Webinar: Recovery and adaptation after wildfire

This webinar may be of interest. “Recovery and adaptation after wildfire across the United States, 2009-2011,” Wednesday, June 14, 2017 from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM (MST).

Presenter: Miranda H. Mockrin, USFS Northern Research Station

Becoming a fire-adapted community that can live with wildfire is envisioned as a continuous, iterative process of adaptation. In eight case study sites across the United States we examined how destructive wildfire affected altered progress towards becoming fire-adapted, focusing on the role of planning and WUI regulations (building codes, hazard mitigation standards, zoning, and other local governmental tools used to reduce exposure to wildfire losses). Experience with wildfire and other natural hazards suggests that disasters may open a ‘window of opportunity’ leading to local government policy changes. However, we found mixed results in our study: for some communities, the fire was a focusing event that led to changes in WUI regulations (for example, modifying building codes). In other communities, destructive fire did not spur adaptation through changes in governmental policy. In some communities, local government officials thought current policies were effective and factors beyond their control such as extreme weather were to blame for structure losses In other cases, wildfire losses were accepted as a risk of living on the landscape, considered an isolated incident that affected few or was unlikely to be repeated, or enacting regulations was seen as incompatible with local norms and government capacity. We conclude that adaptation to wildfire through WUI regulations depends on multiple factors, including past experience with fire and the geographic extent and scale of the fire event relative to the local community and its government. While communities did not often pursue changes in WUI regulations, experience with wildfire was frequently cited as the impetus for other adaptive responses, such as improving emergency response or fire suppression, and expanding education and interaction with homeowners, such as Firewise programs or government support for fuel mitigation on private lands.


Early seral wildlife species driving forest planning debate in the southeast

Here’s an in-depth article on the ongoing revision of the plan for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, featuring the extent to which the Forest should provide early seral habitat (ESH).

Many conservation advocates disagree over whether promoting this specific sort of habitat over others is desirable on a large scale. They also question whether aggressive advocacy for ESH stems more from a desire to conserve species or to boost game numbers and accessibility for the benefit of sportsmen.  

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Council:

The FWCC is a proponent of expanding active wildlife habitat management and restoration through, among other things, more timber harvesting and controlled fires. Central to their advocacy is forest restoration and increasing the amount of early successional habitat across the landscape, including grasses, shrubs and trees that provide food, cover and habitat for wildlife.  The FWCC believes that the future management of the National Forest should target a minimum of 12 percent of forest in an age class of 0-12 years. The need to improve game populations is a central argument of the FWCC and has been cited as a reason to oppose new additions to the wilderness base in several county resolutions.

The Nature Conservancy:

Warwick of TNC said that historically speaking there’s strong evidence that there was a much greater distribution of young forest and more grassy areas across the landscape prior to the 20th century. However, fire suppression has been a primary factor in abetting forest growth that is now lacking in young forest age classes and creating a canopy that is too dense. “Most of the species that are declining in the Southern Appalachian require ESH somewhere in their life cycle,” he said. “If we decide it is important to stem their decline, then there’s no (other) choice than to take an active management role. That means more fire and timber harvesting.”

Southern Environmental Law Center:

Sam Evans, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center and member of the stakeholders forum agrees that ESH is underrepresented in the forest, especially if you look at those tracts in isolation.  Nobody who is actively participating in stakeholder discussions is objecting to increasing habitat diversity, including an increase in harvest for ESH,” said Evans in an email written to CPP. He said that the organizations he works with are “wildlife advocates.” “The truth is, I and other conservation voices are supporting precisely the same goal—restoration of ecological integrity in order to provide needed habitat for all the forest’s native species,” Evans said.

To borrow from the forestry professionals, “ecological integrity is the answer.”  According to the interpretation of NFMA in the 2012 Planning Regulations any way.  What’s muddied the waters in NC is the idea that wilderness designation is somehow contrary to ecological integrity (it limits tools, but the desired outcome is the same).  Not mentioned in the article are which species are or will be vulnerable because of a lack of ESH (this isn’t what the TNC quote said), and it doesn’t really address how the current and expected conditions of private lands should be accounted for.  It does point out that old-growth stands are also underrepresented on the Forest.

FS Litigation Weeklies – June 2, May 28 and May 19, 2017

For now, I won’t be lifting parts of the weekly litigation report out because they come in pdfs and I have to run them through OCR which is a bit of a pain and costs money. I’m asking the FS to send Word documents, and that would help greatly. I will keep you all posted on how that goes. Until then, take a look at the Litigation Weekly documents and feel free to lift and discuss any cases of interest.

June 2, 2017

Litigation Weekly 06_02_2017

HCPC v Stein

FriendsOfTheClearwater v Probert

SaveOurCabinets v USFS

AWR v Martin

Ouachita Watch v FS (1)

May 26,2017
Litigation Weekly 05_26_2017

Rocky_Mtn_Wild_v_Dallas_Wolf_Creek_SJ_Decision (002)


Tongass NFMA Decision

May 19, 2017

Litigation Weekly 05_19_2017

Alliance for the Wild Rockies v Bradford

Swan View Coalition v Weber

The end of “Norm & Jerry” forestry?

The excerpt from the American Forest Resource Council’s May newsletter, below, is about a pilot project implementing Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin’s principles of ecological forestry on BLM land in Western Oregon, which is blocked by litigation, and this court order may be the end of it. There are objections to the principles from all sides, but I think the aim of addressing a deficit of early-seral habitat via variable-retention timber harvesting has a lot of merit and would be useful on federal lands in the PNW as well as elsewhere, such as New Jersey, where there is controversy over harvesting timber to create young-forest habitat. Opponents are essentially saying that cutting trees, even to provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, ought to be prohibited.

Ninth Circuit Denies White Castle Appeal

With a three-page unpublished order, the Ninth Circuit ended for now the seven-year effort to implement Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin’s principles of ecological forestry in Western Oregon, dismissing AFRC’s appeal of an adverse ruling on the White Castle Timber Sale. The BLM had not appealed and the Court found that Scott Timber, the purchaser, could not appeal a remand order on its own.

White Castle is a 187-acre variable-retention harvest on the BLM Roseburg District. In late 2010, then-Secretary Ken Salazar directed BLM to develop Secretarial Demonstration Pilot Projects showing the potential use of Johnson and Franklin ecological principles (“Norm & Jerry” forestry) to provide sustainable timber harvest compatible with ecologically-sound land management. Drs. Johnson and Franklin held a two-day introduction in Canyonville in February  4 2011, followed by several public meetings in Roseburg and multiple field trips. The White Castle Project was initiated in March 2011, with a decision signed in August 2012.

The project has been in litigation for nearly five years and no work has been attempted or completed. Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands protested, appealed to IBLA, and then brought suit in federal court. Extremist “direct action” groups put tree sitters in the woods. Although the plaintiffs brought NEPA claims, their real objection was to harvest at the stand age of 108 years. Media reports stated the project was in line with Senator Wyden’s proposals for the O&C lands.

In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken found the project required an Environmental Impact Statement due to effects on spotted owls, despite the project not taking any owls, as well as the “controversy” of the Johnson/Franklin principles. AFRC filed an appeal on behalf of Scott Timber and defeated preliminary attempts to dismiss the appeal. Ultimately, those effects were not successful.

Although AFRC may petition the Ninth Circuit for a rehearing, it is unclear whether White Castle will ever be harvested. The cautionary note about these “Demonstration Projects” from AFRC’s December 2012 newsletter rings true: “To date, the only thing that has been demonstrated is how opponents of timber harvesting can successfully delay a project through extensive protests and appeals.” /Lawson Fite

Purdue: : ‘There will be balance’ in U.S. forest management

This op-ed is in the Idaho Statesman and probably elsewhere. Purdue writes that the USFS “must reorient its culture to embrace a generational approach to responsible forest management.” How that would change the agency’s operations he doesn’t say.

Ag secretary: ‘There will be balance’ in U.S. forest management


Today’s challenges for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are many, but the department is staffed by tens of thousands of dedicated civil servants who share a love of the land and for those who earn their livelihoods by providing the food, fiber and fuel needed at home and abroad. Key assets for this quality of life are this nation’s forests and grasslands.

Forests cover approximately one-third of the land in America. To manage this vast resource base, the Forest Service works with local governments and private entities to ensure the health and sustainability of our wood resources. As with any asset, however, those charged with that task must ensure that there is balance. Thus, it is time to review how the Forest Service is accomplishing its mission and to reassure the American people that there will be balance in how our forests are managed.

The ideal management of our public lands would be through shared stewardship, meaning federal agencies would communicate, collaborate and coordinate with state and local governments and with citizens on how best to manage our public lands. The Forest Service has fully embraced this approach. After all, who knows local conditions better than those who are involved at the local level? So, then, what will the Forest Service do in the future?

First, it must reorient its culture to embrace a generational approach to responsible forest management. Trees take decades to grow to maturity. We must think about how the forests will provide cleaner water and air, more biofuels and more useful products for consumers. If we do not take the long view, we will never be able to preserve delicate ecosystems or prosper from the thousands of jobs that our forests could provide. We must treat our forests so that we are not spending more on fighting fires than we are on making sure that our forests are healthy.

Second, the Forest Service will work to establish interagency cooperation to ensure that procedural and regulatory barriers can be diminished or eliminated. The USDA must have interaction with the departments of Interior and Energy and agencies such as the EPA, the Council on Environmental Quality and the Corps of Engineers. Internally, we must find ways to make Good Neighbor Authority more than just a slogan so there is more flexibility to achieve true shared stewardship.

Third, the Forest Service must engage at the local level on every issue. Everyone must have a voice in the decision-making. At the end of the day, we must all remember that we must do what is in the best interest of the American people.

Finally, we must never lose sight of the fact that if we take care of the land, the land will take care of us. We have world-renowned scientists and researchers engaged at the USDA, and only the best science and data will inform our decisions.

This summer consider including a visit to the nearest national forest. These wonderful areas belong to the American people, and the Forest Service is on the job to keep these wonderful resources healthy and resilient for generations to come.

Sonny Perdue is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.


“Lemons Cure Cancer” and Other Hazards of Scientific Communication

One of the gaps I’ve noticed in our discussions is between people who (1) think of science as a biz like any other with the resultant glories and debacles, and everything in between. Other folks (2) tend to have a higher view of how the science biz works and what it produces in general. To our mutual great misfortune, this has become somewhat partisanized (at least by those who want to partisanize it). So one of the things I would like to work on is exploring this gap.

This recent Scientific American piece is of interest because it touches on topics we recently discussed vis a vis fuel treatment and research papers. I agree with the author, Katherine Wu, even though our backgrounds and experience couldn’t be more different (me 40 years in the forest science biz, her three years as a grad student in health science at Harvard.) Here is a summary of quotes:

First, we often assume that the gap between scientists and the general public is about knowledge.

Importantly, this also means being receptive to the perspectives and concerns of the general public, rather than simply dismissing the misconceptions we hear as false. Building the relationships between scientists and non-scientists is the same as building any relationship founded on trust: open communication and accepting culpability. We can churn out all the facts we want, but none of it will do any good if no one is willing to listen. It’s time to step off our soapboxes and have conversations on level ground.

Second, we assume that there is finality in science.

Next, a great difficulty in communicating science is that it’s almost never clear-cut or final—a difficult fact to swallow for most people looking to quickly glean information from the media. All data requires interpretation, which is subject to bias, and all results are preliminary. But hypotheses and tentative conclusions don’t make for good headlines.

When I earn my Ph.D., I might be able to say, “We think we may have come across something that explains a miniscule portion of a complex pathway that might be correlated with a slightly elevated risk of contracting this disease—but our findings are pretty specific to this one population studied at this point in time under these conditions.”

Meanwhile, media headlines say, “Lemons cure cancer!”

Science can’t compete with sensationalized misinformation. To combat this, scientists can publicize their process, rather than just their results. Rebuilding rapport between scientists and non-scientists means opening new lines of communication and increasing transparency—not only about scientific discoveries, but how we arrive at them. Science is incremental and in constant flux. In highlighting the scientific method in our communication efforts, scientists can also encourage non-scientists to look at data in totality and form their own conclusions and criticisms.


At a minimum, scientist or non-scientist, each of us should commit to simply showing up. Without participation on both sides, communication doesn’t happen, and we can’t challenge each other to relay information effectively. Communication is a conversation, not a series of lectures. Don’t just expect that conversations will happen—take part in making them happen.

Almost what we discussed in the comments here.

You can read the rest here. Thanks, Scientific American for no paywall!

9th Circuit takes out NFMA diversity requirement

In a 2-1 decision, which allowed the Big Thorne timber project to proceed on the Tongass National Forest, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court opinion that the Forest Service had complied with NFMA when it adopted forest plan direction related to managing old growth forest for deer to support viability of Alexander Archipelago wolves (an at-risk species).  The dissent pointed out that prior Ninth Circuit precedent had established that:

the forest plan must comply with substantive requirements of the [NFMA] designed to ensure continued diversity of plant and animal communities and the continued viability of wildlife in the forest . . . .” Idaho Sporting Cong., Inc. v. Rittenhouse, 305 F.3d 957, 961–62 (9th Cir. 2002). Specifically, 36 C.F.R. § 219.19 requires that “[f]ish and wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable populations of existing native and desired non-native vertebrate species in the planning area.” Our law is clear that an agency must abide by its own regulations.

The majority (both judges appointed by republican presidents) charted a new course, citing a a BLM case that had nothing to do with NFMA:

Instead, an agency need only supply “a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions made.” Or. Nat. Res. Council Fund v. Brong, 492 F.3d 1120, 1131 (9th Cir. 2007).

Instead of recognizing the language of NFMA that requires plans to “provide for plant and animal diversity,” the majority opinion cites language that refers to the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (contained in a case that was not about forest plans).  It concludes:

The NFMA gives the Forest Service flexibility because the Service has many different goals—conservation, commerce, recreation, and so on. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(e)(2); McNair, 537 F.3d at 993–94. The statute reflects a congressional judgment that balancing these goals calls for policy judgments—judgments that often require trade-offs among worthy objectives, such as wolves and logging jobs.

In other words, NFMA did not take away any of the discretion provided by MUSYA.  This should be news to a lot of people, including the Forest Service.  This case would be a really good candidate for en banc review by the Ninth Circuit.

Here’s a local news story.

Mine Under Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in Montana Violates Clean Water Act, ESA, NFMA and NEPA

A federal judge has overturned government agency approvals for the proposed Montanore Mine, which would degrade wilderness trout streams and industrialize some of the last remaining grizzly bear habitat in the Cabinet Mountains of northwest Montana.

In two decisions issued late yesterday, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act in approving a massive industrial mining operation on the boundary of—and literally under—the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness.

The ruling came in response to two lawsuits filed by conservationists who oppose the mining proposal on the grounds that it would impermissibly dewater some of the nation’s purest streams and jeopardize the survival of bull trout and grizzly bears.

“Yesterday’s ruling underscores how wrong it is to site major industrial facilities on the doorstep of public wilderness lands that provide irreplaceable habitat for imperiled wildlife,” said Earthjustice lawyer Katherine O’Brien, who represented Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks, and Defenders of Wildlife in challenging the government’s Endangered Species Act approvals for the mine.

“The federal court’s decision stands for one fundamental point: Clean water, wildlife, and the free-flowing streams of the West cannot be sacrificed for short-term mining industry profits,” added Roger Flynn, an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, who represented Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks, and Clark Fork Coalition in challenging the Forest Service’s mining approvals.

The Montanore Mine, proposed by Hecla Inc. (NYSE: HL), would transform a remote landscape in the Cabinet Mountains into a large-scale industrial operation involving the mining and processing of as much as 20,000 tons of ore every day for as long as 20 years.

The site of the proposed mine lies within and adjacent to the federally protected Cabinet Mountains Wilderness that contains pristine forests, glaciated peaks, and rivers and streams that are among the purest waters in the continental United States. The proposed mine site and surrounding public lands offer some of the last remaining undeveloped habitat for critical populations of bull trout and grizzly bears that are hanging on by a thread because of habitat destruction, pollution, and poaching across their range. As the court recognized in yesterday’s rulings, “[t]he project is anticipated to have serious negative impacts on local populations of bull trout and an already declining grizzly bear population.”

Nevertheless, in decisions issued in 2014 and 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service approved development of the mine—despite acknowledging a host of mining impacts including dewatering of streams in the Cabinet Mountains wilderness, dumping of waste water that is too warm for bull trout to tolerate, and increasing the likelihood that grizzly bears will be killed due to poaching and conflicts with humans. Yesterday’s court rulings invalidate those approvals, concluding, among other things, that the Forest Service’s action “puts the proverbial cart before the horse” in approving mine development despite prohibited impacts to wilderness waters.

“This is an important decision for the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, which was first recognized as a special place by Teddy Roosevelt,” said Mary Costello of Save Our Cabinets. “Today, the Wilderness still provides habitat for increasingly rare wildlife and contains some of the purest water in the lower 48 states.”

“This decision sends an important signal to permitting agencies and to Hecla Mining Co. that you need to get it right when it comes to water,” said Karen Knudsen, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition. “Permanently drying up pristine wilderness streams is not getting it right, and we’re glad that the court agreed.”

“This is great news for the struggling populations of bull trout and grizzly bears that find refuge in the Cabinet Mountains,” said Bonnie Gestring, northwest program director for Earthworks. “Our iconic wildlife deserve a fair chance at recovery.”

“Grizzly bears and bull trout are vital parts of our wildlife heritage,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This decision gives them the chance to remain.”

Read the legal document.

View the photo feature on the Cabinet Mountains.

Fave Fuel Treatment Effectiveness Reports

In various comments so far, we’ve had some links to interesting and helpful fuel effectiveness reports. If you would like, please post or repost yours as comments here, so anyone looking for them can find them in one central location (feel free to post links to collections of them as well.)

I’d like to highlight my current fave here. It’s the Carpenter Road Fire Fuels Treatment Effectiveness Monitoring in this Youtube video.

What I like about it:
1. time lapse photography of fire moving through the stands
2. music
3. other photos that give context for the fire
4. clear summary of effectiveness findings

Many thanks to all involved from Spokane Tribal Forestry, the producers Ben Butler and Sheldon Sankey and A Tribe Called Red for the music.

“Logging is Not the Answer”: But No One Said It Was

Fig. 9. Left photo shows surviving trees in the half of Unit 46 that was thinned and burned. Right photo shows dead burned trees in the untreated area immediately adjacent to Unit 46. Both photos were taken back-to-back from same location on the treatment boundary. Photos: C.N. Skinner, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station.

(photo from J.K. Agee, C.N. Skinner / Forest Ecology and Management 211 (2005) 83–96)

Everyone is entitled to their opinions. However, my concern is that when folks wrap their opinions in the cloak of “science”, especially when more than one scientific discipline is involved, we need to be especially careful. It’s often helpful to trace the claims made in the scientific paper, the conclusions of the scientific paper, the press releases related to the scientific paper, and the interviews with the authors of the scientific paper. Sometimes we see an observation mutate into a global pronouncement of what should be or should not be done.

I picked this E&E news report on the recent Schoennagel et al. paper. (Note that I posted on this, almost exactly the same topic (“logging in the backcountry”), on this blog here in 2010 called “Sleight of Science” in which people claim that folks are doing something they aren’t doing, and then say it won’t work- sort of a straw person argument.) Below are my italics and boldface.

But logging forests in an effort to reduce hazardous fuel loads is not the answer, the study says.

Between 2001 and 2015, these so-called mechanical fuels treatments have been applied across millions of acres of forestlands and rangelands, the study notes. And yet “the annual area burned [in the West] has continued to set records.”

The effort to reduce fuel loads on federal lands by “thinning” trees has value, but is expensive and does not do enough to reduce wildfire risks.

The study suggests using more prescribed fires as a way to reduce fuel loads, but also to help dry forests adapt to the warmer climate.

“We need adaptive approaches to wildfire now that will yield tremendous benefits later,” Schoennagel said. “Preparing now for adaptation to wildfire and climate change is a valuable investment in America’s residential communities and natural ecosystems.”

So this appears to be claiming that these scientists argue that the evidence for “mechanical fuel treatments not working” is that there are more acres burned in the West- not the sum of all the studies of fuel treatment effectiveness that we have seen here or can easily be googled. As these authors would be first to point out, there are a number of other reasons for acreage to increase (if it actually has), including people in forests, climate change, weather and so on. They also claim that it “does not do enough to reduce wildfire risks”- but to communities it certainly can- so why would a value judgment by scientists be more valuable than one by involved communities?

Oddly, according to this article, they suggest using more prescribed fires- which is of course exactly what you are supposed to do, if you can, following thinning to finish the task of “fuels treatment.” In fact, many use thinning to prepare a stand for prescribed burning. It seems kind of odd that that linkage isn’t made. Also not mentioned is mastication, another mechanical fuel treatment which is used with or without prescribed fire. But I haven’t gone back to the original article to check, so my quibbles might be with the writer of the article and not with the scientists at all.

Anyone can google “mastication effectiveness fuels” and get a variety of effectiveness papers. Having read a bunch of these, I have to say that I am impressed by the field knowledge and experience of the fuels folks involved..”this works in these conditions, but not so well under these conditions, has a good effect on helping suppression, but may increase intensity.”

Maybe the author of this article shaded the findings in the paper (and maybe didn’t or couldn’t read them with the keen eye that we would, knowing what we know?) Maybe the researchers who wrote the PNAS paper weren’t familiar with the effectiveness literature due to the proliferation of different scientific field and subfields? Or maybe fuels science and practice is not something they think they need to examine to make conclusions? Or are fuels practitioners’ experiences and reports, and fuels scientists’ findings – are they somehow invisible to some folks in the public/scientists? And why would that be?

It all seems a bit mysterious to me. I have no trouble saying “fuels, suppression, and affected communities need to work together for protection against negative environmental and social impacts of wildfires, and we should also all work together to get more prescribed burning on the landscape”. So who is doing what wrong, again?