1 Sep 2009, 7:13pm
Forestry education
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Insured Property Losses in Wildfires

An interesting article appeared today at News Insurances regarding the insured property damage done by large California wildfires.

How much California wildland fire could cost to insurer?

by Barbara Karouski, News Insurances, September 1, [here]

… Nine of the ten largest wildfires, in terms of insured property losses, occurred prior to 2007, according to ISO data. [Insurance Services Office, Inc. is a leading source of information about risk, here]. A 1991 wildfire in Oakland, California tops the list with $2.687 billion in insured losses in 2008 dollars. In October 2007 a series of wildfires broke out across Southern California, damaging thousands of homes and causing widespread evacuations. The largest of these fires, the October 21 Witch fire, resulted in $1.4 billion in insured losses and was the second most damaging wildfire since 1970, in 2008 dollars. …

The article included the following chart:

The ten most costly wildland fires in the United States

The losses listed are to insured private property only. They do not include public health costs, watershed damages, crop loss, or any of the myriad other categories of economic losses associated with wildfires.

In a recent paper, (Zybach, Bob, Michael Dubrasich, Gregory Brenner, and John Marker. 2009. U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project: The “One-Pager” Checklist. Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Advances in Fire Practices, Fall 2009) [here] the authors claimed that wildfire costs-plus-losses can exceed suppression costs by a factor of 10 to 50 times.

I compiled from various sources the estimated suppression costs (ESC) of the five most recent fires on the list above, and divided the ISO estimated insured property loss (IPL) by the suppression costs. I used the “dollars when occurred” IPL values because the suppression costs were also given in “when incurred” dollars. Remember, the IPL is only a fraction of the total damages done by wildfires.

Witch Fire (2007) ESC: $18.0 million — IPL/ESC: 72

Cedar Fire (2003) ESC: $29.9 million — IPL/ESC: 35

Old Fire (2003) ESC:: $37.7 million — IPL/ESC: 26

Rodeo Chediski Fire (2002) ESC: $43.1 million — IPL/ESC: 3

Cerro Grande Fire (2000) ESC: $33.5 million — IPL/ESC: 4

The results confirm that the costs-plus-losses of wildfires are many times the suppression costs.

Further, the total losses in each of these fires far exceed the insured property losses. For instance, the Cerro Grande Fire is estimated to have inflicted total damages in excess of $1 billion [here].

The Rodeo Chediski Fire burned 400 insured homes, but it also consumed 467,066 acres of uninsured forest and woodland. The damages from that fire to timber, water, wildlife, and public health are not reflected in the insured property loss value. Hence the low ratio (3) is also not reflective of the total cost-plus-loss from that fire.

It appears that the estimated range of the ratio (i.e. that costs-plus-losses are 10 to 50 times suppression costs) as expressed in the paper cited is an underestimate. For some fires, the costs-plus-losses can be as much as 100 times the fire suppression expenses.

24 Aug 2009, 9:05am
Forestry education
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Forest fire cost report solidly based in science, accounting

By Mike Dubrasich, Guest Viewpoint, Eugene Register Guard, Aug 24, 2009 [here]

In an Aug. 17 Register-Guard guest viewpoint, “Report on ‘true cost’ of megafires not all it appears to be,” Jim Wells decries “shrill character assassinations with unsupported assertions.” Then he launches into one attacking me.

In his rush to cast flowery and unfounded aspersions, Wells failed to understand the substance and significance of the forest fire economics paper I co-authored.

The paper is U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project: The ‘One-Pager’ Checklist by Bob Zybach, Gregory Brenner, John Marker and myself, from Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, Advances in Fire Practices, Fall 2009. The paper reviews cost-plus-loss fire damage appraisal methods and philosophies.

Note: the paper is [here]. The U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project cooperators have set up a website [here] where reference material is posted.

We (the four authors) cite fire econometric studies from 1925 to 2009. All my fellow authors are recognized environmental experts with extensive schooling, experience and substantial prior achievements in forest and fire-related disciplines.

Wildfires, contrary to popular mythology, cause more harm than good, harming both natural and human environments. Damages (losses) from wildfires include watershed impacts (such as flooding, erosion and degradation of water quality); air quality degradation (smoke, carbon emissions); wildlife habitat destruction and pollution; ecosystem devastation and conversion; compromised public health and safety (health care costs, injuries and fatalities); recreation shutdowns; property losses (homes, businesses and crops); income loss to residents and businesses; and infrastructure destruction and shutdowns (power lines, highways and railroads), in addition to suppression expenses. The damages (cost-plus-loss) from wildfires are immediate and often extend into the distant future as well.

Dollars are standard units of measurement for values. Appraisal of some commodities damaged by wildfire — such as homes, timber and crops — is straightforward. Appraisal of non-commodities, such as endangered species habitat loss and scenery degradation, is more problematic.

But econometric methods (some simple, some complex) have been developed for appraisal of all natural and human resources. Those methods account for and appraise direct, indirect, short-term and long-term impacts.

The Wildfire Economics One Page Checklist presents a simplified accounting ledger (we developed a more detailed fire economics ledger, from which the one-pager was created). It is a tool to be used by fire managers, citizens, analysts, the media and various levels of government officials to quantify the economic damages of wildfires.

Accounting for all the damages that wildfires inflict will help fire suppression planning and fire management. The economic utility of fire suppression is to minimize cost-plus-loss from fires. That is why we invest in fire departments.

Accounting for all the impacts will help emergency service agencies, public health organizations, forest managers, rural and urban residents, small and large businesses, insurance companies, utility companies and local, state and federal governments understand the full scope of fire disasters through the use of reliable economic data, not subjective guesses — or worse, information vacuums.

Accounting for economic impacts informs post-fire reporting, recovery planning and future fire prevention, as well as preparation for individuals, families, communities and agencies.

If Wells, or anyone else, has (friendly) criticisms or questions about the paper, I am happy to post and discuss those at the Western Institute for Study of the Environment Web sites. The paper has been posted there for all to read and study, for free.

The Western Institute for Study of the Environment is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and a collaboration of environmental scientists, resource professionals, practitioners and the interested public. We are based in Lebanon. Our home page is westinstenv.org.

Our mission is to further advancements in knowledge and environmental stewardship across a spectrum of related environmental disciplines and professions.

We provide a free, online set of postgraduate courses in environmental studies, currently 50 topics in eight colloquia, each containing book and article reviews, original papers and essays.

In addition, we present three commentary sub-sites, a news clipping sub-site and a fire tracking sub-site. Hundreds of reviews, reprints and original articles from cutting-edge environmental science research (including forest, fire, and wildlife sciences) are archived in our library.

We strive to educate. That is our mission. Because we are Web-based, we can go into much greater detail on selected scientific issues than can a newspaper (no offense, that’s just how it is in our new digital age).

We specialize in environmental science reporting and analysis and provide interactive learning experiences for our visitors, the interested public, layman and expert alike. We hope those interactions will be informative, educational and enjoyable to all participants.

Wildfire economics is just one of dozens of environmental science investigations we sponsor and report upon. The public is cordially invited to join in, study, learn and teach at our Web sites.

Mike Dubrasich, executive director of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment, is the author of “A Guide to Innovative Tree Farming in the Pacific Northwest” and numerous scientific papers and reports.

9th Court Decision on Roadless Rule Is Illegitimate and Destructive

by Mike Dubrasich

On Aug 5th the San Francisco based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals set aside the State Petitions Rule and reinstated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, more commonly known as the “Clinton/Dombeck Roadless Rule”.

The 9th Circuit Court, the most overturned court in the U.S., has once again overstepped its authority, written law from the bench, and worst of all, engendered massive environmental destruction across nearly 60 million acres of federal land in the West.

We have discussed this issue before, most recently [here].

Background: the Clinton (Dombeck) Roadless Rule was rushed through (by proclamation) in the waning days of that administration. It was immediately litigated in more than a dozen courts. In 2003, Judge Brimmer, a United States District Court Judge for the District of Wyoming, found, in response to the Complaint filed by the State of Wyoming, that NEPA had been violated on several different levels, including the fact that Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) input from the states had been excluded, the process had been rushed, the United States Forest Service (USFS) had failed to take the requisite “hard look” at the proposed rule, and that the NEPA process was a sham in order to adopt a political rule. Judge Brimmer also found that the Roadless Rule violated the Wilderness Act in that it designated 58.5 million acres as defacto wilderness despite the fact that only Congress has the authority to do so. Judge Brimmer enjoined the Roadless Rule. The USFS developed an alternative plan to ensure that states would be part of the process. This plan, called the State Petitions procedure, ensured that not only state concerns would be addressed, but that tribes, local governments, and the general public would be able to express their concerns in order to develop site-specific rules for each National Forest.

The usual environmental groups sued in the Ninth District Court and, in 2006, Magistrate Laporte concluded that the State Petitions procedure violated NEPA because it was not accompanied by an EIS. In the strangest twist of legal logic, she then reinstated the illegal Roadless Rule, and ordered that the USFS comply with its terms. She made that ruling despite Judge Brimmer’s earlier decision, despite the fact that Judge Brimmer reached his conclusions after a comprehensive review of the Administrative Record, and despite the fact that she had no idea as to whether the Roadless Rule complied with NEPA or not. Her decision was odd to say the least, which is confirmed by the fact that the State Petitions procedure was not an environmental action per se but a remedy to fix the original defective and illegal Roadless Rule EIS. Requiring an EIS to fix an EIS sets up an infinite loop of EIS’s.

Wyoming again filed suit in an attempt to fix the mess created by Magistrate Laporte’s decision. In August 2008, Judge Brimmer issued yet another permanent national injunction against the Roadless Rule.

Magistrate Laporte played a game of judicial chicken, perverting NEPA, and causing catastrophic harm to the environment. The 9th Circuit Court has now affirmed Laporte’s ruling and reinstated the defective and repeatedly enjoined Clinton/Dombeck Roadless Rule.

In legal terminology, that is abuse of discretion. It is certainly within the power of the 9th Circuit Court to throw out the the State Petitions Rule for violating NEPA. But it is not within their power to reinstate the Clinton/Dombeck Roadless Rule, which has itself been found to violate NEPA.

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8 Aug 2009, 6:02pm
Saving Forests
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The Benefits of Forest Restoration

Forest restoration is beneficial in numerous ways. The following outline describes these in general.

1. Heritage and history

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

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

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

2. Ecological functions including old-growth development

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

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

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

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4 Aug 2009, 1:27pm
Forestry education Saving Forests
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Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss

What are the actual costs of a wildfire?

A new research paper posted at the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here] addresses that question. The title is U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project: The “One-Pager” Checklist, and the authors are Bob Zybach, Michael Dubrasich, Gregory Brenner, and John Marker.

Official Forest Service tallies usually include suppression expenses only. Media reports sometimes include estimates of damage to homes and infrastructure. But the economic impacts of wildfires are far-reaching and new (and old) research shows the need for improved cost estimates of wildfire.

Large wildfires consume more than just suppression expenses (costs) –- they also do measurable short- and long-term damages (loss) to public and private equity and resources. Traditional fire appraisal uses the term cost-plus-loss to account for all the economic impacts of wildfire. This econometric analysis method is sometimes expressed as C+NVC (costs plus net value change). The goal (economic utility) of fire suppression is to minimize cost-plus-loss, sometimes expressed as LCD (least cost plus damage).

The paper describes a method for accounting for all the costs and losses associated with wildfires. A one page checklist is appended that serves as a mini-ledger for performing that accounting.

We have discussed the cost-plus loss issue many times at SOS Forests [here, here, and here, for instance]. One post worth highlighting:

* The Western Forestry Leadership Coalition recently released a report [here] entitled “The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S.” (Dale et al 2009). The authors examined six major US wildfires, and compared suppression costs and tactics with “total costs.”

A full accounting considers long-term and complex costs, including impacts to watersheds, ecosystems, infrastructure, businesses, individuals, and the local and national economy. Specifically, these costs include property losses (insured and uninsured), post-fire impacts (such as flooding, erosion, and water quality), air quality damages, healthcare costs, injuries and fatalities, lost revenues (to residents evacuated by the fire, and to local businesses), infrastructure shutdowns (such as highways, airports, railroads), and a host of ecosystem service costs that may extend into the distant future.

Day-lighting the true costs of fire highlights opportunities to use active management to curb escalating costs. Unhealthy forests can increase the risk of fire. Investing in active forest management is therefore valuable in the same way as investing in one’s own preventative health care. Upfront costs can be imposing, and while the benefits may seem uncertain, good health results in cost savings that benefit the individual, family, and society. This analogy helps to highlight the importance of fostering resilient ecosystems before fires occur, as a tool for reducing the costs associated with suppression and recovery as well as extending benefits to a far wider circle of individuals than might be initially expected.

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14 Jul 2009, 2:02pm
Forestry education
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Cost-Plus-Loss Is the Correct Way to Evaluate the Economics of Fire

The standard way the government accounts for fire costs is to look at direct suppression costs only. That is overly simplistic to the point of fiduciary incompetence.

Fires cause lasting damages to a variety of natural and human-built resources. Those damages, also called losses, are vital elements that must be considered when accounting for the total costs of fire. The econometric term is cost-plus-loss, and we have discussed the concept many times before [here, here, here, here, here, for a small sampling].

We have estimated that cost-plus-loss can range from 10 to 40 times the suppression expenses. Now a study from San Diego State University of the Cedar Complex Fires of 2003 finds the cost-plus-loss of those fires to be 50 times suppression expenses, at least. From the LaLa Times:

San Diego County’s 2003 wildfire losses top $2 billion

by Bettina Boxall, LA Times, July 13, 2009 [here]

How much did the Southern California fire storms of 2003 really cost?

Matt Rahn, a research director at San Diego State University, delved into the losses and concluded that the final bill in San Diego County alone was $2.4 billion.

“What astounded us most was the total economic loss,” Rahn said.

The expense of fighting the wildfires turned out to be less than 2% of the total. Restoring burned watersheds cost more than the firefight, according to Rahn’s tally.

San Diego Gas and Electric spent $71 million replacing thousands of charred power poles, transformers and hundreds of miles of wire. The state reimbursed the utility for more than half that.

Businesses shut down for days during the fire siege.

The fire blackened 375,917 acres, destroyed 3,241 homes and killed 16 people in the county. (All told, the 14 wildfires that raged across Southern California in late October charred 750,000 acres, burned down 3,710 homes and killed 24 people.)

Airline flights were canceled because the skies were thick with smoke. A high-tech manufacturer had to replace all the air filters in its plant. The insurance industry paid an estimated $1.1 billion in property claims.

It cost Caltrans $15 million to fix fire-damaged highways in the county.

Rahn said the figures underscore the importance of maintaining firefighting forces to control blazes in their early stages, before they become an unstoppable force of nature.

“Pay now or pay a whole lot later,” he said. “We’re in an economic crisis in California, and we’re talking about reducing firefighting levels. Cutting them in the short term may actually wind up with a longer-term impact.” …

Dr. Rahn’s findings reinforce earlier findings (see the links above). The subject is not particularly new to forestry — cost-plus-loss studies have been undertaken since the 1920’s — but the findings of the last 90 years or so have not been well-understood by the public at large.

Cost-plus-loss is the logical way to account for fire costs and to evaluate the economic utility of fire suppression. We invest in fire suppression to prevent losses and damages. That is, the “utility” of firefighting is a function of the losses prevented.

A new and comprehensive study of cost-plus-loss accounting methodology is due to be published soon. Modesty and propriety prevent me from discussing the particulars now, but very soon we will be allowed to trumpet those findings here at SOS Forests.

Day-Lighting the True Costs of Fire

This week the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition [here] issued a new report: The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S. [available here] (2.79 MB)

Their report “Explores beyond the costs of suppression to help describe the true costs to communities and the environment from large wildland fires.” From the Introduction:

The True Cost of Wildfire in the Western U.S.

Introduction

The millions of dollars spent to extinguish large wildfires are widely reported and used to underscore the severity of these events. Extinguishing a large wildfire, however, accounts for only a fraction of the total costs associated with a wildfire event. Residents in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) are generally seen as the most vulnerable to fire, but a fuller accounting of the costs of fire also reveals impacts to all Americans and gives a better picture of the losses incurred when our forests burn.

A full accounting considers long-term and complex costs, including impacts to watersheds, ecosystems, infrastructure, businesses, individuals, and the local and national economy. Specifically, these costs include property losses (insured and uninsured), post-fire impacts (such as flooding, erosion, and water quality), air quality damages, healthcare costs, injuries and fatalities, lost revenues (to residents evacuated by the fire, and to local businesses), infrastructure shutdowns (such as highways, airports, railroads), and a host of ecosystem service costs that may extend into the distant future.

Day-lighting the true costs of fire highlights opportunities to use active management to curb escalating costs. Unhealthy forests can increase the risk of fire. Investing in active forest management is therefore valuable in the same way as investing in one’s own preventative health care. Upfront costs can be imposing, and while the benefits may seem uncertain, good health results in cost savings that benefit the individual, family, and society. This analogy helps to highlight the importance of fostering resilient ecosystems before fires occur, as a tool for reducing the costs associated with suppression and recovery as well as extending benefits to a far wider circle of individuals than might be initially expected.

The lead author is Dr. Lisa Dale at the University of Denver. The Western Forestry Leadership Coalition is a State and Federal government partnership. The members of the coalition include: the 23 State and Pacific Island Foresters of the West and the 7 western Regional Foresters, 3 western Research Station Directors, and Forest Products Lab Director of the USDA Forest Service.

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Trinity Fire Damage Tally

The following letter from the Trinity County Board of Supervisors to the Calif State Legislature lists some of the damage done by the egregious Let It Burn wildfires promulgated by the US Forest Service in Trinity Co. last summer:

From: Trinity County Board of Supervisors
Roger Jaegel, Supervisor District Three

April 14, 2009

To: The Honorable Sam Aanestad
State Capitol, Room 2054
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator Aanestad:

Last year Trinity County, California experienced the worst wildfire season on record. From June 20 to near the end of August, 266,157 acres burned in three major complexes. In the last decade over 500,000 acres have burned in Trinity County, more acres than were burned in recorded history. We are committed to compiling the facts about these fires and completing an analysis that will hopefully help us prepare for the next dry lightning event. We know statistically this type of storm tends to occur about once a decade. Some of these facts are best estimates and we will continue to refine this data as time and resources to accomplish the field review and further validation become available.

Trinity County Wildfires of 2008

* The tragic deaths of 10 wildland firefighters
* 266,157 acres burned (about 97% on National Forests)
* Many of our businesses report losses of over 40%
* Suppression costs are over $150,000,000

Health and Safety

* Trinity County communities were under mandatory evacuation orders 15 times
* Over 1,400 homes were evacuated
* Unhealthy and extremely unhealthy air quality alerts were issues for many of our communities for weeks
* Federal standards for pm 2.5 levels were exceeded in many cases by a factor of 10 or greater
* Millions of dead trees and millions of tons of fuel will remain untreated to threaten our communities, resources, and our firefighters for decades to come

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

* Estimate of CO2 equivalents released from the fires equal 12,000,000 metric tons or 2,000,000 vehicle years
* This does not include carbon released from suppression, burned area rehabilitation, or restoration activities
* It also does not include the reduction in carbon sequestration from vegetation conversion

Wildlife and Fisheries

* 122 miles of coho salmon habitat within the fire perimeter
* 486 spotted owl sighting points within the fire perimeter
* 205,716 acres of spotted owl habitat within the fire perimeter

Sincerely,

ANTON R. JAEGEL
Supervisor District 3

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Floods in Big Sur

The Big Sur River reached flood stage after more than 5 inches of rain fell last weekend. Highway 1 was blocked Monday by a mudslide/debris flow near the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance.

Some excellent photos of the flooding are [here].

The photos were posted by Big Sur Kate [here], who blogged about the Basin Fire up close and personal. Some blogs rise above the mundane. Big Sur Kate’s is one of those — it is not only a triumph of art, her blog provides an invaluable public service by promoting public health and safety and a deep understanding about living on this Earth.

The Big Sur River watershed and a few other watersheds on the Los Padres National Forest were burned by the Basin [here], Indians [here], and Chalk [here] Fires.

The Basin/Indians Fire (they merged) cost over $120 million while burning 244,000 acres. It was the third largest fire and the most expensive fire in California history, and the second most expensive in U.S. history (the Biscuit Fire in Oregon in 2002 had $150 million in suppression expenses). The Chalk Fire added 16,269 acres and $24 million to those totals.

Most of the dollars and acres burned up were due to backfires set by firefighters. Fire managers announced at the onset that they were applying the “accountable cost management strategy” and then they proceeded to break the bank. When the Basin Fire reached homes dozens of miles from the ignition point, the firefighters fled and homeowners fought the fire themselves. At no time during the last 30 years did the USFS initiate any fuels management or fire road construction in the area, because Congress designated the area a wilderness, even though human beings have been living there for 10,000+ years.

The Monterey Herald reported a flash-flood warning [here]:

By Daniel Lopez, 03/03/2009

Another inch of rain is expected today and Wednesday in the urban areas of Monterey County, the National Weather Service said.

Beginning Friday though, the storm clouds are expected to clear, leading into what should be a dry weekend.

Early Monday, heavy rain prompted the weather service to issue a flash-flood warning for small streams and rivers in the Big Sur area.

The National Weather Service issues such warnings when there is a rapid rise in stream levels, said forecaster Steve Anderson.

The Big Sur area was scarred by wildland fires last summer and officials fear the damaged land may be more prone to landslides, flooding and debris flows in the surrounding creeks and streams.

“Once the mud and debris starts coming downhill, there’s nothing to stop it,” Anderson said.

The Big Sur River did peak at about 7½ feet Monday but there were no reports of damage or significant problems. …

Scientists who studied the burned area said there is a risk for flooding and landslides for about five years.

We have essayed about post-fire watershed destruction in more than a few posts, most recently in Floods Follow Fires [here]:

Catastrophic forest fires impact more than the vegetation. Fires destroy habitat, pollute streams, foul the air, and inflict public health and safety problems. Sometimes, as was the case in the Biscuit Fire (2002), forest fires burn so intensely that the soil is stripped away [here].

After intense fires the soils, baked and/or blown away, cannot absorb water as they did previously. Rain does does not infiltrate the damaged soils due to collapse of soil structure, increased bulk density, removal of organic matter, reduction in soil porosity, clogged soil pores, and increased reaction to rainfall droplet kinetics. Soils can become “waterproof” through decreased soil wettability (hydrophobia), concretion, and increased water repellence. That can lead to increases in surface flow, increased soil particle transport, rilling, gullying, and increased erosion.

And floods. Fire-damaged soils across a watershed can cause increases in discharge rates, seasonal streamflows, and especially peak flows, including flash flooding.

Before the fire the soil acts like a giant sponge; after the fire the soil becomes water repellent. As a result, floods happen more frequently.

The Salmon River watershed in central Idaho was subjected to an 800,000 acre burn in 2007. Mudslides tore out roads and filled streams the following winter [here]. This winter more of the same is expected.

Flash floods followed the Zaca Fire (2007) [here], which burned 240,000 acres over a two month period, cost more than $120 million in direct fire suppression expenses, and was (at the time) the most expensive fire in California history.

That is, until one year later when the Indians/Basin Complex Fires burned 244,000 acres and cost $124 million.

The effects of catastrophic fire on forests and watersheds are both immediate and long lasting. The final cost-plus-loss totals for the Basin Fire are not yet tallied, and will not be for years to come.

3 Feb 2009, 12:43pm
The 2008 Fire Season
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The 2008 Fire Season: A Recap, Part 1

by Mike Dubrasich

With over 5.3 million acres burned in wildfires nationally, the 2008 fire season was a distinct improvement over 2007 (9.75 million acres burned) and 2006 (9.89 million acres burned, the worst fire season in fifty years).

However, US Forest Service fire suppression expenditures topped $1.9 billion, the third most expensive in history (2005 - $2.13 billion and 2004 - $2.35 billion were more expensive). Overall cost-plus-loss (suppression costs plus damages) are estimated to have been ~$40 billion in 2008.

Graph based on data provided by the National Interagency Fire Center Wildland Fire Statistics and the USFS Wildland Fire Management budget FY2000 - FY2008 (as of 11/04/2008).

The following is a recap of some of the high and low lights of the 2008 Fire Season.

January

The 2008 Fire Season began with ominous signs. In January enviro groups demanded the jailing of Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey because he refused to eliminate the use of fire retardant on Federal forest fires [here]. Had he done so, the fire season might have been even more catastrophic nationwide. As it turned out, the USFS deliberately burned vast tracts anyway, so while the litigious groups failed to get Rey hauled off to the pokey, they did succeed in convincing the USFS to Burn, Baby, Burn.

The previous December USFS Chief Gail Kimbell declared that it was her personal goal to inflict wildfire on 400 million acres of private land, as well as the 200 million acres of USFS land [here]. Kimbell’s mad conceit was couched in her Open Space Conservation Strategy which promotes “wilderness values” on private forest land.

“If people have an incentive to hold on to wildlands (rather than develop them), we as a society benefit from that,” she [Gail Kimbell] said in an interview. “We all benefit from keeping wildlands wild.”

Kimbell’s Open Space Conservation Strategy calls for the elimination of houses, buildings, lawns, and pavement on private property. Fire is to be “reintroduced” on all forested acres in the USA. In the eyes of the USFS, forest fires provide “resource benefits,” and they wish to inflict the “benefits” of catastrophic fire on every acre in America that has a tree on it.

Meanwhile flash floods arising on the 2007 Zaca Burn inundated Santa Barbara [here]. The Zaca Fire on Kimbell’s watch burned 240,200 acres and was the second largest fire in California’s recorded history.

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31 Jul 2008, 11:41am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Shall the USFS Allow Fires to Incinerate Our National Forests?

Part V

10. Let It Burn Has Significant National Economic Impact

The effects of the changes over the last five years to federal wildfire policies have resulted in our land management agencies allowing unspecified lightning-ignited fires to burn in megafires. The changes include AMR (appropriate management response), WFU (wildland fires used for “resource benefit”), and ACMS (accountable cost management strategy). Those programs were set in place not by Congress but by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council, the federal advisory board that oversees the National Fire Plan.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Council has been taken over by radical non-governmental organizations, wealthy (though allegedly non-profit) multi-national corporations with anti-American agendas. Our national fire policies are set by foreigners and a political elite that is more interested in fomenting economic collapse in this country than with our environmental health and economic well-being.

This week Congress adjourns to go on recess without dealing with the collapse of the USFS budget due to wildfire costs. Not only did Congress fail to address rising energy costs, they abandoned the FLAME Act in a desperate hour of need. The 2008 fire funding is used up, the budget spent, and the USFS is forced to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from other programs to the fire budget.

Where did the money go? Some for instances:

The Basin/Indians Fire has cost over $120 million while burning unnecessarily 244,000 acres [here]. It has become MOST EXPENSIVE fire in California history, and the 2nd most expensive in U.S. history (the Biscuit Fire in Oregon in 2002 cost $150,000,000). Most of the dollars and acres burned up were due to backfires set by firefighters. Fire managers announced proudly at the onset that they were applying the “accountable cost management strategy” and proceeded to break the bank. When the Basin Fire reached homes dozens of miles from the ignition point, the firefighters fled and homeowners fought the fire themselves. Yet the homeowners are being blamed for the fire “suppression” costs. At no time during the last 30 years did the USFS initiate any fuels management or fire road construction in the area, because Congress designated the area a wilderness, even though human beings have been living there for 10,000 years.

The Clover Fire [here] began with a lightning strike May 31 that fizzled in a few acres. It could have been extinguished for a few thousand dollars. But because it was in a designated wilderness the Inyo NF declared the Clover Fire a WFU (wildland fire used for alleged resource benefit). The Clover Fire was “monitored” until it blew up into a 15,000 acre wildfire that burned all the way to Hwy 395 and threatened homes in Kennedy Meadows. It eventually cost over $8 million to suppress. Homeowners dozens of miles from the ignition point are being blamed.

The Unokom Fire [here] began June 21 from lightning on the Six Rivers NF. It is still burning, having consumed 40,000 unkempt and untended acres and nearly $20 million to date.

The Siskiyou Fire [here] also began June 21 from lightning on the Klamath NF. It is still burning, having consumed 60,000 unkempt and untended acres and nearly $25 million to date. Fire managers promulgated a plan early on to allow the Siskiyou Fire to burn 40,000 acres. Then they backtracked and reset the goal at 80,000 acres. Recreation along the Klamath River has been shut down all summer.

The Lime Fires [here] began June 21 on the Shasta-Trinity NF. Together with the Yolla Bolly Fires [here] (which have been split off for “statistical” purposes) over 154,000 acres have been burned at a cost of over $52 million. It is the largest fire in the history of Northern California. A Strategic Implementation Plan for the Yolla Bolly Fire was presented yesterday after a month of burning.

One portion of this fire complex was under the purview of CalFire. They contained their area three weeks ago. In contrast three weeks ago the Feds called in the National Guard. The Guardsmen have departed now, with pomp and ceremony. Both the Lime and Yolla Bolly Fires continue to burn uncontained. The town of Hayfork has been threatened all summer. No doubt, the town’s residents will be blamed for everything.

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29 Jan 2008, 4:41pm
Federal forest policy
by admin
5 comments

An Open Letter to the SAF Policy Committee

Dear Committee,

I am a practicing professional consulting forester. It has come to my attention that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council will be holding a meeting on Feb. 5, and that they have invited the Society of American Foresters to present a position statement on wildland fire.

Here is my view of the WFLC: they have been captured by pro-fire entities including the Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Society, two big international non-governmental organizations (BINGO’s).

For the last few years the WFLC has been heavily promoting the idea of let-it-burn, variously termed WFU’s, Wildland Use Fires, Wildland Fires Used for Resource Benefit, or “suppression” fires that are more or less unmanned and unfought (de facto WFU’s).

Although no NEPA process has been followed, the WFLC has promulgated maps, models, and statements of intent to let burn more than 50 percent of the entire National Forest system, and is adding more acres all the time. Record fire seasons and record fires have resulted. The largest fires in state recorded history, and/or the most expensive, have occurred in the last ten years in OR, WA, ID, MT, CO, UT, NV, AZ, NM, and CA.

Megafires originating on Federal land have escaped and burned tens of millions of private acres, rural and urban alike. Suppression costs have soared into the $billions per year. But much worse, the damages to forest resources and other assets, public and private alike, has been in the tens of $billions each year this century, and is getting worse year by year.

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31 Dec 2007, 6:04pm
2007 Fire Season
by admin
2 comments

The 2007 Fire Season: A Year-End Recap

With over 9.3 million acres burned in wildfires nationally, the 2007 fire season was the second worst fire season in over fifty years (the 2006 fire season was the worst with over 9.7 million acres burned).

In terms of total acres burned, seven of the worst ten fire seasons since the early 1950’s have occurred in the last 12 years.

Average acreage per wildfire was nearly 110 acres, again the second worst in over fifty years (the 2005 was the worst averaging 131 acres per fire).

In terms of average acres per wildfire, nine of the worst ten fire seasons since the early 1950’s have occurred in the last 12 years.

The preceding graphs are based on data provided by the National Interagency Fire Center Wildland Fire Statistics [here]. The following is a recap of some of the high and low lights of the 2007 Fire Season.

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