Spring ends with wildfires making people homeless. After the fires are contained and controlled, does it really matter if ignitions were man-caused or the result of “nature”? Actually, there seems to be a “natural component” of human-caused wildfires. We should not be welcoming this “natural” and inescapable component.
This view from an abandoned fire lookout on the Toiyabe National Forest shows a decreased snowpack compared to a “normal” June. The Colorado fires were expected but, the “whatever happens” strategy has once again failed us humans. There are MANY things we could have done to reduce or eliminate this tragedy but, it seems that some people prefer shade over safety. The Forest Service seems willing to reduce detection services, to save a few pennies.
This view of the Black Forest area shows how very little fuels work was done prior to this year. News footage seems to show that homeowners preserved the trees all around them. The aerial view shows why people wanted to build their homes there. They love their shade! It IS unfortunate that so many people’s homes burned but, there is ignored reality working here.
Similarly, are we really prepared to accept whatever damage or loss to our forest ecosystems? We do know that there will be big wildfires this year, due to weather conditions. Are we willing to let “whatever happens” (including arson, stupidity, auto accidents and any other human ignitions) determine the state of our National Forests? Remember, there ARE people out there who will sue to stop fuels projects that sell merchantable trees.
Here is a view of a temporary road used in a fire salvage portion of a green timber sale, on the Sequoia National Forest. The McNally Fire burned over 100,000 acres. Since this location is so remote, worries about vehicular entry are minimal. At the time, the logger and I thought these rocks would be adequate to block the road. I don’t think so, today. This was a temporary road before the fire, and there were some hydrological issues with re-using it. Of course, after a wildfire, the water table is recharged and new springs have popped up. It was very important that we laid out the restrictions and mitigations of its use. This is the result.
This view looks back down the road. You can see the waterbars and slash spread in between them. Even if the road is compacted, the water never gets a chance to gain erosive power. I’d bet that the road could be re-used again, when needed. The original road design wasn’t perfect but, I think there are very few impacts from us using it.
Here is Region Five’s “Ecological Restoration Implementation Plan”. It is definitely worth a browse, especially if you are a local within or near any of these National Forests. Each Forest spells out what it is doing and what it is planning.
(The picture is an old one, from fall of 2000. I had been here, salvaging bug-killed trees, in 1991. There was obviously additional mortality after that.)
From the Eldorado NF entry:
Maintain healthy and well-distributed populations of native species through sustaining habitats associated with those species
Use ecological strategies for post-fire restoration
Apply best science to make restoration decisions
Involve the public through collaborative partnerships that build trust among diverse interest groups
Create additional funding sources through partnerships
Incorporate the “Triple Bottom Line” into our restoration strategy: emphasizing social, economic and ecological objectives
Implement an “All lands approach” for restoring landscapes
Establish a sustainable level of recreational activities and restore landscapes affected by unmanaged recreation
Implement an effective conservation education and interpretation program that promotes understanding the value of healthy watersheds and ecosystem services they deliver and support for restoration actions.
Improve the function of streams and meadows
Restore resilience of the Forests to wildfire, insects and disease
Integrate program funding and priorities to create effective and efficient implementation of restoration activities
Reduce the spread of non-native invasive species
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.
It’s not a surprise that the Forest Service is hiding their response to the sequestration. Simply put, modern projects treat more acres and cut numerous small trees. They cannot accomplish this work without temporary employees. My last year’s Ranger District currently has TWO permanent timber employees, and two others shared with another (larger) Ranger District. I wonder if our Collaborative funds will be returned to the Treasury if projects aren’t completed.
I guess the only way to find out how bad it will be is to welcome the collapse, then decide how to fix it. Meanwhile, the best of the temporaries will find careers (or jobs) elsewhere, and they won’t be coming back. It is hard enough to live on just 6 months of work, each year.
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?
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
I saw a local article about our part of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.
For the first time in many years, loggers and conservation groups are working together and the results have been stunning, according to Katherine Evatt, president of the Pine Grove-based Foothill Conservancy.
The Amador Calaveras Consensus Group has been working in the Stanislaus and Eldorado national forests on projects that are part of a larger national program called Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration.
The goal is to restore forests for people, water and wildlife, and a report released in December shows some of those goals are being met.
The ACCG Cornerstone Project is one of 23 national projects that split $40 million in 2012. According to the fiscal year-end report for the project, the two forests spent more than $658,000 in CFLRA funds this year, matched by more than $433,000 of other Forest Service funds. There was more than $67,700 in ACCG in-kind partner contributions and more than $1 million in leverage funds from ACCG members. Additional funds included a $196,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Company as well as $283,000 worth of in-service work under stewardship contracts.
The article is here
(One of my pictures from the Biscuit Fire)
From Greg Walden’s Facebook posting:
I just got off the phone with Kent Connaughton, the Forest Service’s Regional Forester for Oregon. In September, I brought Kent to Lakeview to meet with landowners who suffered horrible losses of timber and livestock during the Barry Point fire. These landowners are very concerned with how the Forest Service fought the fire and are trying to figure out how to cope with the losses they’ve suffered.Kent gave me a status update tonight, and here is what I learned:
1) The Forest Service is conducting an independent review of its own operations during the Barry Point fire. It is still in the works, but Kent believes it raises a number of unanswered questions, and he has asked for a more formal review by the states of Oregon and California. He will share a copy of the report once it is completed next month, and I look forward to getting to the bottom of these unanswered questions.
2) Kent has sent a special team into the Fremont-Winema National Forest to ensure there is no disruption in timber supply due to the fires. The Forest Service has also announced it will make 30 million board feet of timber available for each of the next two years, double the current production.
3) Kent also gave me an update on the Forest Service’s work with affected ranchers and landowners on recovery and repair to fences and property damaged during the fire. The Forest Service is putting $100,000 into the repair of fences destroyed during firefighting, and an additional $350,000 for materials to repair fences destroyed by the fire. Additionally, the Farm Services Administration is making $196,000 available to landowners for use in repairs.
It is good news that this fire recovery work continues, but we need to see it through to the finish. I will continue to work with citizens recovering from these wildfire disasters and make sure that all levels of government are helping with recovery as quickly as possible.