DellaSala et al: managing for pyro-diversity through mixed-severity fires

New paper from Dellasala, Ingalsbee, Hanson, et al: ACCOMMODATING MIXED-SEVERITY FIRE TO RESTORE AND MAINTAIN ECOSYSTEM INTEGRITY WITH A FOCUS ON THE SIERRA NEVADA OF CALIFORNIA, USA.

Have not read it all yet. A focus: “managing for pyro-diversity through mixed-severity fires can promote ecosystem integrity in Sierran mixed conifer and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Laws) forests.” Seems well researched and presented, but IMHO, the proposition can’t really work in the Sierras, where so much fuel is present. You’ve got to reduce fuels and restore resilience, first and foremost. Would Californians accept more fire in the Sierras? I don’t think so.

 

41 Comments

  1. Additionally, how can management of human-caused fires result in ecological ‘restoration’ when those turn into unmanageable firestorms, like the Biscuit and Rim Fires? AND, we cannot be tying up firefighting resources for weeks, and even months, during the height of fire season? Lastly, we should not be ‘funding’ firestorms, with the huge amount of dollars thrown into fire suppression. For me, burning it all up isn’t “restoration”.

    Since we do have to “get more fire on the ground”, we need to do it on our terms, at times of our choosing. It’s MUCH cheaper to burn a forest in October than in August. Again, this is not all about ecology at all costs. I’m not in favor of the ecological folly of a pre-human landscape.

      • Which humans are volunteers to vacate the premises?
        What proof is there of the landscape prior to humans?
        Since humans are here, the idea of getting back to some preconceived fallacy of conditions prior to humans seems as ridiculous as accepting the increased destruction of habitat by “natural” means, rather than modifying habitat to insure its existence in the future through intelligent management.

      • Yes, you do have to recognize the reality of so many humans, and the certainty of effects and impacts. Waiting for a ‘natural’ fire to burn a forest exactly the way you want it just isn’t a rational plan. Pretending that human-caused wildfires are good isn’t rational, either.

        Or, we could mitigate those known certainties, maybe?

  2. First, I would challenge someone to truly know what the pre-human landscape looked like. Or is it pre-European human landscape?
    Second, I ask again, “What is the benefit of burning a majority of the critical habitat on Federal Land over a 40 year period?”
    This whole notion that burning is better than harvesting is slowly, but surely, being ground truthed. Strangely it’s not following all the theories and scientific predictions that a younger more informed generation keeps making.

      • Fire might temporarily disrupt canopy connectivity but it causes much less severe fragmentation than logging because unlike regen logging, fire leaves behind valuable biological legacies that can allow wildlife to persist after fire or re-occupy the site shortly after fire. Many old growth associated wildlife can live in forests of diverse shrubs, young green trees, mixed with large down wood and large snags.

        • “Fire might temporarily disrupt canopy connectivity…”

          In the Sierra Nevada, re-burns assure us that snags will be fuel for the next inevitable human-caused wildfire. No one can say how long “temporarily” might be. In my Yosemite example, (near Foresta) the ‘natural’ regeneration scheme isn’t working well. Seed sources are quite scarce and much of the burned area is loaded with brush, which effectively prevents pine regeneration. Soils are damaged and water-holding capacity is greatly diminished. Finally, the area is still quite subject to more re-burns, killing any pines that, somehow, found a place to grow.

        • 2ndOutlaw

          Re: “fire leaves behind valuable biological legacies that can allow wildlife to persist after fire or re-occupy the site shortly after fire. Many old growth associated wildlife can live in forests of diverse shrubs, young green trees, mixed with large down wood and large snags.”
          –> Believe it or not, Forest Management prescriptions can do the same thing with less damage to soils and dependent species (including humans) especially when at least part of the costs are offset by revenue derived from a properly designed and executed commercial logging job. Properly designed and executed prescribed burns can do the same thing at considerably lower control costs with less risk to human and other dependent species.

  3. “We suggest a comprehensive approach that integrates wildland fire for ecosystem integrity and species viability with strategic deployment of fire suppression and ecologically based restoration of pyrodiverse landscapes. Our approach would accomplish fire management goals while simultaneously maintaining biodiversity.”

    Such ideas never talk about impacts on people and the realities of a human-dominated environment. Ignoring the sheer amount of human-caused wildfires is quite a feat but, not for a ‘deep blue’ ecologist, living in a fantasy world. Such a plan cannot possibly control where the high intensity spots occur. In the Sierra Nevada, the spots most likely to burn at high intensity are the goshawk/spotted owl circles. They haven’t seen much management, historically, and zero management since 1993. Such a plan would surely be against the Endangered Species Act. What about checkerboarded lands? What about drinking watersheds? What about campgrounds? What about train trestles? Questions, questions, questions!

    Burn it hot, to save it? That’s my take on the quoted paragraph.

  4. Spotted owls and fire have been a question here. Here’s Dellasala’s take:

    Because spotted owls are usually associated with older, dense forests, it was assumed that effects of high-severity wildfires were similar to logging (Weatherspoon et al. 1992). However, recent studies have demonstrated that occupancy (Roberts et al. 2011, Lee et al. 2012, Lee and Bond 2015a) and reproductive success (Roberts 2008, Lee and Bond 2015b) were similar or higher in forests burned with a mixture of fire severities compared to long-unburned forests for up to at least 15 years post fire
    (longer-term studies have not been conducted). Lee and Bond (2015a) reported higher occupancy rates than any Sierra Nevada study area for historical owl breeding sites one year after the Rim Fire. The amount of high-severity fire within an owl pair’s 120 ha protected activity center, as defined by the Forest Service, had no effect on occupancy, although occupancy by single owls declined slightly as the extent of severe-fire patches increased.”

    This weakens arguments that fuel reduction treatments are necessary to protect spotted owls (with maybe some implications for other “old-growth dependent species”).

    • Nobody knows just how many actual, historical nests (used and re-used) burn in even a moderate intensity wildfire. I’m sure there are figures around that show how many known nesting sites were lost in recent wildfires. Or, that number could be easily produced. Owls are notoriously lazy in building nests. A dominant pair needs multiple nests over their lifetime, in the same general nesting habitat zone. Occupancy does not equal reproduction, by a long shot.

    • “Because spotted owls are usually associated with older, dense forests, it was assumed that effects of high-severity wildfires were similar to logging (Weatherspoon et al. 1992).”

      So, I assume that “logging” means pre-1992 styles of logging, including high-grading and clearcutting. It looks to me that the current style, in the Sierra Nevada, of “thinning from below” was not analyzed in this scenario.

    • Huh…so it seems it’s a “forage issue” and not a “cover issue”…sounds like the elk issue all along. I read a similar study about goshawks and pine beetle killed forest…one year after epidemic peaked. No effect at all! Of course nobody thought to look 15 years after the 80% mortality became deadfall with a 20BA green tree retention. I have no time for “short time” studies. Frankly, I doubt this “reburn” is gonna leave much of a mixed severity forest. I’ve looked at many recent fires on google earth…and I’m not seeing a lot of mixed severity except the Refugia in valleys.

    • Jon

      Can you provide links for your statement as mentioned above: “However, recent studies have demonstrated that occupancy (Roberts et al. 2011, Lee et al. 2012, Lee and Bond 2015a) and reproductive success (Roberts 2008, Lee and Bond 2015b) were similar or higher in forests burned with a mixture of fire severities compared to long-unburned forests for up to at least 15 years post fire”

      So far, I haven’t run across these in my slow progress towards a post on the NSO.

  5. I would suggest a study be done on high severity burns of the critical habitat on the Klamath Complex from 2013.
    There is also the question of long term viability of habitat when all the suitable live trees are killed. Snags will not last for 120 years to allow 100 year old trees to grow into habitat. Repeated burns of habitat every 10-15 years may make it even tougher to replace habitat. Again, while there are studies that have a rosy look at the initial large fire, there appears to be a lack of study and common sense recognition, that the subsequent fires under the current management plans will compound loss of habitat and the ability to replace the lost habitat for generations. The proof of this succession is being shown each year.

  6. What a mess, most the state of Oregon is covered in heavy old growth forest smoke. Highways are closed, outdoor recreation opportunities degraded, if not impossible. Forests we are willing to destroy communities to persevere, now going up in flames.
    We are either going to have manage our forests and use the accumulated carbon of the forests in intelligent ways or continue spending billions burning our forests habitats up, polluting our air and adding to causes of global climate change.
    The 1/4 acre fire Chetco Bar fire is now 98,000 acres. I couldn’t understand how it went from 6,000 to 98,000 acres in a few days. I am guessing that FS just decided that they could make the fire perimeter larger.

      • What’s the price of a human life?

        According to the official account at Inciweb:

        “The Chetco Bar Fire was reported on July 12, 2017 at approximately 1:43 p.m. The initial size-up of the fire was 1/4 acre burning in the 2002 Biscuit Fire and 1987 Silver Fire scars located in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, roughly six air miles west of Pearsoll Peak and north of the Chetco River.

        A rappel crew was dispatched and arrived on the fire the first day. Due to the extremely steep, rugged and inaccessible terrain, typical of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, operations were limited to creating a helispot for insertion of two crews to scout the fire. The rappel crews were unable to safely engage the fire and were flown out the following day, July 13, 2017.

        Because of the risk to firefighter safety, low probability of success of a direct attack strategy and minimal values at risk, fire personnel are currently focused on constructing contingency lines, conducting reconnaissance for access, scouting safe entry points, locating natural features for containment opportunities, protecting wilderness values and developing a long term plan for safely engaging the fire.

        Fire managers recognize the Chetco Bar Fire will likely be a long term event. It is being managed under a suppression strategy using a mixture of direct, indirect and point protection tactics when and where there is a high probability of success. Fire personnel will engage the fire at the appropriate time and location, while keeping public and firefighter safety as our top priority.”

        Also, for whatever it’s worth, a longtime wilderness advocate who lives in southwestern Oregon had this to say about the fire:

        “As a supporter and defender of wilderness areas, and a past student of journalism, I’m getting darn tired of the misinformation coming out concerning the Chetco fire.

        It ‘started’ in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and the footprint of the Silver and Biscuit burn, but burned only a small fraction of it’s current size in that area. The vast majority of it is not and never was, burning in the wilderness area.

        Further, the fact that it was not attacked hard in the very beginning had little to nothing to do with the wilderness designation. It had everything to do with terrain, fire intensity, resource priorities and management decisions at the top of the Forest Service chain of command.

        Accuracy in journalism seems to have taken a back seat to the rush to publish, sensationalism and influencing people’s outlooks on the issues we face. And at the end of the day, we all lose out.”

        • Simply pounding it with airdrops, over a two or three day period, would probably put it out. One quarter acre is a mere 100 foot by 100 foot area. If they knew it was going to be such a problem (and, yes, the Chetco Effect is a real thing!), then they had a chance to very safely douse the fire with sheer gallons.

          Again, if it “needs to burn”, then we should be burning it outside of July, August and September.

        • I’ve been on the very slope the fire started. Yes it’s steep, but they had opportunity to wash it off the slope with bucket drops. Then mop it up with the repel crew that was already there and baby sit it for a week. If the bucket drops caused rollers then continue with more bucket drops. The fact of where and when it started should have been a red flag to any manager with common sense. 1) the likelyhood of it not spreading was extremely low. 2) there is enough recent history of fire in that area to make a reasonable assumption that it is likely to be effected by an east wind event and “blow up”.
          This is another example of irresponsible mismanagement, but the supervisors will throw up the safety card for the lack of initial attack and ignore the fact they endangered thousands of private citizens and increased the risk of injury or death to hundreds of firefighters due to thousands of exposure hours.

      • The wildfires occurring where there is logging are aggressively suppressed and don’t burn a quarter of the acres as federally mismanaged fires do. Currently more than 30,000 acres of private land has been destroyed on the Chetco Bar Fire, because of the lack of management on federal land, a number that is sure to grow before it is done. Also, there are no large uncontained fires that started on state protected private lands in Oregon.
        As usual the desire to ignore facts in favor of rhetoric still shine through.

    • Bob

      Your assumption is correct – “This summer another very large wildfire, the Chetco Bar Fire, is burning partially in the footprints of the Biscuit and another nearby blaze, the 1987 Silver Fire. Also under a limited suppression strategy, the 788 personnel assigned today are faced with the steep slopes in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness as well as brush and dangerous snags left in the previously burned areas.”
      http://wildfiretoday.com/2017/08/22/chetco-bar-fire-in-oregon-quadruples-in-four-days-approaches-100000-acres/

  7. My information comes from first hand accounts. About what human life, what is easier to deal with, a 1/4 fire or 98,000 acre firestorm?
    It is definitely about poor leadership, and a FS that wants fire.
    It is a tragedy, the FS is responsible, and people like Dellasala and Chad Hanson are also responsible.

      • Wow, a better example of sidestepping couldn’t have been dreamed up Matt, but you need to bait the hook better.
        When there are people like Hanson and others, that use a degree as a license to promote an agenda, they are in part, responsible for the results of that agenda. With each passing fire season we are seeing a different result on the ground, than what is spouted off in papers and speeches as “facts”, to those who don’t get out and see the results. The blame on climate change is losing ground quickly, the need to save the owl is already proven a fallacy as the numbers continue to fall, etc.
        Humans are part of the landscape and just as the timber industry was (wrongly) blamed for the demise of the NSO, the political scientist and agency should shoulder the blame/liability for their agenda.

        • Boy, oh boy. We certainly see the world through much different lenses. Among other things, I’m very relieved to learn from you that the timber industry cutting down most all of the ancient old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest had no impact on the Northern Spotted Owl.

          • Science can’t say “we need snags along roads” because it’s not a sciecne question. It’s a policy question. However, science can point out that a landscape with a dense road network will have a severe shortage of snags.

            Unroaded areas are one of the few places where trees are allowed to fulfill their entire “lifecycle” (including their life-giving role as snags, dead wood, and soil builders) in the forest. Korol et al (2002) found that large snag habitat is below historic range of variability across the Interior Columbia Basin and they estimated that even if the agencies apply enlightened forest management on federal lands in the Interior Columbia Basin for the next 100 years, we will still reach only 75% of the historic large snag abundance, and most of the increase in large snags will occur in roadless and wilderness areas. Jerome J. Korol, Miles A. Hemstrom, Wendel J. Hann, and Rebecca A. Gravenmier. 2002. Snags and Down Wood in the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. PNW-GTR-181. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/gtr-181/049_Korol.pdf.

            Wisdom et al (2008) found that snag abundance in the Pacific northwest forests is inversely related to past harvest and proximity to roads. Wisdom, M.J., and Bate, L.J. 2008. Snag density varies with intensity of timber harvest and human access. For. Ecol. Manage. 255: 2085–2093. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.12.027. http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/journals/pnw_2008_wisdom001.pdf (“Our highest snag density … occurred in unharvested stands that had no adjacent roads. … Stands with no history of timber harvest had 3 times the density of snags as stands selectively harvested, and 19 times the density as stands having undergone complete harvest. Stands not adjacent to roads had almost 3 times the density of snags as stands adjacent to roads.”)

            • Did it mention that previous stands of mature timber destroyed by high severity fire have 20 times more snags than stands not harvested, but lack 90 percent of the green retention trees?

            • In the Sierra Nevada, road densities don’t seem too bad, to me. Currently, new road construction is kept to a minimum, due to doing only thinning projects, in the Sierra Nevada. The roads are there, and they serve the land pretty well. Since they won’t be removed, any time soon, they should be made safe. There is nothing wrong with using existing roads…. and restoring their function, at the same time.

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