Taxpayer Science: Global Warming is Killing our Forests with Fire

More publicly-funded political science, this time from the University of Utah: http://www.livescience.com/44947-western-wildfires-bigger-more-frequent.html

Here’s a quote: “It’s not just something that is localized to forest or grasslands or deserts,” said lead study author Phil Dennison, a geographer at the University of Utah. “Every region in the West is experiencing an increase in fire. These fire trends are very consistent with everything we know about how climate change should impact fire in the West,” Dennison told LiveScience.
 
Actually, this type of taxpayer-funded BS is NOT consistent with everything we know about how climate change should impact fire in the West,” despite Dr. Dennison’s assertions. It’s not even consistent with “anything we know” at all, except that unmanaged forests in the western US will predictably burn in place if they are not actively managed. It is a fuel management problem — as I have pointed out for many years — clear and simple, and I have publicly predicted these fires for more than 20 years for that reason alone.
These fires are predictable and preventable and seem to mostly take place on passively managed public lands. Seasonal weather patterns are an important factor and “climate change” is a paid-for conclusion. Untended fuels are the real problem, and addressing those would put thousands of people to work and billions of dollars into our treasuries. Apparently that is not a good thing. Big Timber doesn’t like competition.
 
There is a reason that Democrats pay for and swallow this stuff while Republicans remain skeptical. It’s a political issue, not scientific. My principal concern, though, is not the waste of taxpayer dollars promoting a political agenda so much as actual scientific methodology is being publicly degraded in the process. As evidenced by these kinds of statements and conclusions. Maybe there’s a pony in there somewhere.

Update: Montana Citizens Given Zero Notice or Opportunity to Participate in Gov Bullock’s 5.1M acre “Fast Track” Logging Proposal

Last week Steve shared this article about Montana Governor Steve Bullock nominating 5.1 million acres of National Forest lands in Montana for “fast track” logging under the recently passed Farm Bill.

Since that article appeared in the Missoulian I attempted to gather basic information from the Gov’s office and the MT DNRC regarding what type of public notice or public process was used to come up with these 5.1 million acres of National Forest land.  For days both the Gov’s office and MT DNRC refused to provided the information, and then when they finally said they’d provide basic information, such as “Was there public notice? Were notes taken?” they stonewalled by telling me I’d have to pay them to answer these basic questions.  After I told them that as a Montana citizen I have a constitutional right to an “open government” (and after a reporter got involved) they finally sent me 3 pieces of paper.

Many of you may have an interest in the fact that, with zero notice given to the public and with zero notes taken, Gov Bullock’s office hand-picked a total of 7 people who met 5 times on the phone and came up with 5.1 million acres of Montana’s National Forest lands that they have nominated for priority “fast track” logging through a weakened and streamlined “Categorical Exclusion” NEPA process that also significantly reduces meaningful public input.

It’s estimated that this “fast track” logging would apply to 60% to 75% of the forested acres of the Lolo, Bitterroot and Kootenai National Forests outside of designated Wilderness areas, but would include previously unlogged forests and critical wildlife habitat.

It should be noted that with the exception of one of the 7 hand-picked people, all of them are also big supporters (and in some cases the authors) of Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

This whole situation should also lend further evidence to what I’ve been saying for years now, and that’s the fact that not all “collaboration” is created equal, and when it comes to Montana public land and National Forest issues we have some incredibly rotten examples of “collaboration.”

The Great Falls Tribune’s John Adams has the story in today’s paper.

HELENA – Critics of Gov. Steve Bullock’s recent nomination of 5.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land as priority for “restoration” say the public was left out of the process.

On April 7, Bullock, a Democrat, announced he submitted a letter to the Forest Service nominating more than 8,000 square miles of timber land from northwestern to southcentral Montana to increase the pace of scale of restoration on federal public land.

Bullock said the lands he nominated under a provision in the recently passed farm bill are declining in health, have a risk of increased tree deaths or pose a risk to public infrastructure or safety.

But critics of Bullock’s recent action said there was no notice of the process and no opportunity for meaningful public input on a plan that could potentially open up the majority of non-wilderness timber lands across the state to fast-track timber harvests.

“I didn’t know anything about this until I read about it in the newspaper,” said Michael Garrity, director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

State forester Bob Harrington, of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, acknowledged in an email to the Tribune that the process for choosing the lands Bullock would nominate was not open to the public.

While Harrington, in earlier media reports, couched the process as a “collaboration,” on Monday he said just six people were invited to join an “ad-hoc group” to advise him on identifying priority landscapes national forest lands.

Members selected for the ad-hoc group included Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited; Barb Cestero of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition; Sanders County Commissioner Carol Brooker; Julia Altemus of the Montana Wood Products Association; Keith Olson of the Montana Logging Association; and Gary Burnett, of the Blackfoot Challenge and Southwest Crown Collaborative.

All participants except for Brooker were involved in drafting and promoting Sen. Jon Tester’s proposed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

According to Harrington, the ad hoc group met five times via conference call between Feb. 28 and April 4. Only the Feb. 28 meeting had an agenda, and the meetings were not noticed to the public and no meeting minutes or audio recordings were made.

“They were primarily discussions about the proposed landscape boundaries and focused on a series of maps that were produced along the way, as well as timelines for each of the collaborative groups and/or USFS staff to submit proposed changes to us,” Harrington said in an email.

Matthew Koehler is a longtime Missoula-based forest activist with the nonprofit WildWest Institute. Jake Kreilick, WildWest’s restoration coordinator, is an active member the Lolo Forest Restoration Committee, one of the collaborative groups cited by Bullock in his proposal to the agriculture department.

Koehler pointed out that the agenda for the first ad-hoc conference call, which took place Feb. 28, listed an April 1 deadline for submitting a proposal to the governor “after broader public review/input.”

But the broader public review and input never happened before the governor submitted his letter to the Forest Service, Koehler said.

“What just transpired here is that the governor’s office and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation hand-selected a group who got together, with no public notice, and over the course of five phone calls they decided that 5.1 million acres of Montana forests should be opened to logging under weakened and streamlined public input processes and limited environmental impact analysis,” Koehler said. “Over the course of five conference calls, seven people came up with 5.1 million acres of fast-track public lands logging. That’s more than a million acres per conference call.”

Bullock’s spokesman, Dave Parker, said there will be future opportunities for the public to weigh in.

[Update: The Billings Gazette newspaper reports that on 4/16/14 Bullock's spokesman, Dave Parker, "threatened to exclude The Gazette from further advisories from the governor...." - mk]

“This is only the first step in the process, one which ensures vigorous public participation on a project-by-project basis,” Parker said. “The process of designating the landscapes was necessary due to the time frame established by the passage of the farm bill.”

Governors had 60 days from the enactment of the farm bill in February to make their nominations to the Department of Agriculture.

“Governor Bullock is proud to have an incredibly diverse coalition, from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Trout Unlimited, to the Wood Products Association and Montana Logging Association, working on this project,” Parker said. “We look forward to creating jobs, restoring the health of our forests and improving habitat for fish and game. We understand that there will be some who instinctively throw rocks at collaboration, which is their right, but they are in the minority.”

Garrity argued that there is no scientific basis for declaring the 5.1 million acres of forest outlined in Bullock’s nomination as “characterized by declining forest health, a risk of substantially increased tree mortality, or an imminent risk to the public infrastructure, health or safety.”

Garrity said the bark beetle epidemic has run its course across much of the state, and that the dead and dying trees that remain in the forest provide important habitat for birds and other native species as well as food sources for grizzly bears — which eat ants and other insects that live in dead trees — and denning habitat for endangered lynx.

“By any ecologist’s definition of what is healthy, these forests are healthy,” Garrity said. “When Teddy Roosevelt decided he wanted to protect our National Forests, he didn’t want them protected just to be tree farms. He wanted to protect them because they are important watersheds for the American public and they provide habitat for native species. Based on that they are healthy forests.”

Koehler estimates that if Bullock’s nomination is approved as it stands now, between 60-75 percent of all the forested acres outside of designated wilderness in the Kootenai and Lolo National Forests would be prioritized for timber harvests under the categorical exclusion provision, which limits the requirement for rigorous environmental analysis.

“What that means is less public involvement, and less analysis about how the timber sale could affect bull trout, or Westslope cutthroat trout, or threatened and endangered species such as the grizzly bear, and lynx, and wolverines,” Koehler said. “Does the public want a say in how their lands are managed, or do they want hand-selected groups meeting secretly behind closed doors undermining America’s public lands legacy and the ability of Americans to fully participate in the management of their public lands?”

GAO Report on NEPA Analyses

The GAO has released a report, “National Environmental Policy Act: Little Information Exists on NEPA Analyses.” Lots to digest! Here are three items, for example, that may be of interest:

* “… the Forest Service reported that 78 percent of its 14,574 NEPA analyses from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2012 were CEs, 20 percent were EAs, and 2 percent were EISs.”

* “… the Forest Service reported that its 501 EAs in fiscal year 2012 took an average of about 18 months to complete.”

* “The little governmentwide information that is available on CEs shows that they generally take less time to complete than EAs. DOE does not track completion times for CEs, but agency officials stated that they usually take 1 or 2 days. Similarly, officials at Interior’s Office of Surface Mining reported that CEs take approximately 2 days to complete. In contrast, Forest Service took an average of 177 days to complete CEs in fiscal year 2012, shorter than its average of 565 days for EAs, according to agency documents.”

More comments on the report are welcome.

CSKT official says forests managed better with less on reservation

From the Missoulian here:

The vice chairwoman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes told a congressional committee Thursday that the nation would not experience the devastating wildfires it does if U.S. forests were managed the way forestland on the Flathead Indian Reservation is.

Testifying in Washington, D.C., before the House Natural Resources Committee, Carole Lankford said the rest of the country could learn much about healthy forests from her tribes.

“Had our national forests been managed similarly, this country wouldn’t be having the massive forest fires that are occurring with great frequency in recent years,” Lankford said.

….

*

“Operating understaffed and underfunded programs means that we cut corners and pay our employees less than other federal agencies pay their employees for the same work,” Lankford testified. “When we cut corners, some important job requirements fall off the table and don’t get done.”

Still, she said, CSKT has reduced fuels on an average of 7,638 acres of forestland per year for each of the past 10 years through thinning, piling, pile burning and understory burn projects.

“We were the first tribe in this country to treat 10,000 acres in one year,” Lankford told the committee. “As a result, when the Chippy Creek fire crossed state and federal lands before it reached the Flathead Reservation in 2007, we were able to get it extinguished more efficiently than other jurisdictions. Firefighters from other jurisdictions, who were helping us as we helped them, commented on how efficient the fuels-reduction program in this part of the reservation was.”

Chippy Creek was Montana’s largest wildfire of the 2007 fire season, burning almost 100,000 acres, or 155 square miles.

“You can therefore imagine how surprised (we were) when the administration came up with a new method of allocating fuels dollars,” Lankford said of the Hazardous Fuels Prioritization and Allocation System, which she added would have reduced CSKT’s fuels budget by 94 percent.

The new formula, Lankford charged, was “biased in how it could be applied and how easily the formula could be gamed.”

***

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, and some Crazy Comments About Wildfires

With the return of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, people are talking about it, and maybe some of them shouldn’t. This picture below shows what happens when thick forests, like this one on the Lassen NF, aren’t thinned. I’ll bet there are similar scenes in the Rim fire, where plantations weren’t thinned.

Lost-Fire-web

Over here, the comments are full of angst and misdirection. If you think forestry is a lightning rod for controversy, add climate activism and you’ll see all sorts of extreme statements. Luckily, that tide is turning, as people see the post-firestorm results. Here is a typical response, which offers no alternatives.

Logging is a much bigger problem for our emissions than fires. After logging, 85% of the carbon is released to the atmosphere, while after a fire, that ratio is reversed- 85% of the carbon is retained in the soil via charcoal, soil, and surviving flora. This is well documented in the literature- check out work by Harmon of Oregon State or Hansen from UC Davis.

Logging also dries out the soil, and makes for hotter microclimates and stream temperatures.

Obama etc will attack fires instead because they are scared of the timber industry. It’s all about the $, as usual.

Well, many National Forests don’t have much access to lumber mills, and some of those mills are teetering on the brink of solvency. Overstocked stands also dry out soils, increase bark beetle risks and reduce stream flows. We’ve also seen how fire impacts do not stay within the fire’s perimeter, too.

And emissions are not the biggest problem with logging. But you’re right, better the trees die by fire than by logging, in fact much better, most importantly for the forest.

Often times, such wildfire “solutions” put forth by firefighters emphasize “fighting fire with fire”, while ignoring the damages done by Let-Burn fires. They also don’t want to talk about NEPA analysis, preferring their own form of limited “winging it” analysis. Do they survey for endangered species, within their “Maximum Management Areas”, up to 100,000 acres? NOPE! They simply assume “nothing to see here, no need to look, let’s move forward”. If they claim there are no endangered species there, including botanical species, let’s see the survey data. Certainly, the impacts of letting fires burn, uncontrolled, are MUCH more than the modern-day thinning projects, which require meticulous NEPA analysis and courtroom oversight.

I would very much like to see how the Obama Administration is going to increase levels of prescribed fire to actual significant levels. Here are the four main points that are being pushed in the press release.

  • Adopting preventive measures, such as fuels thinning and controlled burns;
  • Promoting effective municipal, county and state building and zoning codes and ordinances;
  • Ensuring that watersheds, transportation and utility corridors are part of future management plans; and
  • Determining how organizations can best work together to reduce and manage human-caused ignitions.

It is unclear just how they will accomplish all that, especially Number 1 in that list.

Half Empty or Half Full: Science and Biodiversity

Professor Thomas

Professor Thomas

I’m trying to catch up on New Scientists and serendipitously ran across this interview with ecologist Chris Thomas by Fred Pearce. I think it’s an interesting thought-piece because I think it tries to distinguish scientific facts from normative ideas that have crept in to “scientific” discourse, and even legislation. An ESA with these ideas might be designed differently, IMHO. Also it’s interesting he says that we know more about extinctions than new species..of course, what we know about is what we pay scientists to study. So when we say “science says” there are many social forces influencing that, within and without the science biz.
Also, it is interesting to think about these ideas and the spotted and barred owls.. interesting juxtaposition with what Bob just posted about the NW Forest Plan.


Here’s
the link.

A decade ago, ecologist Chris Thomas warned that climate change would wipe out a quarter of all species. Now he tells Fred Pearce that we might actually end up with more species than before – and this isn’t a contradiction

Are you no longer concerned about extinctions?
We worry about extinction of species in the era of humans. But at the same time we are seeing an evolutionary surge. The seeds of recovery are already visible. New species are beginning to emerge. Of course many will fail, but others will become the lineages of the future.

This seems light years away from your forecast in 2004 that a global temperature rise of 2 °C would commit millions of species to extinction. Surely you cannot hold both views?

Actually, yes. I’m not arguing that extinctions won’t happen as humans mess up habitats, move species round the globe and change the climate. As I said 10 years ago, climate change will probably cause a mass extinction. I wish this wasn’t so. But I am saying that this is only one side of the coin. These processes also provide ecological opportunities – for species that already exist, and for new forms of life to evolve to exploit the changed environments.

How do we know that there will be opportunities for new life?

People say we are in the throes of the sixth great extinction – as big as when an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The jury is still out on that. It might take human numbers in the billions for a thousand years to do that much damage. But all past extinctions were followed by a burst of evolution. Disappearing dinosaurs created space for mammals to evolve. So why not this time? The flip side of a new great extinction would eventually be a new evolutionary explosion. A new genesis, if you like.

Is this increase in diversity happening already?

Yes. Genes are jumping around. Molecular genetics is finding that hybridisation between species is more common than previously suspected. Darwin talked about a tree of life, with species branching out and separating. But we are discovering it is more of a network, with genes moving between close branches as related species interbreed. This hybridisation quickly opens up evolutionary opportunities.

How do the alien species we introduce change different habitats?

Non-native species are a big part of this revolution. Most conservationists fear these invaders taken round the world by humans – sometimes with good reason. Kudzu vines, zebra mussels and cane toads, not to mention rats and rabbits, can displace native species and transform established ecosystems.

But often when alien species come into contact with related native species, hybrids result. And you get evolutionary divergence, too. After a species has been moved from one place to another, it may start to evolve into a novel species. Native species also evolve under the influence of aliens.

Are there examples of these types of changes?
In Britain, hybridisation involving introduced plant species seems to be happening at least as fast as native species are going extinct. For instance, European rhododendrons have hybridised with cousins from North America to generate a thriving wild population. As for changes in native species – insects change to live off new plants. For instance, a hybrid of two species of fruit fly in North America has evolved to colonise invasive honeysuckles.

What about fears that hybridisation changes and weakens native species genetically?
There are examples when native species can be genetically swamped by a more numerous invader. But new genes from alien species usually only invade the genome of an existing species if they confer some advantage. They often help them thrive.

So what should conservation involve, then?

It could help species take advantage of new opportunities. In a time of climate change, it is silly to try to prevent species moving, for example. We should be making it easier for them. Some people want to create migration corridors, so that whole ecosystems can move. Here in York we have gone one step further. We have been experimenting with taking butterflies north and releasing them. It works.

What about the charge that you are messing with natural ecosystems?
Nothing is entirely natural any longer. And ecosystems don’t have some preordained cast list. We know that at the end of the last ice age, the last time we had big climate change, tree species migrated north as the ice retreated, reclaiming old territory. But they didn’t go back at the same speed, or to the same places. Different combinations of species emerged. It will be like that again. The world is already full of ecosystems that have never existed before. They work just fine.

Does all of this mean that we should learn to love alien species?
Alien species can alter local ecosystems and be very inconvenient for humans. But only a few dozen of the many thousands of species we have transported around the world have actually driven another species extinct. Most don’t. In most countries, they increase biodiversity.

Plant diversity has increased by about a fifth in the continental US states as a result of new arrivals. Britain has more than 1800 non-native species, but as far as I know they have caused no extinctions.

So should we just let nature take its course?

Not entirely. Personally, I think we should do everything we can to minimise habitat loss and climate change. But not every change can or should be resisted. We shouldn’t confuse change with damage, or think of alien species as bad and natives as good. Some aliens are definitely a nuisance from a human perspective, but so are some native species. We are a part of the global system.

Part of the problem is that things are happening so fast that we see big ecological transformations in our individual lifetimes. It is human nature to be worried about that. I sometimes pull up alien weeds that I see in the fields around where I live. But that is an emotional response. Intellectually, I see nothing wrong with most of them.

Won’t extinctions always outpace evolution?

For the time being, but not always. If nature can bounce back from an asteroid hit, it can probably bounce back from us.

Why aren’t scientists talking more about all this good news?
We are always quantifying extinction, but we still know very little about the reverse process. It is only recently we have come to realise quite how much evolutionary change is going on. It is starting to look very much like a global acceleration of evolutionary rates.

Some scientists worry that, if we start working on this, it suggests we don’t care about extinction. That doesn’t follow. I think we should see this evolutionary novelty as an exciting research priority.


So, ultimately, most of this change is good?

Good and bad is irrelevant. It is wrong to believe we have a duty to resist all change in nature. Nature is always changing. Species are going to have to move to survive. New species and ecosystems will be created along the way. Dynamic alien colonists, and the evolution they kick-start, will be a part of the mix.

A narrow preservationist agenda will reduce the capacity of nature to respond to the environmental changes that we are inflicting on the world. We need to think less about keeping things just the way they were – not least because it’s impossible and virtually nowhere is pristine any more – and more about promoting the new.

NW Forest Plan: Close your eyes, plug your ears, declare victory and move on.

This was just printed in the Portland Oregonian today. In my own personal opinion, Jim Furnish may have been the worst Forest Supervisor in the history of the Siuslaw National Forest, based on his record and based on his pronouncements during and following his career there. He now declares the “Forest Wars” are over, and he thinks he personally did a great job in helping bring that episode to a conclusion. Maybe he hasn’t been reading newspapers or watching TV the past 10 years or two months, maybe he is just delusional, or maybe he has a (really) dry sense of humor. In any instance, this editorial is a good indication of his grasp on history and on reality.  
I’ll agree with Furnish that this plan has not been replicated anywhere else, but strongly disagree when he says it has been a “success” and that it should be replicated in other places. By nearly all other accounts, the “forest wars” continue unabated and the NW Forest Plan has been a devastating failure — and particularly for rural timber manufacturing businesses and economies. Also, spotted hoot owl numbers have continued to decline — not that facts really matter when making declarations. It will be interesting to read the comments of the anonymous participants on the OregonLive blog: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/04/twenty_years_of_the_northwest.html

Twenty years of the Northwest Forest Plan: Guest opinion

spotted owl.JPG
In this 2003 file photo, a northern spotted owl sits on a tree in the Deschutes National Forest near Camp Sherman. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Guest ColumnistBy Guest Columnist 
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on April 11, 2014 at 2:45 PM, updated April 11, 2014 at 2:48 PM

By Jim Furnish and Dan Chu

Twenty years ago, the Northwest Forest Plan sought to resolve the timber wars. Has it worked? We think so.

It’s important to recall that gridlock plagued the Northwest during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The old-growth forest that once covered much of the region had been decimated by clearcutting and other logging, threatening the spotted owl and other wildlife. While many stakeholders demanded protections for the remaining forests, the shutdown of logging on federal lands left others facing an uncertain future. Out of this tense situation came the Northwest Forest Plan.

Hundreds of local, grassroots stakeholders were actively involved in the creation of the plan, and hundreds of thousands of people across the country submitted comments to help refine it.

The Northwest Forest Plan had no precedent and continues to be a unique landscape scale management plan. The plan dramatically reduced logging to save wildlife and fish habitat, placing the burden for spotted owl protection on federal lands (thus “freeing” private timber lands for continued harvest), and imposed cautionary requirements for numerous other species; all to be accomplished with layers of required cooperation among affected parties.

Over the next few years a radically different vision for our national forests was implemented, most notably in the Siuslaw National Forest. The timber industry began restoration forestry. Citizens throughout the Coast Range joined hands with the Forest Service as partners to craft a better future for their public lands. In giving the land a needed respite from decades of unsustainable logging, nature has been busily healing itself.

In the 20 years since its inception, the Northwest Forest Plan has protected hundreds of wildlife species, conserved and restored riparian areas, protected water resources, and kept some of our country’s largest remaining old-growth forests intact.

While not perfect, the Northwest Forest Plan has provided a durable vision and guide for forest management. The benefits have stretched beyond the initial aims of protecting wildlife and preserving clean water. We know now that the forests, particularly those in the Northwest, play an essential role in capturing and storing climate-disrupting carbon pollution. The ripple effect from healthy forests spreads beyond the communities and forests located within the scope of the plan.

As we mark the 20th anniversary of this landmark management guidance, we should look for ways to strengthen and replicate it elsewhere, not undermine it. Nature has tremendous, but not limitless, restorative powers. It’s vital that we continue the focused, collaborative work started two decades ago to ensure management of our national forests provides a vision for a better tomorrow, not a flashback to the unsustainable and conflict-riddled past.

We’d do well to consider where we’d be today without the Northwest Forest Plan.

Jim Furnish is a former deputy chief of the National Forest Service and served as Siuslaw National Forest supervisor during the creation and implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan. Dan Chu is the senior director for Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign. 

Scientific Basis for Changing Forest Structure to Modify Wildfire Behavior and Severity

For those opposed to sound forest managements here are some more research and empirical highlights to hopefully cause you to rethink your position:

1) Science Basis for Changing Forest Structure to Modify Wildfire Behavior and Severity “General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-120″ 2004 – some quotes include:
- “More than 80 years of fire research have shown that physical setting, fuels, and weather combine to determine wildfire intensity (the rate at which it consumes fuel) and severity (the effect fire has on vegetation, soils, buildings, watersheds, and so forth).”
- “Models, field observations, and experiments indicate that for a given set of weather conditions, fire behavior is strongly influenced by fuel structure and composition.” I and others have repeatedly tried to explain this to certain members of this blog
- “Models and observations of landscape scale fire behavior and the impacts of fuel treatments clearly suggest that a landscape approach is more likely to have significant overall impacts on fire spread, intensity, perimeters, and suppression capability than an approach that treats individual stands in isolation.” –> This knowledge regarding the need for a landscape approach supports my frequent statements to the effect that a matrix of stands in various forest types and age classes representative of some loose form of forest regulation will be impacted less by fire than a more homogenous forest. I also maintain that the science supports matrix management as being crucial to minimizing the risk of catastrophic losses from beetles while having less long term impact on endangered species than out of balance age class distributions.
- Echoing what BobZ says frequently on this blog, the article says: “Before Euro-American settlement, cultural burning practices of Native Americans augmented or even dominated fire regimes in many vegetation types” –> Which is the basis for Bob’s constant reminder to those opposed to sound forest management that they are greatly mistaken when they want forests returned to some state untouched by mankind.
- Please note the graph on page 5 of Report RMRS-GTR-120 agrees with my interpretation of the graphs in this NCFP Post based on an article that Sharon found in the Denver Post in spite of those who claimed that there was no cause and effect scientific basis.
- You will also find a lot of support for what LarryH, BobZ Mac, BobS, John Thomas jr., Dave Skinner  and others have reported in many comments in various posts. Unfortunately these scientific basis are often given a perfunctory dismissal by those without knowledge of the science and with an agenda opposed to sound forest management.

2) This abstract of an article titled: “Carbon protection and fire risk reduction: toward a full accounting of forest carbon offsets” from the Ecological Society of America points out that “Examining four of the largest wildfires in the US in 2002, we found that, for forest land that experienced catastrophic stand-replacing fire, prior thinning would have reduced CO2 release from live tree biomass by as much as 98%“.

3) This abstract of an article titled: “Basic principles of forest fuel reduction treatments” clearly states:
- “drier forests are in need of active management to mitigate fire hazard”
- “We summarize a set of simple principles important to address in fuel reduction treatments: reduction of surface fuels, increasing the height to live crown, decreasing crown density, and retaining large trees of fire-resistant species. Thinning and prescribed fire can be useful tools to achieve these objectives.”
- “Applying treatments at an appropriate landscape scale will be critical to the success of fuel reduction treatments in reducing wildfire losses in Western forests.

Why Sierra Fuel Treatments Make Economic Sense

Sometimes it is useful to validate common sense with careful study. Here’s a report that does so:

Mokelumne Watershed Avoided Cost Analysis: Why Sierra Fuel Treatments Make Economic Sense

The study was conducted in an area just north of the Rim Fire.

An April 10 press release announcing the publication of the report follows:

Study: Investing in forests reduces megafires and saves millions

Cost-benefit analysis in Sierra Nevada shows savings of up to 3 times to pay for treatments up front
 
San Francisco, CA — A new study released today finds investing in proactive forest management activities can save up to three times the cost of future fires, reduce high-severity fire by up to 75 percent, and bring added benefits for people, water, and wildlife.  
 
“Recent megafires in California and the West have destroyed lives and property, degraded water quality, damaged wildlife habitat, and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,” said David Edelson, Sierra Nevada Project Director with The Nature Conservancy. “This study shows that, by investing now in Sierra forests, we can reduce risks, safeguard water quality, and recoup up to three times our initial investment while increasing the health and resilience of our forests.”
 
The Mokelumne Watershed Avoided Cost Analysis examines the costs and benefits of reducing the risk of high-severity forest fires through proactive techniques like thinning and controlled burns.  Set in the central Sierra Nevada, just north of last year’s destructive Rim Fire, scientists modeled likely future wildfires with and without proactive fuel treatments.  The results indicate that investing in healthy forests can significantly reduce the size and intensity of fires and save millions of dollars in structure loss, carbon released, and improved firefighting safety and costs.
 
Megafires have become much more common in the last decade—the average size of a fire today is nearly five times the average fire from the 1970s, and the severity is increasing. The Sierra Nevada is at especially high risk this year with only one-third of normal snowpack as a result of the drought. “Many scientists are predicting an increase in the size and severity of fires due to a changing climate,” said Jim Branham, Executive Officer of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. “These fires, such as last year’s Rim Fire, degrade wildlife habitat, release massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, and can result in many other adverse impacts.”
 
Last year, the U.S. Forest Service spent $1 billion to cover firefighting shortfalls, taking money from programs that fund activities designed to reduce the risk of such fires. New bipartisan legislation called the Wildfire Funding Disaster Act seeks to address this problem by creating a reserve fund dedicated to excess firefighting costs, similar to the way FEMA provides funds to respond to other natural disasters.
 
“Our ongoing goal is to increase the pace and scale of our restoration work and this study strongly supports that,” said Randy Moore, U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Regional Forester.  “Our current pace of restoration work needs to be accelerated to mitigate threats and disturbances such as wildfires, insects, diseases and climate change impacts.  The goal is to engage in projects that restore at least 500,000 acres per year. Many types of projects help us reach our restoration goals including mechanical vegetation treatments, prescribed fire, and managing wildfire for resource benefits.”
 
The study is authored by the U.S. Forest Service, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy and was developed in consultation with a broad range of local and regional stakeholders. It concludes that the benefits from proactive forest management are 2-3 times the costs of fire fighting and that increasing investments in such activities would benefit federal and state taxpayers, property owners (and their insurers), and timber companies.   
 
For more information on the Mokelumne Avoided Cost Analysis, or to download the study, please visit www.sierranevada.ca.gov.

Molloy Dissolves Colt Summit Injunction: Collaborative Effort Goes Forward

I’m still on vacation, but thought this worthy and timely to post..here is the link. It seems like this is the end of this but perhaps not.. lawyers can weigh in.

For those who are interested in the specific claims made and the details, the document gives a flavor of that, yet is relatively short. The details regarding the cumulative effects assertions by plaintiffs is mildly interesting.

Here’s a brief summary from an unnamed source, for the details on this blog you can search on “Colt Summit” in the search box.

The plaintiffs initially filed 12 counts in their original complaint. The Forest Service prevailed on 11 of those counts. The one count on which they lost was that of cumulative impacts to lynx. The Forest Service repackaged the cumulative impacts analysis they had already completed into a “supplement to the environmental assessment.” Judge Molloy ruled that this document was not a NEPA document, and thus it was not sufficient to lift the injunction. So the Forest Service repackaged the information again into a “supplemental environmental assessment” and submitted that to the Court in December 2013 along with a motion requesting that the injunction against work on the Project be lifted. Today’s order by Judge Molloy is in response to this latest motion by the Forest Service.

Below are a couple of excerpts:

“Plaintiffs claim that, although the Forest Service provides useful information, there is “no analysis of the total, combined impacts.” (Doc. 74 at 1.) However, Plaintiffs ignore the lengthy discussion and summary table of cumulative impacts in the SEA. X-001:FS78942-78982; specifically X-001:FS78964-78967 (Table 22 is the cumulative effects table Plaintiffs argue insufficient) X-OOI :FS78967-78980 (discussion following the table that explains the underlying analysis used in creating the summary table). Plaintiffs insist there is no analysis of the total combined impacts, as the bullet-point list summarizing the cumulative analysis focuses only on the impacts of the Colt Summit Project rather than outlining an aggregate analysis. X-OOI :FS78981. However, the table and the overall summary are supported by hundreds of pages of data, as well as fifteen pages of a cumulative effects analysis.” – page 9

“Even though Plaintiffs do not like the result of the Forest Service’s aggregate cumulative analysis, NEPA does not require specific outcomes, but only provides the process that agencies should use in order to take a “hard look” at a project’s impacts. The requisite “hard look” was taken here.” – page 14