Yesterday I wrote about a new study from the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research station, which found that fuel reduction logging and thinning prior to the Fourmile Canyon Fire outside of Boulder, Colorado was ineffective at moderating the fire’s behavior, having had a minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned or the damage it caused.
Some people just refuse to accept the reality of this…that when you get really extreme conditions of humidity, temps, and high winds, there is no power, no planning, no treatment, no nothing that will stop a fire from going where it wants. Nada. I am tired of reading statements from pols (and others who should know better) that “demand this fire be stopped”…. We are now experiencing more and more extreme weather, for whatever reason that none of us are smart enough to explain. We will have to learn to live with these blowup fires, and concentrate our prevention efforts in and around the homes and structures along the forest perimeter.
Well, we know that at least one politician – and their staff – was apparently too busy on the campaign trail to actually have time to read the findings from Forest Service’s Fourmile Fire Report about the fact that fuel reduction logging and thinning had a minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned. This morning I woke up to see Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont) quoted in Montana newspapers with this amazing claim:
This election is about an area between here and Whitehall that is burning. If we could
have gotten my Forest Jobs Act past [sic] we would have been able to cut those trees.
– Senator Jon Tester
It’s worth pointing out that Senator Tester is referring the 19 Mile Wildfire, a 3,000 acre fire, which according to inciweb, is burning in grass, brush and some timber mainly on private lands west of Whitehall, Montana (see official maps below). The cause of the fire is under investigation. Yesterday, the weather at the fire was 97 degrees, 13% humidity and 20 mph winds blowing out of the southwest.
I’m not sure if the Forest Service has an official threshold that needs to be crossed in order for “extreme fire weather conditions” to be met, but suffice to say that temps near 100, humidity in the low teens and winds blowing 20 miles an hour qualify. Once a wildfire gets going under these types of weather conditions any wildfire expert will tell you there’s not much you can do to put the fire out.
But not Senator Tester. Nope, apparently he wants us all to believe that if Congress would have simply passed his mandated logging bill, which calls for a minimum of 5,000 acres of logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest annually for the next fifteen years, that this 19 Mile Wildfire, which has burned mainly on private land (and is burning mainly toward more private land and BLM land) would have prevented this wildfire from either starting and/or spreading. Incredible….
There are a couple of interesting small articles on the senses of plants and what we know..
Here’s the link. Many interesting things have been discovered since I took plant physiology, lo , these many years ago.. Here’s a link to some pages from Chamovitz’s book, “What a Plant Knows”.
HAVE you ever wondered what the grass under your feet feels, what an apple tree smells, or a marigold sees? Plants stimulate our senses constantly, but most of us never consider them as sensory beings too. In fact senses are extremely important to plants. Whatever life throws at them, they remain rooted to the spot – they cannot migrate in search of food, escape a swarm of locusts or find shelter from a storm. To grow and survive in unpredictable conditions, plants need to sense their environment and react accordingly. Some people may not be comfortable describing what plants do as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. They certainly lack noses, eyes, ears, mouths and skin, but in what follows, I hope to convince you that the sensory world of plants is not so very different from our own. Daniel Chamovitz
“The Nation Possessed: The Conflicting Claims on America’s Public Lands” is comprised of both free public events and a paid conference. The paid portions include the Symposium and the Round Table and all public events.
Here’s the link.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station has just released an August 2012 study titled, “Fourmile Canyon Fire Findings.” We’ve discussed the 2010 Fourmile Canyon wildfire outside of Boulder, CO a few times before on this blog, including this post from Andy Stahl titled, “Fourmile Canyon Fire Report Confirms Firewise.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s abstract to their new study:
“Fuel treatments had previously been applied to several areas within the fire perimeter to modify fire behavior and/or burn severity if a wildfire was to occur. However, the fuel treatments had minimal impact in affecting how the fire burned or the damage it caused….This report summarizes how the fire burned, the damage it caused, and offers insights to help the residents and fire responders prepare for the next wildfire that will burn on the Colorado Front Range.
On Tuesday, Bob Berwyn wrote this article for the Summit County Citizens Voice titled, “Report: Wildfire mitigation work largely ineffective in moderating Fourmile Canyon Fire.” Below are some excerpts from Mr. Berwyn’s article:
A report on the 2011 Fourmile Canyon Fire will probably raise more questions than it answers for firefighters and land managers, concluding that, in some cases, the ferocious fire near Boulder may have burned more intensely in treated areas than in adjacent untreated stands.
That may have been due to the relatively high concentration of surface fuels remaining after treatments, as well as the higher wind speeds that can occur in open forests compared to those with denser canopies, Forest Service researchers concluded in the report published last month….
The report also concluded that beetle-killed trees had “little to no effect on the fuels within the area burned by the Fourmile Canyon Fire, the fire’s behavior, or the final fire size,” explaining that crown fires are “driven by abundant and continuous surface fuels rather than beetle-killed trees.”….
In the end, the report found no evidence that fuel treatments changed the progression of the Fourmile Canyon Fire, and that the treated areas were “probably of limited value to suppression efforts on September 6.” Large quantities of surface fuels in the treatment area also rendered them ineffective in changing fire behavior.
Satellite photos taken after the fire clearly showed that the fire burned just as intensely inside treatment areas as it did in adjacent untreated stands. In some cased, the fire appears to burned more intensely in treated areas, the investigators said, explaining that additional surface fuels, as well as higher wind speeds, may have been factors….
[T]he report once again calls for a change of approach — instead of increasing expensive fire protection capabilities that have proven to strategically fail during extreme wildfire burning conditions, efforts should be focused on reducing home ignition potential within the immediate vicinity of homes, the investigators concluded.
Certainly one new study about one wildfire isn’t the be-all, end-all. However, how does the new research and scientific findings coming from a comprehensive look at the Fourmile Canyon Fire mesh with the constant drum-beat supporting logging for “fuel reduction” and “thinning” we see coming from some quarters at this very blog?
Here’s the link, and below is an excerpt.
Yet for all Pinchot’s love of the political rough-and-tumble, he repeatedly argued that democracy functions best when the citizenry and their representatives pursue the collective good; when they negotiated their differences, not exaggerated them; when they worked together, across the street and aisle.
This was especially critical for public servants: “Learn tact simply by being absolutely honest and sincere,” he told Forest Service employees, “and by learning to recognize the point of view of the other man and meet him with arguments he will understand.” After all, “a public official is there to serve the public and not run them.”
In no other way could the Forest Service achieve the mission Pinchot had set for the land-management organization at its establishment in 1905: “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.”
This maxim became the mantra for Pinchot’s gubernatorial campaigns in the mid-1920s and early 1930s. Because conservative Republicans despised his progressivism and Democrats controlled the state’s large bloc of urban voters, Pinchot had to construct an odd (yet winning) coalition outside the usual party apparatus. Feminists, minorities, miners and mill workers, the dispossessed and impoverished, prohibitionists and small farmers turned out in force for this well-heeled man of the people.
Here’s the link
And here’s an excerpt:
“Our forest plans require it,” he said. “But that would be a pain” if the existing guidelines don’t actually help the goshawks successfully rear more chicks. “We do have different prescriptions for the goshawk areas. In those breeding areas we know they typically have a higher (tree) density. So we have prescriptions for that. We’re trying to manage the future forest. One of the big concerns is whether we’re going to have adequate canopy cover — so we’re really managing groups of trees and also providing for those interspaces and managing for their prey.”
#But the NAU study raises questions about whether biologists yet know enough to micro-manage the forest for the benefit of any individual species.
#The goshawk and the Mexican Spotted Owl for years have fluttered about at the center of the legal and political fight about the future of the forest. The agile, crazy-orange-eyed goshawk is nearly as large as a red tailed hawk, but can maneuver deftly through the thick forest. In open areas, they tend to lose out to the red tails — which circle overhead looking for prey rather than perching on tree branches for a quick swoop to the ground.
#The now nearly defunct timber industry in Arizona made most of its money on cutting the big, old growth trees associated with those species and others like the Kaibab squirrel and the Allen’s lappet-browed bat. With most of those trees reduced to two-by-fours, the timber industry had a hard time making money on the smaller trees that remained in dangerous profusion.
#The Centers for Biological Diversity has repeatedly sued to prevent timber sales that included a large number of old growth pines greater than 16 inches in diameter at about chest height. For instance, earlier this year the Centers for Biological Diversity successfully blocked a timber sale on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the grounds that the 25,000-acre sale would include about 8,000 old-growth trees — even though such trees account for only about 3 percent of the trees.
#The NAU study demonstrated that biologists still don’t really understand what species like goshawks need.
#None of the sites studied very closely matched the guidelines, which call for clusters of giant, old-growth trees and nearby areas with underbrush likely to result in high populations of 14 different prey species.
#Although little true old-growth ponderosa pine forest remains in Arizona, the researchers expected to find that the more closely the conditions around the nest area resembled that prescription — the more chicks the goshawks would produce. In fact, the more closely the forest matched the prescription the fewer chicks the hawks reared.
#That doesn’t mean the goshawks don’t prefer nesting in big, old growth trees. But it does mean that they’re not as sensitive to the prey populations in the area or the nearby forest conditions as biologists had expected.
But my favorite quotes are:
The NAU research now throws into question many key assumptions built in ponderous legal strictures of existing forest plans.
#“The results raise questions about the decision to implement the goshawk guidelines on most Forest Service lands in Arizona and New Mexico,” the researchers concluded.
#However, the Forest Service remains legally bound to the detailed guidelines now cast in the legal concrete of adopted forest plans.
“Ponderous legal strictures” and “legal concrete of adopted forest plans”, indeed. The old conundrum – while some people look for certainty of protection in plans, others look for flexibility to respond to changing conditions. Can both sides ever be happy?
I thought this article in the Denver Post was interesting. Here’s the link. Below is an excerpt.
Having been in the San Juans on vacation where ATVs were on roads and trails, and climbers used ATV’s to access trailheads, it seems to me the key thing is to keep ATV’s on roads and trails. I don’t know if renters are worse about going off roads and trails? And if there can be too many ATVs on ATV roads and trails? How would you know? And most complex of all, if you don’t restrict private, how can you know how many commercial you can have within the total limit (maybe they monitor and reset the commercial every year)? The many ways of managing being “loved to death” is clearly a 21st century problem.
Federal land managers say they must balance commercial use with protection of public forests, which serve as watersheds and as habitat for wildlife. But this is causing conflict with people who make their living by delivering machines to increasingly savvy consumers of mountain recreation experiences.
“It’s killing me,” said Scott Wilson, owner of Colorado Backcountry Rentals. Wilson rents 20 sleds in the winter and 15 ATVs in the summer — a business he established in 2004. His five-employee company offers to supply “your ride” at any season in places “where you will ride unguided through the backcountry of the Colorado Rockies.”
Now, after receiving a letter at the height of the summer season that declares him “in violation” and orders him to “immediately stop,” Wilson is preparing a legal challenge.
For years, he has been consulting with federal forest and highway authorities about the legality of his operations and seeking permits.
But federal rangers, corresponding with Wilson’s attorney, Lee Gelman, last week maintained their position that Colorado Backcountry Rentals’ operations on Vail Pass and at the Tiger Road area in Summit County “are not authorized activities.”
Federal foresters “keep using the word ‘unauthorized’ — and, to that, I say, ‘bull,’ ” said Wilson, who moved to Colorado from Texas in 2001 and serves as the linebackers coach of the Summit High football team.
“When you have thousands of people going out into forests, how do you regulate that? I get that. They are doing their job,” he said. “But why not give me a permit? You can limit my user days.”
The mountain-bike rentals in Summit and Eagle counties are expanding by 10 percent a year, with more than a dozen companies delivering bikes and offering shuttle transport to forest trailheads, Pioneer Sports manager Jeremy Mender said. Beyond Vail Pass descents, Pioneer offers “full-suspension mountain bikes” so that visitors can “enjoy a variety of single-track trails” around Summit County.
“If you put a cap on that, you would be putting a cap on the whole community as far as tax revenue is concerned,” Mender said.
Restricting the trailhead rentals is complicated because federal managers of the White River National Forest, which covers 3,571 square miles, already have issued 200 permits for other commercial activities ranging from skiing to guided mushroom hunting. About 154 permits have been issued to outfitters that rent equipment and provide guides who accompany visitors.
“It makes sense to me why people would be looking at rentals,” said David Neely, the ranger in the forest’s Eagle- Holy Cross district.
But there’s a downside, Neely said, because the vehicle deliveries at trailheads “place somebody who may never have engaged in that activity on a fairly powerful machine.”
A decision will be be made this fall on forest commercial capacity for rented snowmobiles, Forest Service officials said. A decision on summer use of ATVs and mountain bikes will require more time, they said.
Forest officials told Wilson’s attorney they began work this summer with a university to gather data to help determine “a summer-season commercial capacity” for areas accessible from the Vail Pass summit.
A key factor, said Rich Doak, the recreation-policy specialist for the forest, is the growing movement for “quiet use” by limiting motorized vehicles such as ATVs.
“The quiet-use issue is popping up everywhere,” he said.
Doak said rental operations are likely to be limited, perhaps to only companies that send guides with their vehicles.
“We’re in the process of determining what the capacity is up there,” he said. “I’m not positive that we’re going to do rental operations up there. It may be guided. It may be not at all.”
Federal data show that the numbers of visitors in Rocky Mountain forests have reached 32 million a year. The crowds are growing by about 4 percent a year, with 8.4 percent of visitors relying on ATVs or other personal motorized vehicles, said Chris Sporl, acting director of recreation, heritage and wilderness resources at Forest Service regional headquarters in Denver.
Three national forests in Colorado rank among the nation’s six busiest, Sporl said. The White River National Forest draws 9 million people a year.
Since 2005, forest managers have worked at creating sustainable designated routes for motorcycles and ATVs in forests — trying to make sure this use is compatible with forest soils, the need to prevent erosion and other users’ interests.
“One of the things we’re focusing on is restoring and adapting recreation settings. We’ve got areas that have been loved to death,” Sporl said. Future projects will restore heavily used areas “back to where they need to be, back into balance with the ecosystems.”
“We’re constantly dealing with changing recreation opportunities over time,” he said. “We look at how to adapt.”
Freedom to drive
Meanwhile, Wilson is trying to adapt. Last week, he dropped off a load of ATVs in mountains north of Breckenridge, along Tiger Road, for a family from Texas and two newlyweds, fresh from safety seminars and crowned with bright, shiny helmets.
Wilson sent them on their way with some trepidation. Summit County officials who oversee some land in the area have notified Wilson that they share federal land managers’ concerns about unauthorized commercial ATV- and snowmobile-rental operations.
The Texans told Wilson they had previously rented ATVs for unguided riding near Durango and loved it.
The appeal, 52-year-old Jon Jobe said, “is to have freedom to drive around and see things you want to see when you want to see it.”
As these smiling visitors rolled out on their vehicles, Wilson turned to his ringing cellphone. It was a sheriff’s deputy calling. Private-property owners nearby had complained about Wilson’s drop-offs and staging on that road. “You gotta leave,” the deputy said.
Stone-faced, Wilson gulped.
Tricon Timber LLC in St. Regis [Montana] has been cited for 27 safety violations after officials received a complaint in February, alleging workers had been injured there. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the sawmill for 25 serious and two repeat violations, carrying proposed penalties totaling $128,700….
This is the second time since February 2011 the millsite has been cited for violating several safety standards, including failing to guard augers in the boiler room and ensure that the shaft ends on stackers are guarded. The citations carry penalties of $48,510, a news release from OSHA said.
The 25 serious violations include failing to ensure that workers are protected from fall hazards by providing standard guardrails, include workers in a fully implemented respiratory protection program, provide adequate personal protective equipment, provide an eyewash and emergency shower station, implement a comprehensive energy control program and guard machines. The serious violation citations carry penalties of $80,190, the release said….
“Unfortunately, this employer is not taking the steps needed to ensure that workers have a safe and healthful workplace,” Jeff Funke said in the release. Funke is the agency’s area director in Billings. “In addition to a wide range of other dangers, Tricon Timber continues to expose workers to the same hazards cited last year, and OSHA is taking these repeat violations seriously.”
Thanks to Matt Koehler for originally posting here. What I thought was interesting was the concept “Why should we care what Robert Kahn thinks?” What is his background, and what experience does he have in our world?
I did my usual internet search, found that there were a lot of Robert Kahns around, and that this one is the webpage editor for Courthouse News Service. Here’s their masthead.
One thing I’ve noticed about CNS is that many of the articles have what I call “snarky lawyer tone”. Now I don’t mean this to be offensive to lawyers, but in some cases in their culture, it is OK to have a tone that “other people are stupid and malevolent and we are smart and good.” It’s a style that you often see in appeals and litigation.
I remember one late night, a person was working on an appeal and wrote the response in the same tone “if the appellants had read the case they cited, they would understand that in fact…”. There wasn’t much I could do to help her, so I volunteered to “desnarkify” the response. Hype, snark, nastiness, snark, hype.
Having been brought up in the more genial groves of forest science, I find the tone.. well, nasty and offputting. And when I see hype, I tend to think “either that person has a casual acquaintance with the truth or they aren’t choosing to tell me the truth for some reason”. Either way, they are off my list of “people to whom I listen.”
So let’s deconstruct a bit of Kahn’s column.
Scientists are better than politicians because scientists want to know if they’re wrong.
Wow! I have worked in the science biz and it’s really, really not that simple. Scientists are human, and probably don’t want to know they’re wrong, if for example, they can’t get more funding or particularly if their archenemy turns out to be correct. Of course, it’s just silly to make these global statements anyway. I have met good scientist and good politicians and bad scientists and bad politicians (in the moral sense). I have noticed that a great deal of the “let science determine” the outcomes doesn’t actually come from scientists. In some cases, it comes from NGOs with many lawyers on their staffs and not too many scientists who know the “sausage-making”- like qualities of making science (usually we think of laws that way, but the scientific process is not always pretty, either).
Politicians – and their friends in the timber and cattle industries – don’t give a damn. So long as the money rolls in: to them.
That’s also pretty global. I worked on Capitol Hill (not sure that Robert ever did) and politicians get donations from timber folks and cattle folks and environmental folks (perhaps different politicians from different folks), but the point is.. oh, perhaps getting money from environmental groups is Good and Holy and getting money from timber and cattle folks is Evil and Venal.
I see 5,000 lawsuits a week editing the Courthouse News page – stories of rape, murder, drugs, perversion, official corruption – revolting stuff.
But the most obnoxious lawsuit I saw this week was from the timber and cattle industries, which claimed that scientists exert “improper influence” on the U.S. Forest Service, by seeking ecological sustainability above industry profits in National Forests.
I have to admit my stomach turned when someone says that an obtuse lawsuit against an obtuse planning rule is more obnoxious than rape and murder. Of course, “seeking ecological sustainability above industry profits” is an oversimplification.
The people litigating, in my view, are worried that some of the complicated language in the new rule could be interpreted by courts in silly ways to the detriment of the land and the people. Because, if things are fuzzy, then certain circuits and NGOs are going to make the determination-not based on the best policy but based on their interpretation of the fuzzy regulation-with a hefty dose of their own predilections in interpreting the fuzz. The litigants probably want the language to be clearer in the first place. I wonder if we could save lots of money by taking the phrases in question and having an open discussion about what we hope to achieve and what are our fears. That is what a FACA committee could have done for the rule-writing effort; people who differ speaking to each other directly and not each independently making their case to the FS.
Anyway, I just don’t see why folks can’t disagree without being nasty. And I really hate comparing rape or murder to interpreting the intersection of social, economic and “ecological” sustainability- a legalistic and paperworky exercise.
Retired Gifford Pinchot forest supervisor, Ted Stubblefield, took me to task for some quotes in a recent nation-wide AP story regarding the quiet resurrection of the “out-by-10-a.m.” wildfire suppression policy.
I was struck by the tinge of Socialism in his essay, such as this remark:
In his [Stahl's] reference to the lost homes in the Colorado blazes, he fails to mention that many of those homes were built deep within the woods on purchased mining claims, where no fire protection is afforded, regardless of policy, and many of the homeowners expected the Forest Service to treat the forest surrounding their new homes with public monies, because they could not get insurance coverage.
I wonder how these mining-claim homeowners obtain financing for their mortgages without proof of fire protection services? Oh yeah, second and vacation homes bought with cash. Let’s subsidize the 1%’s silly choices.