there is very little remaining) suggests that those people were also knowledgeable about and utilized the vegetation of the refugia, for food, clothing, shelter, medicines, and fuel.

The Great Warming came, in fits and spurts, and by 11,000 years ago the climate had warmed to more or less modern conditions. The Salmon glaciers melted and forests invaded the formerly frozen ridges and valleys.

This timeline has one telling feature: human beings preceded the forests in the Trinity Mountains, as we did across much of North America. People came before the forests, not after.

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