Points and counterpoints on fuel treatments

I think these opinion columns pretty much capture the debate:

George Wuerthner:  “Thinning doesn’t help fight wildfires”

12 respected foresters:  “Effectiveness of fuel treatment on wildfires”

George Wuerthner:  “Put focus on home environments”

I think Wuerthner’s main point is that fuel treatments work best in circumstances where they are least needed, so there’s not really much of a return on the investment.

I think it’s also fair to say the that the question of whether a fuel treatment is cost-effective (in a broad sense of the term) depends on where it is, and particularly the likelihood and value of resources being protected or impaired.  The second article asks a good question:  “what purpose ‘chronic objectors’ have in slowing this beneficial work.”  It shouldn’t be hard to identify the differences between those projects challenged and those that aren’t.  My guess is you’ll find the former tend to be in undeveloped areas or old forests or lynx habitat and the latter are not but are closer to communities.  In any case, if you give the Forest Service a blank (litigation-free) check to pick whatever areas they want there is no incentive for a full accounting of the costs and benefits.

5 Comments

  1. This is the awkward part of those three ‘C-words’. Consensus is the hardest part to achieve but, there should be many things we can all learn to accept and allow, complete with limitations. We should be able to do thinning, insect and wildfire salvage, and roadside hazard tree projects, without the chance for litigation, as long as guidelines are met.

    The third ‘C-word’, “Compromise” should be relatively easier, as projects are designed, with full transparency. Other types of projects not falling into those categories should still meet proper NEPA, in my humble opinion. Eco-lawyers should still be allowed to question whether such projects meet the categories. This would, hopefully, motivate managers to stick to the categories and not try to slide something by.

  2. “… a product of our home environment and not the forest environment miles away from homes.” Except, that forest environment is no longer ‘miles away’ given recent homeowner trends. If the compromise is to focus on woodland urban interface areas because that is where the highest human values are located, then oversight deserves to be not as intense. Otherwise, we all are complicit in property/life loss.

    I acknowledge this is not as simple as I present, but neither opinion piece fully represents the full picture of this complex situation.

    • I think there are still a lot of places that are ‘miles away’ in the west, and I’m sure that is where these authors were thinking about. I can see how the fragmented eastern ownership among “woodlands” would be more of problem for this argument, but my perception is that fuel treatments are less controversial (or common?) there?

      • Maybe so, but there are WAY more people living amongst the forests today than 15 years ago. I do not agree with the statement that forests are “miles away”. That seems less relevant to the dialog occurring today.

      • But Wuerther skips by a couple of points.. there is plenty of infrastructure in western forests that are not “houses” and plenty of watersheds that could and do use protection. Plus if fires are more intense it is helpful to suppression forces to have spots to slow the fire down- but that needs to be figured out locally and not generalized.

        And you can’t just hand-wave “cost-effective”… as we all know that’s a pretty complex and difficult thing to analyze, with a lot of assumptions.

        “It shouldn’t be hard to identify the differences between those projects challenged and those that aren’t. My guess is you’ll find the former tend to be in undeveloped areas or old forests or lynx habitat and the latter are not but are closer to communities. ” I don’t think it’s that simple. It seems to have more to do with what environmental groups are in a location (e.g. Montana)(e.g. Colt Summit). Also I don’t think most FS folks, pragmatic as they are, aren’t proposing projects in “the backcountry” unless they are specifically designed for watershed or powerlines or some other obvious purpose (Helena watershed?). Do you have any examples of such a project?

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