Move-On Petition on Wildfires from Nancy Freeman

I think this is the Canyon uranium mine on the Kaibab.

I think this is the Canyon uranium mine on the Kaibab.

Nancy Freeman sent me this link to a Move-On Petition she started with regard to wildfires:

Please mandate that Forest Service and Department of Interior agencies designate our tax money for emergency measures to prevent wildfires now. The drought in the West makes the situation urgent. According to the National Interagency Coordination Center, there are 7 uncontained and 3 new wildfires on public lands on May 31, 2014.

The Government must act now to accomplish:
1) Stopping any industrial activities in the forests that contribute to wildfire danger.
2) Clearing of excess fuel: underbrush and ladder brush
3) Creating fire lines with environmentally friendly mechanical mulches
4) Instituting fire safety education and inspections in communities located in potential wildfire areas.

See http://www.g-a-l.info/ForestFireReport.htm for detailed information.

Here’s her argument:

The major causes of forest fires are nature, lightning, and human: campfires and cigarettes; however, faulty electrical wiring, sparks from vehicles and sparks from welding machinery are common, plus flames produced by hazardous waste spills from truck accidents on public lands. An overheated BLM vehicle caused the Chariot Fire that burned 7,000 acres in the San Diego Forest in July 2013. http://wildfiretoday.com/2013/07/08/california-chariot-fire]

Since industrial projects, especially mining operations, bring all but one of these “human cause” risks to the National Forest, it is clear that an increase of mining industry in our National Forests increases the fire risk. We have two examples in the region I live in Arizona.

In May 2011, two mining companies caused fires in the Coronado National Forest with welding projects. At the time, the “Fire Danger” was at Level 1: campfires and cigarettes are prohibited; yet in both cases the miners were out-of-doors welding in May. May and June are the hottest, driest months in the Southwest, which forest fire data confirms. A further complication is that industrial sites are surrounded by 10 ft. high chain-link fences for security reasons, making it impossible for fire fighting equipment to enter multiple acres of National Forest public land, except at a main gate.

Considering there are 170 mining operations being permitted in 44 National Forests in the West [www.mining-law-reform.info/proposed-mining-projects.htm], the fire danger from industrial mining needs to be addressed. National Forest Service record of mining project on the National Forest: FSOperations Records.

Sharon- I guess my problem with this (only having worked on forestry, grazing, oil and gas, underground and aboveground coal projects, powerlines, ski areas) is that while folks out there may cause some fires, they also put them out (their own and campers’, hunters’, and so-called “natural” ignitions). I don’t know the ratio of “start” to “put out”, but I’m not sure anyone else does, either.

I am curious about the problem with gates and firefighting, not sure I’ve heard about this before.

24 Comments

  1. The intent of the petition is worthy, but is mostly wishful thinking.

    The Government must act now to accomplish:

    1) Stopping any industrial activities in the forests that contribute to wildfire danger.

    Mining and other industrial activities can’t simply be stopped. However, it might make sense to require bonds for any damages, such as fires caused by the activity. Are such bonds already required? Insurance?

    2) Clearing of excess fuel: underbrush and ladder brush

    That’s an industrial activity, so you can’t stop that. easy to say remove fuels, hard to find funding to do it.

    3) Creating fire lines with environmentally friendly mechanical mulches

    Also an industrial activity. Mulching works in some places, but not in many others.

    4) Instituting fire safety education and inspections in communities located in potential wildfire areas.

    Instituted? Mandated? For whom? In my area, the USFS and local fire department already do education and inspections, especially for owners of cabins on USFS lands. I’d guess that’s not unusual.

    NIFC 13-year averages:

    Human-caused (does not list activity): 62,632 fires per year, 2.5 million acres.

    Lightning-caused: 10,000 fires, 4.1 million acres.

    FWIW, When I worked on a logging crew many years ago in the Sierras, a welding project (repairing a loader’s jaws) started the nearby pine litter on fire. Several of us had been called to watch for this — we put out the flames before they spread far. The logging company owner was always very concerned about fire. But wasn’t always careful. That welding project wouldn’t have started a fire if it had been done in the middle of the landing instead of a few feet from the dry, dry woods.

    • welding and fires go together like peanut butter and jelly. I was a welder (shipfitter) in the Navy, and was also an on-site leader for the nucleus fire party (first responders for fires at sea). We would often be welding while crawled into some tight spot and would catch our own clothing on fire, but we always had an assistant standing by with a fire extinguisher to put us out. One day I was laying down some beads to attach a dishwashing machine to the deck in the galley and the alarm went out, “Fire, fire… etc.” When we got there, it was in the compartment directly below where I had been working… fortunately I think the statute of limitations has run out on that one 🙂

    • Precautions can be taken… however, the fact that you were on a logging crew shows that you were not in the dry Southwest–where no logging has ever been done. Guess why? It takes an act of faith to grow a weed here. I have emphasized forest areas cannot be managed the same. The oaks over 100 years old here will never be replaced….

      • Nancy, please read this article from last year. An excerpt:

        Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) yesterday blasted the Obama administration’s projected reduction in timber harvests in 2014 and its request to significantly cut funding for hazardous fuels removal on national forests.

        Wyden said the Forest Service’s $4.9 billion budget request for fiscal 2014 would be a “huge blow” to forest health and would counteract the agency’s restoration goal of harvesting 3 billion board feet of timber a year.

        “Today’s budget — both in terms of drastic decreases in the timber harvests that are proposed and the deep cuts to the hazardous fuels program with corresponding drops to the acres proposed to be treated — seems to me to be very counterproductive to the work the agency must accomplish,” Wyden said at a hearing.

        • Thanks–Wyden is from Oregon… The Oregon Congresspersons have sure had their hand at running the FS. That was a clear note in Jack Ward Thomas’ Journals, which I think most of us have read. I did suggest that forests created for timber and forests created for watershed in the dry SouthWest can’t be managed the same.
          By the way the Forest Supervisor who is supposed to be making the decision on putting a mine on thousands of acres of unpatented claims, and destroying 300,000 trees near where I live was from Idaho and had never seen a hard rock mine (still probably hasn’t).

      • Here is what some in Utah are doing, off of National Forest lands, and done without logging sawlogs. This is just south of the town of Panguitch, a town directly in the path of fires that will burn out of the Dixie National Snag Forest.
        https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7502614,-112.416291,7207m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

        Here is what the Dixie National Forest looked like near Brian Head Ski Area. This is zoomed into a patch left untouched by their fuels management. So, zoom out, and you will see what they have been doing about it. It sure looks not very “commercial”, to me, at least for sawlogs.
        https://www.google.com/maps/@37.5796716,-112.8375337,226m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

        Fuels work is happening in places but, it is just a drop in the bathtub, IMHO. When enviros want to force thinning projects to require an EIS, what else can the Forest Service do? Again, most groups don’t want to end all forestry projects. They merely want to control all the parameters (other than economics *smirk*).

        • Thanks for the maps. That was fascinating to see the forests and the development around the ski area. I know it must look much different on the ground. At first I didn’t realize but that must be high altitude forests.

          • Yes, Cedar Breaks National Monument, which has preserved the mortality in its “natural splendor”, is mostly over 10,000 feet. I didn’t spend much time at their overlook, as there were high winds, making the snags jerk back and forth in an awkward manner. The snags have lost all flexibility, and tend to fall as an intact piece.

    • New Century is allowed to do whatever we mutually feel like doing (within the bounds of civility and respect) since we are not a 501c3… certainly we publicize pros and cons and ideas for legislation, and individual readers are left to contact their Congressfolk with their opinions. If you want to write a post about why you think a piece of legislation is a good idea, you are certainly welcome to. Send it to me at terraveritas …at .. gmail.com. Just be prepared for folks to give various critiques of the bill as written, which anyone could use to refine his or her point of view prior to any lobbying Congressperson.

  2. Here’s the latest on wild fires… I do appreciate the comment that there’s not money–there would be money if more fuel clearing was done… that was proved in Arizona with the Wallow fire… It was stopped on the White Mountain Apache Reservation–where they do forest management. By the way, they had closed their campgrounds in spite of economic loss although FS left their campgrounds open–in spite of fire danger.
    My point is it is not working to wait for fires to do something….
    Current fire news–
    USDA Releases State by State Impacts of Limited Wildfire Suppression in Recent Years
    http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2014/06/0116.xml&navid=NEWS_RELEASE&navtype=RT&parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&edeployment_action=retrievecontent
    At the bottom of the page is a link (full report) to “List Highlights How Forest Restoration, Fire Preparedness and other Activities were Postponed or Canceled Due to Lack of Adequate Fire Suppression Budget.” I live in AZ and not much was cut here because there’s not any “forestry” going on here. Well, the Coronado officials went out and counted 300,000 trees that were going to turned into scrap because of mining.
    It’s so disappointing that the Forest Service has let the forests get in such bad shape… and still they are just writing reports instead of getting out on the ground and clearing brush and ladder fuels and making fire lines before the fires start. I do know Foresters, and they are very disappointed about their career selection. “Caring for the land and serving the people” has gone up in smoke.

    Current Wildfires:
    Today’s Fire Activity on Public Lands:
    National Interagency Coordination Center Incident Management Situation Report Monday June 16, 2014 – 0530 MT National Preparedness Level 2
    Daily Report: http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/sitreprt.pdf
    Large fires contained: 3
    Uncontained large fires: 8

    • Thanks Nancy, interesting points. I would point out that “restoration” is often essentially a FS code word for activities that, in many observers’ opinion, are anything but restorative. A couple examples from USDA’s “impacts” (above):

      Idaho: “The Upper Lochsa land acquisition on the Clearwater National Forest was deferred”. But, this land swap would exchange badly cut-over private lands for forested public lands. Restoration? Related to wildfires? It’s a stretch… some info here: http://www.friendsoftheclearwater.org/upper-lochsa-land-exchange-not-in-the-public-interest/

      Montana: “Forest Plan amendments for the Lewis and Clark, Lolo, Kootenai, and Helena National Forests for Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy were delayed.” Well OK, but maybe in part because a federal judge ruled that “Such provisions are not adequate regulatory mechanisms when there is no way to enforce them or to ensure that they will occur. Furthermore, the Service does not explain how various other laws and regulations will protect the grizzly bear population.” Again, it’s hard to frame this as deferred “restoration” activity or related to limited wildfire suppression.

      Actually, reading through the Impacts file, it’s hard to see how USDA can, with a straight face, characterize these various impacts as “State by State Impacts of Limited Wildfire Suppression in Recent Years”, since most of them have little or nothing to do with wildfires.

      By the way, I see from your bio that you once lived in “out of the way” Norwich, Vt. That’s the tiny little town that I grew up in. Small world, when did you live there? Maybe we crossed paths at Dan & Whits (I knew both Dan and Whit and went to school with their kids, that’s how long ago it was…)

      • Thanks for your sane, sound comments. We have a land swap in Arizona too for Oak Flat campground which was protected by PLO Eisenhower and Nixon. Same thing centuries old oaks in exchange for overgrazed ranches. When will it ever end??
        As for Norwich, I lived right around the corner of Dan and Whitt’s and knew them too. And I lived a stint on Christian Rd too… overlooking the snaky fog of the Connecticut river… I would go cross-country skiing right out my back door. Those were real good days! I sure miss that green (and white too) world, and I do daydream of being back there. I keep asking why my gypsy ways got me stuck in Arizona… but I have had a couple of major environmental victories here… so I guess that’s why I got kicked out of my paradise into the real world!!

    • Have you ever flown over the Southwest? There are miles and miles of barren land and a blessing of a few green bands of oaks, and even aspens, that can never, ever be replaces. These lands were set aside for watershed, because they are few and far between. So I am against mining in our National Forests, which is totally unsustainable. There’s plenty of barren lands to find metals in the Southwest. Another think is the problem with TENORM–so critical in Arizona that when EPA did their report on TENORM in 1999 they used Arizona mines as their models.
      Thanks for asking…

  3. A comment by the incident commander Matt Reidy, “forest-thinning work that has been done in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests helped firefighter… But an area of mixed conifer that wasn’t thinned has burned through, he said.” regarding the fire now burring in northern Arizona. We have had regular high winds and record temps for a month now. It was 90 at 8 am in Tucson this morning.

    http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/06/29/calmer-winds-slow-down-arizona-wildfire-evacuations-still-in-place/

  4. The Forest Service has the burden of being a land of many uses, however, commercial/industrial uses of public land could use a little more scrutiny. Better yet, public land could use a little more respect. In general, campfires are much larger than they need to be in areas where they shouldn’t be. The ground retains quite a bit of heat – our campfires only need a little accumulation of wind blow leafs to have sufficient fuel to reignite. Climate change is occurring. The need to lighten up on what we expect the forest to provide.

    • Mining is not a sustainable use, nor does it fit in the multiple use–which mandates that a single use that destroys possibility of all other uses is not viable — just one mine will destroy 300,000 trees, many centuries old oaks count, made by FS. People all over the planet are planting trees while we are not preserving our National Forests. It is true about campfires. There is absolutely no oversight in many sections of NF in AZ. I have camped all over and never seen a ranger–I guess they are in their air conditioned offices planning on permitting the moon-scaling of our NF. I know I am negative but the stupid excuses that have come out of the mouths of NF officials here is very disheartening. What happened to “caring for the land.”
      Probably, like myself until 12 years ago, you have never seen a hard-rock mine. It’s hard to imagine. You can Google copper mine photos and you will see what I mean. You might also Google EPA superfund sites and see how much money taxpayers have paid to attempt toxic clean-up.
      This scenario does not fit under renewable resources of timber, range, water, recreation and wildlife. In fact mining and its type of industry destroys watershed, trees, wildlife, any wildlife and habitat. That they are causing fires augments the destruction.

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