Waldo Canyon- Five Years Later : Colorado Springs Gazette

A sign for the Waldo Canyon trail stands before a sign warning people of trespassing. The trail has been closed since the 2012 wildfire, and the U.S. Forest Service has no plans to allow access in the canyon. (The Gazette file photo)

The Colorado Springs Gazette just completed a great series on five years after the Waldo Canyon Fire- lots of photos and videos.. Here is a link to a piece of the story from which you can click around to find other pieces. Maybe I am old-fashioned but I found it much easier to read and interpret in the more linear (and fewer clicks per bite of information) print edition. The excerpt below talks about the impacts on a recreation trail, which is something you don’t hear much about. I’m sure there are other discussion-worthy parts to the article as well.

A CHANGING FOREST
Five years after the devastation, land managers maintain a hopeful narrative. The Forest Service calls the burn scar 70 percent revegetated – a figure that does not allude to the return of the previous conifer-covered state, but to a transformed one.

The area is taking on a look it likely had centuries ago, says Pikes Peak District Ranger Oscar Martinez. Mother Nature has “reset the clock,” he says, by pulling up the aspens that long lay dormant beneath the now-destroyed pines and firs that dominated for generations in forest time. Also covering the slopes now are tangles of scrub oak; they, like aspens, were eager to make their presence known soon after the conifers departed.

There has always been fire, Martinez explains. “There’s always been an ebb and flow,” he says.

But locals have endeavored to bring back the dense green scene they recall, most fondly from their days of hiking the Waldo Canyon trail, super popular before its closure in the fire’s wake. From 2013 to 2016 the Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management tallied 94,730 volunteer hours from individuals who, among other recovery tasks, spread conifer seedlings. The Forest Service reports overseeing the planting of 60,000 conifers across the scar.

And all those attempts could very well prove futile. What’s certain is the trees grow slow, too slow for those volunteer adults to see them stand tall in their lifetimes.

“There are questions as to whether or not they will ever come back,” says Melanie Vanderhoof, the scientist with the U.S. Geological Service who has been tracking the scar’s revegetation from annual satellite imagery.

A fire of Waldo Canyon’s magnitude heats the ground to a point of hydrophobicity, where instead of water being absorbed, it is repelled. Further complicating the conifers’ return is the forest’s unique soil – “calling it a soil is kind of a generous term,” Martinez says. Conservationists call Pikes Peak granite “kitty litter,” for its pebbly, porous condition, which rain had no problem moving in the days after the burn, washing the sediment into the canyon and piling it up to heights of grown men.

That phenomenon made portions of the Waldo trail disappear along its 7-mile loop. The Forest Service continues to take questions as to when the trail will reopen, and land managers say people should refine their questions, considering the trail no longer really exists. Realignment seems more than likely.

“The question is where will it be, if there will ever be a trail in there,” Martinez says.

Serious conversations about reintroducing recreation have yet to be had. The management plan for the Pike National Forest is due sometime between 2018 and 2020, and that, Martinez says, would identify areas where a trail is feasible.

Susan Davies with the Trails and Open Space Coalition understands the Forest Service’s concerns – the dangers of flash floods and dead trees that could fall on heads at any moment. “It is the five-year anniversary” of the fire, she says, “and I think it would be great if the Forest Service were willing to put together a timeline, or even state a goal of when we might be able to start a public process. Could we at least start a conversation?”

Dan Jiron New Acting Deputy Undersecretary

Dan Jiron new Acting Deputy Undersecretary

From an announcement . this is excerpted.

As you know, USDA announced a reorganization on May 11, 2017. In accordance with a directive in the 2014 Farm Bill, we created a new Under Secretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs as part of a realignment of several mission areas. The reorganization also included a reconstituted mission area reporting to a newly-named Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. The U.S. Forest Service, given its size and importance, will be the only agency to report to the Under Secretary for National Resources and Environment. For these three mission areas, we have named Acting Deputy Under Secretaries, who will serve in their roles until the Senate confirms permanent presidentially-nominated appointees.

Natural Resources and Environment

Dan Jiron will fill the role of Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. With more than 29 years of public service and natural resources management, Jiron was appointed Associate Chief of the Forest Service in July 2016. Prior to this appointment, Jiron served in many leadership positions, including Regional Forester of the Rocky Mountain Region; Deputy Regional Forester in the Pacific Southwest Region; Forest Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forest; District Ranger on the Salt Lake Ranger District of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest; District Ranger on the South Park Ranger District of the Pike and San Isabel National Forest, Comanche, and Cimarron National Grasslands; Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs of the Intermountain Region, National Press Officer in Washington, D.C.; and aide to United States Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado. Jiron earned a bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and a Master’s degree from Regis University of Denver.

Under the reorganization plan, the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment will retain supervision of the U.S. Forest Service.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with USDA bureaucracy, there is one Secretary and Undersecretaries who are right below him. A Deputy Undersecretary works for the Undersecretary.( In the Obama administration, there were two Deputy Undersecretaries, at first Harris Sherman and Robert Bonnie, and Harris Sherman moved on and was replaced by Butch Blazer.) Parentheses indicate that this information may not be correct and I welcome corrections.
Perhaps with the reorganization, they will only need one Deputy Undersecretary?
FWIW, as far as I’m concerned, Dan is a great choice for this job.

A to Z and Back Again

FYI, here’s Russ Vaagen’s blog post on the A to Z sale, which has been discussed on this blog here and here. The former said that “The “A to Z” Mill Creek Pilot Project sets up a 10-year contract on 50,000 acres in the Colville National Forest. It allows a private company to use private dollars for everything after the timber sale is laid out, including the pre-sale environmental requirements and NEPA. With private funds and local management, the Colville National Forest can be managed for healthier forests and stable, sustainable revenue.”

Anyone have a link to the court decision?

Zinke Proposes Co-Management with Tribes on Bears Ears

This is an AP story from the Colorado Springs Gazette here:

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, said he wants to make sure Native American culture is preserved and said Congress should approve legislation granting tribes legal authority to “co-manage” some of the Bears Ears site.

“I have enormous respect for tribes,” Zinke said, adding that he supports Native American efforts to restore “sovereignty, respect and self-determination.”

Instead of the monument designation, which prevents a range of development, Zinke said some of the sprawling, 1.3 million acre site should be designated for conservation or recreation. He called on Congress to approve a land-management bill for Bears Ears and other federal lands.

In the Gazette printed edition, it showed more of the AP story. So I tried to find that at the AP site (had to sign up but free) and found this.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to downsize the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah was applauded by the state’s top Republican leaders.

However, it marked a stinging setback for a coalition of Western tribes that pushed for protection of lands they consider sacred.

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, said Monday he’s committed to make sure Native American culture is preserved and vowed to push for Congress to approve legislation granting tribes legal authority to co-manage some of the Bears Ears site.

He said he discussed the idea with the tribes and that they came away happy with the plan.

Several tribal leaders balked at that characterization, saying they weren’t briefed on the plan and consider the idea to be an attempt to temper their criticism.

They joined environmental groups in vowing to file lawsuits if President Donald Trump accepts the recommendation and shrinks the monument.

If I were reporting this, I might call around to different Tribes and find out with whom Zinke had spoken. As reported here, it makes you wonder why the cited Tribes would rather have the Monument as designated, than co-management. I wonder if the reporter spoke with the Inter-Tribal Coalition (they were “several Tribal leaders”). In a wonky way, I also wonder exactly what Zinke means by “co-management,” but agree that it’s an idea worth exploring.

In this more detailed story, by Amy Joi O’Donoghue for the Deseret News, you can see some of the complexities and controversy that may be missing from the AP story.

Many Utah Navajo are against a monument designation for Bears Ears, but the out-of-state tribal leaders behind the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition who support it insist the effort is one that is locally driven, locally supported and grass-roots in nature.

I’d also add that members of this blog community with direct experience have also said that there are Tribes and people in Tribes who have different ideas about the Monument. So it seems as if once again, in the interests of space (?), real-world complexities have been shaded to fit a simpler, and less accurate, narrative in the national press story.

Trees on the Great Plains: Shelterbelts and the Forest Service

Early agroforestry poster created by artist Joseph Dusek
between 1936–1940 (Work Projects Administration
Poster Collection, Library of Congress).

Here’s an excellent piece of history by by Andy Mason and Sarah Karle from the Rendezvous (Rocky Mountain FS retiree newsletter).  I particularly liked these photos that show how a few folks with a big dream for improving the environment, almost a hundred years ago, succeeded (after hard work, research and experimentation) succeeded, and is still working today.

Artistic representation of shelterbelt spacing. Shelterbelt strips are planted in parallel rows following the Jeffersonian grid. Lake States Forest Experiment Station, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1934. Forest Service, USDA.

 

Three intact Prairie States Forestry Project shelterbelts continue to protect farmland and provide cover for wildlife. The straight rows represent a zone blurring the line between human-made and natural. Courtesy of Scott Drickey, photograph taken in Spring 2015.

 

Prairie States Forestry Project (1934-1942)

In 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the New Deal’s Prairie States Forestry Project to create “shelterbelts” of newly planted trees to mitigate the effects of the Dust Bowl in America’s Great Plains. The project stretched from North Dakota to northern Texas and helped stabilize soil and rejuvenate farm communities affected by the dust storms. Under Roosevelt’s Administration from 1934 to 1942, the program both saved the soil and relieved chronic unemployment in the region. The U.S. Forest Service was responsible for organizing the “Shelterbelt Project,” later known as the “Prairie States Forestry Project.” Paul H. Roberts from the agency’s Research Branch directed the project that was headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When FDR came to office in 1933, the Great Plains and other regions were suffering from what would become an almost decade-long period of economic, environmental, and social crises.  Several large-scale factors led to the environmental devastation of the Dust Bowl and contributed to the economic hardships of the Great Depression, leading to the social upheavals that followed. As president, FDR used conservation projects as a job-creation tool against the Great Depression, and within months of becoming president, he devised the Prairie States Forestry Project. The project, based to some degree on Roosevelt’s personal experience with forest management, was proposed as an ambitious “Great Wall of Trees” using shelterbelts across the Great Plains to reduce soil wind erosion, retain moisture, and improve farming conditions. Trees were typically planted in long strips at 1-mile intervals within a belt 100 miles thick. At the time, it was believed that shelterbelts at this spacing could intercept the prevailing winds and reduce soil and crop damage. The project used many different tree species of varying heights, including oaks and even black walnut. The plan engaged scientific knowledge with shifting political ideals, including regionalism and the role of government in the conservation of private land.

Though seemingly beneficial, the Forestry Project was ridiculed from its inception. Some professional foresters expressed doubts about its chances of success, while the general public perceived it as an outdated scheme of dubious credibility to “make rain.” Despite a general lack of scientific and Congressional support, the Forest Service worked across six states with local farmers, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Works Progress Administration to plant over 220 million trees, creating more than 18,000 miles of windbreaks on 33,000 Plains farms. Although Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps workers planted the trees and shrubs, landowners were responsible for their long-term care and maintenance.  At the height of the Great Depression, the project employed thousands of residents (notably both men and women) of the Plains states and CCC members from around the country.

The program officially ended in 1942, but by 1944 (scarcely a decade after its inception} environmental and economic benefits from these shelterbelts, including land management practices, control of wind erosion, soil conservation, cover for game birds, and the creation of snow traps along highways, were already apparent. Since 1942, tree planting to reduce soil losses and crop damage has been carried out primarily by local soil conservation districts in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service) with help in later years from State forestry agencies aided by U.S. Forest Service programs. Today the rows of shelterbelt plantings, while diminished by subsequent changes in agricultural policies and practices, continue to communicate culturally recognized signs of human intervention and interaction with the landscape.

Sign of the Times?

Funny seeing an “8 in 1 Survival Kit” advertisement on a ‘climate warrior’ gloom and doom website. The advertiser specializes in “Outdoor and Urban Survival”. A list of what is in there makes me laugh.

1) LED flashlight (No mention of batteries) In a climate emergency, batteries will always be available, eh?
2) Heavy Duty ink pen (In case you need to sign another useless petition?)
3) Flint Stick (For lighting abandoned campfires? 84% of wildfires in the US are human-caused)
4) Compass with ruler (Without a map, that severely limits how much a compass can help you. Magnetic declination? In Seattle, True North and Magnetic North are different by over 20 degrees)
5) High frequency whistle (When the shit hits the fan, just whistle!)
6) Tool Card (Yeah, fix your Prius with THAT!)
7) Steel Striker with ruler and bottle opener (Almost a dozen uses when Civil War starts!)

Enjoy Your Sunday and cherish what we continue to have!

Interior and Ag Departments to Reorganize?

Wow. Need more details on this….

Zinke previews agency reorganization

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke today fleshed out plans to reorganize the sprawling department, pitching lawmakers on a “joint system” that would shift federal employees from Washington to the field.

The revamp would create 13 “joint management areas,” Zinke told his former colleagues at a House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.

Each of the areas would be small and, when possible, ecosystem-based.

“We’re trying to push more of the authority out in the field and redesign Interior,” he said. “These smaller areas can focus on the problems that are within their smaller regions.”

Instead of reporting to their respective regional offices, each of Interior’s bureaus and the Department of Agriculture would coordinate to better serve the local land, water and wildlife issues in each area.

The move mirrors how U.S. federal agencies coordinate to fight wildfires. Eight agencies and organizations operate out of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Last week, Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue toured the facility.

The reorganization also resembles the Department of Defense practice of joint commands, a system the former Navy SEAL has experience with.

Zinke said USDA is on board with the proposed system. Under the plan, the Forest Service would remain part of Agriculture and a simple memorandum of understanding would cover the agency’s participation.

Zinke asserted the staffing shifts would not cost any money nor technically need congressional approval. But he told lawmakers he intends to reach out to Congress, “because it matters to us all to make sure we go ahead and do it right.”

He told House Republicans and Democrats the consolidation would reduce permitting hurdles, give federal officials more latitude to focus on regional issues such as invasive species, and enable Interior to better use resources appropriated by Congress for ecosystem-specific projects.

Webinar: Recovery and adaptation after wildfire

This webinar may be of interest. “Recovery and adaptation after wildfire across the United States, 2009-2011,” Wednesday, June 14, 2017 from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM (MST).

Presenter: Miranda H. Mockrin, USFS Northern Research Station

Becoming a fire-adapted community that can live with wildfire is envisioned as a continuous, iterative process of adaptation. In eight case study sites across the United States we examined how destructive wildfire affected altered progress towards becoming fire-adapted, focusing on the role of planning and WUI regulations (building codes, hazard mitigation standards, zoning, and other local governmental tools used to reduce exposure to wildfire losses). Experience with wildfire and other natural hazards suggests that disasters may open a ‘window of opportunity’ leading to local government policy changes. However, we found mixed results in our study: for some communities, the fire was a focusing event that led to changes in WUI regulations (for example, modifying building codes). In other communities, destructive fire did not spur adaptation through changes in governmental policy. In some communities, local government officials thought current policies were effective and factors beyond their control such as extreme weather were to blame for structure losses In other cases, wildfire losses were accepted as a risk of living on the landscape, considered an isolated incident that affected few or was unlikely to be repeated, or enacting regulations was seen as incompatible with local norms and government capacity. We conclude that adaptation to wildfire through WUI regulations depends on multiple factors, including past experience with fire and the geographic extent and scale of the fire event relative to the local community and its government. While communities did not often pursue changes in WUI regulations, experience with wildfire was frequently cited as the impetus for other adaptive responses, such as improving emergency response or fire suppression, and expanding education and interaction with homeowners, such as Firewise programs or government support for fuel mitigation on private lands.