Firefighting Policy Time Out or “Reversal”.. You Read the Memo and Decide
I’ve seen a couple of articles about a new fire policy with regard to “letting it burn”. Haven’t seen the text of the actual policy.
Here’s a link to a fairly long piece about it, including an interview with Jim Hubbard, excerpted below.
Here’s a link to the memo.
In fact, Hubbard and everyone else agree that allowing wildfire in wilderness makes long-term financial sense. “It does. It absolutely does,” said Hubbard. “This is not a good position to be in.”
Niel Lawrence, director of the forestry project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth), argues that the agency is suppressing wilderness fires today as a way of generating future revenue for itself. He said the agency has been deprived of the income it once drew from timber sales (because of greatly decreased demand for lumber and pulp), and so has learned to maximize its income in the fire suppression business. When forests and homes are burning, and the images of slurry bombers are dominating cable news, it’s an opportune moment to pry money loose from Congress. Fire suppression today guarantees there will be more fire in the future to make that gambit sustainable, Lawrence argues.
Regardless of motives, the whole situation takes on an added urgency in light of global warming. Given the prospect of more hot, dry weather and more catastrophic fires in the future, it seems prudent to burn what is burnable now, Lawrence says, again to defuse the future bomb. “We’ve got a window here that’s closing,” he says. “If we don’t get fire back in now, it’s going to be impossible to control it later.”
There’s been overwhelming agreement with that idea in the past from Forest Service fire managers, but sticking to that principle means the bureaucracy needs to accept some short-term risk — including some political risks — for long-term gains. Hubbard made it clear in his conversation with me that the agency, at least at this point, is not willing to do that.
The two other major federal agencies charged with managing public lands — the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service — have not followed the Forest Service’s lead. After Hubbard’s memo, they restated that they will continue to follow the 1995 policy. In the mountainous West, however, the Forest Service carries the most weight on this issue; it manages about 60 percent of the total designated wilderness acreage in the 11 contiguous Western states.
Hubbard’s letter containing the new directive cites “unique circumstances,” and in our conversation, he acknowledged that those circumstances are global warming. But in terms of the future, those circumstances are not at all unique — hotter, drier, more fire-prone conditions across the West are the new normal. So does this mean, I asked him, that the keystone of wildfire science and policy for nearly two decades is a first casualty of global warming?
“I would agree with that,” Hubbard said. “And this is not a policy shift because we thought we were headed in the wrong direction. It is a financial shift.”
But tight budgets and a hot climate aren’t going away anytime soon. So the Forest Service’s new policy continues to shift the burden of global warming to future generations: their forest fires will be bigger and more costly because we refused to confront the new realities facing us now.
Note from Sharon:
Oh, for heaven’s sake! Does Mr. Laurence really think this is a conscious effort to get more money for the FS in the future? And why would that matter to a current employee such as Mr. Hubbard?
Another hypothesis might be (and I have no reason to think that that is the case), that this is an election year and the Executive Branch folks told the FS to be conservative on fires that might get out of control and provide campaign fodder.
Or maybe Congress or even OMB told the FS to pick the lowest cost solution, if they want to get funding.
Just sayin’ FS fire folks don’t work in a vacuum.
I also thought that it was entertaining that someone wrote by the side of the memo:
James E. Hubbard, deputy chief for state and private forestry, orders an “aggressive initial attack” on fires sparked in wilderness area managed by the U.S. Forest Service — even though he acknowledges that this reverses a long-standing federal policy designed to create healthier forest ecosystems is undesirable from both a scientific and long-term financial standpoint
Hubbard never said it was undesirable from “a scientific standpoint”. Science doesn’t give us an endpoint, it gives us a path forward. Having “restoration” as an objective is no more scientific than having increased exports as an objective. IHMO.