Agreement Check-In: More Fire on the Landscape?

Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service
Pre-firing operations are starting Wednesday in the HD Mountains to expand the 842 Fire.
The fire was caused by lightning and has burned about 13 acres. Expanding the fire will provide beneficial aspects for the mountain forest, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Good explanation of a current WFU here in the Journal (Cortez, Dolores, Mancos, Colorado).

There was only one comment on yesterday’s post (thanks Forester 353!), so I want to run these questions again to see where people are.

There seems to be a broad agreement among different people that we “need to put fire back on the landscape” (where feasible). Some people look at it as “there are fire dependent ecosystems so they need it” and others may think “we’re going to get fires anyway, so we might as well make life easier for suppression folks and prescribed burning is great for fuel reduction”.. these differences may play out at designing treatments on a specific landscape, but I’m not sure the differences are that important at this level of discussion.

As folks have pointed out, there are many barriers to increasing the use of PBs and WFU and conceivably everyone who thinks that “we need more fire” could join hands and work on those together.. everyone from WEG to AFRC. Which may be the kind of work the Washington Prescribed Fire Council is doing- I have a request in for an interview.

If we agree (1) We need more fire on the landscape
(2) Choices for this are Prescribed Burns (PBs) and Wildfire Fire Use. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

I’d like to hear from folks on the blog. But since we don’t represent everyone associated with the land management community, including groups known for litigation, I would be really interested to know if there has been litigation on prescribed burning projects without mechanical fuels treatment (which might be the point of disagreement). I realize that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but I’m not even sure there is a public database that a person could query to find out.

Please chime in either way including with your caveats.

6 Comments

  1. Sharon

    1) I have repeatedly stated and provided evidence on this site of the scientific basis for PB & WFU (to a lessor degree). So naturally, I am in favor of more but only as I have seen it in the south where such actions must be pre-approved by the state forestry agency based on specific and well documented scientific procedures dependent on weather expectations, fuels related info and available resources.

    2) As to “I would be really interested to know if there has been litigation on prescribed burning projects without mechanical fuels treatment”
    I can’t speak to the litigation but I believe that “prescribed burning projects without mechanical fuels treatment” is too broad of a statement because, as stated in #1 above, conditions on the ground and weather expectations have more to do with success or failure or catastrophic failure than anything else. Mechanical fuels treatment means nothing if it has been too long ago or weather and fuels are prone to sparks being carried too high or too far. Likewise, PB can be fine without prior fuels reduction if ladder fuels and spark carry are not a concern while weather and fuel moisture is appropriate. There is no simple formula it is mostly science but significant judgement is required to properly apply the science.

  2. I think we do need to do more burning but, letting fires burn in the middle of fire season, for dubious “resource benefits” just isn’t a good idea. Sure, if it is spring time, go ahead and consider letting it burn. One key issue that people often overlook is the availability of initial attack resources in the middle of summer. Locking up resources for weeks and weeks and weeks in containing fires allowed to become huge and intense is not what I want to see. With safety in mind, we should be aggressively attacking fires, and putting them out, during the summer months. If the lands truly “need fire on the ground”, then we should think about torching them during more appropriate times.

    Of course, there will always be the liability issues, and the Forest Service knows all too well the problems associated with such plans. Many areas will need thinning projects before they can set up a prescribed burn. Congress needs to be convinced of the idea that we need to invest in our National Forests. Instead, Congress, including both Republicans and Democrats, seems to have their own “Whatever Happens” mindset, regarding funding.

  3. Has there been litigation on stand-alone prescribed burning projects? The FS could probably answer that. I could see potential challenges coming from adjacent landowners or air quality interests, but I would guess that if these kind of objections were raised, the FS would not proceed.

    • There appears to be some resistance to burning programs, especially near where people live. NIMBY seems to be quite active, regarding fire safety, thinning projects and active burning. There is an organized group against burning projects in the Sierra Nevada, based on smoke impacts. They insist that firefighters allow Sierra fires to become huge but, I’m pretty sure that just isn’t a true story.

  4. Please, less fire on the Westside of the Cascades. The skies are full of smoke, hiking trails are closed, and there is talk of closing a main highway. (Not so good for tourism and recreation).
    The FS does let fires burn in the middle of summer.
    We have made a bad trade off. Forest management by fire is extremely expensive, destructive, and poor way to take care of your forests. (These are the same forests we are “preserving” no matter what the social economic costs).
    I have seen too many pristine, lush, moist, old growth forests turned into hot, dry, arid areas with nothing left but rocks and dead trees. I have visited these same areas a decade later to see impenetrable brush waiting to burn again. Where is the benefit in this? This is the legacy we are leaving future generations?

  5. Bob

    1) One size does not fit all.
    2) Judgement is imperfect in the application of fire science.
    3) PB/Controlled Burns alone in heavy to coppice brush can make the brush mad and come back with a vengeance.
    4) Blind, one size fits all “preserving” forests can kill forests or allow them to move to another type in the normal process of succession (i.e. overly dense shade intolerant species and those with a shade tolerant understory). An example of this was mentioned by someone in another post recently pointing out that certain stands of giant sequoias are doomed unless human intervention is allowed to remove the ?? White Fir ?? understory.
    5) In case anyone missed my main point, let me state again that attempts to simplify forest policy down to “Leave it alone always” or to “Manage everything always” is guaranteed to fail to meet the desired goals for our federal forests and will fail to minimize any significant detrimental impacts on the surrounding and downwind population.

    Again, One size does not fit all situations. As human population increases the need for site/location specific (prescription) forest management will have to increase to some degree on federal lands and the ability to leave it alone will be forced to decrease in order to “conserve” over the landscape rather than “preserve” in a specific location. Many examples of successful cooperative efforts to strike a middle ground have been posted on this blog site. They demonstrate the flexibility of forest management to mimic natural processes on a small scale and, thereby, minimize the risk of large catastrophic acreage losses (which make recovery more difficult for all dependent/affected species from endangered to mankind).

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