This report is very well-written and user-friendly (IMHO) and focuses on the topic with excellent photos (which a reader pointed out I had clipped and used without reference). Thanks much to the writers and photographers!
This fuel treatment effectiveness assessment was developed by:
Pam Bostwick, Fuels Specialist, U.S. Forest Service, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, N.M.
Jim Menakis, Fire Ecologist, U.S. Forest Service, National Headquarters detached, Missoula, Mont.
Tim Sexton, District Ranger, U.S. Forest Service, Superior National Forest, Cook, Minn.
Report edited and designed by:
Paul Keller, Technical Writer-Editor, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center
Social acceptance of fire needed in climate-changing forests
From Climate wire
my comments in italics
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012
The future of managing wildfires in the face of climate change is going to require different tools and strategies, but also something a bit more difficult to swallow — encouraging burning instead of stifling it.
In the future, forest managers will need to “try to work with fire, rather than fighting it,” said David Peterson, research biologist at the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Station. “If we allowed more wildfires to burn, that could be beneficial,” he added. Fire is considered part of a natural cycle in forest ecology, and encouraging small fires could help prevent bigger, more damaging ones.
The U.S. Forest Service has issued a report on how to address forest management in the face of climate change, looking at resource management on national forests and, potentially, other federal lands. Fire management, pest control and watershed management are some of the areas where practices will need to change, said report co-author Peterson in an interview with ClimateWire.
Letting fires burn, instead of stifling them at all costs, is not an easy sell politically or socially, said Peterson. But those who live in the wildland-urban interface, the transitional zone between residential clusters and the wilderness, are becoming more aware.
“I think they’re getting much more savvy about the scientific concept of fire,” he said, calling the interface one of the biggest social challenges for the Forest Service.
It’s not clear what this means- if they understand “the scientific concept” does that mean they are not as interested in fire suppression around their homes? Also notice that wildland-urban is defined as “the transitional zone between residential clusters and the wilderness”. There are plenty of lands that are adjacent to communities that are “wildlands” but not “wilderness.”
More partnerships between federal, state and private lands would bring together a fragmented landscape to tackle some of the climate-driven problems that have plagued forests in the past years. These include fires, pine beetle epidemics and floods.
“They don’t care about where that dotted map is, and they don’t care about any individual ownership,” Peterson said.
Water, roads and infrastructure are also at risk, said Peterson who has seen a distinctive change in the flows, levels and patterns of rivers. Floods, mudslides and other severe events that were once considered 100-year events are occurring more frequently.
‘Forest thinning’ gets a new boost
The Forest Service compiled several existing management changes across their forests to provide examples for the framework. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, for example, foresters took on an effort to completely redesign the roads and culverts to withstand a higher water load, expected as torrential rains become more frequent. In California’s Inyo National Forest, staff created a decisionmaking tool that offered the implications of hundreds of different possible decisions, given a likely climate change scenario.
“In taking a risk management approach to adaptation, what we are doing is preparing for changes rather than changing what’s there,” said the Forest Service’s climate change adviser, David Cleaves.
Forest thinning, part of the “fuel treatments” that the Forest Service employs to reduce fire risk, will also increase given future predictions for climate change, said Peterson. Last year, legislators in Western states expressed frustration at a perceived lack of preventive action to halt forest fires, mandated under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. Last year saw some record-breaking wildfires, including Arizona’s 550,000-acre Wallow fire.
But forest thinning, and its possibility of increase, has come under scrutiny. A report from Oregon State University issued last May questioned the practice of thinning as an effective climate strategy, as it reduces the size of forest carbon sinks — the wood mass that absorbs and holds carbon from entering into the atmosphere.
So we are doing fuel treatments to protect communities from fire, which is expected to increase due to climate change, but doing so is not an “effective climate strategy” based on this study. So confusing as we are mixing adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change. Also, to me it’s not that clear that we would not have to do WUI fuel treatments if there were no climate change.. in other words in the absence of climate change, given western ecosystems’ historic fire patterns, it still would be a good idea to do WUI fuel treatment.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, as well as other environmental groups, has cast doubt on the use of forest thinnings to burn for biomass electricity, saying the rising demand may soon damage forests more than help them.
Thinning forests, and thinning them and using the thinned material for biomass, are two different things. This is confusing because we should be clear on whether NRDC and others doubt thinning for fuels reduction, as perhaps needed for fires under climate change, or doubt using the products for biomass. Based on this NRDC fears are based on scale, and not the technology per se.
“There have been a number of these types of articles,” said Peterson of the study. “Some say it’s a net deficit [of carbon], some say it’s a net positive, some say it’s neutral.”
For now, the Forest Service do not consider carbon sequestration when planning fuel treatments. The risks of devastating burning and millions of dollars in damage tip the scale to meeting current needs, said Cleaves.
“You may have to incur [carbon] emissions costs to achieve risk reduction,” he said. “You don’t have to do that in every situation, but it sure is possible.”
Thanks to Derek for these.
Here’s an editorial from the Bozeman Chronicle:
Editorial: Protecting Bozeman’s water supply is our best long-term plan
Posted: Sunday, January 22, 2012 12:00 am
Right on cue, a trio of environmental groups has again challenged a plan to protect the main Bozeman municipal water sources from catastrophic wildfire.
The plan calls for treating 4,800 acres of the Hyalite and Sourdough creek drainages with timber harvests, thinning and controlled burns to reduce the amount of potential fuel for a wildfire that will certainly burn through the area at some point in the future. A catastrophic fire in these drainages in their present condition would produce ash and silt and trigger erosion that could overwhelm the city’s water system.
Challenging the proposal for the third time, The Alliance for a Wild Rockies, the Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and the Native Ecosystem Council contend the plan will disrupt lynx and grizzly habitat and eliminate cover for elk.
Though it will probably fall on deaf ears, here’s a different argument to consider for abandoning this challenge:
People are moving to Montana. They are buying up what was once agricultural land and turning it into housing developments. Much of the open space we all value so much as part of our quality of life is being consumed in the process.
The best way to combat this trend is to concentrate this immigration of new Montanans as much as possible – in cities. Bozeman is the best location on the northwest corner of the Yellowstone ecosystem – among blue-ribbon trout rivers and in between major wilderness areas – to accommodate as much of this population growth as possible.
To do that, though, the city needs water. And protecting the city’s primary sources of potable water is one of the best ways to ensure that Bozeman can accommodate smart growth. If the environmental groups hamper the city’s ability to maintain and increase its water supply, they will be forcing new population out into the countryside where more valuable open space will be consumed.
Make no mistake: Montana’s population is going to grow, whether we like it or not. And it is incumbent upon the state’s cities to accommodate that growth by building up, not out.
Environmental groups can help the cities accomplish this by working with them – not against them – as they seek to responsibly protect and expand their municipal water supplies.
Here’s an article from earlier in the week.
Conservation groups challenge watershed plan for third time
CARLY FLANDRO, Chronicle Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 12:15 am
Conservation groups on Tuesday challenged a proposed thinning and prescribed-burn project in forests south of Bozeman that aims to protect the city’s drinking water.
It’s the group’s third time challenging the proposal.
“Simply stated, the agency’s proposal breaks a number of laws and this time around is no different,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
The Gallatin National Forest’s plan, called the Bozeman Municipal Watershed project, calls for burning, harvesting and thinning 4,800 acres in the Hyalite and Bozeman Creek drainages. Those drainages supply more than 80 percent of the Bozeman community’s water, and thinning efforts there are intended to reduce the extent of any potential wildfires.
A severe wildfire could put so much sediment and ash in the creeks that the treatment plant couldn’t handle it and would have to shut down, according to Marna Daley, forest spokeswoman.
Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and Native Ecosystems Council joined the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in challenging the plan.
The groups say the project would log federally designated lynx critical habitat and core grizzly bear habitat, and that it would remove elk hiding cover and destroy habitat for other old-growth-dependent species. They also worry the logging and road building would add sediment to creeks containing the native westslope cutthroat trout, which is listed as a “species of special concern.”
“Those same creeks also supply Bozeman’s municipal water,” said Steve Kelly, a board member for two of the conservation groups. “The best thing we could do for wildlife, fish, opportunities for backcountry recreation and solitude, and our drinking-water supply, would be to back away from this foolish project and enjoy the forest’s many enduring gifts.”
Garrity also alleged that some areas affected by the plan have been inaccurately designated as wildland-urban interface zones.
Daley said she has not yet seen the challenge but said the Gallatin National Forest is committed to moving forward with the project.
“We’re very confident the decision is a good decision,” she said of the most recent proposal. “We look forward to moving toward the implementation of the project in the near future.”
Daley said the challenge will go to the regional forester for review, and he’ll decide in about six weeks whether to uphold the forest’s plan.
The city of Bozeman partnered with the Gallatin National Forest to produce the watershed plan.
It’s interesting to me that we’re only hearing one side of the story from the article..
For the curious, here’s the site of information on the project, including a video.
Here’s a part of the ROD about sedimentation
Sedimentation concerns from our actions or no action
The Forest fuels specialist and hydrologist modeled the current vegetative and fuels conditions in the two drainages, and showed that a wildfire in average humidity and wind conditions could generate an increase in sediment of 250% over natural conditions (FEIS, p 3-40). A wildfire in more extreme weather conditions could cause even higher increases in sedimentation. The City of Bozeman water treatment plant currently can handle only small increases in sediment and ash and certainly not levels modeled for a wildfire under moderate or more extreme conditions.
Our effects analysis also showed that the vegetation treatments in Alternative 6 could reduce potential fire size by 54% when a wildfire occurs in the project area (FEIS, p 2-29 and p 3-29). Further analysis showed that a 4,000 acre fire in the project area after implementation of Alternative 6 would likely increase sediment 30% above natural in the Hyalite Creek drainage, and increase sediment 54% above natural in the Bozeman Creek drainage. The same size fire without treatment would produce sediment increases of 56% and 105% in those same drainages, respectively (SFEIS p. 172). A 2,000 acre fire after implementation of Alternative 6 is predicted to increase sediment by 18% over natural in Hyalite Creek and 32% in Bozeman Creek versus 31% and 57%, respectively, without treatment. The Bozeman Municipal Water Treatment plant is challenged to efficiently treat water when sediment levels exceed even 30% over natural, so 50% or greater increases could result in multiple day reductions in plant efficiency. This analysis convinced me that Alternative 6 will be effective in meeting the purpose and need for the project, and that the no action alternative, is not acceptable when the drinking water of an entire community is at stake.
Maybe I’m missing something, but if seeking safe drinking water makes people “break laws”, then what would be the proposal to meet the purpose and need that would not “break laws”?; if there is no such proposal conceivable, then it would appear that something is wrong with our framework with laws and regulations (or case law)..