Managed Fire, Permitting Reform, and Two Colorado Wolf Stories

OK, I’m procrastinating.  Who wouldn’t want to read an EIS?  But several interesting things have come across my desk.

  1. Jim Petersen on Managed Fire

It’s always interesting to hear ideas for improving/increasing public support for the use of managed fire. Today by Jim Petersen of Evergreen Magazine.

There needs to be an internal review process that establishes unambiguous and clearly stated guidelines for determining when, where, why and how a wildland fire can be safely managed for resource benefit.

There is only one person in the U.S. Forest Service who should make the decision to manage a wildfire for resource benefit: The Chief. His or her decision should be made in writing – one for each of the agency’s nine regions – in early spring before wildfire season begins in earnest.

The decision should stand until the Chief sees a good reason to modify the order based on deteriorating or improving conditions in a particular region or regions.

The documentation that accompanies this decision should be available for public inspection. There is no other way to quiet critics and skeptics who believe – with some justification – that the decision to manage a wildfire is an impulsive choice made by an Incident Commander or inexperienced line officer.

No matter the decision the Chief makes, there will be wildfires that get away from fire fighting crews. Do we take managed wildfire out of the toolbox because the attempt failed? Or do we bear down on training and execution?

I’d opt for the latter because training and execution are critical components in every wildfire fighting effort, including full suppression. This is why post-fire internal reviews and unambiguous guidelines from the Chief are essential.

Every decision to manage a wildfire must be accompanied by a Chief’s level review that answers these questions:

. Was it the right decision?

·       Was everything possible done to protect lives, homes and communities?

·       What additional training is needed to improve execution?

I’m still more of a fan of public pre-planning but I think Jim’s ideas are of interest.

2. Manchin Barasso Permitting Bill

Apparently the Sierra Club aren’t fans.  Neither is CBD.  Most of the verbiage is about “bad oil and gas” pad the pockets of fossil fuel executives under the guise of reducing emissions.” Hmm. And making things easier for renewables is not “padding the pockets of executives?” including by reducing fees as the DOI did this spring?

Fortunately, I’m in touch with some of the permitting wonks so I’m going to wait to post about it until people have more time to ruminate on it and have thoughtful opinions.   One thing I discovered about the Loper decision was that it took awhile for the better quality analyses to percolate out.

Here’s the one pager.   As to the Judicial Review provisions, they actually might help with vegetation management projects, but the bill only applies to energy projects.

3. Working Dogs Added to List of Things Wolves Can Be Killed For During Active Attacks in Colorado

Months after the release of 10 wolves in the state, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Friday, July 19, to update state regulations to reflect the 10(j) rule’s language regarding “working dogs.”

Language allowing wolves caught “in the act of attacking” livestock or working dogs to be killed was included in the 10(j) rule but the words “or working dogs” were “inadvertently” left out of the state regulations, commission chair Dallas May said Friday.

The rule only applies to working dogs, like guard dogs or herding dogs used in livestock production. Pet owners can find information on how to protect their animals from wolves on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

But prior to reintroduction, there were two confirmed wolf depredations from wolves that had wandered into Colorado from Wyoming that involved dogs. In January 2022, a Jackson County ranch reported a dog carcass and another injured dog, both border collies, whose wounds were attributed to wolves.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also reported that a wolf killed a dog in Jackson County in March 2023, prior to reintroduction.

Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the 10(j) rule considers wolves as “nonessential, experimental” species in Colorado, allowing for the species to be killed in certain instances, including during active attacks on livestock or working dogs. It also allows for the state to issue permits to ranchers to kill wolves responsible for chronic depredation, although no such permits have yet been issued.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife assistant director for aquatic, terrestrial and natural resources Reid DeWalt also gave a brief update on the state’s wolves Friday. Parks and Wildlife confirmed the first wolf pup from a breeding pair last month in Grand County, DeWalt said, adding that there are likely more wolf pups that have yet to be confirmed.

DeWalt said wolf killings of livestock have continued this summer but are more spread out than the string of depredations that occurred this spring in Grand County, when four cattle and two calves were confirmed to have been killed by wolves in April.

“We continue to have a few sporadic depredations but nothing like we had seen this spring,” DeWalt said. “Things have calmed down somewhat. But we do see more widespread depredations but more sporadic in nature.”

4.  Colorado Wolf Summit

Info about current status of reintroduction effort.  Interesting items, including:

Gittleson and his son, Lee, demonstrated some of those non-lethal methods, including fladry (pink flags tied to fence posts, which get eaten by cattle and wildlife); and “cracker” shells — a shotgun shell that shoots off a firework similar to an M-80, and which Gittleson won’t use during the summer because of wildfire risk, as well as not wanting to hit his livestock.

…………

He noted the difference between the wolves in North Park (Jackson) versus those in Middle Park. The wolves attacking and killing his livestock show fear of people. He’s never seen one any closer than 300 yards away, and they run when he sees them.

That’s not the case in Grand County’s Middle Park. Those wolves have come within 30 yards of ranchers and their herds.

………..

“Those wolves are not afraid of people,” Gittleson said, adding that’s not a good sign for ranchers, cattle or the wolves.

Still Not Getting Paid, After All These Years

It seems that many people will be talking about differences in the views of political parties for the next few months.  I’d like to make a list of problems that seem invariant to what political party is in power; and also ideas that different parties agree on.

The Hotshot Wakeup  recently reported on some new fire hires at Bly Ranger District  on the Fremont-Winema not getting paid, and not being able to get that fixed.  It just reminds me of when Dan Dallas transferred to become Supervisor on the Rio Grande (15-20 year ago?) and wasn’t getting paid.  There was so much of this going on that we established a strike team in the RO to focus on getting people paid. I don’t know exactly what they did to help, but we did have HR people still in the Regional Office.

I remember discussing it at a Regional Leadership Team meeting, and our Regional Forester wondering whether maybe our Region could transfer its HR to the BLM office in Denver..if it didn’t improve by some date.

I’ve told this story before, and it might be more relevant now that nurseries are coming back into vogue.  When I worked (at a genetics lab) located at the Placerville Nursery, a person named Gina was in charge of getting people paid.  She was very clear that paying people was her #1 priority, and that the wage grade “lift and pack” people were particularly important.  I’m sure there are people today who feel the same way about people getting paid.  It is a mystery why this continues to be a problem, since many good people have come and gone working on precisely this for at least 20ish years.  Does anyone out there understand this? Have ideas for fixing that haven’t been tried? What reports and lessons learned are out there?

 

Help Wanted With National Old-Growth Amendment

 

I’m diving into the OG National Amendment this week.   At this point, it seems to me like another pointless paperworky exercise, full of obtuse verbiage, that will load down the feds so they can do less of the work that Congress gave them megabucks to do. Plus possibly waste much local time with unclear processes that may amount to reinventing the wheel, at best.  As I used to call the Wolf Creek project “Reasonable Access for Unreasonable People”, I might call this one “Consistent Frameworks for (ecologically and culturally) Inconsistent Forests”. Not that I’m critiquing the FS at all, they have been both diligent and creative in trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (IMHO).

Despite these initial impression, I’m trying to keep an open mind.  If you know of drafts of letters, and can share to my email sharon at forestpolicypub.com that would help me greatly.

Also according to the amendment webpage,

Throughout the public comment period ending on September 20, 2024, the Forest Service will be engaging with the public to provide information about the draft environmental impact statement and answer questions.

Information on public engagement sessions will be shared on this website and updated regularly. A virtual information session was held on June 28.

The agency held a series of regional field meetings across the country on July 10 and a virtual summary session will be held on July 31, 2024, at 12:00 pm ET. Registration is required for this event.

If anyone was involved in any of these public meetings, especially the “regional field meetings,”  please give me your impressions, either below or via email. I’m usually invited to suchlike but didn’t hear about ours.

If you had thoughts you can also put them in the comments.  Is anyone actually reading this? Especially volunteers?  And what parts are most important, and which do you think can be skipped?

Thanks!

Wildfire burns 11,000 acres of carbon-offset forest

Saw this article linked in today’s TreeFrog daily new email:

Northern California Wildfire Burns in Carbon Offset Project

Excerpt:

A Northern California wildfire is burning in a vast swath of land where trees are protected in exchange for so-called carbon credits.

The Shelly Fire, which ignited July 3 in Siskiyou County, has spread across thousands of acres of land owned by the Portland-based Ecotrust Forest Management, or EFM. The investment firm protects the trees on its land, rather than clear-cut logging them as some neighboring landowners do. Storing carbon on the land in the form of trees allows the company to sell carbon credits intended to offset the harmful climate effects of other activities.

Carbon credits are often sold to companies or individuals who want to make up for other polluting activities. Some companies bill themselves as carbon-neutral because they say the carbon offsets they buy into account for their pollution.

The Shelly Fire has burned across about 11,000 acres of EFM’s 18,000-acre carbon storage project in Siskiyou County. This raises questions about the viability of carbon storage projects in areas prone to high-severity fire.

Much of EFM’s carbon offset plot hadn’t burned for 70 years or more before the Shelly Fire, and as a result was covered with extremely overstocked, unhealthy forests — conditions that can result in high-severity fire that decimates trees.

My comment: This one case does not mean that all carbon offset projects are unlikely to have important benefits. However, it does offer an arguement to those who suggest that we ought to create “strategic forest reserves” to store C02 and protect biodiversity, such as in this paper, which we discussed here and elsewhere.

 

Hazard Pay for Prescribed Fire

Thanks to the Hotshot Wakeup for covering this on his Substack.  So far the link to the agreement itself doesn’t work. Here’s a link to the Chief’s statement.

 

However, if you want to be transparent and truthful about it… it’s a massive win. It adds a 25% pay bump for Prescribed fire operations, which will only become more frequent. Here is the full verbiage on the prescribed fire hazard pay:

Prescribed Burns:

1. The Agency’s National Prescribed Fire Review in 2022 found firefighting activities associated with prescribed burns now qualify as inherently hazardous activities because changing conditions, exacerbated by climate change, have created hazards that may not be practically eliminated in a timely manner. Consistent with the Review’s recommendation, the Parties agree employees performing firefighting activities on prescribed burns will receive hazard pay for this work.

It must be noted that this change needs to be approved by the Office Of Personnel Management.

NOTE: This provision will not become effective until (i) the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes a final rule authorizing hazard pay for prescribed burns; (ii) OPM publishes implementing guidance; and (iii) the Parties fulfill any resultant bargaining obligations. Employees will not receive retroactive hazard pay for work on prescribed burns that occurred before the effective date of this provision.

Other important changes were also made in housing, safety, promotions, and employee rights, but this is by far the most significant. The Forest Service and the National Federation of Federal Employees released a joint statement on the new agreement.

From Tim,

So, how was it justified that these operations are suddenly hazardous? Probably due to all the injuries and fatalities over the years…? I found they did it in a rather brilliant and interesting way.

They justified the Hazard Pay, saying Rx burns are now hazardous “due to changing conditions exacerbated by climate change.”

They did not say prescribed burns are hazardous due to everything that’s killed wildland firefighters over the last decades, including falling snags, rocks, UTV rollovers, burn-overs, heart attacks, driving accidents, chainsaw operations, and aviation crashes.

But I get it. They are admitting prescribed fire is NOW hazardous without admitting it was ALWAYS hazardous. The lawyers probably helped with that one.

I guess I’m less picky than Tim, I’m just glad they said “exacerbated by” and not “caused by.” Because I don’t think it helps the decarbonization cause to blame everything bad on climate change. It makes it seem like climate change is just another opportunity for grift and evading responsibility.  Being honest may hurt in the short run, but help in the long run.

 

Old-Growth Definitions: Loggers, Foresters, Scientists & Modelers

 

Gould and McClay family ranch in the heart of present-day Elliott State Forest, showing the effects of Indian burning, and wildfires of 1840s, 1868, and 1879.

The following editorial was published in today’s Roseburg News-Review: https://www.nrtoday.com/opinion/guest_col/guest-column-manage-our-forests-or-continue-a-losing-battle/article_071441fc-4525-11ef-8e8b-1fa173a2b1ad.html

In April 2022, the Biden Administration issued Executive Order (E.O.) 14072, “Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies.” This order instructed federal agencies to “scientifically define” old-growth trees and to take appropriate steps to protect them for future generations.

The last time the government attempted to achieve these tasks was in the 1980s, resulting in widespread rural business failures and ever-increasing losses of public forests — including old-growth — to catastrophic wildfires, bugs, and disease that continue to this time. This E.O. promises similar results, but on a national scale, rather than just regional.

Biden’s E.O. affects all 128 of the nation’s forestlands managed by the Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM); whereas the 1994 Clinton Plan for Northwest Forests (NWFP) only affected the highly productive Douglas fir forests of Oregon, Washington, and California.

And, whereas the NWFP developed a single “scientific” definition of “old-growth,” the E.O. computer modelers have come up with more than 200!

Different types of trees in different environments live different lengths of time. For most of the past century, Douglas fir — the most valuable timber tree in our public forests — were considered “old-growth” if they were at least 200-years-old.

This has not always been true. Jerry Phillips, Elliott State Forest manager and historian, always maintained old-growth was a “logger’s term” and referred to the deep furrowed bark and change in color from “red fir” — or mature second-growth — to “yellow fir,” or old-growth. On the Elliott, that would be a tree about 250-350-years-old.

In the 1940s, OSU forest scientists attempted to quantify the “logger’s term” and postulated old-growth were 350-450-years-old. In the meantime, field foresters in Coos County were doing the most detailed analysis of native Douglas fir forestland ever conducted — and they said old-growth might only be 191-years-old.

From 1945 to 1947, Weyerhaeuser foresters systematically bored 1466 trees on 1576 1/4-acre plots over 125,000 acres, lying immediately south of the 80,000-acre Elliott. Neither forest had ever been logged by that time, and 90% of both were covered with even-aged stands of native Douglas fir, corroborating observations by noted Douglas fir scientist Thornton Munger (1940):

“The paths of the great forest fires of the last century or two are plainly marked by even-aged stands, consisting to the extent of at least 90 per cent of Douglas fir (if within the preferred habitat of this tree).”

Weyerhaeuser documented 31,650 acres of old-growth, with the oldest tree being 380-years-old, and some were 300-feet tall; among the largest Douglas fir ever measured. These even-aged stands dated at least three “great fires” from 1565 to 1755, averaged 225-years-old [1720], and contained 40% defect from fire, bugs, and decay.

Half of the area (61,870 acres) was 166–190-year-old mature second-growth, averaging 180-years-old [1765] with only 6% defect and dating at least two major wildfires from 1755 to 1790.

In 1945, the Elliott’s 80,000 acres were mostly 60-year-old Douglas fir that had followed ca.1845, 1868, and 1879 catastrophic-scale wildfires.

The remaining 32,480 acres of Weyerhaeuser land was “very lightly timbered” with even-aged stands 10-40-years-old, dating from the 1902 fires through 1936.

These 200,000+ acres of virgin Douglas fir forestland during WW II reflected a minimum 10 — likely more — major wildfires from 1565 to 1936, or on average, a major wildfire every 35-40 years. These lands were subsequently actively managed, have supported more than  three generations of hundreds of local families, and haven’t had a major fire in more than 80 years.

In the 1980s forest ecologists developed the first “scientific definition” of old-growth for Douglas fir. It included big, old trees, large snags and dead wood throughout, and a multilayered canopy of ladder fuels. The scarcity of this unusual timber type was blamed on logging, rather than nature, and active management of our nations’ forests was mostly ended.

The current Biden E.O. report states for 25 years, since 2000, only 9,000 acres of public old-growth were logged, while insects and diseases killed 182,000 acres and wildfires killed 700,000 acres more.

Humility, Misinformation and Climate Discourse

Matt Burgess, a prof at CU in Boulder,  wrote a guest post on Lee Jussim’s Unsafe Science Substack that might be of interest. You also might be interested in Matt’s “How polarization will destroy itself”

The title is “Both sides should separate misinformation from reasoned debate about climate change policy.” His bottom line is:

Stick to Facts

Progressives turn people off by dismissing reasoned criticism of climate policies as “denial” or “fossil-fuel misinformation”. Conservatives make it too easy to dismiss their reasoned criticisms of climate policies as climate change denial, when they also amplify actual climate change denial uncritically.  Both sides would have the best chance of persuading people if they rigorously seek out and then stick to the facts, and jettison both pseudoscience and ad-hominem attacks.1

I think that many “facts” are in more dispute than Matt does, but that’s not necessarily a problem. We don’t seem to have difficulties discussing the nuances here at TSW.

My favorite part was this footnote:

Lee here. While I generally endorse Matt’s emphasis on sticking to facts and avoiding ad hominem, this final sentence is actually an empirical question. Do facts persuade people more than ad hominem attacks? I do not know. Also, persuade people of what? There is the truth of the claim, the integrity and decency of the claimant versus accuser, trust and credibility afforded to academia and experts, and more. The effectiveness of ad hominem for persuading people of different things might itself vary depending on the outcome. Secondarily, avoiding pseudoscience and misinformation is not that easy. Although some things are clearly pseudoscience (e.g., astrology) and others science (e.g., astronomy), there is no hard, clear line between pseudoscience and science, and misinformation is little more than being wrong — and people are wildly overconfident about wrong beliefs all the time. Avoiding misinformation in science and politics often means doing a deep dive into source credibility, references, and alternative sources or reporting, and most of us don’t usually have time for all that. And if you don’t, you really are in no position to stick to the facts because you do not have them, in which case, the best approach may be epistemic humility — avoiding making strong claims altogether when you really have neither the expertise nor have done the deep dive necessary to do so.

I’d only add that when you do have the expertise, and have done the deep dive, you can still be humble.  It’s really easy to be humble when you’ve worked in many places and seen many things, including the unpredicted and unpredictable.

People living, dumping on Oregon’s public lands ‘overwhelming’ Bureau of Land Management : KOIN Story

Thanks to the Center for Western Priorities for this one.

Here’s the link to this story. No paywall.  Also note that the partners helping (mentioned here) are the oft-maligned off-roaders. I wonder if the Conservation Lease program would allow for leasing these areas and the lessee being responsible for trash removal and law enforcement?

***************

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hover over the Redmond Municipal Airport on Google Maps and scroll north of the Ochoco Highway. From a distance, the parcels of public land look like undisturbed patches of Oregon’s high desert: Western juniper trees scattered between brown and green tufts of bunchgrass and sagebrush set in the rain shadow of the High Cascades.

But zoom in on the desert plains east of Redmond and satellite images reveal hundreds of acres of trash and dozens of makeshift neighborhoods of trailers, motorhomes and junked cars. This property, whose ownership is divided between Deschutes County and the Bureau of Land Management, is an example of the countless parcels of Oregon’s public land where homeless people are taking refuge in violation of local and federal laws.

Depending on the jurisdiction, the enforcement of these laws falls to the Bureau of Land Management — which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior — the state, or to county and city law enforcement. The added expense of removing the trash left behind at these locations can also cost these government agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Satellite imagery show expansive swaths of land dotted by vehicles that are both inhabited and abandoned, officials told KOIN 6 News. People leave behind garbage, human waste and drug paraphernalia in these areas, which require large community cleanups and the occasional hazmat team. (Satellite images from Google Earth and Google Maps)

BLM spokesperson Samantha Ducker told KOIN 6 News that the federal agency, which owns about 25% of Oregon, knows that people are living and dumping on public lands. While the public is encouraged to camp on BLM land, BLM regulations prohibit people from camping in an area for more than 14 days. Once the two-week limit is reached, campers are required to move 25 miles away from their previous campsite. If people remain in the area past the deadline, BLM Law Enforcement officers can issue a $250 fine. But with 25 law enforcement officers and five special agents employed across the entire state, BLM officers are overwhelmed by the number of illegal long-term campsites in Oregon.

“The BLM is experiencing many problems with unauthorized, illegal long-term occupancy of public lands,” Ducker said. “This is distinctly different from camping for recreational purposes. These long-term occupancies are overwhelming the agency’s resources to deal with them, and in many cases result in hazardous wastes that require specialized contractors for removal and remediation.”

The BLM’s Oregon and Washington office requests $100,000 each year to clean up the illegal dumping, Rebecca Hile, assistant district manager of BLM operations in Northwest Oregon, told KOIN 6 News. These cleanups are often related to illegal, long-term campgrounds, the agency said. However, the BLM makes no distinction in its records between the removal of dumped trash and the cleanup of long-term campsites.

Kyle Sullivan, spokesperson for the BLM’s Medford office, told KOIN 6 News that people often dump old RVs and other vehicles on public land instead of paying to take them to the landfill, making it difficult to determine if any one cleanup is related to illegal camping.

In many cases, Sullivan said, the BLM partners with various local organizations and government agencies to clear these frequented dumping grounds, which can extend into city, county, state, Forest Service and private properties.

Tate Morgan, the founder of the off-roading organizations Gambler 500 and Sons of Smokey, told KOIN 6 News that the groups have helped to remove 2 million pounds of trash in Central Oregon since 2017. Most recently, the group of volunteers cleared roughly 250,000 pounds of trash from public lands in Deschutes County in a single weekend. Morgan said that roughly half of the trash comes from the area’s homeless population and half is dumped there by local residents and businesses.

“Bend and the surrounding areas are the worst we’ve seen anywhere in the U.S.,” Morgan said. “Fast growth, zero planning for affordable housing, adjacent public land which they have pushed their houseless population onto with no accounting for trash byproducts.”

Past Gambler 500 and Sons of Smokey cleanup events held in Central Oregon. (Photos courtesy of Tate Morgan)

Although organizations regularly host cleanup events around the country, large community cleanups aren’t appropriate for areas still occupied by homeless people or sites that contain hazardous waste. When hazardous waste is discovered, government agencies like the BLM hire special hazmat teams to complete the work. According to records obtained by KOIN 6, the BLM spent more than $477,000 on hazmat remediation in Oregon between 2021 and 2023.

“We find a lot of asbestos, needles, chemicals,” Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of potentially hazardous situations that don’t lend themselves to community cleanups.”

Middleman Treatment Before and After Photos From the EA

Thanks to Matt Koehler for linking to the Middleman EA.  I briefly ran through the EA  and noted the photos.. they help a lot for us folks from California, Oregon, New Mexico or even North Carolina to understand what the forests and treatments look like in Region 1.  Shout-out to the Districts for the photos!  I copied them via screenshots from the EA, so to compare before and after,  you have to look at the figure # plus the before and after treatment description.