Summary of fire debate points

The latest from Headwaters lays out their point of view on several topics that have been discussed a lot on this blog (with cites).  The 2016 paper is posted in full and is pretty short and sweet.  The key points:

1. Fire size and frequency will increase under a warmer and drier climate

2. Fuel reduction on federal lands will do little to reduce acreage burned and homes lost

3. Not all forests need restoration

4. High severity fires often have ecological benefits

5. Insect outbreaks do not necessarily make fires worse

6. Land-use planning can reduce wildfire risk

7. Managing more fires to burn safely can reduce risk and increase ecological benefit

Case closed?

16 Comments

      • 2ndOutLaw

        I’m afraid that you are mistaken. The source document is exactly the same for both discussion threads as I stated in the 1st comment above. A lawyer should certainly have picked up on this but apparently you didn’t critically analyze the sources. Too bad that critical analysis is key to discerning between true and faux science. But, then, why should you analyze them since they agree with your preconceived faux science. And turning one paper into two papers that support your position is a real win apparently. Here are the facts:

        1) For this discussion thread titled “Summary of fire debate points” – the only link given is to the Headwaters Summary of, as Jon says, “The 2016 paper is posted in full and is pretty short and sweet”. Once you open up the Headwaters Summary article and page down, you will see the seven points which are Headwaters’ summary of the “2016 paper”. At the top of that same Headwaters paper you will note that the first link given is to the “new research paper” which takes you to the full text of the source document titled “Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes” by Tania Schoennagel et al as approved for publishing. See: https://headwaterseconomics.org/wp-content/uploads/Adapt_To_More_Wildfire.pdf

        2) For the prior discussion thread titled “The Future of Fighting Wildfires in the Era of Climate Change”, the second link on the very first line takes you to the PNAS abstract titled “Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes” by Tania Schoennagel et al as approved for publishing. See: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/04/11/1617464114

        So the source documents for both blurbs announcing said source document have exactly the same title, authors, editor, submission dates and acceptance dates to the same publication. So what do you say to that? Is it just a coincidence or are these two discussion threads on exactly the same subject?

  1. Thanks to Headwaters for publishing something behind the PNAS firewall (I am a fan of open science,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_science including open access- especially for papers intended to influence public policy.)

    It should be noted that while Headwaters calls this a “research paper” it is in fact a “perspective” or an op-ed by scientists (or as I call them, op-eds with cites). In my experience, when a journal which ordinarily does not publish on a topic (e.g. fire science) publishes an op-ed about the same topic, it is a science “situation that shouts watch out.” You have to ask “why?”. (Remember Science suddenly becoming interested in forest regeneration, and how that worked out?).

    I’d be up for a public discussion with them of each of their claims- that would be excellent for both public policy and science education!

  2. With the caveat that one year does not a climate make, right now I would welcome some “drier” along with my warmer. Seattle weather blogger Cliff Mass noted yesterday that much of the Pacific Northwest and northern California are experiencing their wettest rain-year in history! The west’s wildfire forecast through July is generally “normal” or below.

    Predicting precipitation in a warming climate is notoriously difficult. All else being equal, the warmer the air, the more water it holds. Nor are year-long temperature or precipitation averages dispositive when it comes to wildfires. The rate of ignitions has been dropping for several decades. Acreage burned is a poor proxy for climate change as it is confounded by changes in fire suppression policy.

    • Andy wrote:
      Predicting precipitation in a warming climate is notoriously difficult.
      If I remember correctly, the climate change analysis section in the last few Forest Plan EIS’s I reviewed stated pretty much the same thing.
      Also that management decisions made on a watershed level can’t easily take into account climate change analysis made on a much larger geographic level.
      No guarantee that I’m remembering that correctly. Still….

  3. Of course we COULD pretend that strict preservation of our forests is great, fantastic and wonderful during this era of ‘climate change’. That these wildfires are so great and fantastic for everyone and everything. That the best and highest use for our public forests is an ‘unnatural’ succession, at all costs. How long would it take to grow an old growth forest through strict preservation in today’s world, where 80% of all wildfires are man-caused?

    • “How long would it take to grow an old growth forest through strict preservation in today’s world, where 80% of all wildfires are man-caused?”
      ============

      I doubt in today’s world that very much of old growth anything will appear. Back in 1983 when I spoke with the National Forest wildlife biologist, he had just written a paper on using Sequoia as a relacement for Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pine in the Idyllwild are of the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside County in California. It was hard to believe at that time because everything was so healthy looking. The average age of a tree within the Strawberry Valley was 90 years old at that time (1983), because they had clearcut harvested all the 300+ year old growth trees. Fast forward down to today in Idyllwild and they are cutting down those huge trees (even along Strawberry Creek). Incense Cedar seem to be taking ther place.

      But as far as fire today which is 80%, yeah, I doubt anything will be allowed in many areas to attain such old growth. Oddly enough I’ve never been on board with the old fire ecology insistence on a lot of their burn baby burn policies based on (Because the Indians did it). I’ve always found that the Native Americans used fire well beyond any conservation schemes which according to some intellectuals was practically encoded within their very DNA as an ecology gene. The Natives were every equal to the white European when it came to using fire, good and bad reasons, stupid and ignorant reasons. Even early Cavalry Officer writings to superiors complained about his men throwing their rolled cigarettes off when they were finished and starting numerous grass and brush fires. Fast forward towards today and that 80% is far greater than anything done over a century ago.

  4. “1. Fire size and frequency will increase under a warmer and drier climate”

    I don’t see that as being good for humans, wildlife or forests.

    “2. Fuel reduction on federal lands will do little to reduce acreage burned and homes lost”

    Depends upon the actual site, doesn’t it? Acreage is much more dependent on tactics and ‘feelings’ about ‘Let Burn’.

    “3. Not all forests need restoration”

    There are plenty of places that will never be restored, due to ‘protections’.

    “4. High severity fires often have ecological benefits”

    High severity fires ALWAYS have very negative impacts on humans, wildlife and forests.

    “5. Insect outbreaks do not necessarily make fires worse”

    They do kill old growth and impact endangered species, often severely.

    “6. Land-use planning can reduce wildfire risk”

    So can site-specific planning and projects for forests close to humans.

    “7. Managing more fires to burn safely can reduce risk and increase ecological benefit”

    It can also lead to $6000 lightning fires turning into $100,000,000 firestorms, burning for weeks on end, tying up scarce initial attacks resources in the middle of fire season. It also burns up Forest Service budgets and dwindling Federal funds. It is no wonder that some lawmakers don’t want to fund ‘Let-Burn’ fires from the General Fund. How else can we keep some kind of cap on uncontrolled wildfires?

  5. Sorry if this was redundant. I thought it packaged the ideas in a more easily digestible form.

    Sharon, I’m genuinely ignorant about the politics of publishing science. I don’t think anyone would not recognize this as an advocacy paper, so I don’t think there is any misleading going on. Are you disagreeing with the authors’ statement that they are “wildfire experts?”

    • Here’s what Bob Berwyn said as quoted by Matthew:

      “The researchers behind the new study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” Technically it’s not a “new study” it’s an advocacy op-ed.

      Headwaters calls it a “new research paper” and they are economists, so they know that a research paper generally implies new research.

      Now, if you get into whether they are “wildfire experts” you get into the wondrous scientific world of “what is a fire scientist”.

  6. Land use planning? Yes, planning is good. But can the plan be executed? Can the plan be reviewed from time to time? The review to include an evaluation of how well the goals of the plan were met. If I’m not asking for too much, I would like to see public education on land use. What I see is land use by developer. The attitude I see is that government provides fire protection, so go ahead and build a few houses, no one will notice. What I don’t see or hear is the value added by agreeing on the use of land. I would like to see something like California Irrigation Management Information System, CMIS, for forests. By HUC watershed, to at least the eight digit level. Four streams from the ocean. Ridgelines identified.

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