Power Fire 2014

We’ve seen pictures of the Power Fire, on the Eldorado National Forest, before. I worked on salvage sales until Chad Hanson won in the Ninth Circuit Court, with issues about the black-backed woodpecker. The court decided that the issue needed more analysis, as well as deciding that the Forest Service’s brand new mortality guidelines were “confusing”. From these pictures, it is very clear to see that those mortality guidelines were way more conservative than they maybe should have been.

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As you can see, in this finished unit(s), there were ample snags available for birds to use, despite multiple cuttings, due to the increased bark beetle activity, during the logging. No one can say that they didn’t leave enough snags, (other than the Appeals Court). These pictures are very recent, shot last month.

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This picture amused me, as I put this sign up back in 2005. Plastic signs last much longer than the old cardboard ones.

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Here is another view of the area, chock full of snags, well beyond what the salvage plans asked for, to devote to woodpeckers and other organisms that use snags. People like Chad Hanson want more high-intensity wildfires, and more dead old growth. It is no wonder that the Sierra Club decided he was too radical, even for them.

Edit: Here is the link to a previous posting from almost 2 years ago, with pictures. http://forestpolicypub.com/2012/05/28/the-power-fire-six-years-later/

25 Comments

  1. Yes, Larry, you have shared a few pictures previously of the Power Fire. One of those instances was back in June 2012, when you said basically the same thing you are saying here.

    At the time TreeC123 provided this comment:

    “you can clearly see that there are a great many more snags now, than the plans required.”

    What does this mean?

    Fires create a pulse of snags but more significantly they reduce the population of green trees from which future snags must be recruited, thus large stand-replacing fires result in a future “snag gap.” This is one of the most profound and under-appreciated impacts of large fires.

    Salvage logging just makes the snag gap worse by reducing the number of large snags that would persist the longest and otherwise help mitigate the snag gap. Therefore, retaining “more snags than required” is a false mitigation, because removing any large snags just makes a bad situation worse by exacerbating the snag gap.

    • Matt, if you smoke all the big wood and the recruitment class of little/medium wood in a large enough area, there won’t be any nice big snags to provide cavity habitat — little snags rot and tip over faster, and their cavity stage is shorter because by the time there’s enough rot to chisel, there’s too little sound wood to hold the rot up.

  2. Also, it’s probably worth remembering the origins of the Power Fire…..

    Utility Company Pays $50 Million for Causing Fires in National Forests

    http://www.allgov.com/news/where-is-the-money-going/utility-company-pays-50-million-dollars-for-causing-fires-in-national-forests-130611?news=850257

    Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and its contractors have agreed to pay more than $50 million for causing two wildfires last decade that burned thousands of acres of national forest land in California.

    In 2004, about 13,000 acres were consumed in the Power Fire in the Eldorado National Forest, east of Sacramento, which began after a crew of workers were careless with their cigarettes in a heavily wooded area with extreme hazardous fire conditions. The workers were employed by VCS Sub Inc., which PG&E had hired to trim trees and brush around a utility distribution line.

    And this from the Forest Service:

    • Yep, merely a part of all the bad things that can happen under the “whatever happens” strategy. While the Freds Fire, over on Highway 50 was caused by cigarettes, it was the wind which pushed a tree backwards on to powerlines that caused the Power Fire. “Whatever happens” in a properly managed forest is much less significant than what can happen in a crowded and unhealthy unmanaged forest (at least here, in the Sierra Nevada). Simply put, Matt, does it REALLY matter how fires are started, when these are the results?!? 400 year old trees survived up to 20 wildfires, in their lives. How many died just in this fire, alone?

      These pictures show that Forest Service salvage projects do, indeed, address the blackbacked woodpecker. Can anyone say that these snags aren’t in adequate amounts after post-fire salvage logging? There is no “snag gap”, as Indian burnings kept snag patches to a minimum, with majestic pine forests living for hundreds of years. THERE is the REAL “snag gap”, ya think?

      • FWIW Larry, as you can see in the article above, it claims the Power Fire “began after a crew of workers were careless with their cigarettes in a heavily wooded area with extreme hazardous fire conditions.”

        So I think you might be mistaken about that.

        Anyway, the same article says,

        “The Whiskey Fire started ‘when PG&E transmission lines contacted branches of a gray pine tree that was less than two feet away from the line, well under the minimum amount of clearance required by state law,’ government lawyers said.

        • Again, Matt, tell me how this matters, in forest policy?? Should we ban all smokers from using our forests? Auto accidents cause fires too. Should we ban those, too? Mufflers cause fires, too. Should we ban them? Arsonists are people so, should we ban people, too???

          We need forests that are resilient to “whatever happens”. We cannot do that, by doing nothing.

          • Well, Larry, for starters, “it matters” because I was correcting misinformation you provided to us on this blog regarding the origins of the Power Fire. Dr. Hanson too has corrected what he termed some of the “seriously misinformed” aspects of your story here too.

            The origins of the Power Fire (ie “crew of workers were careless with their cigarettes in a heavily wooded area wooded area with extreme hazardous fire conditions”) also matter a great deal because without that careless human act there would have been no Power Fire. This is the basic principle of Cause and Effect. Cause is the reason why something happens. Effect is what happens as a result.

            Sure, one could say that “Well, lightening (without any rain) may have hit that same part of forest next week, or next year or next century and we’d get a wildfire”….but that’s all just conjecture and speculation.

            I do put human-caused fires (especially fires caused by criminal arsonists or careless humans) in a different category than natural lightening caused fires. In my mind the fact remains that without an arsonists (Rodeo portion of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire) or a careless smoker (Power Fire) or a careless hunter (Rim Fire) or a careless, heart-broken Forest Service employee (Haymen Fire) those fires would not have happened at that very point in time. I also believe that some portion of these careless, accidental human caused fires may have actually been the work of arsonist, fire-bugs, but that’s pretty hard to prove. Just like it’s pretty easy to just say it was an accident in some cases.

            • I think it is safe to say that Hanson has been there just a handful of times. I was there for 5 days each week for 8 months. I contend that he is “seriously misinformed”. My small error was due to the crew’s claim that the fire was started by an errant tree, next to the powerlines. I didn’t know that was a cover-up. Hanson’s claims about my pictures are completely wrong. Also, as shown by the Google Maps link, there is plenty of private lands within the fire perimeter, too. I’m sure that Hanson was lumping some of those lands into his “snag habitat”. I also wonder how much of his “snag habitat” is within the roadside hazard tree corridors. I’m also sure that those percentages he gave were his own numbers, using only cutting units for his 100% snag habitat baseline. In many parts of the fire, there weren’t more than 100 trees per acre, to begin with, much less dead. Are we expected to, somehow, make those areas into “suitable snag habitat”? How many pairs of birds can be expected to occupy the Power Fire, taking into account their apparent rarity? Finally, how did these birds survive, when both the Forest Service and private industry salvage logged without allowing for the woodpeckers? How did they survive when catastrophic wildfires were smaller and less intense?

              I think it is just another way of moving the goalposts to say that the birds cannot survive without dense dead forests. Remember, Hanson’s ultimate goal is to stop all timbers sale, everywhere!

              For Matt, man-caused fires happen all the time! Shouldn’t we take that fact as a forest constant? Or should we just allow them to happen in fuels-choked forests?

              • Larry said, “I think it is safe to say that Hanson has been there just a handful of times.”

                Well, Larry, apparently that’s not “safe to say” and perhaps, since that’s the case, you shouldn’t say such things without knowing.

                In fact, I just contacted Dr. Hanson directly (his email address is easily available to anyone who bothers to look) and he stated, “I’ve spent dozens of field days in the Power fire area, and know if very well.”

                This is one of my frustrations with how some discussions or debates that take place on this blog. I’ve noticed that often – especially when we are discussing/debating scientific or legal issues – some people choose to make statements about other people (their supposed methods, motives, backgrounds, etc) without knowing the facts or taking the responsible step to simply contact the person directly to find out what’s really up. I would think this blog could improve with some of that basic due diligence before making allegations. Thanks.

                • Apparently not enough to identify the location in the pictures! *SMIRK* Go ahead, ask him where that specific spot is, Matt!! (Or, is he afraid to engage our learned array of foresters?)

                  I am assuming that he also sampled for live cambium on hundreds of trees, trying to find live cambium at dbh. Anyone who knows about cambium kill knows that you have to sample at ground level. This exchange makes YOU an accessory to Hanson’s “mistakes”. Don’t worry, Matt, he’s fooled a lot more people than just you! Many of his visits were AFTER the shutdown, to inspect our work, which passed without a peep from him. (If a roadside hazard tree had just one green twig, we couldn’t cut it.) He also held hostage the logs that were already felled, allowing them to rot in the hot summer sun. Should we really be giving people like Hanson the power to approve Forest Service work, beyond the scope of the Timber Sale Contract? I don’t think it is a precedent we want to perpetuate, and I do think that SPI should have sued to exclude him from the process.

                  • So, Larry, we should determine the worth of a scientist (in this case Dr. Hanson) by their ability to identify the specific spot where you took two pretty generic, nondescript photos? And do we know for sure that Dr. Hanson doesn’t know the specific spot where your generic, nondescript photos were taken?

                    • He made false claims about my pictures. How much is that worth? He claimed clearcutting, next to roads. How much is that worth? He made grievous sampling errors, trying to find live cambium in dead trees. How much is that worth? He claims that dead trees along roads are “habitat”. How much is that worth? Again, he is either misleading, or inept, as a scientist. Which is it?

                      I’m sure that people in northern California are VERY happy that he bailed out and moved to San Bernardino. He’s going to be bummed to find out that blackbacked woodpeckers don’t live there. Maybe he can pair-up with Chapparalian to protect manzanita? *smirk*

  3. From Larry’s good friend Dr. Chad Hanson:

    As for the forestpolicypub.com thing on Power fire, the person who posted that is either seriously misinformed or is deliberately misleading people. I know that fire very well, and I know the areas shown in the photos. Contrary to the claims of the person who posted the material, those were trees killed immediately during the fire in crown fire patches – the mortality guidelines only applied to trees that were alive, with green crowns, one year after the fire (and we proved at the Ninth Circuit that the USFS’s own documents showed that most of the trees they planned to cut would otherwise have lived).

    Second, the person who posted the material implies that the snag patches in the photos represent snag retention following post-fire logging. This is incorrect. In the background of the photos you can see salvage logged areas, which appear generally as clearcuts (with a small number of standing snags), but the snag patches in the center of the photos were not salvage logged, due to the court injunction, which is the only reason that there is any significant amount of Black-backed Woodpecker habitat in the Power or Freds fires (the two fires at issue in the court case).

    The Forest Service’s plan was to log 95% of the Black-backed habitat in the Freds fire and 85% in the Power fire. They cut all of Freds, and about half of Power before the injunction set in. Back then the USFS claimed that retaining only 4 snags per acre would provide sufficient habitat for Black-backeds, but the science proved (and continues to prove) that this species needs typically over 100 snags per acre (in patches of at least 100 to 200 acres per pair). The Ninth Circuit, to its credit, sided with the law and the science. Even so, the majority of the Black-backed habitat was salvage logged.

    For some people the science simply doesn’t matter, and there is no set of circumstances, or information, that would compel them to recommend curtailing logging operations. For those who do care, though, it is worth noting that snag forest habitat created by high-intensity fire in conifer forests is the most biodiverse, rarest, and most threatened forest habitat type in western U.S. conifer forests, and post-fire logging is the single worst and most damaging thing that can be done to this habitat following fire–there is no longer any serious scientific debate about this.

    • I have photographic evidence, with pictures from multiple years, showing the progression of new snags. Hanson says he knows the areas well but, I know it sooooo much better, being the Timber Sale Administrator and walking the ground, multiple times, doing inspections for various tasks. He clearly doesn’t know where this is, as these cutting units were completed and signed off during the summer of salvage logging. The appeal came after a complete season of logging, and these units were completed. The Harvest Inspector made at least 10 separate entries to mark more trees, as they died during that summer. As you can see, they continued to die after the logging was complete. Yes, there are stream buffers with no logging allowed but, there are clearly more trees outside the buffer. You might also look closer at where the plantations are to see the road, where hazard trees were cut. If Hanson knew the area, he’d know that main road was there, wouldn’t he? What about the snags that are within the project areas, but not in cutting units? What about the grouped clumps of snags left inside of cutting units? What about the snags in the Wilderness? Hanson is ignoring many of the facts, here, and twisting them when they don’t fit his agenda. Hanson even pretends that roadside hazard trees are “habitat”, too.

      Once again, can anyone say that this amount of snags isn’t enough for birds that are rare to begin with?

    • https://www.google.com/maps/@38.4845075,-120.3589504,892m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

      As you can see, by zooming in, that there is a wealth of snags scattered through this “greener” portion of my “commercial” salvage sale. This area was mostly green in the spring after it burned. During the summer, mortality skyrocketed and more cutting was needed than we anticipated. Notice how you can’t see many of the skids trails and landings, due to having an excellent logger. This area is a showcase for how salvage logging can be low impact. Salvage logging has already helped mitigate a re-burn, as well!

  4. Larry states — “No one can say that they didn’t leave enough snags …” Then he asks “Can anyone say that these snags aren’t in adequate amounts after post-fire salvage logging?”

    The answer to the question whether there is “enough” snags requires clearly identifying the life needs of all the wildlife that depend on snags, as well as all other dead-wood-associated ecosystem services that one seeks to sustain.

    Larry did not provide any of the information we might need to determine whether there is really enough snags, yet he asks us to accept his conclusion seemingly based on his eyeball estimate. That is just sloppy logic. It’s like asserting that there is “enough” gas in the tank to get to the trailhead without knowing how far away the trailhead is, or what kind of mileage the vehicle gets.

    Where do you get the idea there are “enough” snags? What science are you relying on? What is the expected snag-fall rate for this forest type? Are you projecting conditions into the future, when most of the snags in your photos are on the ground?

    • What is left in the pictures is probably 100 times more dead wood that was left in the past. The bird did not die, from a lack of snags, even with such heavy-handed salvage cutting. To me, it looks like the bird merely PREFERS dense snag habitat but, does just fine with lesser amounts. Otherwise, the bird would be dead from the forest practices of the 60’s through the 80’s. Clearly, even on the edge of its range, it is doing as well as can be expected when the potential snag pool keeps burning. This idea of devoting entire forests to 6 years worth of woodpecker habitat for this one single species simply isn’t “sustainable”. Now that the Power Fire is worthless for the blackbacked woodpecker, when will they return?? Will the unsalvaged parts experience catastrophic re-burn? Odds are that it will, in today’s human-dominated world.

  5. I have only been involved in salvage harvest of three different fires in Oregon. All of them lighting caused. The Forest Service wasn’t able to get to them until they ended up being big fires like Biscuit.
    Always only a small percentage of what burned was salvaged. We did get some big wood.
    There were always snags as far as you could see.
    When returning to theses areas after a few years I couldn’t always tell much difference between where we harvested and didn’t.
    I think it is a wrong to assume post fire salvage harms the forest.

    • Much of the salvage logging in California, these days, is about reducing the fuels for the next inevitable wildfire. This salvage project also included flying out the tops and limbs, as well as not bucking out the defects. One of these days, I will post a multi-photo panorama shot of a very large slash pile, flown out of helicopter units shown in the above pictures. There are also previous postings showing the low impact tractor logging.

  6. Only 55% of the Power Fire was included in the project. Portions of the fire were within the Mokelumne Wilderness, and obviously out of reach. Sierra Pacific Industries owned parcels within the fire, too. Very significant chunks of good woodpecker habitat were not included within cutting units. Large riparian zones protected snag habitat, as well. I guess one COULD say that the Forest Service planned to cut 85% of the snag habitat within their cutting units but, that kinda ignores ALL of the snag habitat outside of the cutting units, eh?

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