So-called “Truthometer” Gets Simple Things Wrong


If you purport to be a “Truth” ometer, shouldn’t you check your facts?

the link.

OK, we know that this question (separating all these factors that have occurred together to make wildfires more troublesome than in the past) is very complicated… still.. “SAF, a trade association for the people who harvest timber”, really?

Now what would it have taken to look that up..oh, one click away from the SAF main screen, we can find here the mission statement.

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) is the national scientific and educational organization representing the forestry profession in the United States. Founded in 1900 by Gifford Pinchot, it is the largest professional society for foresters in the world.

OK, I get it, it’s hard to look things up. But hey, they found “consensus” about this tough question.

Where we found broad consensus is that decades of aggressively putting out every fire as quickly as possible, and the use of land for grazing, created circumstances where the forests are brimming with fuel. That in conjunction with extended dry periods have turned them into tinderboxes.

It seems to me that putting out fires means fuels won’t burn up in these fires and hence continue on the landscape, for later burning or removal, while “not removing fuels” also would lead to more fuels on the landscape. And I am curious about how cows eating grass might lead to more forest fuel. So, logic would tell us that “not removing fuels” and “not letting fuels burn” would both lead to “more fuels.”

Anyway, at least they interviewed Ann Camp who has experience in this area, so I guess that’s good.


  1. Maybe we should try an experiment. Let’s pretend that all of our National Forests were acquired through a generous endowment from a giant timber company, quitting the business. They did what they did in the past and we have what we have, right now. What do we do with all those acres, without blaming history. If it didn’t work well in the past, then we should not be using it in the future. What kind of sustainable forest can we afford? How can we pay for active restoration? I do think there is value in even reaching a shallow consensus on thinning projects, like 4FRI. Consensus, plus performance, equals trust.

  2. The paragraph you quoted isn’t the main point of the article, which is: “The federal strategy to remove that fuel runs up against budget constraints. The limited money is a much greater constraint than environmental policies.” Are you saying that’s not true?

    On cows. I’ve understood that it mostly has to do with removal of fine fuels that would have promoted more frequent fires. But here’s some other ideas (from a group opposed to grazing).

    On SAF. It’s possible the authors did look at the SAF page and this is how they paraphrased it. To the uninitiated, the distinction you are making may be one without a difference.

    • Wuerthner? He says no grazing means automatic low intensity regular fires, with no consideration of ladder fuels. Nah, that’s wrong. Ya gotta set the stage with some kind of deliberate intervention.
      As for fiscal constraints, the Forest Service always seems to have funding for “study” and “process” overhead. The brute fact is, the constraint is legal and directly attributable to foul federal law.

    • Wow.. Jon.. a “distinction without a difference”. If it were the AMA and it was called an “industry association of pharmaceutical companies”?

      To me there are easily checkable facts and more complex issues. If you don’t get the easily checkable right, I have trouble with trusting that the more complex are accurately conveyed.

      If you look across the West, in places where cows are not, forests are still “brimming with fuel” due to fire suppression alone. In fact, cows can eat baby trees which would otherwise grow up into larger fuels (I have seen it). Having observed different places over time, I think it’s a great deal more complicated than what was suggested in the citation.

      And as Larry says, stopping fire suppression is not a likely strategy.. so it seems like other forms of fuel reduction will become increasingly important.

    • Wuerthner says, in his picture caption, “No grazing means more grass; regular, low intensity fires; large, evenly spaced trees; no sapling thickets; and no weeds. A healthy forest.”

      However, he makes no mention of how we will grow grass underneath overstocked canopies. He continues to blame the past to block the future. He makes major assumptions about Forest Service commercial fuels projects.

      I’m not a big fan of grazing, myself, but I’m going to go with site specific conditions and situations. For some it seems more about a strict adherence to classic succession, without human intervention. However, I have seen where “Mother Nature” skipped quite a few levels of succession, when white fir seeded in, after a big wildfire, bypassing the brush and pine forest states. Cows have little impact on overstocked forests.

      • Well, based on the picture caption, everyplace there are no cows would be large evenly spaced trees.. and no “sapling thickets.” But this is obviously not the case.

        Science Situations that Shout Watch Out: when people make generalities across time and space about forests.

        • Keep in mind that the Tampa Bay Tribune is headquartered a long way away from the primarily Western forests that were the topic. Firsthand ground-truthing? I think not.
          Never mind that journalists as a “class” strike me as being completely out of their element when it comes to understanding natural resources. I remember going to both the Jarbidge and Bucket Brigade events (yep, I’m THAT kind of right wing extremist) and was stunned at the wardrobe of most of the journo cadre — crispy Banana Republic or LL Bean without a scuff on the footwear, and the dressing down for the wilderness was obvious. La dee dah.
          Then there was the Tiller fire press trip in the wake of the Donato fiasco. I was in hog heaven, free food and drink. But only one other person in the press meat wagon was even bothering to look at the incinerated countryside, the rest were either playing with their Blackberries or discussing their romantic sides. And the QUESTIONS they asked, holy cow. Morons.
          Anyway, given the cubicle-and-concrete working life of a journalist, if you have outdoorsy media, you know, properly dressed and not looking like a fish out of water, almost without exception, their relationship to the outside is recreational. Very few WORK outside, ever, in their lives. They think a Stihl 061 is an expensive sports car, Caterpillars are fuzzy, and PhD’s are always smart.
          It’s a huge, and endemic, intellectual disconnect, as shown here.

  3. To me, the thing that keeps getting missed in all of this has to do with the 80-90% reduction in harvesting – That is where the blame lies on the “environmentalists = those opposed to sound forest management.” What has been missing since the early 90’s is the commercial thinning which plays a very significant role in fuels reduction. The resultant lack of matrix management has resulted in larger more homogenous forest with reduced edges to help in limiting the size of wildfires.

    Anyone want to compare percent of acres burned and beetle killed on National Forests versus that for well managed environmentally compliant forests?

  4. I believe the missing element, now, is industrial and commercial input. Economics and Federal Forestry have effectively been left out of the mix of wood products for long enough that there is no there, there. The private industrial forests are geared to interruption of the capital spending cycle at the earliest profitable time, which is now about 40 years on the coveted high growth forests increasingly owned by insurance companies and government retirement funds like CalPERS. The income scheduling melds with the financial goals and timing of life insurance and pensions at that 40 year interval. Using the REIT tax models, and the fact that having some standing inventory of timber by a pension fund or insurance company does not a likely hostile corporate takeover target make, the whole of the timber industry is now geared to serving a large per day piece count straight through sawing installation producing dimension lumber. The lingering recession in home building in the US and some of the same abroad has the world awash in 40 foot logs with 4″-11″ top diameters. Oversize and surplus logs drive the export log market. It is ephemeral and there is no stasis of demand to support an export lumber cutting facility and marketing effort. A hot domestic market and economic rebound of meaning in this country will use all the lumber our mills can produce and then Canada and the other lumber import opportunities will supply our markets. Trees grow at a steady pace, have to now be cut on a schedule, and the wood products market is volatile and full of supply and demand vagaries that defy scheduling.

    Those logs are being cut on a schedule because they lose value when they get larger than the mill capacity to convert them. Some of the oversize goes to Asian export when that market is good, which is cyclical. But the objective is to clear the land, claim the profits, recapitalize by site prep and planting, and begin the next cycle, on a fixed schedule of cutting at the top of the cubic foot per acre per year growth period for that site. The land owners are committed to cutting because all of the support systems and homes for the wood are now limited to butt diameters of less than 30″, some as low as 16″. The insurance companies, pension funds, and REIT industrial timberlands are on a tight cutting schedule because that is their only option in a capital driven economic structure. You lose earnings and opportunity to serve stockholders the longer you have to husband an ever growing larger tree.

    So the disconnect is the Federal timber has no fidelity or fealty to the private converter. No reasonable expectation of supply nor size nor type or species, because the whole process is appeals, litigation, and adversarial at all levels. Add transportation costs from the landing to a conversion facility, and it becomes apparent that when all the logical and expected costs of getting logs to a mill are driven beyond economic reality, and then you add the myriad regulatory spending demands to get to where the Feds have actually sold and are administering a timber sale, the economics are not there. The real world of accounting determines a tree’s value in the market and some sort of woo-woo accounting procedures by the US Government determine how much it costs them to plan, prepare, sell, and administer a timber sale, and then pay for the effort to have post logging requirements met. All that means that all Federal timber sold will be “below cost” to the government. The apples of the government accounting and spending will not mesh with the real world bill paying from receipts economic process of the private, tax paying economy. All of that is structural, real, and a huge impediment on both sides of the coin. Federal timber is the $600 toilet seat of today, and probably the former butt of jokes, the government $600 toilet seat is now a $6000 toilet seat, still doing no more that supporting one butt at a time.

    So, in my mind, if there is to be some sort of fuel reduction program, there has to be a place for the fuel removed to be converted into a useful and salable product that will produce a profit for the converter. One measurement will be in useful building products or raw material, and the other measured in btu’s. Not unlike the post war stud mills. The products were lumber for a planer somewhere, and a pile of sawdust and potential cord wood from slabs. I can still remember the two Sikh men in their turbans who had a cut off saw run off the back wheel of their truck jacked up in front of Grandpa’s. The closest mill, Corvallis Lumber Company, would deliver bark on slabs on a truck with rollers for a bed, and dump them on the street and curb strip, where they would dry all spring and summer. Come fall, the Sihks would show up, and buck the pieces to Grandpa’s stove lengths, and he had a flat bed wheel barrow which he would use to pack it to a basement window and toss it into the basement where it would get stacked for winter use. Old growth doug fir bark and sap wood, dry, produced a pleasant, nice smelling, enveloping warmth in winter in that cozy old house. The only downside to a six year old boy was the darned bark slivers!! And there was no EPA to complain about carbon in the atmosphere. That carbon will be in the atmosphere from forests no matter who or how or what causes it to burn, but burn it will. The choices are under what conditions and how often. I know the EPA does not have the answer, and they don’t have any control over the outcome. That has to be discouraging to them, but forests, like big banks, financial institutions, and governments, are sure to fail and the bigger they are the bigger the failure. Only government cannot prop up a post fire forest and they can recover a post failure bank, a GMC, or a bankrupt Detroit. $60 Trillion or more of “blue sky” can disappear in the financial world just as a million acres of thriving forest can be gone in one fire season. Trillions in borrowing and effort have gone into propping up institutions and business. And our government cannot find it within themselves to keep millions of acres of forests and range from going up in smoke each year. No once in a half century. Annually. Ongoing. And that was the driving force in the first place to create the National Forest Reserves: to keep them from burning and to have a wood fiber reserve to replace the millions of acres being cut on private lands. In a weird case of turnabout, it is the private lands that are not burning, and it is the private lands that produce the majority of our wood products. “Why” is what all discussions should be centered on.

  5. It seems perfectly fair to describe SF as an organization that advocates for those who have a utilitarian view of forests, and the main utility they see is wood fiber, so SAF very clearly favors logging (akak “active management”) in their policy positions.

    Also, there is a connection between grazing and fuels. Grazing reduces the density and vigor of grasses which usually outcompete tree seedlings, leading to dense understory of fire-prone small trees. Cows also decrease the abundance of fine fuels which are necessary to carry periodic, low intensity surface fires. This reduces the frequency of fires, but increases their severity. See Belsky, A.J., Blumenthal, D.M., “Effects of Livestock Grazing on Stand Dynamics and Soils in Upland Forest of the Interior West,” Conservation Biology, 11(2), April 1997. See also Wuerthner, George. Livestock Grazing and Fire. January, 2003.

    • 2ndLaw

      1) No problem with your comments on grazing.

      2) When you write of “SF”, am I correct in assuming that you meant “SAF” (Society of American Foresters)? If so then here are my thoughts on that point. As a member of the SAF since 1966:

      a) The SAF has lost all credibility with the forest industry because of the SAF’s unwillingness to take a strong proactive stand in support of sound forest management and against those who use faux science to oppose sound forest management. So I can assure you that the SAF is definitely not a lackey of nor is it a front for any other organization or industry.

      b) Most of those in the SAF, myself included, see the utilitarian side of forests as part of a holistic, symbiotic relationship beneficial in the long term to all sustainable species found in the ecosystem. We have dedicated our lives to understanding forests but it was not because we are greedy for the almighty buck. Anyone who chose forestry as a profession made a very bad choice if the almighty buck was their goal. We have dedicated our lives to understanding forests, because we love forests, we love working in them, we love being in them when we don’t have to be. They are where we find both our recreation and our work. In fact, a very strong case could be made that no other group deserves the title of forest environmentalists more than professional foresters. Are we perfect? No, we are not God. But we alone have invested the time and money in getting and maintaining an up to date knowledge of the validated, multitude of related sciences necessary to manage the forest ecosystems and all that they encompass.

      As such, logging is not the raison d’être for a forester’s life. It is simply one of many tools that science and our experience has shown to have a positive effect over the long term in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems when properly planned and executed. We see those opposed to sound forest management, who don’t have the broad base of knowledge necessary to make sound forest policy, as working counter to our common goal of sound ecosystems. We see their short term focus on aesthetics and their desire for simplistic one size fits all policy, in opposition to established science, to be one of the primary reasons for the increase in catastrophic wildfire and insect losses in our National Forests. The heavily restricted use of logging in our National Forest that began in the early 1990’s has resulted in denser stands and larger more homogenous stands which are more subject to calamitous events. It hurts those of us who love forests to see such carnage. Yes, global warming is also a factor but sound forest management is a mitigating tool that has been largely removed from our National Forests since the 1990’s. We are greatly dismayed at the results of such uninformed policies and understand the science that explains why such policies have made our forest ecosystems less healthy for all of their sustainable component organisms.

  6. Each year, the time distance from aboriginal burners and “old growth” forests to the more dense forests of today gets more dim. As a society, we just can’t wrap our minds around humans actively burning in forests for tens of thousands of years. Nor can we visualize what happens when the tidal surge of disease far in front of European exploration and occupation wipes out 90% or more of those landscape burners in a short time period, which was post 1780, and probably more concentrated in my end of the world, Oregon, in 1830-32. Lewis and Clark noticed the whole villages missing all their people on the lower Columbia River in 1804-05. Indians just disappeared in the winters of 1830-32. Gone. The carrion eaters disposed of the bodies.

    So the great change in Western forests began before occupation by Europeans. The unrestrained regrowth of douglas fir weed occupied vast areas of former prairies and other grasslands and land kept free of conifers by set fire. Some of today’s “old growth” is actually a living headstone, grave marker, for those people who were wiped out by introduced disease. Intended or unintended, the West was won by genocide, physical and cultural.

    In my mind, dedicated wilderness, Big W wilderness, is a testament to that genocide, by the very wording that claims the land will be unmarked by the hand of man. Congressional snake oil, sold to buy votes. It is who we are. The absurdity that aboriginals didn’t use the whole of the landscape, from the above timberline rock blinds used in hunting bighorn sheep and mountain goats, to the trails wide and burned continually along high ridges that provided sure and fast paths to the far reaches of areas of use, are surely the hand of a long ago man wiped, erased, from the landscape by legal contract.

    So no matter how you want to look at logging and not logging, use of the land by man determined what is there. To not manage, not underburn, not do stand improvement fuel removal, is to force on the landscape the first decades of non-management, no set fires to clear land, on those lands since trees began to occupy the mountains and valleys recently freed from perpetual snow fields and ice cover by glaciers. People have been here that long, managing by fire, transplanting useful plants, spreading useful seeds, knocking the dead limbs off pine trees that provided pine nuts in order to keep them from being ladder fuels in spring underburning, and even moving water by ditch and dam, to irrigate a crop in the crudest of manner. And denying that this totality of the landscape was not a prior occupants place of survival and opportunity is to deny your own humanity and being.

    So If I am put off by the anti logging rants, the fops with their Edenic views of the world and the “last, best place” mindset, it is because of the inherent arrogance of the idea that logging is bad and uncontrolled fire is great. Denying man and his influence and sculpture of the land is so wrong on so many scales. Certainly there has been a plethora of bad logging, as there has been the same of bad fires. But logs made lumber which built homes, businesses, docks, schools, and factories, places of worship and governance. Fire cleared the land and gave rise to early succession plants and their attendant animal communities. And so does logging. If you pay attention to mob grazing practices, bison or other herd animals consume all the forage they might and move on, and the regrowth is stronger plants and green at critical times of the year, limiting fire intensity. Grazing isn’t bad. Bad grazing management is unhealthy for forests. And then just running cattle, and only cattle, is probably as wrong as only sheeping a range. Perhaps both are needed, in different years and at different times, if only because the two species eat different stuff, and by eating it, mowing it as it were, the plants are stimulated, the ground is fertilized, the hooves expose the buried seed bank to the germ layer, and ground vegetation health is better, and species more diverse.

    We can’t live in an “all or nothing” world, and survive. My belief is that you can’t have it all, take it all, leave it all. We are here, existing, to be users, modification machinery, disrupters. And so was a herd of bison or a run of salmon. A female salmon will turn over from one to five cubic meters of gravel to build a redd, depending on her species and size. And by so doing, the siltation, fines, tiny parasites and other organic life and matter might get washed down stream, annually, for millennia. And then each salmon dies to leave a carcass to feed amino acids and marine minerals to that stream, riparian area, and landscape. Dead organic material in the stream, in thousands of tons, is considered pollution, as is disturbing tens of thousand of cubic meters of pristine gravels. No?

    The rancher who put in the water gap in his mandated riparian fence to get his cows a place to water finds the fall salmon spawning in the water gap. The cows hooves loosened the gravel and made the perfect redd sport. He moved the water gap. Got the same result. When salmon are missing from a stream for a century, the gravels have concreted and finding loose gravel to spawn in is difficult. Unless, of course, the hooves of beasts have loosened it in the water gap. A little bit of disturbance can be wonderful. And a lot can be destructive. Our world needs moderates more now than ever.

    Moderation. Observation. Careful thought. A light hand but a strong hand. But never quit using the resource. When the resource has no users, nobody living and surviving by its use, over time it loses its defenders, and then the designated defenders become enforcers from the government, with only a paycheck and time to put in, and it becomes about penalties and not husbandry. We might be close to being there now. It is undeniable that we are losing more and gaining less each year. Tens of thousands of years of use to no use in a century. Can the landscape endure the shock?

  7. Makes you wonder how Indians dealt with the aftermath of a mountain pine beetle epidemic? I doubt they tolerated deadfall barricading trails and trade routes.
    One time I was driving and popped up over a ridge and the whole of the Wind River Range was before me…and the thought popped into my head that it would have been great to see this in the “mountain man” days…then it popped into my head that you’d be in a war zone, looking over your shoulder for the war party or grizzly bear in the brush. Kind of a buzz kill. Be kind of like everyone carrying a rifle the next time you go backpacking in your favorite pristine Colorado wilderness area. Could you imagine John Denver packin heat thinkin he might have to kill a man today. So much for utopian thoughts and Bierstadt paintings.

  8. JTjr


    Except you probably should have referred to endenic Pied Pipers instead of your other choice of words.

    It’s amazing what people will buy if you promise them the moon. You’d think that we were talking about our current crop of politicians promising ‘if you like ______ (fill in the blank) you can keep it.’

  9. Pingback: John Thomas, Jr. on the illusion of “unmarked by the hand of man” | Not Without a Fight!

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