Here, also gives you a good view of the kind of country the fires are burning in..
In addition to photos that depict the Waldo Fire (not just dispersed homes way in the backwoods) (not dead lodgepole, live ponderosa), the Post had an interesting story about insurance here.
Insurers increasingly are requiring homeowners to mitigate risks, such as clearing brush away from homes, as a condition of insurance.
Historically, Colorado’s largest property insurance claims have come from hail and wind, not fires.
2009 and 2010 were especially heavy years for insurance claims. In 2009 — the most expensive claims year in Colorado history with three major hailstorms — property insurers paid out $1.69 in claims for every $1 they collected in premiums, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. The loss ratio in 2010 was $1.37 to $1.
In prior years, insurance companies collected more in premiums than they paid out in Colorado. And companies also have investment income from their reserves, even during years in which their payouts have been heavy.
But because of the big payout imbalances of 2009 and 2010, experts say homeowners should gird for future premium increases.
The amount of increases will vary from company to company and from the risk factors applicable to a particular home or region.
Insurance adjusters say it is too early to tell what the claims tally from current wildfires will be.
The biggest losses are expected to be from the High Park fire west of Fort Collins, where at least 257 homes are confirmed to have burned, and the Waldo Canyon fire west of Colorado Springs, where an unspecified hundreds of homes are believed to be lost.
Hail storms in early June produced auto and property claims of $321.1 million. That made the two-day storm the fourth-most expensive catastrophe in Colorado history.
There are some excellent photos here of the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Also here’s an editorial with some common-sense policy ideas for exploration:
A U.S. Forest Service analysis found that 40 percent of homes built in the U.S. between 1990 and 2000 were in the WUI. In Colorado, the figure in that time was 50 percent.
A CSU analysis expects a 300 percent increase in WUI acreage in the next couple decades — from 715,500 acres in 2007 to 2.16 million acres in 2030. At the same time, hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut from the federal firefighting budget.
That leaves tough questions for governments, homeowners, and even the private sector. Among them:
Who should bear the cost of firefighting efforts given dwindling federal money?
Can foresters — as well as homeowners — do more wildfire mitigation work, and how might it be paid for?
Given the hodgepodge of local ordinances, would Colorado be better served by statewide fire-readiness standards for homes constructed in the WUI?
Should property insurers mandate — and monitor — defensible space as a condition of issuing policies?
We acknowledge that even well-managed forests can erupt in flames. And yes, there are instances where even the most fire-ready homes have been engulfed and left as ashes.
But until we take steps to come up with solutions to reduce wildfire risks in the wildland-urban interface, the property losses will only mount.
You might want to take a look at the comments, which run the gamut from more to less compassionate.. here’s one at the “more” end of the spectrum..
I am always amazed as to what people will use fires to achieve their own agendas, most notably this one…
Note from Sharon: That 40% of all homes in the US seems a bit high to me, does anyone know where that figure comes from (or what WUI definition they used?).
Finally, how about exploring some policy ideas.. within 10 years, states that don’t have statewide fire-readiness requirements for homeowners in the WUI won’t get state FS funding? Perhaps a bipartisan commission (or panel of experts) examines successes and failures of ordinances and CWPPs and comes up with recommendations? Or has this already been done?
Whether a project would have helped.
Here is a link to the article.
Below are some excerpts.
But Stewart, a participant in the thinning project from its inception in 2008, said Tuesday the group’s appeal relied on hazy technical details that nobody had a specific answer to. The reason the reversal was upheld was that there was not enough historic data for the area to establish natural conditions and allow the team to speak from a position of expertise, he said.
“It’s a lot about interpretation,” he said. “There’s not a set template for describing the effects of old growth as there is for goshawks and other endangered species. (The project) got turned back, more or less saying we did not analyze the effects enough to make a professional recommendation for treatment.”
Regulations and rulings clearly define what is required to maintain habitat for endangered species, but decisions on old growth typically relied on site-specific data, though the plan did have goals to encourage old growth, loosely defined as multi-age tree stands, to expand, he said.
Issues with erosion brought up by the environmental groups also were based on a lack of historical data, he said.
“We were in the process of beefing those (reports) up, gathering data on the soil and for the old growth to show a more in-depth analysis,” he said. “We expected to do treatments this year. To have it appealed put it on hold, and we were expecting a new decision by the end of this fiscal year, in September.”
With the new information, Stewart said the project was “at the door, waiting to go,” requiring no changes from the original draft. “We were getting more justification for what we had already proposed.”
Without an appeal, thinning treatments would have begun possibly as soon as spring of this year, continuing through the summer, he said. Timber contracts would have been issued during autumn, though few areas would be worth the expense of logging, he added.
It sounds like another project that is not about “logging” in the sense of the dictionary definition.
Lininger said that the thinning project would have harmed Bonito Lake by causing sediment to fall into the lake from the slopes where temporary roads were to have been cut.
Bird added that with the shift in typical conditions in the Southwest to a dryer, drought-ridden landscape, he questioned whether thinning would be effective, or feasible in the backcountry.
“The bottom line is that you can fire-proof a community, but you can’t fire-proof a forest,” he said.
According to the Wild Earth Guardian’s website, the group seeks to “transcend this paradigm of fear-driven fire policy,” and protect communities with “common-sense safety measures and financial incentives from state and federal governments.”
“Our forests were born of fire and, just as rainforests need rain, forests need fire’s rejuvenating properties to perpetuate and thrive,” the website states.
Specific directives to maintain old growth and the “largest, healthy green trees” per acre were included in the thinning plan, though the minimum number of trees could dip if there was an excess of mistletoe infesting the trees. Base levels of mistletoe would be maintained, according to the report.
A diverse landscape of mixed meadows and both light and heavy tree stands to “reduce crown fire potential,” “protect and enhance the watershed” and increase biodiversity and habitat was prescribed for the area, according to the report.
The groups also pushed for a 16-inch cap on tree removal, which was taken “under consideration” by Robert Trujillo, supervisor for the Lincoln National Forest.
“It’s hard to put a dollar cost on (appeals), because it’s people’s time,” Stewart said. “I think the cost is, more or less, what else could (Forest Service workers) be working on aside from this appeal?”
He added that thinning projects already were hampered by cost-cutting concerns. Hand crews cost upwards to $1,200 per acre, mechanical thinning ran at about $300 per acre and controlled burns typically cost $90 per acre, but could only be applied in areas without a significant concentration of ladder fuels, he said.
“(Thinning) has to take a more holistic approach, and I have to do this across the entire forest,” he said. “The Bonito (project), to me, was almost heartbreaking. We knew it was going to be important, we knew it was a municipal watershed for Alamogordo and we knew that if there was a fire, it was going to be devastating. And we got it, unfortunately.
Note from Sharon: I looked for a copy of the EIS or EA for this project on this site but couldn’t find it. I did look at the list of projects for the forest and noticed a bunch of CE’s and not many vegetation management projects. That adds to our database of “what projects do people use CE’s for, and is it good public policy to require notice comment and appeal for all CEs?”
Also, having spent most of my career working in western pine forests, it’s hard for me to believe that any FS project or a cumulative impact of FS projects could result in a dearth of mistletoe. Just sayin’
Bob Berwyn had this piece on the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs..reminded me of our discussion of air tankers.
Winds are forecast to be out of the southwest, with red flag extreme fire weather conditions prevailing across the area once again. Harvey (Incident Commander Rich Harvey) said heavy air tankers could be especially effective in aerial attacks against the fire in this area. He said a third Air Force C-130, modified to work as a tanker, will be worked into the rotation to step up the attack.
Fighting Western wildfires: Does Forest Service have enough air power? (+video): Christian Science Monitor
Here’s the link.
Here’s an excerpt:
However, notes Mr. Gabbert, the large tankers play a critical role in the initial attack on fires. “If we had more tankers, we could avoid the tens of millions of dollars spent when small fires don’t get put out and they turn into mega-fires,” he says.
A complex mix of changing weather patterns and human behavior means that the need for a more robust air-tanker response is not a temporary or merely seasonal spike, says William Sommers, a 30-year US Forest Service veteran who also served as its director of Forest Fire and Atmospheric Sciences Research.
Tactical aircraft can be used to help protect particular resources at risk, he notes, adding via e-mail, however, that “the current fleet of aging aircraft is woefully inadequate in the face of increased climate- and fuels-driven fire regimes being experienced in many places around the globe – including the interior West of the US.”
The current severe fire situation is just another instance in a building trend driven by large-scale climate change, fuel buildup from years of fire suppressions, and drought, as well as increased home-building in previously wild areas, he notes.
“The only question from year to year is what particular area is going to be hardest hit and when will that occur,” he adds.
Dominik Kulakowski, assistant professor of geography and biology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., says that while resources may be adequate for fighting fires during more moderate climatic conditions, “they are insufficient for fighting fires during droughts that are as extreme as those we have been seeing in recent years.”
More tankers and other resources would certainly be helpful for fighting fires, but given the enormous area of forests in the Western US that could potentially burn, he says, “we should be thinking not only about how to extinguish fires after they start, but also how to address the underlying climatic conditions that are making these mega-fires possible.”
Lamont Norman, wildfire risk expert at Pitney Bowes Software, points out that this year is bringing the issue home because there is a significant additional wildfire risk caused by a large number of dead pine trees.
Western foresters are managing over 41 million acres of dead trees caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, he notes, adding via e-mail, “one of the reasons for this infestation is that years of wildfire suppression has caused growth of dense tree stands with weaker trees that cannot fight off the beetle.”
“The massive tree kill and dead tree density has turned Western wildfires into potential big fire events that can burn for weeks.”
Note from Sharon: I wonder why they picked these folks to interview for this piece. Why would you ask a professor from Worcester about western firefighting tactics? A software expert?
What I liked about the pieces was that there was no “enemizing” no “someone is to blame and it’s the stupid homeowners, FS, enviros take your pick”. It’s more “we’re all in this, how are we going to go forward.” I don’t know where all the enemizing comes from, but op-eds are usually full of it. Especially in election season, in a fought-over state. Thank you Denver Post for resisting the temptation!
Here’s an excerpt from Problems in the wildland-urban interface by Lloyd Burton. Here’s the link.
Have an open, evidence-based conversation about proven policies for effective loss prevention from WUI wildfires. We need to have a frank discussion about changing the ratio between fire suppression and loss prevention expenditures in the WUI. We are not going to prevent all wildfires in the tinder-dry, fuels-laden red zones of the West; dry thunderstorms will see to that.
Controlled burns are smoky and sometimes risky. Mechanical thinning is an alternative on some terrain, but it’s more labor-intensive and thus more expensive. And in addition to expense, we now know that fuel load management must be a continuous process for as long as people live in the WUI. Think of it as the Forest Service mowing the national lawn, which it needs to do at regular intervals in some areas for prevention to be effective.
None of these observations should be construed as victim-blaming. Long-time WUI residents moved there well before it became so risky, and more recent ones may not have been fully apprised of the dangers before they moved in. We’re all ascending a steep learning curve together, in terms of both fire behavior science and effective policy alternatives.
I’ve lived nearly half my life somewhere in the Western WUI, but am only now coming to fully understand the risks and responsibilities that doing so includes. It’s something that all responsible stewards of the West need to do collectively. If we want to develop a safer and more sustainable relationship with nature in the WUI, we need a richer and more complete narrative to help us do so.
Here’s an excerpt from Tony Cheng’s “Are Colorado forests just tinder?”. Here’s the link.
At the end of the day, even ecologically “normal,” low-intensity fires in Front Range Ponderosa pine can result in highly severe human impacts. The draft report for the Fourmile Canyon Fire that burned in September 2010 northwest of Boulder showed that most of the homes destroyed were in areas that burned with low severity. Indeed, studies by the Missoula Fire Lab show that a vast majority of homes destroyed during wildfires are not from the fire itself, but flying embers that land on shake shingle roofs, mulched garden beds, woodpiles next to the house, or pine needles in rain gutters.
Just as forest restoration seeks to develop fire-adapted ecosystems, there is a need to develop “fire-adapted communities.” A good starting point is by creating defensible space. Equally important are communication systems that allow for quick, coordinated response in the event of a fire.
Economically, the costs of actively restoring our Front Range Ponderosa pine forests and creating fire-adapted communities are probably on par with the true costs of a large wildfire. The Western Forestry Leadership Coalition conducted a case study of the Hayman Fire and found that, when all the costs are added up, the fire’s total bill is around $207 million and counting for the 138,000-acre burn. That comes to about $1,500 per acre — about the average cost to conduct forest restoration activities. If public and private funds are going to be expended on these forests, wouldn’t it make sense to use them for preventative measures that create healthy forests rather than waiting for disaster to strike?
The Ponderosa pine forests of Colorado’s Front Range are meant to burn. By combining forest restoration at a landscape scale with defensible space actions and coordinated emergency response at the community scale, we might make headway towards fostering fire-adapted ecosystems and communities.
When I got back from hiking yesterday both columns were in the Perspective session of the post. I did think it interesting that today if you went to either Cheng’s or Burton’s piece, the first story that shows up as “related” is one from May 14. More on that one later.
This morning’s Missoulian has another look at the Colt Summit timber sale on the Lolo National Forest, the first timber sale on the Lolo to be litigated in over 5 years. Here are some snips from that article:
Project opponent George Wuerthner, a writer and ecologist, countered in an email that the cumulative effects are there for anyone to see from an airplane. In a series of photos he posted online (bit.ly/L1436w), he argued the Colt-Summit area is one of the few remaining bits of habitat left in the region.
“I was shocked to see how much of the Seeley-Swan Valley is already logged that is not readily visible from the main highway or even by driving backroads,” Wuerthner wrote. “The problem for the Forest Service is that they are up against limits. You can’t continue to cut more and more of the valley without jeopardizing other values. There is such a thing as cumulative impacts and death by a thousand cuts.”
Friends of the Wild Swan director Arlene Montgomery added that the legal record also contradicts Forest Service claims of being inclusive and thorough.
“I’ve been through the whole project record, and I didn’t see anything that the collaborators who’ve come out against us were any more involved than I was,” Montgomery said. “The fact they think they can paper over cumulative effects in an area so fragmented from past logging – it’s quite remarkable they put in such little regard for our laws. The environmental assessment was devoid of that kind of analysis. And that’s not a gray area where we didn’t know where the line was. It was pretty black and white.”
My personal feeling on the matter is that it’s important for people to understand that not all “collaborative” groups around the country are created equally. Unfortunately, in the opinion of lots of conservation groups around the country, some of the “collaboration” currently taking place in Montana is viewed negatively because it feels more like a takeover of our public forests by largely well-funded organizations, the timber industry, local governments and politicians.
My observation being a part of some of these Montana “collaborations” is that if you don’t agree up-front to most of what the Forest Service and the timber industry wants to do anyway, that these “collaborative” groups just make it difficult for a normal citizen or smaller organization to participate. And, besides, many of these Montana “collaboration” meetings take place mid-day during the week, not exactly an ideal time for most of the general public.
So, essentially, the vast majority of the people attending some of these Montana collaborative meetings are paid to be there. Either they work for the Forest Service, timber industry, well-funded conservation groups or local governments or a politician. On top of that, many of the meetings never seem about understanding the latest science, research or legal requirements. It’s more about supporting the Forest Service’s projects by attending these meetings, smiling, nodding in agreement, eating your bag lunch and then going out and running a PR campaign through paid ads, letters to the editors and hosting one-sided events to give the impression that everyone in the world agrees with what the Forest Service has come up with.
Take Colt Summit, for example. It’s clear from the administrative record that the Forest Service designed the Colt Summit Project and the specific prescriptions, then delivered the project to the SWCC (Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative group) for approval and inclusion in the SWCC’s CFLRP application.
Claims by some of the “collaborators” that the plaintiffs didn’t participate in the up-front planning for the Colt Summit project are completely untrue. In fact, the public record for this timber sale actually reflects a higher level of involvement from the plaintiffs from some of the ‘collaborators.’ Plaintiffs attended all meetings, all field trips and submitted extensive, detailed and substantive comments during the entire NEPA process. Some of the collaborating conservation groups didn’t even submit detailed comments during NEPA. They are essentially replacing their largely self-selective “collaborative group” for the NEPA process, which is open equally and inclusively for all Americans.
One of my main concerns with some of the worst examples of “collaboration” that I see in Montana is that some of these conservationist ‘collaborators’ are running what are essentially political campaigns, not campaigns to hold the Forest Service accountable and make sure that management of national forests is guided by law, the latest science and economically-sound policies. These conservation groups, such as the Montana Wilderness Association, have effectively abandoned any of these public education efforts. Honestly, I’m not sure that most of MWA’s new hires over the past few years have any clue about the law, science and economics of the federal timber sale program. Furthermore, some of these conservation groups have basically neutered themselves from speaking out against Forest Service logging projects or the timber industry’s demands to do away with the public appeals process and exempt many Montana logging projects from court challenge.
What the future of national forest management looks like without an effective checks-and-balance on the Forest Service and timber industry is anyone’s guess, but my hunch is that some of these “collaborative” approaches that we are seeing here in Montana will not be in the best interest of America’s public lands legacy.
Here’s the link.
Below is an excerpt.
Fire retardant doesn’t attempt to put out wildfires or even necessarily halt flames in their advance. Consisting primarily of ammonium phosphate — fertilizer, basically — fire retardant is formulated to slow down the combustion of trees, brush and grass.
The idea is to give firefighters time to mount a ground attack. The ground forces clear away flammable material in a wide line around the edges of the fire. They hem in the flames and eventually a soaking rain falls or the fire just burns itself out.
Often, even a fully contained high Rockies wildfire will smolder, sputter and flare for weeks or months, into autumn and the first significant snows.
The U.S. Forest Service spent $19 million on 23 million gallons of retardant last year, which was unusually busy for wildfires.
“We’ve observed streams for miles be sterilized of all their fish life. Tens of thousands of fish can be killed in one dump,” Stahl said.
Meanwhile, very few fish poisonings have been documented. Even Montana U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, in siding with Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics in its second lawsuit over fire retardant, pointed out in his 2010 ruling that only 14 of 128,000 retardant drops over eight years killed protected fish or plants.
Ammonia in watersheds from fire retardant is not a human health risk.
Many endangered Rocky Mountain plants are adapted to thrive in very limited habitats with poor soils. Fire retardant can encourage the growth of invasive weeds that can crowd out native plants that otherwise would have a competitive advantage, said Glen Stein, a Forest Service fire ecologist who led the effort to write the new rules for fire retardant.
Stahl said the Forest Service hasn’t proven with field studies that fire retardant helps.
“We throw it on for the air show,” Stahl said.
There’s a reason why fire retardant isn’t tested in the field, said Stein.
“The problem that I have with what Andy wants us to do, is out there in the wild, you have so many variables that are constantly changing. You’ve got slope, you’ve got aspect, you’ve got wind, you’ve got temperatures. It’s hard to know what the result of the retardant is versus some of the other variables,” he said.
Anyway, he’s seen fire retardant work in the field, such as when a DC10 tanker plane dumped thousands of gallons at a California fire a few years ago.
“Five miles long, I drove that whole road where we dropped it. There were two little spots where it went into the retardant and stopped. And the rest of it just stopped at the retardant. So I know it’s effective,” Stein said.