8 Jan 2010, 4:14pm
Forestry education:
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Ancient Anthropogenic Fire in Harlem

Back before Harlem became a borough of New York City, indeed before NYC ever existed, Manhattan Island was home to the Lenni Lenape, or Delaware people. The Delaware, as did other Algonquins, burned their habitat annually to induce open fields (cultivation by fire). These they planted with corn, squash, beans, and other domestic crops.

Or so has been hypothesized. Two researchers from UC Berkeley, William T. Bean and Eric W. Sanderson, devised a unique method of testing that hypothesis through the use of modern fire behavior models. Their report on their findings, Using a spatially explicit ecological model to test scenarios of fire use by Native Americans: An example from the Harlem Plains, New York, NY, has been added to the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

Their findings in a nutshell:

Our model results indicate that by controlling fire frequency in the pre-settlement Harlem Plains, the Lenape people could control the structure of the landscape. Van der Donck’s claim that they cleared the land every 20 years does not appear to be supported by our model results. For the land to be a “plain” or “grassland” the landscape would have had to been burned at least once every 10 years and, depending on initial condition, would have yielded a mosaic of vegetation types. Burning every year overwhelms succession through disturbance and keeps the landscape in a grassland steady state.

Our results suggest that the hardwood forests of the northeast required significant maintenance in order to keep them clear and open—escaped fires and lightning strikes would not suffice to maintain a savanna or grassland. We believe this adds to the consensus that, while individual historical accounts may be suspect, the evidence continues to suggest that Native Americans were using fire to control their landscape, not only in the western and plains states, but also in the northeast.

Bean’s and Sanderson’s research constitute a novel use of modern fire behavior models, to “predict” the past rather than the future. The potential application of this technique is far-reaching.

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The Principal Defects in Wyden’s Forest Bill

There are so many defects in Ron Wyden’s proposed “Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection, and Jobs Act of 2009″ (OEFROGPJA) that it is difficult to know where to start this analysis.

We have pointed out a few of the problems in previous posts [here, here, here]. They include conflict with other laws, rules, regulations; imposition of prescriptive forestry limits handicapping good management, political chicanery, bait-and-switch, and furthering of mass forest destruction by catastrophic megafires.

As written, OEFROGPJA is a vehicle for environmental disaster, and economic disaster, too.

That realization is slowly sinking in. An interesting Guest Opinion was proffered in the Oregonian yesterday, written by none other than two of the Gang of Four who together with Clinton and Gore forced the colossal failure of the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) on western Oregon, Washington, and Northern California 15 years ago.

The NWFP has failed miserably in every one of it’s stated goals [here]. Misery is the right word - The NWFP has caused the demise of the spotted owl, the population of which has crashed 60 percent or more since imposition. The No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot provisions have led to catastrophic fires of historical proportions that have decimated old-growth. And the regional economy has also been decimated — Oregon has led the Nation in unemployment, business bankruptcy, home foreclosure, and hunger for 15 years, all thanks to the NWFP.

So it might be instructive to parse the pronouncements of the Gang O’ Two [here] to see what they really think about Wyden’s OEFROGPJA bill. Let us read between the lines of the Guest Opinion:

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12 Dec 2009, 3:40pm
Climate and Weather
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Monckton’s Answer to an Environmental Campaigner

Note: This is just one of numerous excellent short essays by Lord Christopher Monckton for the Science and Public Policy Institute [here].

Answer to an Environmental Campaigner

By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, SPPI Blog, December 11th, 2009 [here]

Dear campaigner,

You write that, since humankind is adversely affecting the environment in various ways, humankind must also be adversely affecting the climate. Of course, this does not follow. It is a particular instance of the fundamental logical fallacy of relevance commonly known as the non sequitur.

Other Aristotelian fallacies commonly deployed by those advancing the alarmist argument are the argumentum ad populum or headcount fallacy (”there’s a consensus, so the consensus must be true”); and the argumentum ad verecundiam or reputation fallacy (”the IPCC and various august national scientific societies say “global warming” is mostly our fault, and they have a good reputation, so they must be telling the truth”). Any Classically-trained mind would at once dismiss these and many similar illogicalities as unworthy to be used as foundations for any valid conclusion.

You also write, wrongly, that the onus is on those who deny the hypothesis of anthropogenic “global warming” to prove the hypothesis wrong. To explain why your notion is incorrect, it is necessary to outline the scientific method as first enunciated by Abu Ali Ibn Al-Hassan Ibn Al-Hussain Ibn Al-Haytham in 11th-century Iraq, and as codified in its current form by Popper in a landmark paper of 1934.

The seeker after truth, says Al-Haytham, does not place his trust in any consensus, however broad or however venerable: instead, he subjects what he has learned of it to his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he scrutinizes, measures, and verifies whether it is true. The road to the truth, said Al-Haytham, is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.

Popper presented the scientific method as an iterative algorithm for discerning the truth in that great majority of cases where complete, formal demonstration by mathematical methods is not available.

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7 Dec 2009, 1:32pm
Forestry education
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A Brief History of the Post-Cretaceous Forests of SW Oregon, Part II

Part II. The Forests of the Anthropocene

Intro

A discussion of fire ecology in Southwest Oregon that recently came to my attention contained another statement that troubled me:

A natural fire regime is a general classification of the role fire would play across a landscape in the absence of modern human mechanical intervention, but including the influence of aboriginal burning (Agee 1993, Brown 1995).

Why do USFS ecologists conflate natural fire with anthropogenic fire when the differences are enormous?

Historically speaking, in SW Oregon over the last 12,000 years or so, the incidence of anthropogenic fire has been thousands of times more prevalent than natural (lightning) fire. Furthermore, lighting fires are random in time and space whereas human-set fires are deliberate actions (planned, timed, executed) by intelligent people with intent (informed by successful experience) to alter the landscape.

As a consequence, anthropogenic fire has had a much more profound and dominant effect on SW Oregon during the Anthropocene than lightning fire. Human fires have shaped the vegetation for millennia. The “natural fire regime” touted by USFS ecologists is a pernicious myth, or more simply, crappy science.

What’s the Anthropocene? It’s a cute name bestowed on the latter stages of the Holocene by the Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who considers the influence of humans on the environment in recent centuries so significant as to constitute a new geological era [here].

But human influences on the environment have been significant for more than a few centuries. For thousands of years, indeed the entire Holocene/Anthropocene (and much longer), people have been impacting the planet by setting fires. Anthropogenic fire regimes have dominated while “natural” fire regimes all but disappeared thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of years ago.

To grasp the enormity of this concept, we must first examine the onset of the Holocene/Anthropocene in greater detail.

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30 Nov 2009, 10:16pm
Federal forest policy
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The Tidwell-Vilsack Forest Doctrine

Each Chief leaves his or her own stamp on the US Forest Service. Tom Tidwell was named Chief last June [here] and already he is making his mark. Most recently Chief Tidwell has asked for “landscape conservation action plans” to address climate change:

U.S. Forest Service to Adapt Woodland Management to Climate Change

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has directed the agency’s regions and research stations to jointly produce draft “landscape conservation action plans” by March 1

By Noelle Straub, Greenwire, November 30, 2009 [here]

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has directed the agency’s regions and research stations to jointly produce draft “landscape conservation action plans” by March 1 to guide its day-to-day response to climate change.

In a memo earlier this month requesting the plans, Tidwell said climate change is “dramatically reshaping” how the agency will deliver on its mission of sustaining the health and diversity of the nation’s forests. He focused particularly on water management.

“Responding to the challenges of climate change in providing water and water-related ecosystem services is one of the most urgent tasks facing us as an agency,” Tidwell wrote. “History will judge us by how well we respond to these challenges.” …

It would be easy to criticize this action by pointing out that global warming alarmism has just taken a headshot with Climategate [here, here]. By the best measures [here] the climate is not changing significantly, and by the best estimates a slight cooling in global temperatures is expected over the next 30 years [here].

Hence dramatically reshaping the USFS mission to “respond to climate change” is pretty useless for that purpose, but such criticism might distract from more substantive aspects of the Tidwell-Vilsack vision for the US Forest Service. There is more to the emerging policies than that.

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29 Nov 2009, 3:54pm
Climate and Weather:
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More On Climategate

The full import of Climategate is slowly creeping into the Dead Tree Press, aka the Main Stream Media. The Blogosphere is miles ahead of the DTP/MSM, as usual though.

We mentioned several web sites with up-to-the-minute posts and discussions about Climategate in a previous post [here]. Another is Climategate at Watts Up With That [here], a compilation of all the related posts there.

The word “Climategate” was coined at WUWT by a commentator, Bulldust, the day the CRU email dam broke (11/19/2009) and the global warming hoax was exposed. The discussion there has been excellent and comprehensive, with links to the other leading climate realist sites.

Here are some of the latest musing from the Web:

Climategate: The Silence is Deafening from the Corporate Media

J Speer-Williams, Infowars, PrisonPlanet, November 29, 2009 [here]

By now most of us in the alternative media are aware of the some 61 megabytes of global warming research data of emails, documents, and computer code released by whistleblowers (or hackers), that have exposed climate scientists, at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain, as the frauds they’ve proven themselves to be.

This decade of emails and documents clearly concludes that global warming scientists have manipulated scientific data to “hide the decline” in global temperatures; and the fact that, there has been no statistically significant global warming for fifteen years, but our world has experienced a rapid and significant cooling for nine years.

So breath-taking has been this leaked data, to date, it has produced some startling headlines in the alternative media:

(1) Climategate: Greatest Scandal in Modern Science!”

(2) “Climategate? Smoking Gun? Blood in the Water?”

(3) “Global Warming Scientists Seek to Protect Their Government Funding by Corrupting the Peer-review Process.”

(4) “Climate Bombshell: Hackers {or Whistleblowers] Leak Emails Showing Conspiracy.”

(5) “Email Leaks Turn Up Heat on Global Warming Advocates.”

(6) “Climategate Scientists Caught Red-handed in Monumental Fraud.”

(7) “Bad Scientists? No Criminals!”

Now, these global warming scientists, who have been so severely exposed for the frauds they are, are crying, “Persecution!”. While their own emails prove they have been very busy planning how best to get tenured professors fired, who will not shallow the rotten fish of anthropogenic global warming, how to black-ball them from scientific journals, and prevent them from participating in the peer-review process. …

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Dr. Elaine Oneil On Forest Management to Reduce Risks of Climate Change

On Wednesday, November 18, 2009, the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, held a hearing regarding managing Federal forests in response to climate change, including for natural resource adaptation and carbon sequestration [here].

Witnesses included Tom Tidwell, Chief, U.S. Forest Service, and Dr. Elaine Oneil, University of Washington. The testimonies can be downloaded [here].

Dr. Oneil’s testimony was excellent. Some excerpts:

“…The factors central to determining optimal carbon management under climate change are:

1. Each forest site has a carrying capacity which dictates the maximum amount of fiber, wood, or carbon that can be stored in that forest. Carrying capacity is determined by site quality, climate, and to a lesser degree the current species mix.

2. Once forests reach their site’s carrying capacity there is enormous stress on the living trees which manifests itself in insect outbreaks and disease, culminating in the death of some or all of the trees on site. …

3. Wildfire ignition is random, but the consequences of wildfires are driven by climate, and prevailing weather and forest conditions. Forests that have reached maximum carrying capacity, and which contain large amounts of dead trees, produce conditions for wildfires that are uncontrollable, with devastating consequences to the forest, the adjacent communities, and the budgets of land management agencies.

4. Wildfires generate enormous releases of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. From 2002-2006 wildfires across the entire US, including Alaska, released the equivalent of 4-6% of the US anthropogenic emissions for that same period. The average yearly emissions from the California wildfires alone were equivalent to the emissions of 7 million cars/year for each year from 2001-2007. Extreme fire conditions can render sites infertile or incapable of regenerating future forests, which effectively leads to deforestation.

5. If we apply the precautionary principle, the most risk adverse option we have at the present time is to thin forests that are at risk to reduce wildfire impacts, reduce insect mortality, and build health and resilience against extreme climate conditions that these forests are expected to face in the near future. The cut material can be used as biofuel feedstocks to support energy independence goals and meet renewable fuel and electricity standards. Even greater carbon benefits are possible if the cut wood is used in green building construction. Using life cycle analysis we can identify optimal carbon sequestration and storage options that include forests as part of the broader matrix of national carbon accounts; failure to account for the carbon interactions beyond the forest can lead to counterproductive policies.

6. Grassroots initiatives aimed at addressing forest health, wildfires, insect outbreaks, and sustainability on federal lands have begun. The goals of removing excess fuels and dead trees for use in bioenergy projects, while generating economically viable and sustainable jobs in rural communities and maintaining sustainable ecosystems are laudable. Policies are needed that integrate the knowledge and trust built by local initiatives, support national renewable energy goals, and recognize the inherent ecological carrying capacity of the land and how it might alter under changing climatic conditions. …

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The Genesis of Old-Growth Forests

Note: due to the crush of work I have accepted recently, I do not have time to prepare new posts for the next week or so. The following is a repost from May, 2008 [here, here, here].

by Mike Dubrasich

Iain Murray, the author of The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Won’t Tell You About - Because They Helped Cause Them, [here], wrote in Chapter 4 of that book:

With wildfires burning, it is useful to turn to the wisdom of the ancients. When the pioneers first entered the great forests of America, they found that the Native Americans had managed the forests for centuries. Their woodlands contained very few big trees—maybe fifty such trees per acre.

Apparently the Indians had set regular, low intensity fires which burned away accumulations of undergrowth, deadwood, dying trees and particularly small trees growing between the big trees. The larger trees were unharmed, because of their thick fire-resistant bark.

That in a nut shell is the way our old-growth forests developed. Frequent anthropogenic fire gave rise to open, park-like forests, largely uneven-aged at large-area scales. Forest scientists refer to such trees as “older cohort” because they are quite different than the even-aged thickets of trees (younger cohort) that arose following elimination of anthropogenic fire (aka “Indian burning”).

True old-growth forests contain older cohort trees. Those trees are remnants of the the former open, park-like forests that covered much of forested North America, and they may also be viewed as relics of our ancient culturally-modified landscapes.

In this 3-part series, I discuss in greater detail how our old-growth forests came to be here. The issue is important, because we must understand how old-growth forests arose in order to protect, maintain, and perpetuate them. If we value old-growth, and that seems to be a widely-shared value, then it is vital to understand their development.

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Apache Burning in Lightning’s Epicenter

The Chiricahua Mountains in SE Arizona are one of the Madrean Sky Islands [here], volcanic massifs that rise above the Southwest desert basins and which include the Pinaleño, Pedragosa, Peloncillo, Baboquivari, Santa Catalina, and Santa Rita Mountains among others. The higher elevations harbor diverse ecological assemblages, such as pine and fir forests that are quite different from the Sonoran desert vegetation that surrounds them.

The Sky Islands are lightning magnets. Summer thunderstorms ride the Mexican Monsoon and punctuate the Sky Islands with the densest frequency of lightning bolts in the U.S. And yet, despite all that loose electricity and resulting fires, the vegetation of the Chiricahua Mountains has been dominated by anthropogenic (human-set) fire for millennia.

That historical fact is explored by Dr. Stephen J. Pyne, World’s Foremost Authority on Fire, in a new essay, Rhymes With Chiricahua [here].

There is little question that lightning is adequate to kindle copious fires and that the extent of burning aligns smartly with the ebb and flow of atmospheric moisture. Connect the sky island dots with the volcanic edge of the Colorado Plateau, and the resulting circle will trace the epicenter for lightning-caused fire in the United States. Like a rocky outlier that catches the first swells of an approaching storm, the bulky, border-hugging Chiricahuas make first contact with the Mexican monsoon, the signature onset of the southwestern fire season. …

But if the obvious beguiles, it is the second-order reasoning that proves treacherous. If you look at such data by itself, you might well conclude that climate alone “drives” the fire regime. Such analysis reduces a complex poker game to a game of solitaire: you can only play the cards nature hands you. The reality, however, is that there is another player at the table, and he is the dealer.

Humanity is the Earth’s keystone species for fire, not only as a source of ignition but as a sculptor of landscape fuels. It is significant that this second source was present from the onset of the Holocene, or what is more aptly being called the Anthropocene. There has been no time since the end of the last glacial when the region lacked an ignition source both more promiscuous and more prescribed than lightning.

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Congressional Bait and Switch Wilderness Holocaust Games

Last March Congress passed and President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 (S.22 was attached to H.R.146).

Over 100 bills were bundled together that designated more than 2 million acres new wildernesses in nine states, 1,000 more miles of wild and scenic rivers, national monuments, national conservation areas, trail systems, historic parks, and more national heritage areas in 8 states.

The Omnibus Public Lands Act was no sooner signed than proponents began clamoring for more wilderness. The 58 million-acre Clinton/Dombeck Roadless Rule was enjoined by Judge Brimmer [here] precisely because it designated, in a defacto manner, all those acres as wilderness — without the requisite act of Congress. Wilderness proponents wish that Rule to be reinstated by the Obama Administration. They also desire more Congressional designations.

Sen. Jon Tester’s new proposed bill [here, here, here] is on behalf of wilderness proponents, and it will result in catastrophic fires that are large and severe. Damages from those fires to the environment and to the local community and region will be long-lasting.

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The Roots of Our Forest Health Crisis

The latest addition to the W.I.S.E. Colloquium Forest and Fires Sciences is The Forest Health Crisis: How Did We Get In This Mess? by Charles E. Kay. 2009. Mule Deer Foundation Magazine No.26:14-21 [here].

Dr. Charles E. Kay, Ph.D. Wildlife Ecology, Utah State University, is the author/editor of Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature [here], author of Are Lightning Fires Unnatural? A Comparison of Aboriginal and Lightning Ignition Rates in the United States [here], co-author of Native American influences on the development of forest ecosystems [here], and numerous other scientific papers.

In this essay, written for a general audience, Dr. Kay recognizes that our forests are in crisis from fire, insects, and disease. He explains that the common cause is too many trees! — which may be surprising to some but is well-known to most forest experts.

Today’s overstocked forests are a-historical; in the past* forests were open and park-like, maintained in that condition by frequent, seasonal, light-burning ground fires. Dr. Kay explains that most of those fires were anthropogenic (human-set).

* By the “past” I mean the entire Holocene and the tail end of the Pleistocene, before which there were very few forests in North America. Instead there was mostly ice or tundra, going back 100,000 years or so.

(Extra: Between 110,000 and 100,000 years ago there was another interglacial, the Eemian. Little is known about the forests of that warm interlude in the Ice Ages. The Ice Ages go back 2.5 million years. For roughly 90 percent of that time, North American forests have been mostly non-existent.)

(Extra Extra: the Ice Ages aren’t over. We passed the peak temperatures about 10,000 years ago. The Earth is headed, inexorably, for another glaciation.)

Human beings arrived in North America at least 13,000 years ago, before the climate had completely shifted and before the great migration northward of plants and animals. Hence humanity preceded most North American forests. Humanity brought fire with them, as well as 150,000 years of practice in how to make and use it. Holocene forests developed under the influence of landscape-scale, human-set fire. Dr. Kay explains that human-set fires, whether intentional of accidental, outnumbered lighting fires by many orders of magnitude.

The forests that arose under the influence of anthropogenic fire were open and park-like, with few trees per acre. Individual trees grew to phenomenal ages; old-growth development pathways were human-induced via frequent burning.

In the absence (over the last 150 years) of frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fire, rapid “in-growth” has occurred. Thickets of new trees have seeded into the formerly open stands. The increase in tree density has fueled the crisis in forest health. Forests in the past (see * above) were healthier. By healthier I mean less prone to catastrophic fire, insect infestations, and disease epidemics. Today old-growth as well as young-growth trees are rapidly dying from all three factors. Forests are being converted to brushfields.

Restoration forestry does not seek to replicate the past but to learn from it. One lesson of history is that open and park-like forests are healthier. Another is that human stewardship via serious thinning, fuel removal, and subsequent frequent, seasonal, prescribed fire is required to abate our forest health crisis.

The first few paragraphs and some excellent forest photos (click for larger images) from Dr. Kay’s essay are appended below. W.I.S.E. invites you read the entire essay [here]. It is all that and much more.

From The Forest Health Crisis: How Did We Get In This Mess? by Charles E. Kay. 2009. Mule Deer Foundation Magazine No.26:14-21.

THE WEST is ablaze! Every summer large-scale, high-intensity crown fires tear through our public lands at ever increasing and unheard of rates. Our forests are also under attack by insects and disease. According to the national media and environmental groups, climate change is the villain in the present Forest Health Crisis and increasing temperatures, lack of moisture, and abnormally high winds are to blame. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Sahara Desert, for instance, is hot, dry, and the wind blows, but the Sahara does not burn. Why? Because there are no fuels. Without fuel there is no fire. Period, end of story, and without thick forests there are no high-intensity crown fires. Might not the real problem then be that we have too many trees and too much fuel in our forests? The Canadians, for instance, have forest problems similar to ours but they do not call it a “Forest Health Crisis,” instead they call it a Forest Ingrowth Problem. The Canadians have correctly identified the issue, while we in the States have not. That is to say, the problem is too many trees and gross mismanagement by land management agencies, as well as outdated views of what is natural.

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6 Oct 2009, 5:15pm
Forestry education
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What Is the Proper Place of Fire Science?

In a new essay proudly posted with permission at W.I.S.E, Dr. Stephen J. Pyne of ASU, World’s Foremost Authority on Fire, asks this question: What is the proper place of fire science, and other sciences, in dealing with real world problems with cultural origins and implications?

The essay is The Wildland/Science Interface by Stephen J. Pyne (full text [here] or selected excerpts at the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here]).

The real world problems under scrutiny in Dr. Pyne’s essay are the hazards imposed by Sky Island forests (chiefly wildfire) on the astronomical observatories located there, or conversely, the hazards (multiple biological impairments including fires) imposed by the observatories on the forests.

Four Sky Island peaks host observatory complexes as well as isolated forests with endangered species. The political battles over scopes vs. squirrels have been surfeit with favor as special interests have engaged in decades of funding frenzy. In the end, however, the big dog hogged most of the gravy:

One science, astronomy, and a nominally science-supporting institution, the UofA, turned to politics to overturn the claims of another science and its non-governmental auxiliary. The winner was the more powerful: Astronomy meant Big Science. Conservation biology only acquired a name in 1978. Deep sky met deep biology, and sky won. …

But nothing has been done about the wildfire hazard, and wildfires have threatened all the observatory complexes, and continue to do so year after year.

Pyne’s observation is that neither Branch of Science, astronomy or fire science (pyrology?), despite the $billions spent on those sciences, has been able to ameliorate the problem, and in fact have arguably made the wildfire problem worse.

The critics of fire suppression often point to graphs of increasing expenditures and swelling acres burned to make a case that more money fighting fire doesn’t reduce either costs or burned area (Figure 1). … [T]he rising expenditures are just as likely to be the cause of increased burning. The more we spend, the less control we get. A fire suppression-industrial complex is pushing up costs without regard to results on the ground.

This same logic can be applied to fire science. … An objective measure of applied fire science – analyzing science as science would natural phenomena – would probably show mixed results much like that from fire suppression. The more we spend, the fewer practical outcomes we get. A fire research-industrial complex is pushing up costs without regard to results on the ground. …

For all practical purposes, both astronomy and fire science (and Science in general) have failed.

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21 Sep 2009, 11:04am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Station Fire Damage Assessment in Progress

Do wildfires provide benefits? Or do wildfires inflict short- and long-term deficits and damages to landscapes: vegetation, wildlife, habitat, air, soils, watersheds as well as homes destroyed, other property losses, suppression costs, public health and safety emergency expenditures, etc.

Setting aside for the moment the $100 million suppression costs, as yet untallied emergency services costs, and the value loss of private homes and property, did the Station Fire provide “resource benefits”?

No, as a matter of fact, the environmental crisis is ongoing and long-lasting. The steep and now denuded slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains are expected to undergo massive erosion, mud-debris flows, and flash floods when the expected winter rain storms occur. More homes and roads will be destroyed by mudslides. Vegetation, wildlife, and people will be damaged again.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that a bevy of environmental experts will be documenting and assessing the damages, and suggesting and implementing mitigation actions (more costs) where they might do some good (prevent more damages).

Station Fire studied by experts looking at the forest’s future

By Thomas Himes, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 09/19/2009 [here]

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - A team of 45 scientists, economists and engineers have been commissioned by the US Forest Service to document Station Fire losses, predict the future impact of those losses and make recommendations to minimize risks in the future.

The Station Fire charred plant life and seared soil as it burned across 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest.

Before the fire, healthy shrubs and soil diffused and absorbed rainfall as it made its way down mountainsides to rivers and reservoirs, according to US Forest Service soil scientist Eric Nicita.

“If it rains on unburned areas, little plants act like pumps” and soil absorbs water into roots and the water table Nicita said.

But the Station Fire has made healthy shrubs and soil a scarce commodity in the Angeles National Forest, according to Nicita.

In burned areas, “hydrophobic compounds turn into gases and puts a wax like coating on the soil,” Nicita said. “The longer water has to accumulate, the greater the chance it has to cause erosion.” …

Note: for a recent excellent study on soil sealing, see Causes of Post-Fire Runoff and Erosion: Water Repellency, Cover, or Soil Sealing? by Isaac J. Larsen et. al. [here].

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest Service reunion in Missoula explores myths, realities of wildfires

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

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

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

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

Then the Missoula man chuckled at himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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