Without making any value judgements here, I find this collection of meeting summaries to be fascinating. Chad Hanson is a full member of the Dinkey Collaborative Group, working to create a better future for the Sierra National Forest. It will be very interesting to see how this process will evolve, with Hanson’s input solidly in view. The level of transparency seems acceptable to me. At the same time, The Sierra is using the new Planning Rule to update their Forest Plan.
Mr. Hanson noted that there was no option for opposing the proposal, and also stated his concern for his opposition going undocumented. Mr. Hanson expressed two main concerns with the proposal. He stated that the proposal assumed high intensity fire results in fisher habitat loss, and commented that the proposal states an inaccurate assumption that trees experience almost complete mortality when a fire burns. Mr. Hanson expressed that the mortality rate was not supported by current data. Mr. Dorian Fougères assured Mr. Hanson that his position would be documented.
There are other meeting notes available by searching for “Dinkey Collaborative Hanson”.
Imagining a positive mutual future for wildland urban interface areas…check out this video about how Colorado Springs worked to create a Fire Resilient community, and their experience with the Waldo Canyon Fire. If you haven’t been around a western more or less urban community experiencing fire, listening to some of the interviews may give you a look at what it feels like to folks who live there.
Also, at about 4:30 in the video, Brett Lacy, the Fire Marshall of the Colorado Springs Fire Department, says “we expected the fire to go to those mitigation areas and lay down, but in most instances it hit those areas and went out,” and shows a couple of areas. Looks like those areas are beyond the home ignition zone. We have discussed these kinds of things on the blog before, but I think this video is helpful in seeing the areas treated and how that affected fire behavior.
You might also want to check out other information on the Fire Adapted Communities website here.
Another Montana project.. above is the map. You can click on it to get greater detail.
Here’s a link to a news story, below is an excerpt.
The area covered by the timber sale is along the western and southern shores of Hebgen Lake. The Forest Service initiated the project, saying logging would safeguard area cabins from wildfires.
But Mike Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies said some of the proposed logging is in roadless areas away from the cabins. The Forest Service would build six miles of logging roads and log 400 acres of designated old growth forest.
Both groups claim the old growth areas are habitat for lynx, grizzly bears and wolverines, all of which are rare. The Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both determined in an assessment that logging would adversely affect grizzlies and lynx.
Garrity said the groups don’t oppose all the logging in that area, just the old growth sections.
“Their own fire expert says to start at the structures and work out, clearing the trees to create a defensible space, and they’re not doing that,” Garrity said.
This isn’t the first challenge for this area. The Forest Service proposed a similar sale but dropped the sale after Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued in 2009.
Garrity said the Forest Service loses money on timber sales, because it is usually unable to get enough money for the logs to cover its costs.
“Right now, when the government is authorizing less spending with the sequester, timber sales cost the taxpayer,” Garrity said.
In a couple of seconds, I was able to find this handy ROD. It’s in a pdf so you can search for old growth. You can look at the map and see how far the units are from private land (not very).. “roadless areas”?. But it would be handy to have the overlay of the units on Googlemaps.
Vegetation – Old Growth Protection
45. Old growth stands in Compartment 709 will be avoided during unit layout. Unit boundaries for unit 17, 20, 25, 26C, 26B and 26A will avoid adjacent old growth stands 70907006 (unit 17), 70907029 (unit 20), 70906036 (unit 25/26c), 70904036 (units 26a/26b). These avoidances will require inspection of preliminary unit boundaries on the ground to ensure old growth stands are avoided.
I’m sure it is more complex than it appears from this glance, but that is what I’d expect a story to get at .. if Garrity says they are far away and going into old growth, what does the FS have to say?
Note for retirees and other local folks Even if the FS can’t share their perspective due to the litigation cone of silence, you can learn about the project and be available to the media. You can be spokespeople for CREATE. Part of CREATE’s mission is to ensure that good information is given to the public about projects. This is one “direct action” approach.
Trail maintenance and fire suppression also cost the taxpayer, so I’m not sure exactly what Garrity’s point is there.
Sharon’s review of document:
I think the ROD is convenient to use, and generally excellent with all the information you need to find right there. Would also like to see more photos and the units on Google maps. Maybe they are located somewhere else. A- Nice work!
Sharon’s review of news story:
Did not even superficially examine Garrity’s claims. D
I found this on the FS Twitter feed…
The federal wildland fire policy has not changed since 1995. Neither the direction issued last year nor my letter this year represented a shift in Forest Service policy for fighting fires. We always look at the conditions that exist around each fire season, our available resources, and then provide guidance to the field. It takes resources to suppress fires, and to manage them for resource benefits. We do have a set amount of expertise in this country but when we get a wildfire season like we did last year, we have to take some steps to manage just how much fire we can have on the landscape. So last year we asked forests to elevate decisions on wildfires to the regional forester. Based on this year’s projections, we no longer see that as a necessary step at this time.
This week, the Ravalli Republic had yet another glowing article about a “thinning” project around the very popular Lake Como Recreation Area of the Bitterroot National Forest. The paper billed the project as “an effort to protect the forest from a mountain pine beetle invasion.” Here’s a snip:
Bob Walker and his small crew have been working to thin out the forest around the Lake Como Recreation Area since last year….“We need to be doing more work to get ahead of the pine beetle. It’s sad to see our forests dying right before our very eyes.” The project his crew is working on now has that focus in mind. Over the past year, Walker’s loggers have removed about 60 percent of the trees from most of the recreational sites in the Lake Como area in order to give the remaining trees a fighting chance when the mountain pine beetle arrives en masse.
And now, for the rest of the story, which the Ravalli Republic reporter has been provided a number of times over the years as the Lake Como “forest health” project does its best Energizer Bunny impersonation and “just keeps going…. and going…and going.”
But first, here’s a link to the official 2011 Decision Memo for the “Lake Como Recreation Area Hazard Tree Removal Project.” Yes, this time I was able to rather quickly and easily find a recent decision memo on a Forest Service website. So perhaps this one-time success will develop into a trend of good luck with Forest Service websites. Of course, in order to get to the “Projects” portion of the website I first had to click on the “Land and Resource Management” link, which includes a somewhat idyllic and pastoral picture of horse logging on the Bitterroot National Forest….which must have taken place at least one time in the past, although I must admit I haven’t heard of any horse logging on the Bitterroot National Forest for quite some time. But, hey, why not give the public the impression that horse logging is common-place on the forest, right?
OK, on with the rest of the story, courtesy of the local group Friends of the Bitterroot (which, I should point out, counts former loggers, retired Forest Service district rangers, biologists and even the son of the Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor from 1935 to 1955 in its leadership).
Probably the most popular and well used trail on the Bitterroot National Forest snakes through an old growth stand of big ponderosa pines on the north side of Lake Como. The first half mile of the trail is paved to make it handicap accessible. Benches and interpretive signs have been placed as amenities along the way.
Darby District Ranger Chuck Oliver decided to improve the experience of what was a beautiful old growth pine forest by slashing and burning undergrowth. In April 2004 the area was torched on a hot dry day. The fire erupted out of control and burned many of the prime old growth pines.
Then the Forest Service salvage logged the area and burned the logging slash.
Subsequently pine beetles invaded many of the fire stressed trees and a bunch more big old growth pines died.
This offered the Forest Service another opportunity to salvage log big trees in 2006.
Then the logging slash from that logging was burned.
The end result of the Como fiasco is a handicap accessible paved trail through a thrice burned, twice logged remnant of old growth pine studded with many big stumps.
The new interpretive signs do not tell the reader that the fire was set by the Forest Service and do not point out that the beetle infestation area matches the burned area. The public is given the impression that the events were all natural rather than the results of Forest Service [mis]management activities.
Keep in mind that here we are in 2013 and the Forest Service is still logging trees in the Lake Como Recreation Area, including what appear to be (see photo above) some rather nice looking, green, large-ish ponderosa pines trees. This would all be funny, if it wasn’t so sad and frustrating. And, isn’t it absolutely amazing how none of the timeline or facts above about the Lake Como Fiasco make it into this reporter’s “feel good” story? Equally so, how come none of this history made it into the “background” portion of the Bitterroot National Forest’s 2011 Decision Memo?
But wait…there’s more! The Forest Service now is analyzing yet another project for the area called the “Como Forest Health Project.” Yep, this is truly a logging project that keeps on giving.
Update: The Alliance for Wild Rockies has provided a copy of AWR’s scoping comments on the proposed “Como Forest Health Project.”
Ed raised the question of “where do people on the blog think “intensive management, thinning and prescribed burning” belong.. everywhere? roadless? primitive areas?”
So I’ll go first.
I think that for places where there is no “timber industry” currently:
A. “Thinning for protection” thinning should be done around communities and roads in fire country . We should all work together on building “fire resilient communities and landscapes.” We should analyze all the places fire could start and make sure that for every really dangerous area, there are good areas for suppression between them and communities.
We should work on developing markets for the wood removed, so rural people are employed and we can afford to do it.
We would estimate the acreages and volume through time and then encourage industries to come in and use the material. Watch dog groups would watch to make sure than no more was offered for sale than in the agreement.
When a roadless area or wilderness is in a WUI, we would bring in experienced fire folks and determine if the fire could be fought safely with a break on private land (preferred) or public land.
Otherwise the backcountry would be left alone unless there is some compelling reason for action (protecting endangered species, corridors? or whatever).
B. “Thinning for protection plus resilience” Where there is existing mill capacity, thinnings may also be done if they make stands more resilient to drought and bugs, and they make money (not that they are restoring to the past, but the past had those attributes, say open parklike stands of ponderosa).
Now I was drafting this last night in response to Ed’s question. Meanwhile, I ran across these news stories.. in the Blue Mountains Accelerated Restoration project, it appears to be “thinning for protection plus resilience.” There are several good quotes about the rationale in the story.
The roughly 50,000 acres thinned or logged annually within the four forests is probably less than 20 per cent of what’s needed, Aney said.
“We need to at least double that” to stabilize forest health within 15 years, he said.
The plan Aney will execute calls for managing the Blues in blocks of several hundred thousand acres, instead of the current 30,000-acre planning units. Logging or thinning is likely on no more than 40 percent of each planning unit, Aney said. Individual projects will have to go through environmental reviews.
Work in the woods is expected to start in summer 2014.
Veronica Warnock, conservation director for the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council, was more guarded. She said forest restoration is necessary but should be avoided in places where science doesn’t support it, such as stands of old growth or wildlife corridors.
I wonder what “science” that is, that involves what you should or should not do…I thought the role of science was empirical rather than normative. oh well.
I referred to this “fire policy letter in 2012″ in this recent post as a “tempest in a teapot” or “a wildfire in a chiminea.” Then Larry wondered about this question “does putting out fires early actually cost less than paying to watch them burn”?
Probably based on statements like this:
In May 2012, Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard issued a “fight all fire” directive. This may be why the feds spent more than $1 billion fighting fires last year. They came in $400 million over budget.
Now, our understanding was that someone had told Mr. Hubbard to be careful with fire so that the FS didn’t go too far over budget. So if is correct, then efforts to reduce firefighting costs had exactly the opposite effect. However, another way to look at it is that the FS might have even more over budget without the policy. Do we have any evidence that would support one explanation over the other? Certainly watching fires for months and then suppressing larger fires than you started with would cost more than suppressing a smaller fire. But maybe many of the “watched” will go out on their own instead of blowing up. Seems like the experts might have some relevant data on this.
So what is the source of these news articles?
Well the first one I found was this on March 6:
BOISE, Idaho – For decades, the U.S. Forest Service let small fires in remote areas burn naturally in recognition that fire was part of the natural landscape – and that by letting some fires burn, future large fires could be prevented. Last year, however, every fire was battled unless granted special status.
That’s been recognized as part of the reason the Forest Service spent more than $1 billion fighting fires in 2012.
Now, the agency is taking the “fight all fires” directive off the books.
Jonathan Oppenheimer, senior conservation associate at the Idaho Conservation League, said plenty of science and economic sense are behind the decision.
“Putting out every single fire is not good for firefighter safety, it’s not good for the environment, and it’s not good for the bottom line and the taxpayers,” he said.
The forest official who required that all fires be suppressed in 2012 had a goal of keeping all fires small.
Oppenheimer said the history of letting some fires burn got its start in Idaho with a fire in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness being allowed to burn in 1972 – the first time the Forest Service had made such a decision. The Gem State is home to millions of acres of backcountry.
“We’ve got a huge 4 1/2 million, 5 million-acre wildland complex in central Idaho,” he said, “where it simply doesn’t make sense to be putting firefighters’ lives at risk to go and put out small fires.”
Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell issued the decision on the policy shift for the upcoming fire season.
Who is the Public News Service?
“The Public News Service (PNS) provides reporting on a wide range of social, community, and environmental issues for mainstream and alternative media that amplifies progressive voices, is easy to use and has a proven track record of success. Supported by over 400 nonprofit organizations and other contributors, PNS provides high-quality news on public issues and current affairs.”
I wonder how you can provide high-quality (reasonably neutral) news and at the same time “amplify progressive voices.”
In this story, it says that:
In May 2012, Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard issued a “fight all fire” directive.
But that’s not exactly what it said. If I had to wager a guess, I would have to wonder if there is something to the Hubbard=bad, Tidwell=good plotline that someone somewhere found worthy of promoting. Or as one journalist reader said “it’s just sloppy.”
So you might want to review what we said about this letter last year, when it came out here…on what I called, at the time, the “temporarily be careful about a let-burn” policy.
Although the Forest Service said the directive is temporary and will likely be suspended come winter, Manning’s article makes it seem like the decision is a complete reversal of the 1995 federal fire policy that made restoration of wildland fire a national priority. He argues that the conditions that led to the temporary change—hot, dry weather and budget shortfalls—aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, suggesting the fire suppression policy might stick around, too.
Stahl thinks so, too.
“Things like this have a tendency to become indelible,” he said. In order to reverse the policy next season, he thinks the Forest Service will have to make the case that budget and weather conditions are significantly different than this year—something he worries might not happen.
Here’s the link.. what do you think?
According to the folks at Wilderness Watch, the U.S. Forest Service has proposed to build 7.5 miles of permanent firebreaks within the Ventana Wilderness on the Los Padres National Forest in California, using chainsaws, heavy equipment and vehicles. Wilderness Watch is opposing this proposal as a violation of the Wilderness Act, among other things. The issue is complicated by a series of special provisions that Congress added to laws that expanded the Ventana Wilderness over time. These special provisions authorized the use of some “presuppression” work within the Ventana additions, but none authorized chainsaws, heavy vehicles, or permanent 150-foot-wide firebreaks within an area that is supposed to remain “untrammeled by man.”
You can read Wilderness Watch’s detailed comments on the issue here.
From a story in E&E news titled:
Firefighters group optimistic U.S. will let more forests burn
An Oregon-based group that supports using fire to reduce fuel loads in national forests said today it hopes the Forest Service has abandoned a 2012 policy that made it difficult to use wildfires to improve forest health.
Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology said a letter last month from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell indicates the agency has ditched an aggressive suppression strategy laid out last May by James Hubbard, the agency’s deputy chief of state and private forestry.
“Hubbard’s decree set Forest Service fire policy back 40 years to the days when all wildfires were attacked no matter what the risk to firefighters, the cost to taxpayers or the long-term damage to ecosystems from fighting those fires,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of FUSEE. “Tidwell should be commended for getting the agency back on track with science-based and economically rational fire management policy that is both safer and smarter for firefighters and the public they serve.”
While Tidwell last year told reporters that the Hubbard memo was not a change in policy, it sparked debate among environmental groups and forestry experts who warned it would stifle some beneficial fires that thin overstocked Western forests and allow certain tree species to regenerate.
Decades of wildfire suppression are widely blamed for the dense, fire-prone forests across the West today.
The Hubbard memo first surfaced in an Aug. 7 article in OnEarth magazine, which is published by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Ingalsbee said Tidwell’s new wildfire response protocol for 2013 directs line officers to allow some fires to burn for restorative purposes in areas where there are low threats. “Line officers desiring to use wildland fire as an essential ecological process and natural change agent must follow the seven standards for managing incident risk to the highest level of performance and accountability,” Tidwell wrote.
That’s a break from the Hubbard memo, which forced line officers to obtain approval from regional foresters before they let a fire burn for restoration, Ingalsbee said.
Ingalsbee said the Forest Service spent $1.3 billion fighting fires last year, which was $400 million more than was budgeted.
Now if the reason Hubbard issued the letter last year (which I read as “let’s be careful out there”) was because someone told him to be careful (OMB? The Dept.?) (or are we thinking he walked to work one day and said “hmm, I think we’ll require RF approval this year??”) And now we don’t have to be careful (did OMB or the Dept change its mind?) or no, they still have to be careful, but now they don’t have to ask the RF (calling the guy or gal on the phone, not particularly onerous). But perhaps being careful is not “science-based”?
Also it seems to me that if folks were more careful, then they would have spent less than they would have otherwise, which was the point, right?
This thing seems to be a tempest in a teapot (or a wildfire in a chiminea)? There must be something more that has started all the drama.. can anyone help fill in the blanks?