30 Jul 2009, 11:17pm
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
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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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Emergency Declared in Forest Recovery

The following article appeared in the Plumas News today. It has some lack of clarity, and some details are missing, so I will insert those I deem important:

U.S. Forest Service declares emergency for Moonlight, Wheeler fires restoration

by Traci Bue, Plumas County News, July 30, 2009 [here]

The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has declared an “emergency situation” in the Moonlight and Wheeler Fires restoration project area, which calls for the immediate implementation of the recovery and restoration project.

Tom Tidwell replaced Gail Kimbell as Chief in June. This is Tidwell’s call.

The Moonlight Fire burned 65,714 acres (47,174 acres of public lands and 18,540 of private lands) in September 2007, mainly in the Plumas National Forest. Private forest landowners have removed dead trees and planting seedlings, but USFS has not, as yet.

Some concurrent and post-fire photos of the Moonlight Fire are [here]. The USFS Rapid Assessment of Vegetation Condition after Wildfire (RAVG) stats are [here]. An excellent report, Fire Behavior and Effects in Fuel Treatments and Protected Habitat on the Moonlight Fire by Scott Dailey, JoAnn Fites, Alicia Reiner, and Sylvia Mori is [here, 3.03 MB].

The Wheeler Fire made up the bulk of the Antelope Fire Complex which burned 23,420 acres, also in 2007. Another excellent report, Fire Behavior and Effects Relating to Suppression, Fuel Treatments, and Protected Areas on the Antelope Complex Wheeler Fire by Jo Ann Fites, Mike Campbell, Alicia Reiner, and Todd Decker is [here, 4.98 MB]. (Note: many thanks to Linda Blum of the Quincy Library Group for sending us these reports).

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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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26 Jul 2009, 11:27pm
Forestry education Politics and politicians
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A Proposal For A New Institute of Venture Science

Proposed: a new institute that will invest deeply in science with breakthrough potential. The proposed institute would focus on high-risk, high-return research only, identifying and funding promising status-quo-challenging ideas in all areas of science.

The idea is to create an institute that supports scientific research which challenges existing paradigms and thereby produces breakthroughs in medicine, ecology, climatology, and many other scientific disciplines — revolutionary science, such as the kind that led to the laser, the transistor, the polio vaccine, the Internet, and indeed most of the truly innovative advancements in science and technology that we know of today.

Currently, status-quo science commands all the funding. Those who challenge paradigms are excluded from mainstream grants for many reasons: principally (perhaps) a timidity born of institutional risk-aversion together with old-fashioned intellectual stultification.

Could a bold, new Institute of Venture Science become a reality? Such is the goal of a group of leaders in science who have sent a letter [here] to President Obama, to his science advisor, John Holdren, and to Congress. Drafted by Gerald H. Pollack, Ph.D., Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, the letter is endorsed by more than 60 leading American scientists in the fields of medicine, biophysics, forest science, anthropology, engineering, geography, astronomy, nanotechnology, and numerous other fields.

The letter requests that an Institute of Venture Science be funded:

… with a budget of about ten percent of the combined NSF and NIH budgets, or about $4 billion per year. The IVS would be set up for a test period of ten years. If it fails to produce scientific revolutions during that period, it could be dismantled — the investment having been modest relative to current scientific investments, which have produced few revolutions. If it succeeds, as some of us think inevitable, then it will have restored science to the richly bountiful enterprise it was before the funding agencies began imposing top-down management and inviting mainstream scientists to judge their challengers. With proper investment (in part perhaps from private sources) in the most promising and farreaching breakthrough ideas, science should once again revolutionize human existence.

Appended to the letter is a Proposal for Implementation [here] that describes how such an Institute would operate.

Current agencies… are not set up to deal with the most critical obstacle to realization: the reluctance of a conservative scientific community to entertain ideas that challenge their long-held views. Challenges are perceived as antithetical to their best interests, and hence, few transformative ideas ever ascend to realization in reasonable time frame no matter how compelling may be the case.

The IVS is designed to overcome this obstacle. It does so by investing in groups of scientists who pursue the same unconventional approach to an intractable problem or an entrenched way of thinking. Grants are awarded following rigorous review. Challenger and orthodoxy present their arguments to a panel of disinterested scientific observers, who decide whether the challenge is meritorious. The most highly ranked proposals are funded liberally, allowing multiple laboratories to pursue the same challenge theme. This multiplicity of efforts creates a critical mass that cannot be ignored; challenge and orthodoxy compete on equal footing and if the challenge prevails, then the result is a realized paradigm shift or even a revolution in scientific thinking.

The need for funding science that researches “outside the box” is becoming more and more obvious even to lay persons. Last June the NY Times published:

Grant System Leads Cancer Researchers to Play It Safe

by Gina Kolata, NY Times, June 27, 2009 [here]

Among the recent research grants awarded by the National Cancer Institute is one for a study asking whether people who are especially responsive to good-tasting food have the most difficulty staying on a diet. Another study will assess a Web-based program that encourages families to choose more healthful foods. …

The cancer institute has spent $105 billion since President Richard M. Nixon declared war on the disease in 1971. The American Cancer Society, the largest private financer of cancer research, has spent about $3.4 billion on research grants since 1946.

Yet the fight against cancer is going slower than most had hoped, with only small changes in the death rate in the almost 40 years since it began.

One major impediment, scientists agree, is the grant system itself. It has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with the understanding that the focus will be on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer. …

Last week the Science and Public Policy presented a study [here] that found:

The US government has spent over $79 billion since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, administration, education campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks.

Yet, those who challenge the prevailing theories have not only not been funded, in many cases they have been fired. Gaping holes in Greenhouse Gas and Global Warming models have been exposed by grassroots scientists outside the funded agencies because within them orthodoxy has grown oppressive. “The debate is over — there is a consensus,” is the political cry, but true science does not work by consensus; science functions by challenging hypotheses with experiments and the collection of empirical data — by putting orthodoxy to the test.

Despite the incredibly one-sided research funding and political sermonizing, less than half of U.S. voters believe global warming is caused by human activities [here]. And if lay people are skeptical, then scientists should be even more so — the scientific method is based on skepticism.

But the funding is closed off to those who challenge global warming orthodoxy, and that is true in forest science as well. Clementsian theories of “natural balance,” “natural fire regimes,” and “natural succession” still hold sway despite over 80 years of research that has amassed strong, empirical, counter-evidence. Those who espouse new thinking have been ostracized by the Establishment, and one result has been a crisis of megafires that are destroying our heritage forests.

Bob Tom, Tribal elder of the Siletz and Grand Ronde Tribes, described the growing Cultural Renaissance taking place in the Native American community [here]. We need a Science Renaissance as well, around the world within the entire human community.

Science unchained can provide us so much: cures for deadly diseases, rediscovery of lost civilizations, the shattering of hoary paradigms, a vastly improved understanding of the universe and our role in it. The old walls should imprison us no longer. Open the doors and windows. Unbind the Prometheus of rational inquiry. Shine the bright searchlight once again.

We have allowed ourselves to become fettered by antiquated myths. It is so boring, so debilitating, so Medieval. Let us instead cast off into the unknown and seek new shores.

It is not my habit to request assistance. I never ask you, dear readers, to “write your congressperson.” I am reticent to promote contributions to W.I.S.E.’s empty coffers by begging for donations, something I am supposed to do in my capacity as Executive Director. It is uncomfortably gauche to implore your generosity, (although your occasional generosity is deeply appreciated).

In this instance, however, I am asking you, please, to write your elected representatives, to add your voice to those who are calling for a new Institute of Venture Science. Download the letter [here] and add your name to the list. Send it to your congressperson together with a note in your own words. It is truly in your best interest to do so, and in the interest of all humanity, to free the sciences from the present dismal swamp of calcified thinking.

Thank you. On behalf of all of us.

26 Jul 2009, 2:36pm
Federal forest policy
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Montanans Seek To Kill Enviros’ Anti-Forest Health Lawsuit

Mountain States Legal Foundation, July 1, 2009 [here]

DENVER, CO. A Montana couple that lives year-round in Montana near an area the U.S. Forest Service has deemed to be prime for dangerous fires today asked to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups [Native Ecosystems Council and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, here] to stop a forest health project intended to reduce fire risk. Janet and Ronald Hartman, who live north of Wilsall, Montana, believe that the Forest Service project and parallel efforts by local entities and individuals are key to preventing catastrophic fires that would destroy forestry resources, homes and buildings and endanger the lives of residents, visitors, and firefighters. The Forest Service plan involves land within the Gallatin National Forest 20 miles northeast of Bozeman, Montana. The Hartmans intervened in an earlier challenge to the proposal in which a federal court upheld all aspects of the plan except for a new mapping requirement, which has been completed.

“We believe this new lawsuit is without merit, especially the attempt by the environmental groups to re-litigate issues that they lost in their first lawsuit,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), which represents the Hartmans. “We hope that the Hartmans are allowed to intervene and the court issues a speedy ruling so that the Forest Service can do what it can to protect lives and property from wild fire.”

In May 2005, the Forest Service finished the Shields River Watershed Risk Assessment to evaluate the risk of wildfire and insect loss to some 44,000 acres in the Smith Creek/Shields River area of the Gallatin National Forest of Montana. The Forest Service—with comments from adjacent private homeowners and State, county, and local officials and groups—developed the Smith Creek Vegetation Treatment Project to address the dangerous fuel buildups and mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The Project will reduce fuel loads on a maximum of 1,110 acres, in 10 separate units. A local, quasi-governmental group was formed to provide grants to local landowners to conduct fuels reduction projects on private lands.

In July 2008, environmental groups challenged the Forest Service’s plan. Janet and Ronald Hartman intervened in the case. In October 2008, the Montana federal district court ruled for the Forest Service and the Hartmans regarding all claims except the mapping of key habitat components for elk, which was remanded to the Forest Service.

On November 20, 2008, the Forest Service issued a supplemental environmental assessment and a 30-day comment period was opened. On March 6, 2009, the Forest Service issued a Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact approving the Smith Creek Vegetation Project. On June 5, 2009, environmental groups again sued. … [more]

26 Jul 2009, 12:11pm
Federal forest policy
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Flathead Plan Compliance Suit Rejection To Be Appealed

Montanans For Multiple Use have announced that they will appeal the rejection of their suit to enjoin the Flathead National Forest from closing or blocking of private, county, and state roads, and from adopting further amendments to the existing Flathead NF Plan.

Background: the Flathead NF adopted their Forest Plan in 1986. Since then they have made numerous revisions and/or additions to the Plan with following the procedures mandated by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and other Federal statutes.

The Plan revisions include forest road closures and decommissioning, OHV and snowmobile closures, lynx regulations, Wildland Fire Use adoption, and other significant changes.

In 2003 the Montanans For Multiple Use sued to enjoin the Flathead NF from amending its Plan in the absence of compliance with Federal law [here]. The Swan View Coalition, Sierra Club, and other enviro groups joined the Flathead Forest in opposition and successfully delayed the action through legal maneuverings, including a change of venue to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The injunction legal brief is [here]. An excerpt:

Pursuant to the mandates of the NFMA, the Flathead issued its Record of Decision adopting a Forest Management Plan for the Flathead on or about January 22, 1986, approximately three months after the date set for the adoption of an initial plan. …

Almost before the ink had dried on the original Plan, the Flathead began to adopt a series of
“amendments” to the Plan, purportedly pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 1604 (f)(4), all of which purported to be non-significant. …

As of the date of the Complaint’s filing, there were approximately twenty-four proposed amendments to the Plan, not including “regional amendments” (i.e., amendments involving all of the National Forest units in the area), a rate of approximately 1.5 proposed amendments per year. Twenty of these amendments have been completed and adopted. The two regional amendments are not numbered.

Not one of the proposed amendments was accompanied by the comprehensive scientific review and public participation required by NFMA, 16 U.S.C. § 1604. No decision document or review document issued by Defendants considered the cumulative impact of the amendments. No amendment has been submitted to the GAO or the Congress pursuant to SBREFA.

The cumulative impact of these amendments on the Flathead National Forest Plan, has resulted in a such a substantial change to the Plan as originally adopted in January, 1986 that they have de facto revised the Plan without the degree of review and public participation required by the NFMA for significant plan amendments, much less plan revisions. The cumulative impact of these Amendments has also not been subjected to appropriate review under NEPA.

For example, Amendment 19 to the Plan (Exhibit H hereto), which was adopted in March of 1998: (1) closed off to public access vast portions of the forest and more such closures are
planned; (2) prevented timber harvest in areas clearly suitable for harvest; (3) prevented timber salvage in a timely fashion; and (4) otherwise substantially modified the uses allowed in the Flathead, both as a whole and in specific areas, as well as providing for the closure of roads putting the affected areas at substantial risk of fire, insect infestation, and disease. …

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Jon Tester’s Forest Bait and Switch

Last week Montana Senator Jon Tester unveiled his new proposed “Forest Jobs And Recreation Act of 2009.” Sounds like a good thing, right? Don’t be fooled — it’s a Burn Baby Burn wilderness bill.

Tester announced his “jobs” bill at a news conference in Townsend, MT. His press release is larded by feel good statements that don’t wash:

Tester introduces forest bill; will discuss in Seeley Lake at noon Saturday

Clark Fork Chronicle, July 17 2009 [here]

Standing with loggers, outfitters, conservationists, hunters and fishermen who spent years working together on a plan for Montana’s forests, Senator Jon Tester today introduced his much-anticipated legislation to reform forest management to “make it work” for Montana.

“Our forests, and the communities and folks who rely on them, face a crisis right now,” Tester said today at a news conference at RY Timber in Townsend. “Our local sawmills are on the brink, families are out of work, while our forests turn red from an unprecedented outbreak of pine beetles, waiting for the next big wildfire. It’s a crisis that demands action now. This bill is a made-in-Montana solution that took years of working together and hearing input to create a common sense forest plan.”

He said his 80-page bill, formally called the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, will create jobs, protect clean water and keep Montana’s prized hunting and fishing habitat healthy for future generations. …

The legislation is available for public viewing on a new website Tester’s staff set up [here]. Careful reading of the actual language reveals the following:

* Tester’s bill will add 669,060 acres of new designated wilderness, primarily chopped out of the Deerlodge National Forest

* An additional 336,205 acres of “Protection” and “Special Management” areas will be also be put off-limits to forest treatments.

* All told, over a million acres will be set aside for No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot destruction.

Create jobs? Those new Let It Burn zones won’t even create jobs for firefighters, except when the unmanaged fires jump the boundary lines and rage down into private land.

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22 Jul 2009, 11:14am
Saving Forests The 2009 Fire Season
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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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20 Jul 2009, 3:48pm
Saving Forests
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Restoring Forests, Range, and Communities on the Gila Forest

by Gila Ranchers

The Gila Livestock Growers Association [here], formerly Gila Forest Permittee’s Association, is a non profit, grazing organization, Our members ranch for a living and run cattle or support those who do on the Gila National Forest in Southwest New Mexico.

This grass-roots community ranching and conservation group that was founded in the 1950’s by local livestock producers from across the Gila National Forest seeking to unite their common interests. A fundamental interest of this group is forest and rangeland health and sustainability.

As on-the-ground stakeholders, that in some family cases spans 100 years, community members have experienced first hand the effects due to overgrown forests and fire suppression/exclusion. For example, large soil erosion events and loss of overstory trees following high-intensity crown fire events represent both ecological and economic losses for community members.

Conservation of the surrounding natural resources from which their livelihoods depend is central to their goals and objectives. Currently, several members of the association have experience in forestry and wood products (including ownership of a small scale sawmill) and would like to see the return of a sustainable and ecologically sound wood products industry.
Not only would this improve forest health, but it would also provide an opportunity for the young people in these communities to stay in the community.

In 2008 the association won a Collaborative Forest Restoration Grant to allow them to pursue those goals. A website [here] has been established to keep members and the public up to date on the progress of the Eastern Gila Forest and Community Restoration Project.

The Eastern Gila Forest and Community Restoration Project [here]

Many western National Forest System lands are currently in degraded ecological condition due to densities of woody material far exceeding their historic range of variability. Concurrently, many small rural communities throughout the West and Southwest have suffered severe setbacks in their local economies due to a reduction in the procurement of renewable resources from public forests.

Within the scientific community there is a general recognition that mechanical treatment or removal can improve watershed function, reduce the threat of severe wildland fire behavior, permit re-introduction of prescribed fire, improve understory diversity and productivity, improve timber productivity, and improve foraging habitat for both wild and domestic ungulates.

While there is no shortage of need for restoration projects in the West, many of the small diameter treatments have not been economically self-sustaining. Obstacles blocking additional entrepreneurial investment in forest restoration are an incomplete understanding of the market forces at work, and lack of infrastructure.

We, the Gila National Forest Permittees Association representing Eastern Gila National Forest stakeholders, propose to 1) establish a local community forest restoration cooperative from which to conduct forest restoration, and 2) simultaneously conduct an economic analysis to scientifically assess the successes and roadblocks to fiscally sustainable forest restoration –- a need highlighted in the recent 2005 CFRP Effectiveness Review.

The operational aspects of the forest restoration process will serve as a case study for the economic analysis, and the results of this economic analysis will become part of the NM Forest Restoration Series available on-line at the NM Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute. The final products will include 1) a sustainable community forest restoration cooperative in the Eastern Gila; 2) a feasibility analysis for establishing different types of wood production facilities and their associated cost, supply, and demand constraints; and 3) a series of desk guides to assist entrepreneurs and future CFRP applicants in the decision making process concerning the development of a forest restoration-based business in remote locations and the key questions related to making forest restoration projects self-sustaining.

Currently, there are no other community based forest restoration projects operating in this region of the Gila National Forest

19 Jul 2009, 6:36pm
Forestry education The 2009 Fire Season
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Dangerous Ecobabble — A Case In Point

No sooner did we post about ecobabble from the fire community [here] than heads-up readers sent us a clipping from the Redding Record Searchlight in which “fire ecologists” make some unsubstantiated and erroneous ecobabble claims:

Ecologists decry efforts to douse fire

By Ryan Sabalow , Redding Record Searchlight, July 19, 2009 [here]

Two environmentalists who study fire ecology say community leaders shouldn’t be applauding U.S. Forest Service firefighters’ quick work to contain the isolated Backbone Fire, no matter how much smoke was kept out of the air.

“Smoke is an unpleasant, but unavoidable, fact of natural life,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, the executive director of the Eugene, Ore.-based Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology. “There’s no smokeless fire. This is California fire country. There’s no way around it.”

Chad Hanson, director of the Cedar Ridge-based John Muir Project, agreed, saying that there’s no scientific evidence showing wildfire smoke causes long-term damage to residents’ respiratory systems.

But there is universal agreement among ecologists that wildfires — even the most high-intensity blazes — are good for a forest, he said. …

Universal agreement? That’s something even grander than a consensus. But is it true? Of course not, not even close.

High intensity fires kill all the trees and convert forests to brush. That’s not “good” for forests. Count me as outside the “universal agreement” (which doesn’t exist in the real world).

The statement is bogus on it’s face, just like the statement that “there’s no scientific evidence showing wildfire smoke causes long-term damage to residents’ respiratory systems.”

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19 Jul 2009, 10:58am
Federal forest policy Forestry education
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Ecobabble from the Fire Community

As we have pointed out repeatedly [here and here, for instance], the fire community is largely ignorant of forest science. They see wildfire as a glorious panacea for whatever ails forests, and they stoop to new levels of ecobabble to justify their prejudices.

Ecobabble is the misuse and abuse of terminology from the ecological sciences to paint a false picture and to imply that the user knows something that they manifestly do not. I didn’t invent the term; see some Web definitions [here].

When the fire community uses ecobabble, it is particularly offensive because they abuse the terminology to cover up their abuse of the environment. Some examples and explanatory comments follow. I have not cited the actual ecobabblers, although I could do so, out of compassion for the low-level functionaries who spew propaganda as ordered by higher ups.

Fires recycle the forest — Forests are not garbage; they do not require “recycling.” This ecobabble canard is an outgrowth of the “decadent forest” agitprop that was used to justify old-growth logging. The logging of old-growth was halted 20 years ago (or more) but ironically the protesters of by-gone eras now use their adversaries’ ecobabble to justify incinerating old-growth forests today. Forests develop and change over time. They are aggregations of organisms in various conditions. Forests are not single organisms that get old and must be killed dead so new forests can grow there. That sort of thinking is a-scientific.

Fires rejuvenate the forest — This is the same type of ecobabble as above. “Rejuvenate” means to make young again. There is no ecological reason to kill old-growth forests and replace them with baby forests. Indeed, there is ample reason to protect, maintain, and perpetuate old-growth forests.

The “rejuvenation” ecobabble has been applied (by the fire community) to return fires. Return fires are reburns of older burns, often within 15 years or less. The first fire killed all the old-growth and left a sea of snags and brush. The second fire is supposed to “rejuvenate” the burn. But if wildfire was so rejuvenational, why didn’t the first fire accomplish the feat? And how will the second fire do what the first did not? In fact, return fires often cement the conversion of forests to fire-type brush.

Ensuring that fire plays its natural ecological role in fire-adapted forests — This is double ecobabble. First, most Western Hemisphere forests have been subject to human-set (anthropogenic) fires for millennia. Human tending through anthropogenic fire gave rise to open, park-like forests and induced the forest development pathways that led to old-growth trees. The “natural ecological role” of fire in our forests is to convert them to tick brush, the historical human role has been to manage fire regimes to tend forests.

The fire community is sadly ignorant of actual, historical forest development pathways. It could be said that much of the forest science community is equally sad and ignorant of the ecological processes that have nurtured our forests for thousands of years. The denial of historical human influences is a-scientific, a-historical, and seen by many as racist. Denying the presence and actions of millions of human residents over millennia is a pernicious myth rooted in extreme cultural prejudice.

All forests are “adapted” to fire, but not all fires are alike. The frequent, seasonal, human-set and tended fires that guided forest development during the entire Holocene were materially different from the catastrophic holocausts perpetrated by the Federal Government today. The severe burns that denude whole landscapes and convert them from forest to brush fields are not “ecological” or desirable in terms of forest maintenance or resource protection.

Fires like this do not “rejuvenate,” “play a natural ecological role,” or “benefit resources.”

Fires reduce fuel loadings — That frequent claim is not ecobabble per se, because it is closer to fire engineering than ecological terminology. The statement is counter-factual nonetheless, as can be seen in the photo above. The severe fires that the Federal fire bosses are so fond of kill green trees and leave more dead and dry fuel than was present before the fire. The fire hazard is increased, not mitigated, by catastrophic fire.

Fire suppression in the past is responsible for fires today — Another ecobabble statement with no basis in fact. Catastrophic fires are nothing new. The First Residents experienced landscape-scale severe fires that destroyed whole regions and left the people starving. They soon learned, from painful experience, that human beings could reduce the holocausts that challenged survival itself by setting frequent, seasonal, light burning fires.

It was the elimination of stewardship and anthropogenic fire, steeped in millennia of traditional ecological knowledge, that led to modern fuel build-ups and the catastrophic megafires of today.

Had the government NOT attempted to suppress fires over the last 100 years or so, those fires would have been megafire holocausts (such as the Idaho fires of 1910). Backing off and letting fires burn does not reduce the fire hazard; it actualizes it.

*****

Ecobabble is nothing new; some might contend that most of ecological science is babble. But the egregious use of ecobabble to justify catastrophic forest fires is a modern invention, recent propaganda designed to excuse horrifically bad forest management.

Based on a-historical myths and lies, modern ecobabble promulgated by the fire community is harmful and destructive. It does not justify — it exacerbates the harm done by adding insult to injury.

We have barely scratched the surface in this post. Send us your own favorite ecobabble phrases. We will disabuse the abusers of the terminology and set the record straight here.

WOPR, 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan Withdrawn

The Obama Administration has withdrawn the Western Oregon Plan Revisions and the 2008 Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan:

U.S. Dept. of the Interior Press Release, July 16, 2009 [here]

Interior Withdraws Legally Flawed Plan for Oregon Forests, Presses For Sustainable Timber Harvests

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Because the previous Administration failed to follow established administrative procedure before leaving office, its plan to intensify logging in western Oregon – known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) – is legally indefensible and must be withdrawn, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said today.

Moreover, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Thomas Strickland said that the federal government will ask the District Court to vacate the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 revision of the critical habitat for the spotted owl, on which the WOPR was in part based, because Interior’s Inspector General determined that the decisionmaking process for the owl’s recovery plan was potentially jeopardized by improper political influence. …

The 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan presented last May [here], 18 years after the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered species (1990). The USFWS is required by law to develop a recovery plan within 3 years of listing under the Endangered Species Act, but had delayed that action for almost two decades.

A Recovery Plan was issued in 2007 but withdrawn after criticism. The USFWS then revised the 2007 plan after holding a year-long series of public meetings with expert panels. The experts testified that catastrophic fire in spotted owl forests is often fatal to all the trees, old-growth and young growth alike, and that some careful forest restoration treatments are necessary to save the old-growth and protect the owl habitat.

After extensive public involvement, the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan was issued. But the election of B. H. Obama brought radical holocausters to power, and yesterday they exercised their political muscle and threw out the Plan.

The claim was that Bush Administration officials somehow tainted the owl plan by failing to “follow established administrative procedure,” whereas the fact is that the owl plan was the most open, transparent, and scientifically supported recovery plan the USFWS has ever created. It is Obama officials that have tainted the process with political machinations.

Obama appointees were not responding to any court decisions — lawsuits brought by radical extremists have not been adjudicated as yet. Instead the political functionaries jumped the courts and withdrew the recovery plan before the courts could rule.

The BLM Western Oregon Plan Revisions (WOPR) was also withdrawn by Obama appointees before any court rulings had been issued. The WOPR applied to only O&C lands, some 2 million acres in Western Oregon (less than 10% of federal forest lands in the state). The WOPR was also created via a lengthy and public process and was consistent with the 2008 Spotted Owl Recovery Plan. However, the extremist anti-forest-pro-holocaust political set within the Obama Administration feel that cutting the throat of rural Oregon and burning millions of acres of public forests in catastrophic fires is preferable to scientific management that might preserve, protect, and maintain forests.

Elections have effects. In this case, the election of Far Left crazies has led to the elimination of responsible, science-based programs that might have saved endangered species and their habitat, the priceless heritage forests of Oregon. There have been other deleterious outgrowths from the Obama election, and this one may slip under most radar screens. But the tragic consequences of the megafires that result will not be so easy to ignore.

Wildfire — Beneficial or Damaging?

The US Forest Service is incinerating millions of acres this year with dozens of wildfires they Let Burn under the rubric of “fires used for resource benefit” (FUFRB’s), or as we called them, foofurbs. Foofurbs have replaced whoofoos (Wildland Fire Use fires or WFU’s) [here].

Background: the illegally constituted Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) [here] is the Federal Advisory Committee that oversees firefighting on Federal land, including USFS, BLM, NPS, USFWS, and BIA. The WFLC seated radical enviro lobbyist groups such as the Wilderness Society, promulgated a “Black, Dead Forests Are Beautiful” campaign [here] and invented whoofoos [here] as a substitute for Let It Burn. After complaints were received, the WFLC went underground. They no longer post meeting notices or minutes [here] or even their membership list [here] (note that the names and dates are over a year out-of-date).

This year, in secret backroom meetings with radical enviro holocaust advocates, the WFLC dumped whoofoo and replaced it with foofurb. This is despite the push over the last two years to write WFU into over 30 National Forest Plans nationwide. Now the WFU language is defunct, and all the illegal altering of Forest Plans must happen again.

In the meantime, foofurbs have sprung up all over. The Southwest Region has already burned a half million acres this year in foofurbs. The Southern California, Alaska, Eastern Great Basin, and Rocky Mountain Regions all have foofurbs burning right now.

Interestingly, in none of these foofurb fires has the USFS specified exactly what the alleged benefits of “fires used for resource benefit” are. There have been no analyses made, no declarations, no public hearings, and most importantly, no Environmental Impact Statements produced.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is quite clear in stating that any major Federal action that will have significant effects and impacts on resources and the human environment requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to implementation of that action. Potential “significant effects” require an EIS whether or not those effects are characterized as detrimental or beneficial:

“Significantly” as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity:

(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both short- and long-term effects are relevant.

(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of impact. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action. The following should be considered in evaluating intensity:

Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse. A significant effect may exist even if the Federal agency believes that on balance the effect will be beneficial.

From Sec. 1508.27, the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), sec. 309 of the Clean Air Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 7609), and E.O. 11514 (Mar. 5, 1970, as amended by E.O. 11991, May 24, 1977). Source: 43 FR 56003, Nov. 29, 1978, unless otherwise noted.

When the USFS deliberately conducts foofurb fires, it does not matter what their excuse is. “Restore ecological function” or “rejuvenate wildlands” are largely pseudo-scientific BS, but they are also tacit admissions that the actions will have significant effect on the environment. Ergo, the USFS is in multiple violation of NEPA and they know it.

more »

Beetle Epidemic Caused by Misguided Dogma of Extremists

by Fred Hodgeboom, Guest Commentary, Clark Fork Chronicle, July 09 2009 [here]

The recent New York Times article (”A House in the Woods When the Woods are Gone,” [here]) is the latest example of the urban myth misinformation that the mainstream media routinely provides to the masses by blaming everything undesirable on “climate change.”

The article ignored the natural role of forest and insect ecology regarding the hundreds of thousands of acres of even-aged (80-100+ year old, near mono-cultures of lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir on federal land surrounding the private property near Helena featured in the article. In the western United States, the period of 1880-1930 was one of huge forest fires, illustrated by the well known 1910 holocaust that burned nearly 3 million continuous acres in Idaho and Montana in two days. The new forests that re-grew from these burns have now matured into optimal feeding and breeding habitat for bark beetles and spruce budworm, especially on federal lands where management of the 100-year-old burn areas has been scant. The insect outbreaks and resulting fire hazard on federal lands has been predicted by forest and fire scientists for decades and are nothing new.

Insect epidemics will always occur when you have vast areas of ideal habitat for the bugs that allow their populations to escape all natural checks. A cold winter or two, or even pesticide spraying, only delays the inevitable bug population explosion until favorable conditions occur. Dry years inevitably occur as they have historically. As long as the perfect habitat exists over vast areas, the bugs will eventually outbreak into an epidemic and reduce their habitat by killing the trees if humans don’t alter the insect habitat first. There is simply no way to “protect” huge areas of prime bug habitat for long.

We (the public, the Congress, and federal land managers) failed miserably in the last two decades to actively create age and tree species diversity in the vast even-aged stands dominated by lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir that resulted from the huge fires of 1880-1930 period, especially in the western federal forests. We are now experiencing the insect epidemics and the re-occurrence of the huge turn of the 19th century fires as forests are pre-disposed to catastrophic fires by unbroken expanses of bug-killed trees. These fires commonly have energy releases equivalent to an atomic bomb exploding every 5-10 minutes. No amount of firefighting expenditure will control the fire until it runs out of the heavy fuels or the weather changes. After the forest is killed, the commercial value of the wood is rapidly lost, and if there is no market for cracked and worm riddled dead wood, the area is doomed to a catastrophic fire at some future time.

We are all now paying the price for the misguided dogma of so called “conservation groups” very successful campaign to “preserve and protect” the federal forests by prohibiting roads and timber harvests over the past several decades. The preservation lobby industry has been so successful that the states of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico essentially have no timber infrastructure left and no markets for excess wood, live or dead. Montana is not too far behind with only one pulp mill and a few sawmills left, struggling to survive primarily on limited raw material from state and private land.

Now that the dead and/or burned forests cover so many of Montana’s mountains, the real consequences of the preservation urban myth dogma is exposed to the public. Many “conservation” lobbyists and government officials are rushing to blame the adverse effects and costs of the failed preservation efforts on another urban myth-”climate change.”

Fred Hodgeboom is a retired USFS forester and currently President of Montanans For Multiple Use [here]

14 Jul 2009, 2:02pm
Forestry education
by admin
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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.

 
  
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