With our discussions about burned forests and blackbacked woodpeckers, here are some views of the Power Fire, on the Eldorado National Forest. Initially, the wildfire seemed to be of mixed severity but, as the summer wore on, more and more insect mortality caused previously green trees to turn brown. After Chad Hanson took his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, this project was halted with about 75% of the dead trees cut. The court decided that not enough analysis was done regarding the blackbacked woodpecker, despite only 55% of the burned area in the project.
In this picture, seven years after it burned, most of those foreground snags were in a helicopter unit, with a fairly large stream buffer at the bottom. At least 5 times we marked additional mortality in that unit. Also important is the fact that we were cutting trees which still had green needles, using the new fire mortality guidelines of the time. As you can see, the density of snags should be quite sufficient in supporting multiple woodpecker families.
This patch of snags was clumped, below a main road and above a major streamcourse.
Another view of abundant snags within a cutting unit, and a protected streamcourse.
You can see that both large and small snags were left for wildlife. After 6 years, surely some snags have already fallen, as expected. Not every acre can, or should, have birds on every acre. Since this is predominantly a P. pine stand, the combination of high-intensity fire and subsequent bark beetles caused catastrophic losses of owl and goshawk habitat, including nest trees. You can also see that reforestation is, and will continue to be problematic, with all that deerbrush coming back so thick.
Key findings from the synthesis were:
Efforts to promote resilience of socioecological systems increasingly consider the interaction of social values and ecological processes in pursuit of long-term mutual benefits and social learning for local communities and larger social networks.
Research indicates that strategic placement of treatments to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations and to restore fire as an ecosystem process within fire sheds can lower the risk for undesirable social and ecological outcomes associated with uncharacteristically large, severe, and dangerous fires, which include impacts to wildlife species of concern, such as the fisher and California spotted owl.
Science generally supports active treatment in some riparian and core wildlife zones to restore fire regimes. However, adaptive management, including experimentation at large landscape scales, is needed to evaluate which areas are priorities for treatment and what levels of treatment produce beneficial or neutral impacts to wildlife species and other socioecological values over long periods.
Yep, this is what we are already doing on my Ranger District. It is always important to focus on what we are leaving, rather than what is being removed. We still have longstanding limitations of protecting old growth and a ban on clearcutting. The picture is an example of salvage logging just six months after completion.
This picture is located within the Cedar Breaks National Monument, where conifer mortality is quite excessive. There is really not much that can be done with this situation, other than spending lots of money to fell, pile and burn. Within the Dixie National Forest, this mortality dominates the upper elevations. Even at this altitude of over 10,000 feet, the land is very dry for 9 months, except for seasonal lightning storms. Like some of our public lands, we need a triage system to deal with such overwhelming mortality and fuels build-ups. In this example, we are too late to employ a market-based solution, which would do more non-commercial work.
I have seen this area over many years, and have watched as forests die and rot, with catastrophic wildfire being the “end game”. Anyone venture a guess at what will grow here, in the future?
Here are the relevant slides from a 2008 RACNAC (Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee) meeting, comparing Idaho and Colorado. It might be interesting for the People’s Database to have the same figures for all western states. Note: you can click on this photo to get better resolution.
The above is an attempt to show ( a small portion of) the variety of conditions that might be included under “bark beetles and fire” in the western US. Types are Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Mixed Conifer and Spruce-Fir. Beetles are Western Pine, Mountain Pine and Spruce. I apologize for the low quality of the table, especially the graphics but also including that I don’t know what beetles are in which types in which regions for sure.
This discussion of bark beetles and fire has been fascinating! Clearly, a given fuel treatment project might occur under a variety of conditions (including WUI and not). But if you look at the variety of types (I tried to make some generalities about the locations of people on this blog), it’s pretty easy to determine that a simple question like Bob asked about fungal breakdown, can vary by slope and aspect, species and a variety of other conditions within one of these larger regions. So this table is not a finished product (obviously) but I think most people might think “bark beetle fuel loadings” might be a very different thing with spruce beetle in spruce fir on the Rio Grande, mountain pine beetle in lodgepole in Central Oregon, etc.
Perhaps we could try referring to a specific region, type and species when we talk about bark beetles and fire?
I know this discussion started with the NASA study, but really. 1. NASA has satellites, 2. Used them at a scale that works for their tool, 3. Had bucks to study stuff, 4.some imply say that a correlative analysis at that scale is relevant to fuels management that occurs on a local scale. It’s 3 that’s the real value judgment.
Suppose folks on this blog were funded to design research that would answer the question “what is the best use of federal bucks in promoting fire-resilient communities?” Or even the simpler, “how should fuel treatment dollars be prioritized?”
Cal is retiring fro the Forest Service; currently his is the Acting Deputy Forest Supervisor on the White River, so you might want to send your greetings to him.. Here’s an article about him, when he was bark beetle incident commander (you may have to answer some strange questions to get to the content).
On the BB fire thing, first, I won’t miss the political arguments over it….. but really, I looked at the NASA clip and the naysayers (ie Veblen, Kulakowski, etal) continue to miss the big picture. We’ve been very clear that in pure lodgepole pine, during the red-needle stage ignition is easier and we can get flashy crown fires, but they only last one burn period—there’re no heavy fuels to carry fire for very long. The BB fire connection is several decades out. The dead trees fall over 15-20 years (hopefully they’re not disputing the effects of gravity), creating a heavy fuelbed of 60-80 tons per acre. The next forest grows up through that fuelbed and the combination of heavy down fuels, residual mature trees that weren’t killed by bugs, and regeneration that will serve as ladder fuels, set the stage for intense large scale fires—not over the next few months or years as implied by the NASA piece, but over decades—40-50 years. I know the intent of these ongoing arguments is to keep management in check in the short term—so we don’t overdo the knee-jerk reaction to red trees, but the work we’ve been focusing on in the WUI is aimed at much longer term. Andy needs to look at the longer term. Bottom line is, despite high-priced NASA landsat analyses or convoluted GIS exercises, we know from real-life fire experience that a fuel model with 60-80 tons of heavy fuel per acre is going to be problematic when it eventually burns—especially in and around homes and infrastructure.
Well, I could go on and on but I’d be wasting breath…. So I’ll just say that I would never assert that BB’s cause large scale intense fires—BB’s are just one integral part of numerous extremely complex systems that also include fire.
Note: what Cal says is not very different from what I’ve been saying and what we told the local Colorado scientists at various meetings. So possibly some folks didn’t listen to what we said, or they didn’t believe us, or other places are very different from Colorado. Each possibility raises a variety of intriguing questions, IMHO.
Forestry operations and bioenergy have been part of the economic and social fabric in Northern California for decades. A five-year study produced in 2009 by the USDA Forest Service modeled forest management under different scenarios across 2.7 million acres encompassing the Feather River watershed. The model’s time horizon spanned four decades, examining wildfire behavior, forest thinning operations and a range of environmental and economic impacts. It concluded that in virtually every aspect analyzed, managing forest resources and utilizing biomass for energy production provides significant advantages over the status quo.
With acres per wildfire going WAY up, thinning projects seem to be the way to go to reduce both wildfire sizes and wildfire intensities. Again, we have strict diameter limits in the Sierra Nevada, and clearcutting has been banned since 1993.
The link is here
Here is a view of some other cutting units within the Power Fire. Above the road were tractor units, and a narrow stretch below the road, due to stream buffers, was helicopter yarded. Again, you see ample snag “recruitment”, years after salvage logging. Remember, we were also salvaging some trees with poor live/dead crown ratios. I do know that the marking was aggressive, as I did much of the inevitable follow-up marking, during the summer season.
What is really interesting about the tractor unit is how well the logger’s “alternate method” worked. My logger had a processor/loader, an excavator with a grapple attachment, a dozer and two skidders. The excavator would go out on the skid trails and grab/bundle the logs to orient them where the skidder can “grab-and-go”. Their crew was very experienced and efficient, not making messes they would have to clean up.
This helicopter unit experienced significant dieback, even as the fallers returned multiple times. The marking guidelines allowed for cutting trees with low crown ratios, and with the Forest Service getting projects together so quickly (six months!), the bark beetles hadn’t run their course, yet. In addition to the snag specifications in the project’s plans, you can clearly see that there are a great many more snags now, than the plans required. Also important in this is that snag of certain sizes had to be cut and flown out, as part of the fuels treatment (a HUGE expenditure!) The Power Fire salvage project was halted by the Ninth Circuit Court, due to the new salvage marking guidelines, and a perceived need for more blackbacked woodpecker analysis. The cutting unit below was completed, though.
Also seen in the foreground is that nasty bear clover, which will dominate, until it is shaded out, or killed with herbicides. It is great to have this smelly carpet (AKA mountain misery) under a nice canopy but, in this case, it will hinder all trees from germinating and growing. Their roots can go 12 feet deep. Even the deerbrush is kept at bay by the bear clover.
Check this piece out from Char Miller on bark beetles.
More on the trade perspective when I return.