Fuel Treatments and the Northern Spotted Owl

This post is related to Foto’s comment below. Here is an interesting piece by Scott Learn in the Oregonian on twenty years of efforts to protect the Northern Spotted Owl.

But as you know, I find the topic of science and fuel treatments fascinating from a science policy wonk point of view.

So here’s a quote from that article:

Forsman and other scientists agree that the relatively dry forests on the east side and in southern Oregon could use measures such as thinning and clear-cut corridors to act as fire breaks. There’s much more debate when it comes to wetter westside forests.

If everywhere east of Eastern Oregon is dry or drier than Oregon, then are we really all in agreement? Why does it seem to be “scientifically” controversial in some places like Colorado and less “scientifically” controversial in other places (if we believe this story, the east side or Oregon and Washington? Is it due to different disciplines, different scientific tools to look at the problem, different framings of the problem, just random scientist to scientist variation, or due to real differences of the behavior of fuels or fires?

It might be interesting to ask firefighters and incident commanders, who may have experiences throughout the west, how they perceive the differences among these places.

4 Comments

  1. The Spotted Owl article is a good read. I really liked the comment section, a good indicator of the polarity in public opinion of forest management.

    I suspect some of the controversy in thinning and fuel treatments between eastern Oregon and places like Colorado may have something to do with roadless. Much of the FS land in Eastern Oregon was developed for timber harvest, and has existing road systems and other signs of past development. I suspect a larger portion of FS lands in Colorado that have proposed fuel treatments and thinning is roadless. The science seems to change from roaded areas with past timber management when compared to roadless.

  2. Well, the Biscuit Fire is definitely west of the Cascades, and it burned with intense ferocity, with nearly 100% mortality in many watersheds. When spotted owl nests burn, often times, those nests are shared with the northern goshawk, another endangered species. Since these birds are on the list, due to habitat loss, how come the management plan doesn’t address catastrophic wildfires in both nesting and foraging areas?

    The article you linked to is pretty “fluffy”, but has many of the facts covered. What truly IS scary is the comments that seem to want to preserve the venemous debate, and keep those old wounds open and festering.

    Yes, we CAN….. manage our forests and help the endangered species recover. However, this won’t happen in our time, until litigation reform has occurred. And THAT, surely is not likely in the next 20 years, as science continues to be de-emphasized in favor of “widely-held public beliefs” and the continued bastardization of the Precautionary Principle.

    As more fires burn and destroy, the blame merely goes to “climate change”, and the real issues stay buried and shunned. On the other side, industry seems to be resisting the call to manage the ample plantations that are so common in the Oregon Coast Ranges. There IS a lot of work that can be done there. Oregon trees grow REALLY fast, and the plantations should be able to provide ample sawlogs, though small in diameter. The preservationists have also turned their sights on “native forests”, in an attempt to eliminate thinning projects in (near) old growth stands (which could enhance spotted owl habitat).

    It is clear that we are still so very far away from the mythical consensus, and the preservationists are more than willing to let whatever happens, happen, regardless of the impacts.

  3. Sharon asks “If everywhere east of Eastern Oregon is dry or drier than Oregon, then are we really all in agreement?” This map of total annual precipitation shows that the premise is inaccurate. Central/northern Idaho, much of western Montana, and pockets sprinkled throughout western Colorado are as wet as the wettest portions of eastern Oregon and wetter than most of eastern Oregon. [It should be said that annual precipitation may not be the best measure of fire ecology (e.g., late summer precipitation may influence fire frequency more than total precipitation), but is probably sufficient to illustrate the point.]

    Compare the precipitation map with this elevation map and you come up with the not-very-startling conclusion that western interior high places are wetter than western interior low places. High places also tend to be less roaded, which explains why roadless protection proponents generally oppose fire-justified thinning projects. They know that roadless areas are generally wetter than roaded areas and, thus, less likely to have high-frequency fire regimes.

  4. Thanks for these references. It would make me think that success of fuels treatments in protecting communities probably depends on the local situation. Perhaps more local than “central Oregon” or “Idaho” and much more a function of the species, climate and topography around a specific community.

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