Report: Timber harvesting is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon

A new analysis released this week by the Center for Sustainable Economy found that:

Timber harvesting is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Oregon. Since 2000, annual emissions associated with removal of stored carbon, sacrificed sequestration, and decay of logging residuals averaged 33 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (mmt CO2-e).Nationwide, logging emits more carbon than the residential and commercial sectors combined.

According to the Center for Sustainable Economy:

The report – entitled Oregon Forest Carbon Policy: Scientific and technical brief to guide legislative intervention – is a synthesis of scientific and technical information about the effects of industrial forest practices on climate change and climate resiliency and a discussion of legislative options for moving forward. It builds on a 2015 report published with Geos Institute that helped lead to a reconvening of the Commission’s forestry task force to revisit their assumptions – published in their Interim Roadmap to 2020 report – that forestry’s effects on climate were an unqualified benefit. Today’s report paints a drastically different story.

More information and context is available here.

What If Ignitions Are Not Suppressed?

What happens if forest fire ignitions are not suppressed? It’s a tough experiment to perform, but some old Forest Service data may help answer. In 1923, the Forest Service published an analysis of fires in 12 California national forests (excepting southern California) that ignited between 1911 and 1920. The data include suppression costs, which are a good proxy for suppression effort. Recall that 1910 was the “Great Fire,” which ushered in the era of Forest Service fire suppression. In 1911 fire suppression was almost non-existent with costs on the 12 forests totaling $18,746. That’s $450,000 in today’s dollars. Compare to 2015’s $500 million spent by the Forest Service suppressing fires in California (even more in 2017), and the numbers show the Forest Service puts about 1,000 times more effort into suppressing fires today than it did in 1911. In 1911 there were no air tankers, no fire engines, and few roads into the national forests. In sum, 1911 is a pretty good proxy for what happens when ignitions are not suppressed.

So what did happen to ignitions in 1911? Click on the table above: 70% remained smaller than 300 acres, while 30% exceeded 300 acres. [“C” fires are those greater than 300 acres]

Tree Die-Offs and Climate Change: A Case of Mega-Extrapolation via the New York Times

Areas in the Santa Fe National Forest, near Bandalier National Monument in New Mexico, were still scarred in September 2015, four years after the Las Conchas Fire. Credit Nick Cote for The New York Times (this was used to illustrate the article described below)

Steve Wilent posted this NY Times article in a comment, but I think it is worthy of its own post. It’s always interesting to see what shows up in the New York Times about trees and forests. It was in the Science section, and refers to a paper (fortunately open-access, yay!) in Environmental Research Letters.

Here are the quotes in the NYT article:

“The confidence we’ve developed about our forests being at great risk is really high now,” said David D. Breshears, a professor of natural resources at the University of Arizona and a co-author on the paper. “Warming makes droughts more lethal.”

Dr. Breshears said that the research shows that warming temperatures and drought alone could cause 9 or 10 additional forest die-offs per century during this century by killing seedlings. “It’s not sustainable if you knock out a forest every ten or twelve years,” Dr. Breshears said. “We are at a big risk of losing lots and lots of forest.”

This was very interesting to me, as I’ve been saying for a while “we don’t know how much of what weather conditions will kill a live adult tree, we don’t know the genetic variation among its open-pollinated offspring, so we can’t really say what will happen to a species under changing climate conditions.” We can say in many drier climates the main problem is to get a seedling established, because pines have trouble getting established through brush or grass cover- will there be bare mineral soil after a good seed year? These are all simple things about pine regeneration (and I’m talking ponderosa here, other pines may have different issues) that were well known about 40 years ago when pine planting for reforestation was common. There were scientists at Oregon State University, for example who worked on seedling establishment (the field was called “tree physiology” back in those days).

So how did Dr.Breshears and colleagues arrive at this (somewhat scary) prediction about western forests?

This is part of the methods section:

We obtained pine seedlings in ‘cone-tainers’ (height 21 cm, volume: 175 ml) of two species (P. edulis and P. ponderosa) from the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery (Fort Collins, CO) in March 2010. The nursery used a Colorado seed source for P. ponderosa, but for P. edulis, seeds were obtained commercially, and their provenance is unknown. Seedlings were kept in growth chambers (Conviron, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) at 25 ◦C during the day under photosynthetically active
radiation of ∼700 𝜇mol m−2sec−1 and at 10 ◦C at night…. .

So the new data is based on seedlings in a growth chamber (from an unknown source of P. edulis?) and conclusions are drawn. Interesting that in the discussion the authors say:

Our experimental and projection results are specific to seedlings but we expect these have implications for other life stages, including adults. Although seedling studies have been recognized as an effective method of investigation in tree mortality prediction where breakthrough tests are needed (McDowell et al 2013),
caution should be used in extrapolating from our growth chamber experiments to large adults in the field (Leuzinger et al 2009).

(my italics)

But is this “using caution?”

That tree mortality can be expected to accelerate across a range of increased temperatures should be represented in such models and motivate policy to reduce the anthropogenic drivers of climate warming. As continued temperature increases will progressively cause more tree mortality, these results clearly illustrate the profound benefits of slowing warming as rapidly as possible, as forest persistence is critical for globally coordinated carbon management.

If you lived, as some of us did, during the time when reforestation and tree physiology was the topic of study at Oregon State University, as well as other places, you would be amazed that that proposal and experimental design would be approved with the idea of extrapolating from this experiment to western forests. So, we might ask “who funded and reviewed this proposal?”? It’s an alphabet soup, including DOE, NSF and EPA. I think it illustrates that different disciplines have had and continue to have different review expectations and criteria.

Review of collaborative restoration initiatives

The Forest Service funded a study (2 page summary here) of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership.  Of note (to me any way):

Findings:  “Strong majorities said they had increased the pace and scale of restoration, improved ecological conditions, and reduced the threat of fire to communities.”  “61% said they had decreased litigation.”

Implications:  “The agencies should continue to make changes to their business model to ensure that their organizations are oriented towards the success of priority projects. The agencies should ensure quality leaders and staff capacity follow priority investments. The agencies also could refine proposal evaluation processes to better identify places likely to be successful, or those that are in need of support and capacity building.”

(I assume that the project “priorities” are a result of collaboration, too.)

Headwaters: Lessons from the Timber Transition


Lessons from the Timber Transition

“Performance is shaped more by current challenges and opportunities in the regional economy affecting all types of communities than it is by changes in the timber industry alone.”

“Counties doing better than average leveraged natural amenities; took an active, collaborative approach to planning; embraced adaptability; and took advantage of access to metropolitan markets.”

Tree Mortality in California: 129 Million

Mike Archer, who edits the Wildfire News of the Day newsletter, sent along a link to a Cal Fire press release issued today.

“The U.S. Forest Service today announced that an additional 27 million trees, mostly conifers, died throughout California since November 2016, bringing the total number of trees that have died due to drought and bark beetles to an historic 129 million on 8.9 million acres. The dead trees continue to pose a hazard to people and critical infrastructure, mostly centered in the central and southern Sierra Nevada region of the state.”

Randy Moore, Regional Forester, says “we need to fix how fire suppression is funded.”


Why We Disagree About Fuel Treatments IX: Whatever Happened to Stewardship and Fireshed Assessment?

Gil’s post from Friday here reminded me that we had left “Why We Disagree” just before we got deep into the nitty-gritty of the problems associated with increasing prescribed fire. We had a science-based, public-involved, GAO-supported approach (posted here) that was looking good in the Sierra. This post is long, but should serve as a jumping off point for “what kind of alignment would be necessary, internally and externally to the FS, to get prescribed fire back on the landscape (and possibly increase opportunities for WFU at the same time)?

Looking around on the internet, I found a presentation by Don Yasuda, a wildlife biologist in the Region 5 Regional Office, given to a Fish and Wildlife Service Dry Forest Workshop. It is pretty self-explanatory and here is a link to his presentation. Here is a link to the entire workshop presentations (thanks, Oregon FWS!). The workshop was in 2009, but I am not sure that the situation has changed substantially.
Here is his slide about why it didn’t work..
I don’t think that any of these will surprise anyone here.

I was intrigued by his slide below in which he goes deeper exploring some systemic issues:

Here’s an explanation of these points:

. Safe, Cheap and Easy refers to how we were deciding where to plan projects. Safe meant typically avoiding any areas of controversy, like areas with high controversy wildlife. Easier to drop them than analyze for treatment of them. Cheap similarly meant avoiding places that required a lot of NEPA planning dollars to go to several years of survey or analysis before we could make a decision. Easy was the culmination of the other two plus continue to do what we’ve done in the past and not venture into trying too many “new” things that might suddenly not be “safe” or “cheap”.

· Waste disposal problem referred to the fact that the majority of the work we needed to prioritize was removal of small and medium sized trees and small and medium fuels that accumulated from past land management and mostly from decades of fire suppression. There was little economic value to these “biomass” materials but there was value in the medium sized sawlogs that also needed to be removed to reduce fire risk and move forests towards more resilient desired conditions. So the problem was there was more material to be removed than there was capacity to utilize. So the idea of “ramping up” work to remove even more of it would just create a bigger disposal problem to solve.

· The concept of Boutique forestry centered around recognizing that we may be doing good work in the projects we do implement but it is in really small and localized locations and not making a difference at the landscape scales that our primary threats (high severity wildfires and landscape scale insect outbreaks) operate.

· The bullet on economics reflects the reluctance to have an open and honest discussion about the cost and opportunities of doing the magnitude of work we are trying to do. The reality is that the congressionally appropriated budget to do this work only goes so far and cannot possibly cover the amount of work we know needs to happen. But, even though there is economic value in sawlogs because they produce a consumer product and with new (at the time) opportunities like stewardship contracting, we were reluctant to talk about leveraging appropriated funds with the value of saleable products that we need to remove anyway to pay for more small diameter material that is the primary driver of the thinning and restoration work. We wanted to highlight that there is a concern that we might remove more or larger sawlogs (a return to intensive, short-rotation harvesting) just to treat more acres of fuels that cost money. We noted that it was a legitimate discussion to have openly to dispel the interest or intent to return to intensive harvesting, but in an evaluation of alternatives we could discuss the tradeoffs of different levels and intensities of restoration. We emphasized that if ecological restoration was the primary purpose of a project then we should never be removing trees purely for the economic value alone, but also shouldn’t be shy to discuss trees we want to remove for restoration having value that enabled us to treat a lot more acres at landscape scales that we couldn’t have afforded to in any other way.

· The last bullet about triage was to bring home that whether we like it or not, we’re at the point of needing to decide how we are going to focus our limited time and resources to tackle this overwhelming problem of difficult choices. We could continue to spend all of our energy on Safe, Cheap and Easy, but that’s like focusing all of your energy on the “green tagged” patients. Similarly the waste disposal problem is largely outside of the agency’s hands because it requires other regulatory and economic and social mechanisms to all line up and it won’t be quick to come on line so focusing just on that is like focusing on the “black tagged” patients because it won’t help anyone in the immediate crisis now. We talked about those things (biomass utilization opportunities) being like preventative medicine, best address before the patient is sick and to reduce the numbers getting sick in the future. So it’s important, but not what you focus on in the middle of an emergency.

This is one person’s opinion.. but from someone who is a expert and was involved. Do these observations ring true for others involved in this effort (I know there are Californians among our blogging community)? What about other parts of the country?

In Search of Common Ground II – It Takes Two: Forest Management and Social Management

Here are two current articles that get some things wrong but if we ignore those items and focus on the big picture that they present rather than on the details, I believe that we will find that we have more in common than we thought.

Between the two articles we see the full picture for PRIORITIZED actions to begin the long battle ahead to recover from national ashtrays, lost lives, lost homes and infrastructure, significantly decreased health of both humans and forests. It is a two pronged battle that includes both sound forest management and social management.

A) Using Forests to Fight Climate Change – California takes a small step in the right direction.

“The state’s proposed Forest Carbon Plan aims to double efforts to thin out young trees and clear brush in parts of the forest, including by controlled burning. This temporarily lowers carbon-carrying capacity. But the remaining trees draw a greater share of the available moisture, so they grow and thrive, restoring the forest’s capacity to pull carbon from the air. Healthy trees are also better able to fend off bark beetles. The landscape is rendered less combustible. Even in the event of a fire, fewer trees are consumed.

The need for such planning is increasingly urgent. Already, since 2010, drought and beetles have killed more than 100 million trees in California, most of them in 2016 alone, and wildfires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres.

California’s plan envisions treating 35,000 acres of forest a year by 2020, and 60,000 by 2030 — financed from the proceeds of the state’s emissions-permit auctions. That’s only a small share of the total acreage that could benefit, an estimated half a million acres in all, so it will be important to prioritize areas at greatest risk of fire or drought.

The strategy also aims to ensure that carbon in woody material removed from the forests is locked away in the form of solid lumber, burned as biofuel in vehicles that would otherwise run on fossil fuels, or used in compost or animal feed.”

B) Why are California’s homes burning? It isn’t natural disaster it’s bad planning

This Op-ed by Richard Halsey (director of the California Chaparral Institute who sometimes posts on NCFP) is well written and, though I would disagree on some statements in his post, I present those that I do agree on in an attempt to show that there are specific components that are middle ground that we all should be able to agree on and focus on rather than focusing on what won’t work. Once we change our emphasis, hostility between opposing sides should decrease and progress should increase.

“Large, high-intensity wildfires are an inevitable and natural part of life in California. The destruction of our communities is not. But many of the political leaders we elect and planning agencies we depend upon to create safe communities have failed us. They have allowed developers to build in harm’s way, and left firefighters holding the bag. ”

“others blame firefighters for creating dense stands of chaparral in fire suppression efforts—when that’s the only way chaparral naturally grows, dense and impenetrable.”

“”we need to recognize that fire disasters aren’t natural, they’re social. And they require social solutions.”” (quote from University of Colorado geographer Gregory Simon)
–> Pay attention to the statement “fire disasters aren’t natural, they’re social”. My first reaction was “not true” but in the context of the Op Ed, I think that the author is making an appropriate distinction between the words “Catastrophic” and “Disaster” by reserving “Disaster” for those situations where the catastrophe falls mainly on humans.

“We also need to examine the best practices of other fire-prone regions. Communities in Australia often install external, under-eave/rooftop sprinklers, which have proven quite effective in protecting structures during wildfires. (Australians understand that wet homes do not ignite.) Such systems should be standard in all new developments in high fire hazard zones. It is likely they would have protected many of the homes consumed in Ventura’s Thomas fire this week.”

“As we do with earthquakes and floods, our goal should be to reduce the damage when wildfires arrive, not pretend we can prevent them from happening at all. That mindset starts at the planning department, not the fire station.”

C) Relevant Prior Posts with included references:

1) Finding Common Ground
Frustration: Will It Lead to Change?

2) Wildfire
Fuels management can be a big help in dealing with wildfires
Air Pollution from Wildfires compared to that from Prescribed burns
Inside the Firestorm
The Impact of Sound Forest Management Practices on Wildfire Smoke and Human Health
Humans sparked 84 percent of US wildfires, increased fire season over two decades
More on Wildfire and Sound Forest Management
Scientific Basis for Changing Forest Structure to Modify Wildfire Behavior and Severity
Articles of Interest on Fire
The Role of Sound Forest Management in Reducing Wildfire Risk
15 Minute TED Talk: “Forest Service ecologist proposes ways to help curb rising ‘Era of Megafires’”

Best Places to Work 2017: BLM Improves Rankings

Thanks to Andy’s closer look I have updated this post, which originally said that the BLM had pulled ahead of the FS, but actually the FS has not been posted yet.

I always compare it to the BLM, which has a similar mission, and was 60.1 this year. BLM went up 4.3 points last year. I wonder if they did something workforce-wise, or ??? Many of the individual categories went up, as you can see in this chart, so it seems like something real is going on… ideas?

We’ll have to wait and how the FS did.