National Institute for the Elimination of Catastrophic Wildfire

Thanks to one of our readers for this.

The National Institute for the Elimination of Catastrophic Wildfire 11236 N. Highway 3, Fort Jones, California 96032 – (530) 468-2888 – “The mission of the National Institute for the Elimination of Catastrophic Wildfire is to educate, collaborate and motivate decision makers at all levels to take the necessary steps to eliminate catastrophic wildfire.”
Attached Invitation[1] is information about the Institute and a two day workshop to be held in Sacramento,CA July 17-18, 2012 to launch the Initiative.

Something of Value: The National Forest System
Congressional Action is Needed for the Revitalization of the National Forest System.
March 12, 2012


America’s 193 million-acre National Forest System is in serious decline. The United States Forest Service (USFS) was created to be the congressional designated manager of the forests and to be the leader of professional forestry in the United States. As much through designed neglect as benign neglect, the national forests are being allowed to change from productive forests to fire-prone, insect-infested, and disease-wracked lands of declining value to the public, and the USFS that manages them for their citizen-owners is declining in its ability to carry out its mission of “caring for the land and serving people.” Congress must act immediately to save the National Forest System and its invaluable commodity and amenity resources, and to restore and revitalize the beleaguered USFS charged with their management.

During the past decade, the natural resources on over 12 million acres (an area larger than the State of Maryland) of National Forest System lands have been damaged or destroyed by catastrophic wildfires, insects, and disease. This devastation is a consequence primarily of improper and inadequate management in a time of rapidly changing environmental conditions caused by climate change. Science-based resource management by Forest Service professionals has been preempted by those with ideological agendas and the political power to impose them. Congress’s statutory direction for management of the national forests on a sustained yield-multiple use basis has been subverted by special interest groups. This situation will only get worse without immediate congressional intervention.

Congress must act now to charter a comprehensive review of the legislated mission and physical status of the forests and their resources, and then reverse and remedy the situations in those forests and their administration that threaten the nation’s economical and ecological well-being. If it does not, and current trends continues, the nation’s needs for vital economic goods and ecosystem services provided by the National Forest System will not be met (such as water), and Forest Service capabilities to manage the national forests will decline with the decline of its corps of professional resource managers and other specialists.

We believe the necessary review would best be led by a new public land law review commission, or Congress’s investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), with input by members of the Forest Service along with representatives of state and local governments directly concerned with national forest issues, citizen dependent on the forests, resource management experts, and user group members. This review should focus on: (1) the biological and physical condition of the National Forest System; (2) the management needs and challenges which must be met to restore those lands and resources through active management, as well as restore public confidence in the process; and (3) The indicators of needed service and products being delivered to American citizens. As a result of this review, Congress should: (1) revise the often-conflicting statutes governing National Forest System management and stewardship; and (2) revise, restore and reaffirm the mission of the Forest Service to manage those lands to produce “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run” that was its original charge, as well as provide for accomplishment of that mission.

Note from Sharon:Reminds me of a couple summers ago when University of Colorado Law School summer conference was on the need for a new land law review commission. Here’s a link to one of the posts on that by John Rupe.


  1. I think the group sponsoring this symposium, NIECF, advocates for an odd and impossible mission: “elimination of catastrophic wildfire.” So I did a bit of digging to found out more about who they are and what they advocate for. Like the organization I belong to, FSEEE, they are led by Forest Service employees, predominately retired ones. You can see a bit more about who they are here: You can see a bit more about FSEEE here,

    The first bullet item on NEICF’s goal list is this: “Increase funding for hazardous fuels reduction….”

    Both groups advocate for education and outreach and better approaches to managing the national forests. FSEEE’s stance, by contrast to NIECF’s, is to approach the fire problem via looking for better approaches to fighting inevitable wildfire, by helping people to build better structures in wildland-urban interface zones, by helping people to better understand the necessity to create “defensible space” around structures, and by helping government agencies withstand the inevitable pressure to ‘throw everything and the kitchen sink’ at wildfires once they happen.

    I’ll be interested to see who shows up for their symposium.

    UPDATE: As I reflect (ex post) on this comment I realize that NEICF’s mission may be neither odd or impossible, depending on how one views the modifier “catastrophic.” I guess I’ll have to dig even deeper into their endeavor.

    • Dave: You probably won’t be surprised that I gave a presentation at this group’s first meeting, in Weed, California, last year. Yes, they are mostly retired USFS folk and local politicians, and no, they don’t think it is up to people to protect themselves against poorly managed forests and wildfire. That’s a brand new concept.

      These fires are outrageous and unnecessary. Passive management is a proven failure. This would be a good time to put people back to work in the woods, and for the purpose of actively managing fuels and other resources for the benefit of all. Lawyers and goofballs have had their day — it’s time to get back to work and repair the damage.

      BTW (“I’m learning to text”), my dissertation was on catastrophic wildfires in western Oregon. Conclusion: they’re unnecessary. We can do better.

  2. Those who define the crisis (try to) control the solution. Just as overblown fear of terrorism drove our foreign policy into unjustified war with Iraq, it’s sad to see people try to use overblown fear of fire to drive forest policy into an unjustified war against forests.

    Luckily the facts have a well known conservation bias:

    1) Stand replacing fire is not “catastrophic.” It’s a natural process. If our forests were completely rid of stand replacing fire, there would be a variety of adverse consequences. For instance, Ponderosa pine mistletoe is naturally controlled by stand replacing fire that infrequently eliminates host trees from large areas. Fuel reduction efforts will unintentionally perpetuate mistletoe.
    2) Sand replacing fire will never be “eliminated.” Wildfire is more often controlled by weather conditions than by fuel conditions. Wind and humidity are generally not subject to human control. Unless vegetation is completely eliminated, there will always be fire.

    • Soil destruction certainly IS catastrophic. When vast acreages cannot support historical forests, for 500 years, due to soils damages, I’d consider that to be catastrophic. Indeed, there is no way eliminate damaging wildfires but, there ARE ways to mitigate such damages, while pushing the forests towards more resilience and health. Many steep areas cannot be economically thinned, so those areas will also be on their own. As always, my solution is to restore tree densities to match precipitation, and to restore species compositions to favor longer-lived forests. Of course, pure lodgepole forests will do what they do but, we don’t need them in mixed conifer forest understories.

    • Tree: Those are certainly not “facts.” And although I don’t trust discussions with anonymous people with all the answers, I suggest signing your name or doing a little research before posting further nonsense. I just hope you don’t work for the government or a school.Whoever you are.

  3. As I reflect on my comment in #1, and try to dig deeper into NIECF, a Google Search leads me to this, from TNC’s David Ganz:

    1) Catastrophic wildfire needs a definition that everyone accepts and understands
    Catastrophic wildfire is indeed an overused term. I would recommend that we only use the term “catastrophic” when ecological systems are damaged by wildfire (such as community shifts, type shifts, hydrophobic soils, prohibitive to natural regeneration, hydrologic balance disruption, etc.) such that the stock and flows of ecosystem services are impaired beyond that systems ability to respond/recover. We do not want to over-use the word “catastrophic” to describe all “stand-replacement fire” because then the general public will get confused about the natural role of high intensity wildfire (especially in systems like lodgepole pine).

    From here:

    Ganz seems to argue similarly to Tree in #2, at least as far as not jumping to conclusions that all wildfire is bad. I suspect that NEICF is, as Tree argues, trying to control forest policy by invoking fear of catastrophe. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe NIECF will come forward to counter my allegation. Or maybe someone will point out where NIECF defines “catastrophic wildfire.”

    • I would also add to that definition the danger of soils cooking re-burns. Most salvage sales seek to reduce fuels, get fine branches on the ground, and recover some board feet. You would be amazed at how much soil a tiny twig can hold back.

      I think I like such a definition, and agree that pure lodgepoles are designed to die, rot and burn.

    • But could fires be socially catastrophic, or are ecological systems the only ones that count?

      For example, it seems to me that earthquakes could be considered catastrophic based on damage to humans without consideration of ecosystem damage.

      I bet if FSEEE, FS retirees and NIECF decided to form a coalition they could discover several points of agreement,
      for example, who would be against
      “helping people to better understand the necessity to create “defensible space” around structures”.. however people don’t necessarily want to create defensible space (e.g. the short-lived (was it Breckinridge?) ordinance.

      I suspect that if someone proposed a draconian defensible space measure.. with the same enforcement as, say, building codes, all three groups might support it. (but there still wouldn’t be enough public support to enact it IMHO).

      Perhaps we could all support randomized trials of different “defensive space forcing” policies such as Bruggeman suggests in his post here. Well, he didn’t suggest applying the idea to defensible space, but why not?

  4. My first reaction to this post: PUKE!!! I had a rather scathing comment drafted up, then got distracted. It seems that cooler heads have already addressed some of my concerns, but I’ll post the bulk of my (edited and now disjointed ) comment anyway….

    Depending on how one views the modifier “catastrophic””…..yes, that seems to be the relevant question here, correct?

    Personally I would like to see the word “catastrophic” stricken from any discussion of wildfire and never, ever show up in a purpose and need for action.

    While homes burning up may be “catastrophic” for the owners and community, the fire that caused such “unwanted” effects is probably perfectly natural. Don’t want your home burned up? Don’t build or maintain it in place where the inevitable fire will threaten it to happen.

    What about the “catastrophic” fires of 1887, 1910, 1934 that burned millions of acres before fire suppression had any effect? The resultant effects of such huge conflagrations caused sediment into rivers, debris torrents, landslides, (pulse events) and total vegetative conversions from timber to shrubs and all sorts of other “unwanted” effects, measured by today’s humanized standards. And those effects were perfectly natural back then, before the “white man” came and messed it all up. There are plenty of people who are citing such events as the landmarks that created the habitats/ecosystems that were extremely influencial/beneficial to what we would categorize as HRV. Those fires created a ton of elk habitat.

    Larry, I disagree totally with the deleterious “soil cooking re-burns” you are warning of as an unwanted effect. In fact, the second and perhaps third re-burns are more important in shaping the vegetation mosaic than the first stand replacing event. A shrub field is a perfectly natural successional pathway in these situations. Perhaps “unwanted” (from a forester’s perspective) but not catastrophic.

    What about the emerging science by Baker that suggests those large scale events were more important in shaping an ecosystem than the current model of HRV we now hold so dear?

    Why do we need to frame the need for proactive (and responsible) forest management (that would create jobs and promote less intense fire behavior) as “reducing the risk of catastrophic fire”?????

    How about this…….”we” acknowledge that, because of certain things beyond our control, there is a need to increase the pace of responsible forest management (call it “restoration” if you must) in order to reduce the “unwanted” effects of a wildfire. Not as glamorous, I know, but let’s call it like it is and stop invoking fear as a tactic to justify logging.

    The only statement I would agree with in the above post is:
    “Science-based resource management by Forest Service professionals has been preempted by those with ideological agendas and the political power to impose them. Congress’s statutory direction for management of the national forests on a sustained yield-multiple use basis has been subverted by special interest groups.”

    This statement tracks closely with many of the recent posts. As long as groups (such as AWR) are willing to appeal and litigate every project that would have a secondary “fuel reduction” benefit I think we’re still at square one. If responsible forest management and the resultant diverse range of age classes and species compositions (fuel reductions) cannot be tolerated, than I think the best thing that could happen is for the folks with “idealogical agendas” to continue winning their lawsuits. Something will give eventually, as we’ve seen with the wolf situation. Sorry I didn’t have any Nazi refernces to call into play.

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