You be the forest supervisor

This a quote from the Lolo National Forest Supervisor included in his decision on an administrative objection to a timber project near Missoula.  It’s not an obvious case of fuel treatments in the front country vs backcountry, but rarely does the Forest Service state its priorities more clearly:

In his Nov. 9 letter, Garcia wrote “I recognize the value of treating (national forest) lands adjacent to private property, however the primary intent of the Marshall Woods project is forest restoration.”

It’s been kind of an academic question before now, but I happen to live within range of a fire that might burn through this area.  On the other hand, I don’t like arguments based on “my back yard.”  But should it be the policy of the Forest Service to risk a little private property (and maybe a life or two) to meet its (presumably ecological) restoration targets?  How would you choose and why?

It seems to me that this is a question that every forest plan should be designed to help you answer.  And the public should probably demand the opportunity to influence that in the forest plan because the decision of “where to go” is typically made before a project decision, and is likely considered by the Forest Service to be outside the scope of the project decision (and therefore outside the scope of public comments and objections).  (Which I think is what this objection decision is really saying.)

10 Comments

  1. A good start, but what is forest restoration? Needs to be clearly defined. Being honest is one thing but scaring peopled with the threat of lose of some private property a threat of lose of human life is crazy! Your proposed treatment must be better than the “no action alternative” and there is no action that outweighs the lose of life or property!

  2. Sounds as though the federal government does not have to be a good neighbor; i.e., they can do as they darned well please.

    Of course, the shoe does not fit on the other foot. Wasn’t there a fire that started on private land that went onto some federal land in California several years back. Seems to me the landowner paid dearly, including forfeiting quite a few acres that were turned over to the fed’s as part of the settlement. Shouldn’t a federal fire be treated the same?

  3. I strongly believe that this fear (of damage or injury on adjacent pvt. lands) is a large part of the reluctance by DFRs to ignite prescribed burns when weather conditions are right for a good burn. It is especially evident when the activity is within the forest boundary more adjacent to private lands and residences. One wrong decision can “deep-six” a career. So, the burn is delayed or scrubbed.

    • Yep, imagine that. Chinske, a guy who got the Rattlesnake designated a Wilderness and NRA and lives in the watershed. And Bader a wildlife scientist by training who’s a former wildland firefighter (worked a little fire known as Yellowstone ’88) and Kreilick, the chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee, and local business owner all had ‘objections’ to this logging project in the Rattlesnake NRA. But, hey, it’s not like most all of the people in Missoula didn’t want to see 80 log trucks going 3+ miles up and down the Rattlesnake NRA corridor, right Dave? Oh wait, Missoula people didn’t want that. Hey, what about ‘local control?’ I mean its really all about the late 1980s/early 90s, right? I mean, you still wear those tie-dyes, right Dave?

  4. I credit Garcia for straight talk and candor. But there’s not enough in this brief quote to jump to conclusions. And other interesting info is coming out in comments. Rattlesnake NRA? What exactly is being restored via timber harvest in a national recreation area, and for what purpose? In an era of severely limited budgets, I think the FS should prioritize WUI’s for treatment over backcountry, provided that pvt land owners area also taking measures, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude any other actions elsewhere. Just not enough to go on here, but if restoration is focused on fire risk reduction, I think it’s misplaced.

  5. The agency could bifurcate the landscape along the area defining the “structure ignition zone” within a couple feet of homes and built structures. Inside the structure ignition zone, vegetation treatments can focus on modifying fuels to protect lives and infrastructure. Outside the structure ignition zone, treatments should focus on ecological restoration, where fuel hazard is but one consideration. The FS should not define the wildland urban interface too broadly, because fire hazard can be reduced by treating the area immediately adjacent to structures. Also worth noting — this “structure ignition zone” is usually on non-federal lands. Fire is an important ecological process that needs to be restored on public lands, so the WUI fire problem should be framed as a structure-ignition problem and the solution for that generally lies with the private property owners.

    • Let me read this back to you a little differently. It should be Forest Service policy to assume that private landowners will take necessary actions on their land within the structure ignition zone (more than “a couple feet of homes” though I think). That would mean the only national forest land managed for protection of private property would be where the structure ignition zone extends beyond the private property. It would mean that a broadly established and vaguely defined “WUI” should not influence how national forests are managed in most places. That makes some sense, except that the issue has been more recently framed in terms that suggest that communities are owed unburned forests to look at and live among.

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