New Topics or Questions from Readers

The purpose of comments on this page is to raise new topics that don’t fit existing posts.

31 Comments

  1. sharon – I’m still enjoying this site, especially the hot debate about the NezPerce-Clearwater.

    Browsing around I found that the link attached to Char Miller on the contributors page goes to a very strange place: an unformatted, barely intelligible diatribe about cell phones and airplanes

  2. Hi Sharon and Valued Contributors-

    I was hoping that you all could shed a little light on the status of the Stewardship Contracting Authority. It was my understanding that the Stewardship Contracting Authority was due to expire at the end of September 2013.

    In doing a little digging around, it appears that an attempt to reauthorize it this summer, S. 1300: Stewardship Contracting Reauthorization and Improvement Act, hasn’t moved out of committee. I was wondering if there would be any implications to this authority expiring, possibly with current contracts under the provision (perhaps the 4FRI).

    Your perspectives are greatly appreciated.

    F. Scott Wagner

    • I asked SAF’s policy director John Barnwell, about the Stewardship Contracting Authorization. Here’s his reply:

      “Stewardship Contracting Authorization expired on September 30th , but a provision for a short-term extension of the authority was included in the House of Representatives Continuing Resolution prior to the government shutdown.

      “We will see, reauthorization is clearly a priority for the Administration and appears to have bipartisan support in Congress. Reauthorization is also included in the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. A conference committee composed of members of the House and Senate was just designated to discuss and hammer out a negotiated Farm Bill this week.

      “S. 1300 Stewardship Contracting Reauthorization and Improvement Act was introduced by Senators Flake and McCain. SAF and others sent letters expressing appreciation for their recognition of the importance of Stewardship Contracting to federal management of forests. However, this bill would be the third best option for pursuing reauthorization of the authority. The best option is a negotiated Farm Bill, followed by a short-term extension through the appropriations process, and the third option is to garner support for this bill in the House and then finding a vehicle to pass the bill and get it to the President’s desk for signature.”

  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fires

    Links to a list of historical fires. Records of the fires concentrate on the cause of the fire, (Mrs.. O’Leary’s cow. war. lightning). A few historical records mention weather as a contributing factor.

    Are there weather studies that identified the weather conditions before and during the time of the fire?

    What I’m looking for are the statistical outlying weather conditions associated with fire.

    For instance the Peshtigo – Chicago fire of October 8, 1871. Or the Hamburg fires of 1284 and May 1842.

    Is 2014 California a potential Peshtigo?

    Are there hundred year or thousand year exceedences of a weather feature associated with major fires? Low humidity, high wind, extended drought, lightning, dust devils, are possible weather or climate factors associated with large fires.

    If there is a weather effect, should insurance companies charge for increased risk in areas identified as having higher risk? Should insurance be priced by ZIP code? Should insurance rates be established on historical loss payments within a five mile radius?

    Should building codes be tailored to the expected circumstances? Consider off shore on shore winds like the Santa Ana or Sirocco. Should there be a one size fits all building code? Or should code be tailored to expected conditions? If tailored to expected conditions, which conditions should be considered? Hundred year events? Thousand year events?

    I suspect the Peshtigo fire was associated with a drought summer following a wet spring. Vegetation bloomed early on then died for lack of water. Reports form the time concentrate on fuels from logging. The lumber to build Chicago came from upper Wisconsin. During those two or four days in October 1871 there are also reports of fires from Nebraska to Canada. Following a front line. Forests in Michigan were destroyed. Beaches were created where there had been forests.

    The Hamburg fire resulted in expansion of the re-insurance markets. Larger insurance companies sold risk protection. For a fee, property owners could buy insurance to pay for losses under defined conditions. Insurance companies could lay off the extreme statistical tails of loss by buying risk protection from re-insurance companies. Re-insurance companies sold peace of mind, protection against the extreme known variables. The commodity being sold was not so much reimbursement as it was narrowing the range of loss. Pay a few percent of the value of the property to be protected. Those payments are a loss. If the loss happens, you get reimbursed. If you don’t buy insurance, your are self insuring. You don’t have the loss of paying annual premiums. But when you do have a loss, you pay the replacement cost yourself. Huge variation in outlay. Let’s see, should I pay for insurance to protect myself for variability, or should I bank the money and foot the bill for any loss? Or should I call my cousin the Congressman to bail me out? Hmmm?

    Scientific explanation of weather associated with large, rare fires may be an exercise in futility unless the political masters recognize the value of acting on real life information.

    For instance, Santa Ana winds in southern California are on a daily cycle overlaid by a yearly cycle. Severe years are on a seven to ten year cycle. Shore breezes go up the mountains during sunlight, drop their moisture and then come back down the hill in darkness as warm dry air. A daily cycle. Superimposed is a seasonal cycle. Growing cycle, no precipitation. Drying cycle, fuels build up. Fire cycle stuff burns. Precipitation cycle follows with hillsides washing into valleys. Followed by construction season to replace the houses lost to fire or flood. Followed by a growing cycle, followed by a ….

    Should structures in a Santa Ana footprint have building codes that reflect observed hazard? Or should there be a single building code for an entire county? If a single building code, how do you explain the additional cost to those not in the Santa Ana footprint? How do you explain the increased marginal risk to people in the footprint?

    Politically the scientific question of identifying fire risk areas is moot.

    One result of the efforts defined in the fire tax bill was to quantify risk using fenced money. The “fire tax” would be used to prepare a map. A map that would identify areas in need of special construction. For instance areas lacking in water might require sprinkler systems, automatic call to 911 if a smoke detector activates. Fire tax would fund local programs under a clearing house selection. Things like fuels reduction, preparation of Community Wildfire Protection Plans, correction of access issues.

    The reaction to the fire tax was less than acceptance. The “fire tax” is roughly three times as great as the tax to pay for fire fighting provided by special district fire fighters or Amador Contracts with CalFire. The Board of Equalization protested that the amount of money to collect the tax was out of line compared to the cost of collecting other taxes. Howard Jarvis Tax Foundation protested on the grounds that the “fee for service” aspects of the Assembly bill were actually taxes and not fees.

    The fees have been collected for several years, but not spent. There are eight areas in which the “fire tax” money can be spent. The law required annual appropriation bills to spend the money. Though the collection method suggested that Legislators intent was to allow the Executive Department, Governor, CalFire, local fire agencies to collect the money as a fee and fence it for dedicated fire mitigation efforts. And to modify the amount collected.

    Not fire fighting. For Mitigation.

    One item was mapping. Where are the most hazardous areas? For that matter, where are the State Responsibility Areas? Where are the geographic areas covered by a fire department? Where is the water that can be used for fire fighting? Do visiting firemen know where that water is? Do dispatchers know where that water is? Should dispatchers and visiting firemen really care about identifying sources of fire fighting water?

    The total amount requested for the first year, $80 million seems to be in line with the eight items. The process to determine future year tax based on prior year results, in my estimation, is prudent. This is not an open purse collection. Results doesn’t mean having receipts to show where the money was spent. Results would be things like reduced insurance premiums, fewer loss payments, watershed protection. reservoirs not silting. Power distribution not interrupted.

    Who pays the tax is suspect. Only people living in structures in the SRA pay the tax. Was the tax imposed only on those residents based on the increased risk of fire and the increased losses due to their presence in the SRA? Was the tax a social measure to discourage building in an SRA? Do other beneficiaries contribute? For instance, water districts using water collected in SRA catchments. Would water districts benefit by having more reliable sources of water? Sources not threatened by fire or weather?

    Bottom line. We, in my opinion, are caught in a do nothing loop. The law was passed, legislators look good. The law is challenged, Jarvis and the BOE look good. Does the home owner in a SRA feel good? Who cares, that was not a question to be answered by the money collected by the fire tax.

    Another political overlay is that government becomes insurer of last resort. Insurance companies pay loses only up to some dollar maximum. Then the feds and states shell out to keep insurance companies from going belly up.

    Without fenced money to pay for mapping and weather information, those two activities will not happen. Nor will the other six.

    Money for CalFire will be dedicated to firefighting. Period.

    Activities that citizens can see. Period.

    Nothing for prevention.

    Citizens do not see prevention. Except maybe inspections. One of the things to be funded by the fire tax is inspections. Anticipate yearly inspections on a ten year cycle. Expect at least two inspections. One from CalFire, One from you insurance company. Expect the two inspections to be in conflict.

    You don’t have to burn down the house to eat roast pig.

  4. Hi… I am glad to find this site/portal and wish I had more time to read; I am completely ignorant in this area. I am looking for a good intro/connection to support some/any arguments against the American Lands Access Association’s arguments for unfettered access etc., as supported by regional and national mineral club federations. I’m also a busy parent and just can’t keep up with reading, even good reading. I would welcome any helpful comments or contacts… find me via email if you are an admin, or contact me via the Danbury Mineralogical Club PAGE on Facebook. Thanks.

  5. I just finished reading Jack Ward Thomas’ book, The Journals of a Forest Service Chief, based on his journal entries 1990-96. As expressed in the book, Thomas was warm to the concept of “ecosystem management” as a replacement for the Forest Service’s previously more ‘timber-centric’ mode of pursuing multiple use.
    My question is, is “ecosystem management” still the holy grail? If so, has it been achieved? If not, why not? and what, if any, is the new buzzword/paradigm/etc.??
    Appreciate readers’ thoughts — thanks.
    BTW, my Forestkeeper blog is wwkeye.wordpress.com

    • Pretty cool blog stuff you have. Welcome!

      However, you should know that there is an extreme eco-group that goes by the name of “Forestkeepers”, too. I have butted heads with them before, about 10 years ago. They accused the Sequoia NF of “breaking laws” on active salvage projects, using photographs as evidence. I truly enjoyed using photos of my own to prove each accusation wrong.

      I certainly do not think that the current management system is working for too many western forests. I do like the three “C-words” of Collaboration, Consensus and Compromise in using site-specific science to restore long-lived forests.

  6. Sharon:

    This blog has been stuck on Chapter 4 of Botkin’s book for several months now. Maybe it is time to move forward with Jack Ward’s book now? I’m good for the first four chapters of that one, too, and then willing to move on if no one else wants to push forward. Should we create a “Book Discussion” page, with Botkin rated at Chapter 4, and then begin featuring The Journals in the right hand column, with both books listed on the Discussion Page? A lot of the people on this blog are USFS professionals or retirees, and the rest of us realize how important it is that we properly manage our nation’s forests. Thomas’ book would seem to be a good choice to discuss at this time. In my opinion.

    • Yes, that sounds good, and I even ran across my copy of Thomas’s book when cleaning out yesterday, but I don’t have the time to work on it.. I can help you (or anyone) figure out how to do the design part if you want, though.

  7. Larry, I am aware of the Sequoia Forestkeepers group. There are other ___keeper groups out there, as well. I decided years ago that I was a “forestkeeper” myself, and wasn’t going to cede this moral high ground to anybody. So I named my little corporation, back in 2002, California Forest Keepers Incorporated.
    It’s only this year that I have come out as “The Forestkeeper.” And why not? Thank you for your kind comments about the blog (wwkeye.wordpress.com).

    • Well, the Sierra Club has overruled their local chapter, clinging to the idea that all salvage logging is very bad for recovery. Also not mentioned is the groups that have vowed to fight ANY efforts to recovery in the Rim Fire, claiming that more dead acres means more blackbacked woodpeckers. The “best available science” says otherwise, in this particular situation. If you put each and every BBW in California inside the Rim Fire, there would still plenty of room for more. The stickler is after 6 years, all of those birds will have to move on to find more freshly-killed trees, or retreat to the green forests and survive off of scattered snags. After those 6 years, with no “snag thinning”, those forests that burned at medium to high intensities will have to wait for many decades (or even an entire century!) before it can grow large trees again. Indeed, some parts within the Rim Fire haven’t seen big trees in more than 40 years! Yes, those eco-groups have gone on record saying they want more wildfires, with more high-intensity destruction of old growth forests that owls and goshawks require for essential nesting habitats.

      It’s a good article Bill but, the reality is unchanged. Until we get legal reforms, preservationist groups will continue to block projects that thin snags in burned areas. I predict that these groups will provide pictures of how SPI lands are salvaged, using them to block Forest Service projects. I’m actually looking forward to seeing the infighting between eco-groups, and how it will affect the public’s view of the Sierra Club, Chad Hanson and the CBD. Also, harvesting less than 30,000 acres of a 257,000 acre wildfire isn’t a “victory” for the Forest Service and the timber industry. What good are protected owl and goshawk PACs when all the trees are dead?

      • It is certainly true that the Rim Fire is going to be a test case for public forestry. There are forces rallying to save the old “zero cut” religion, but I’m not sure that they will succeed this time around. Some seem so fixated upon how awful salvage logging is that they fail to recognize that adding to the USFS tally of “deforested conditions” is unlikely to add to their moral authority. This season will tell the tale.

  8. I have often wondered how salvaged logging got such a bad reputation. We have harvested such small amounts of our burned federal forests lands I don’t see how they could prove any damage was done to our forests by salvage logging. I could show you new trees growing right out of skid trails left after salvage logging. They could also take a look at how fast private forest land turns green with new trees after post fire harvest. I find it amazing we have to convince people that green forests are better than a burnt, dead ones.

    • Again, it comes from the “Do No Harm” and “Whatever Happens” mindset. At the Rim Fire, a critical choice must be made. If you want it replanted, then salvage logging is a must, for the most part. It is wasteful and ineffective to replant an area that will re-burn (at high intensity, if fuels are “preserved”) in the next 20-40 years. We’ve seen excellent examples of that, already, within the Rim Fire. WHY must we do that failed “experiment” again?!?! The serial litigators want you to think that incinerated forests are healthy and “a good thing” for biodiversity. Well, we have 257,000 acres of that, and 80,000 acres of it will be perfectly preserved (and not replanted) in Yosemite National Park. Actually, that land is MUCH better for what the preservationists want but, apparently, it isn’t enough for them.

      They will trot out pictures of 80’s era salvage logging, or even SPI’s salvaged lands, to show how we shouldn’t salvage public lands. They will point to “greed” as the reason for all salvage logging, ignoring the benefits of fuels reduction and soils protection.

      Be sure to look at the pictures from this post ( http://forestpolicypub.com/2013/10/09/why-we-need-to-salvage-and-replant-the-rim-fire/ ) to see what modern salvage projects on Forest Service lands look like. The second picture shows what post-salvage looks like just 6 months after it was completed.

    • Ironically, I saw “Rim Fire National Monument” proposed in a rafting blog (with nary a mention of replanting, re-burns or herbicide use). Even the hazard tree statistics were lumped into the rest of the project, as if it were possible to not make safe the roads to key infrastructure. Roads were mentioned but, it was apparent that the blogger didn’t know that “road reconstruction” is ALWAYS a good thing, restoring anti-erosion function when the projects are completed.

      YAY! Save the dead trees in plantations!! Snags are people, too!! Hug a snag today! *smirk*

      What it really boils down to is a few thousand acres of incinerated larger trees, in steeper terrain. Most of that is in an around former nesting habitat for owls and goshawks. IMHO, it should no longer be protected, but….

  9. Knowing the current state of litigation within the forestry realm I intend to post this comment on the public comment portion of the USFWS website for the Northern Long Eared Bat ESA Listing. For those of you whom do not know what is going on… The USWLS has extended its comment period for the listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat. Due to 4 states Governors: WI, MN, IL, MI; and the support of SAF state chapters within these states we have gotten a lengthened comment period due to end on 8-29-14. If you have an opinion please post before then! If you want to learn more please look here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nlba/ or read what follows. If your ready to comment post here:http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FWS-R5-ES-2011-0024-0338 or going to http://www.regulations.gov and searching for FWS-R5-ES-2011-0024. My comment will contain some but not all of the following. First lets think of this logically and draw some correlations between two different species and see where it leads us. Would you support the listing of all Ash Trees (bats) as Endangered Species? The Emerald Ash Borer (white nose syndrome) is an invasive insect(fungus) species that has been introduced to a native population with little to no resistance to said invader. I admit that it will have a massive effect on said species and think that trying to create more habitat for the species, which was doing very well before said invasive was introduced, is truly in vein. If more habitat would save the species then, with the amount of habitat available, we would not be having to question whether or not to list said species on the ESA. Both the Ash trees and Northern Long Eared Bat had been doing well due to current forestry practices. Limiting good Silvicultural, science based, practices which have been proven to promote healthy forests would only be detrimental to the forest ecology of effected stands. The current recommendations will lead to further lawsuits and stagnation, unhealthy forests, within the forest environment. Please post a comment and give your response as the decision is somewhat based on the comments obtained by the public. I support the listing of all Ash Trees (The Northern Long Eared Bat) as long as my hands remain untied when it comes to practicing good forestry which has been proven to provide good habitat and long term productivity for said species.

  10. I would just really like to know, if anyone capable can honestly say, why the USDA Forest Service settles in some natural resources-oriented litigation when they have a chance to really prevail. Perhaps it is to save taxpayer money, which is a good, sound reason. Or perhaps, plaintiff’s know that more losses will be damaging to their cause…so they try to settle, and generally succeed due to the USFS wanting to save time and costs. The savings to the Public is the only valid reason I can think of to settle. But perhaps those who participate more regularly in this blog- those with a smidge more legal expertise- can enlighten me and other readers. No case or cause in particular, just an observation of late. Thanks!

    • I’m sure that one of our legal experts can verify this but, it seems like the Forest Service reaches a settlement only when they have already lost in court. I also think that a winning litigant could decide not to enter into settlement proceedings, preferring the court to decide what the Agency can, and cannot do, under the decision. I’ve seen the Forest Service have to pay undocumented legal fees for the Plaintiff, too, in those settlements. I’d like to see FULL transparency in such matters, myself.

    • “They” is the Department of Justice. They settle when they become convinced they are likely to lose. That may be obvious at the outset from the complaint, and they tell the FS to withdraw the decision. It may happen after a preliminary injunction goes against them, which often tips a judge’s hand. Sometimes it is after a court decision to agree on the relief, rather than risk what a court would decide. Or anywhere in between. Cost (and resources) is a consideration in how much risk they are willing to take and how long they stay in the game. And you can’t rule out politics and changing administrations as being a factor in some cases.

  11. I’d like to see folks weigh in on the directions that USFS R&D is taking. The Northern Research Station for example is rapidly expanding and building capacity in nebulous quasi-social science directions with “urban field stations” in NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and apparent soon, East Lansing, MI. All the while, labs doing oak regeneration, ecological restoration, forest pathogens, and wildlife and fisheries work continue to be depleted and deemphasized. Mill towns from Marlinton to Millinocket to Menominee struggle with the changing face of the wood products industry and yet we use precious resources to ask if city dwellers appreciate green space (wasn’t that settled years ago by Olmstead?). I’d rather do work supporting a robust forest products industry and provide science that gets national forests back in the management game. What is driving this and can the W.O. really justify moving into work outside the agency mission when so many things are left undone?

  12. Thanks Larry and John – I should have been clearer. I was mostly referring to instances where the Forest Service (or other Government agency) had already prevailed in a lower District court (e.g., not had any injunctions issued/already been granted summary judgment) but was still waiting for an appellate court to hear Plaintiff’s appeal of the lower Court’s ruling and issue an opinion. I’m guessing that Plaintiff and the Government choose/chose to settle in those instances to save time/taxpayer funds…or perhaps the issues the Government is being ‘sued’ over are no longer viewed as worthwhile arguments by the Plaintiff(s), and they don’t want to waste their own time or contributor funds. Or perhaps they don’t want the potential case law that could result. Regardless, it seems like the agency(ies)/DOJ would be better served to not settle and to allow the follow-through to occur at the appellate court level. Again, thank you for the feedback. It is always interesting to check in and review all the differing points of view on current environmental matters on this blog.

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