New Tab on The Smokey Wire: Webinars of Interest

Since Covid, many seminars and conferences have been moved online. This gives us all who aren’t at universities nor able to afford travel for conferences a plethora of new learning opportunities. This tab on TSW (see above, changed from “web issues the FS needs to fix”, which never had many submissions) is just to let us all know of webinars. You can put ones you hear about in the comments.

Example:
here’s the link to the California Fire Science Webinar Series. And the description.

This new online seminar series will cover the breadth of wildland fire research relevant to California and introduce researchers to new topics and research groups across the state. Topics will include fire weather, wildfire risk, fire ecology, remote sensing, emissions, fire dynamics, fire modeling and public health. Featuring many early-career researchers, this series is aimed at a highly interdisciplinary academic audience but is open to anyone interested in these topics.

The series will be held weekly, every Thursday from 3:00 – 4:00 pm (PST) from September 10 – December 17, 2020. A virtual chat will be held with the speaker immediately afterwards (4:00 – 5:00, PST). Graduate students and early-career researchers are especially welcome to join us for these networking sessions.

Obviously you won’t have comments on all of them, but if you do…

Comments (from me): I have found these pretty interesting, plus the virtual chat, where topics can range from “have you tried randomizing your wood cribs” to “what criteria would you use to salvage burned logs on your property?” can be stimulating and complex. Pus there have been only 30-40 people, so everyone can get their questions in.

If you want to expand on a particular seminar, that’s fine for broader TSW discussion (outside this tab) so email me and you can submit a post. There are so many opportunities out there now, we are very fortunate to be able to learn from many and diverse experts with regard to location, discipline, and so on.

IF you’d like to submit a guest post, here’s the format. Link to the webinar, who presented, link to their bio. What you found interesting and why. Key power point slides or the location of the person saying it in a (linked) saved videofile. I’ll be posting some examples in the future.

Listening to Practitioner Voices: Mountain Pine Beetle Fire Behavior Interviews With Suppression Folks

The Society of American Foresters Virtual Convention is coming up at the end of the month and it reminded me of a story from early in my career. I attended a breakout session with a professor talking about his research with red-cockaded woodpecker. One of the audience, a field forester, pointed out that he had seen some in an unexpected place, and what did the professor make of that? The professor responded that it was not in the peer-reviewed literature. Unfortunately, that was the end of the discussion. For me that’s where a fascinating discussion might have begun.

As time has gone on, it seems that there are fewer structured or institutional opportunities for a free, frank, and open exchange of views. Researchers fly in, to say, the National Silviculture Workshop, give their talk, answer five minutes of questions and leave. Somehow it doesn’t seem as though our society (except, perhaps, for the the Land Grant universities via Extension) value that the world works better- research can be better focused, and practice improved, via such discussions.

From what I’ve seen, not all practitioners agree with each other, but then neither do all scientists, policy wonks or anyone else. But I would argue that that diversity is just as important to explore with practitioners as with scientists. So I’d like to give a shout-out to the CSU and other folks who actually interviewed fire suppression practitioners in this paper (you can download from Wildfire Today) about surprising fire behavior in Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) affected stands. I noted that the work was funded by the Pacific Southwest Region, not the Station (this means the research was funded by the operational, not the research arm of the FS). Thanks to them all for helping to fill the practitioner/researcher gap.

This paper’s well worth reading to see the diversity of surprising observations:

All 28 firefighter (FF) interviewees worked on multiple fires encompassed by the study (Table 1). The average experience level was 14.6 seasons and interviewees occupied various positions on fires included in the study (Table 2). Information on MPB phase, percent mortality, stand and fuel conditions, topography, and fire weather for each fire were identified using firefighter observations, available reports, and spatial data on vegetation and topography.

It seems to me that if (1) models are funded and (2) are funded based on the idea that they will be useful to someone, then (3) there should be a formalized approach also funded by which the predictions are checked against observations. I’m not sure that this happens all the time, possibly due to lack of specific funding for it. Certainly this paper contains information relevant to modelers.

Such observations are consistent with some predictions of increased crowning potential in the red phase [7,8,11,12], but are counter to other studies [5,56,57]. As suggested by Hicke et al. [7], Hoffman et al. [8,12] and Stephens et al. [58], these differences may be due to variability in canopy and surface fuel characteristics, the level of mortality or the spatial and temporal variability in mortality rates.

If they could get this much info from 28 practitioners in a relatively localized area, it sounds as if there is a vast informational harvest to be reaped elsewhere.

Given current fires in MPB country in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado, I also thought this part of the discussion was interesting, after a paragraph discussing how MPB conditions could lead to favoring indirect attack, the authors state:

This scenario is potentially at odds with wildfire managers’ preferences and societal expectations that wildland fires receive active fire suppression, although specific situations where homes, communities, and high-valued resources and assets such as water supplies that are in imminent danger may warrant more direct attack actions. In Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming, with the exception of the 2012 High Park Fire, the MPB fires in our study occurred fairly distant from population centers and communities. In the future, in this region and in other areas throughout Western North America affected by MPB outbreaks, fires in MPB fuel complexes may pose a challenge to direct attack strategies and affect societal expectations. Such fires have the potential to become extreme wildfire events or “megafires”—i.e., fires that resist control, rapidly grow in size, last for many weeks, threaten large numbers of highly valued resources and assets, and incur high financial costs [54,55].

I don’t think I’ve read before how MPB effects could favor indirect suppression strategies.

Judge Opens Door to Lawsuits Challenging Pendley Decisions Spanning 30 Million Acres of Public Land

Here’s a press release from WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity. A link to the federal judge’s motion is here and more information about the Pendley decisions the groups will seek to overturn and invalidate is here.

HELENA, Montana — A federal judge denied a motion from conservation groups late Friday to support a lawsuit involving William Perry Pendley’s unlawful tenure as acting director of the Bureau of Land Monument, opening the door to new lawsuits challenging Pendley’s decisions on land management plans and other policies. The plans allow fossil fuel extraction, mining and other industrialization across millions of acres of public lands in 11 states, including within the former boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

In September the judge ruled that Pendley’s tenure was unlawful, in response to a lawsuit by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and asked Bullock and the federal government to list public-lands decisions made by Pendley during that tenure. The same judge today denied a motion by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians to file an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit and submit a list of Pendley decisions that should be invalidated.

“Pendley never should have been allowed to set foot in the building, much less approve these disastrous plans that industrialize our public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “His corrupt, illegal anti-public-lands agenda was a train wreck for the climate, wildlife and our spectacular wild places. We’ll go to court to make sure Pendley’s illegal decisions end up in the dumpster where they belong.”

The groups will seek to overturn and invalidate Pendley’s decisions approving at least 16 resource-management plans and other projects that open 30 millions of acres of public lands to oil and gas drilling, mining and grazing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho and Utah. The plans include expanding coal mining in Montana and open-pit copper mining in Arizona and allowing fracking across more than 1 million acres in California — the first leases since 2013.

“During his illegal tenure as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, Pendley has wreaked havoc on public lands,” said Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians. “He, and the administration that kept unlawfully giving him authority, need to be held accountable for the damage they have done, if not in this lawsuit, then through another lawsuit or some other enforcement of the law.”

Under Pendley the Bureau of Land Management has amended resource-management plans to enable decades of fossil fuel expansion and climate pollution on public lands across the West.

“Judge Morris’s September 25 decision articulates the rationale for invalidation of an untold number of reckless decisions that were approved on Pendley’s watch,” said Melissa Hornbein, staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “While we hoped to have the opportunity to introduce a subset of those decisions into the current litigation, the denial of our motion in no way undermines the fundamental unlawfulness of those agency actions or narrows the Court’s original decision.”

Resource-management plans are 20-year management blueprints for public lands that govern every activity across the landscape, including which lands are open to fracking and drilling and which areas are protected for their ecological and wildlife values. The Bureau of Land Management director has sole decision-making authority over administrative protests that raise concerns about these plans.

In his September decision saying Pendley had served unlawfully, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that any duty that Pendley performed during his 424 days as acting director of the Bureau “would have no force and effect and must be set aside as arbitrary and capricious.”

“Judge Morris got it right when he declared Pendley’s appointment to head the BLM illegal, and pointed out that decisions made under Pendley’s direction were likewise unlawful,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “We’re going to keep working to overturn these illegal decisions through other legal filings.”

FSC to Revise US Stewardship Standard

FYI… US-wide standard, all lands. However….

“This draft includes the “base indicators” for Principle 1 through Principle 10, and associated
annexes, that will be applicable to almost all certified Organizations, but does not include the
Scale, Intensity, and Risk Indicators (i.e., SIR Indicators: family forest indicators and plantation
indicators), nor the supplementary requirements for US Forest Service lands. These additional
materials will be consulted through a separate first public consultation, and then all materials will
be combined for the second public consultation in 2021.”

 

Public Consultation Open for Revised FSC US National Forest Stewardship Standard

Thursday, 15 October 2020

On October 5th, FSC US opened a 75-day public consultation for the first draft of a revised FSC US National Forest Stewardship Standard.

Due in large part to the quality and rigor of our forest management standards, FSC is widely recognized as the world’s most trusted certification system. Draft 1 of the revised Standard offers further refinement of the respected existing standard for the United States, aligning it with the FSC Principles and Criteria Version 5 and the International Generic Indicators.

Our goal is to deliver a standard that is both best-in-class and achievable by streamlining the existing standard and addressing a number of priority issues, identified below. To help achieve this goal, we will need clear, actionable input from an informed and diverse set of stakeholders during this consultation.

Guided by the FSC US Board of Directors (the Standard Development Group) and a technical working group of experts, the Standard reflects the social, environmental and economic values that underpin FSC’s approach.

While much of the Draft 1 revised Standard remains consistent with the existing US Forest Management Standard, the Standard Development Group identified a set of priority issues to address in the revision process, including:

 

  • Climate Change
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, Local Communities’ Rights, and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)
  • High Conservation Value Areas, Representative Sample Areas, and the Conservation Area Network
  • Forest Workers
  • FSC US Regions and Regional Requirements

 

FSC US will be hosting a series of three webinars related to the priority issues.

Visit https://www.engage.us.fsc.org/ to register for the webinars, review the Draft 1 revised standard, read the supporting overviews about the consultation and priority issues, and access the consultation platform to comment.

The public consultation closes on December 18, 2020.

If you have questions, please email them to FM.Revision@us.fsc.org.

ESA update

National Audubon Society Field Guide

There’s a lot of news recently, mostly about litigation, all with implications for public land management.

(Notice of Intent.)  The Forest Service litigation weeklies seemed to have missed this one involving the Forest Service.  On September 23, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project notified the Forest Service, BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service of their intent to sue over the effects of livestock grazing on the Gunnison sage-grouse.  They allege, “failure to reinitiate consultation in light of the species’ decline and the best available science, their failure to implement the BiOp’s (biological opinion) conservation measures, and the likely exceedance of the BiOp’ incidental take statement…”

Note:  The decision challenged appears to be a “Candidate Conservation Agreement” made when the species was proposed for listing, and the “conference” on that for the proposed species which was adopted as the biological opinion after it was listed.  In it the Forest Service and BLM agree to adopt “conservation measures” for the Gunnison sage-grouse.  The CCA says that, “The GUSG CCA is not a decision document …,” but, “The GUSG CCA is consistent with the 1992 BLM Gunnison Field Office Resource Management Plan; USFS Land and Resource Management Plan for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests …”

The reason why there was consultation under ESA on this “non-decision” (rather than the forest plan and/or project-level grazing authorizations) is because it would provide a “programmatic” consultation and opinion on types of federal actions that may be taken in the future that “are likely to have insignificant or discountable effects to the species or habitat,” such as fences and small-scale water developments for grazing (and other activities related to recreation and other developments).  The CCA should have no force or effect except between the action agencies and the FWS, and I understand the primary benefit of consulting on it is to streamline subsequent consultation on individual future actions that it covers.  It would be interesting to see what a court would do with this without an actual “decision” by the action agencies.

That was probably more than anyone else was interested in, but here’s some more straightforward ESA actions that may affect public management.

(Settlement of Center for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, Eastern District of North Carolina.)  The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to complete a revision of the recovery plan for the red wolf by February 28, 2023.  The few remaining wild individuals are found near the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but CBD has provided a report on potential reintroduction areas that include the two national forests in Florida, four national forests in Virginia and West Virginia, three national forests in Arkansas and Missouri, five national forests in North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, and the Talladega National Forest in Alabama

(New lawsuit, Fish and Wildlife Service.)  On September 29, three conservation groups filed a complaint in the federal district court for the Northern District of California against the decision to not list the bi-state sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.  The challenge focuses on the failure of “voluntary” mechanisms to stem the decline of the species.  The complaint does not mention the Forest Service, though the species occurs on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which amended its forest plan in 2015 to adopt conservation measures.  (AP article here.)

(New lawsuit, Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM.)  On September 29, the Center for Biological Diversity alleged in the Nevada federal district court that the Fish and Wildlife Service “unreasonably delayed” a decision on a petition to make an emergency listing decision for the species, and that the BLM failed “to protect the wildflower in accordance with FLMPA and BLM policies, as the Center’s petition requested.”  The species is found only in an area coveted by mining companies seeking lithium and boron (previous litigation was discussed here).  The emergency circumstances arose from the recent mysterious physical removal of 40% of the remaining individuals, discussed in this article.

(New lawsuit, Fish and Wildlife Service.)  On September 30, several organizations and individuals challenged the removal of the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened and endangered species in 2016.  The suit says that the FWS is attempting to pass off non-native bears (introduced from Minnesota in the 1960s) or hybridized black bears as true Louisiana black bears to claim that recovery goals have been met.  The species is found on the Kisatchee National Forest.

(Notice of Intent to Sue the Fish and Wildlife Service.)  Following prior litigation requiring it to reconsider its decision to not list the wolverine, on October 13 the FWS withdrew its current proposed rule to list the species as threatened.  On the same day, Earthjustice submitted its NOI to the agency.  The FWS states that the wolverine is expanding its range and would be less affected by climate change than previously thought (discussed in this article.)

  • New species listings

On September 29, the Fish and Wildlife proposed to list the Wright’s marsh thistle as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  Two of the eight known locations are on the Lincoln National Forest, but involve less than an acre.  They are mostly threatened by the effects of climate change on water availability since these areas are not being grazed.  (Here is a local article.)

On September 29, the Fish and Wildlife Service also proposed to list two species of eastern mussels as threatened, and designated critical habitat on the Allegheny and Daniel Boone National Forests. Habitat for both the longsolid and round hickorynut mussels is threatened by timber operations (among many other things), is widely distributed, and is likely found on other national forests.  (Here is a local article.)

Using Social Media Data on Recreation: For Managers and Recreationists

In the study, they used trip report info from this group.

 

I came across a very interesting research paper from 2018 by Fisher et al. here. The title is: Recreational use in dispersed public lands measured using social media data and on-site counts.

Basically it says that user-generated data from social media can be used to get information about recreation use in dispersed areas  and supplement NVUM. It potentially sounds like a great source of detailed information on recreation use, although I suppose we couldn’t tell what kind of vehicle, or not, they are using. Unless you got trip reports from different kinds of user groups.

*Note: this is not what the authors did but… As a recreationist, it would be cool to have GPS of where recreationists are in real time (not sure this is possible technically or due to privacy concerns).  Would people opt in?  Folks could get information on where other people are.. and could go elsewhere, maybe reducing crowding at the more popular sites, and getting people to spread out (good for Covid). I’m not sure about the environmental benefits of spreading out vs. crowding. It would also be very cool if GPS from phones could be used to alert recreationists to forest fires as well. But maybe this is already happening as part of evacuation notifications.*

Back to what the authors did. Social media potentially sounds like a great source of detailed information on recreation use. It seems like an interesting possibility to explore, especially since  recreation patterns and numbers seem to be changing due to Covid- even as travel management decisions are being made that consider patterns of use.

If anyone knows more about either real-time data collection and notification, or other folks who have used social media data, please add your comment.

Here’s the abstract:

Outdoor recreation is one of many important benefits provided by public lands. Data on recreational use are critical for informing management of recreation resources, however, managers often lack actionable information on visitor use for large protected areas that lack controlled access points. The purpose of this study is to explore the potential for social media data (e.g., geotagged images shared on Flickr and trip reports shared on a hiking forum) to provide land managers with useful measures of recreational use to dispersed areas, and to provide lessons learned from comparing several more traditional counting methods. First, we measure daily and monthly visitation rates to individual trails within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBSNF) in western Washington. At 15 trailheads, we compare counts of hikers from infrared sensors, timelapse cameras, and manual on-site counts, to counts based on the number of shared geotagged images and trip reports from those locations. Second, we measure visitation rates to each National Forest System (NFS) unit across the US and compare annual measurements derived from the number of geotagged images to estimates from the US Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring Program. At both the NFS unit and the individual-trail scales, we found strong correlations between traditional measures of recreational use and measures based on user-generated content shared on the internet. For national forests in every region of the country, correlations between official Forest Service statistics and geotagged images ranged between 55% and 95%. For individual trails within the MBSNF, monthly visitor counts from on-site measurements were strongly correlated with counts from geotagged images (79%) and trip reports (91%). The convenient, cost-efficient and timely nature of collecting and analyzing user-generated data could allow land managers to monitor use over different seasons of the year and at sites and scales never previously monitored, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of recreational use patterns and value

 

 

Curry: How We Fool Ourselves

This list may help us examine our own biases and beliefs. I reckon each of us has employed one or more of these biases, whether we realized it or not…. Curry invites contributions to the list….

From a post by Judith Curry on her blog, Climate Etc., October 4, 2020.

How we fool ourselves

 

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person too fool.” – physicist Richard Feynman

Cognitive biases relate to self-deception that leads to incorrect conclusions based on cognitive factors, including information-processing shortcuts (heuristics) (Tversky and Kahnemann 1974). Cognitive biases can abound when reasoning and making judgments about a complex problem such as climate change.

Cognitive biases affecting belief formation that are of particular relevance to the science of climate change include:

  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions
  • Anchoring bias: the tendency to rely too heavily on one trait or piece of information, such as the mean or previous results.
  • Framing bias: using an approach that is too narrow that pre-ordains the conclusion
  • Overconfidence effect: unjustified, excessive belief
  • Illusory correlations: false identification of relationships with rare or novel occurrences
  • Ambiguity effect: the tendency to avoid options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is unknown
  • Self-serving bias: a tendency for people to evaluate information in a way that is beneficial to their interests
  • Belief bias: evaluating the logical strength of an argument based on belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion
  • Availability heuristic: The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater ‘availability’ in memory, which can be influenced by how recent the memories are or how unusual or emotionally charged they may be

A fallacy is logically incorrect reasoning that undermines the logical validity of the argument and leads to its assessment as unsound.  There are many different classifications of fallacies. Below are some fallacies that I’ve seen used in arguments about climate science:

  • Begging the question is a fallacy occurring in deductive reasoning in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises.
  • Correlation implies causation is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to be cause and effect.
  • Fallacy of distribution occurs when an argument assumes that what is true of the members is true of the class (composition), or what is true of the class is true of its members (division).
  • Hasty generalization is the logical fallacy of reaching an inductive generalization based on too little evidence.
  • Statistical special pleading occurs when the interpretation of the relevant statistic is ‘massaged’ by looking for ways to reclassify or requantify data from one portion of results, but not applying the same scrutiny to other categories.
  • Fallacy of the single cause occurs when it is assumed that there is one simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.

The category of intentional fallacies is not about how we fool ourselves, but how we try to fool others. Examples of intentional fallacies used routinely in the public debate on climate change include:

  • Diverting the argument to unrelated issues with a red herring(ignoratio elenchi)
  • Ad hominem fallacy: asserting that an argument is wrong because of something discreditable/not authoritative about the person
making the argument.
  • Appeal to motive: challenging a thesis by calling into question the motives of its proposer.
  • Asserting that everyone agrees (argumentum ad populum, bandwagoning)
  • Creating a ‘false dilemma’ (either-or fallacy) in which the situation is oversimplified
  • Selectively using facts (card stacking)
  • Making false or misleading comparisons (false equivalence and false analogy)
  • Appeal to consequences of belief (argumentum ad consequentiam): an appeal to emotion that concludes a hypothesis or belief to be either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences.

 

Putting the Power of Experience to Work!: ACES and BAER Opportunities

Glenda Goodwyne – retired Forester and certified Silviculturist. She worked for the USDA Forest Service for 36 years and now participates in ACES as a silviculture mentor for Pathways and Recent Graduates in Region 6. USDA Forest Service photo.

 

One of the challenges that the Forest Service faces is the loss of experience and talent due to retirements. Many retirees would like to work and contribute in their area of expertise, but just didn’t want to work full-time and possibly have all the responsibilities and annoyances of full time employment. The ACES program allows hiring of those 55+ and is not limited to FS retirees. Please forward this link folks you know who might be interested.

Putting the Power of Experience to Work!

In 2018, the Forest Service received authority, by way of the 2018 Farm Bill, that gives line officers a new tool for accomplishing work. The Forest Service Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services (ACES) Program provides the opportunity for experienced personnel, age 55 and older, to assist with conservation-related programs executed on or directly impacting
National Forest System land. ACES allows the Forest Service to use the services of 55+ individuals with a process that is simple, efficient, and promptly executed. These individuals do not have to be federal retirees; rather anybody 55+ who is qualified to do the work.

The agency’s objective in implementing the ACES program is to expand capacity to complete conservation work, by filling employment gaps, mentoring and training less experienced agency employees and to complete “short term” surge work. The Forest Service administers the ACES Program through Master Agreements with two non-profit partners, National Older Worker Career Center and Senior Service America, Inc. The ACES program was piloted in 2017, based largely off the ACES program that was already being utilized by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. The pilot was focused solely in Forest Management and had an initial investment of $1M provided by the Washington Office to jump-start program utilization.

Based on the success of the pilot program, the program was expanded in early 2018, with the signing of a new five-year master agreement that allows the expansion of ACES to all eligible program areas. This expansion enables broader program utilization, providing additional means to expand Agency capacity in critical program areas. To date, 80 supplemental project agreements have been executed by the WO, Job Corps, Research Stations, Forest Products Lab, and Regional, Forest and District units across the nation. ACES enrollees are geographically spread across 17 states and over 25 National Forests and Grasslands. Approximately $9M under the national implementation effort has been obligated to ACES agreements for nearly 200 program enrollees.
ACES enrollees work to support a variety of Forest Service programs, including Forest Management, Engineering, Geology, Lands, Hydrology, Archeology, Recreation, Special Uses, Range Conservation, Research Science, Forest Planning, and Fire management. Currently in Region 6 there are 30 enrollees across most forests, research stations and the Regional Office. The jobs include timber sale administrators, land surveyors, lands and realty, research scientist, fire program specialist, engineers and engineering technicians, frontline workers, environmental coordinators and silviculture.

Are you interested in exploring these jobs? Or do you know others who would be great fits? To find more information on the ACES Program, please visit https://www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/aces-program. Or contact Becki Lockett Heath who is working for NOWCC as a Program Consultant, for the Forest Service ACES Program at bheath@nowcc.org (NOTE TO READERS- I’ve corrected the email).

NAFSR sent this out about specifically BAER help:

With the current unprecedented fire season creating the needs for additional capacity in post-fire emergency assessments and implementation, there is a need for interested qualified individuals to assist.
The BAER program calls upon retirees frequently through the Administratively Determined (AD) Play Plan for Emergency Workers in accordance with the Interagency Incident Business Management Handbook (PMS902).
Here’s a link to the document that explains the basic steps to the AD process.
Though local units must sponsor retirees through AD sign-up, we are asking folks who have the appropriate skill sets in soils, hydrology, engineering, and interagency/public affairs that are not already in the system to reach out to the National BAER Program Lead, Cara Farr (cara.farr@usda.gov) with their background and experience, so that she can facilitate identifying the best approach to getting them into the system.
With COVID concerns this season, many assessments are being completed using virtual tools and technologies opening up alternative pathways for involvement.
Any retirees that would be willing to assist in person or virtual would be welcome and encouraged to reach out to the National BAER Program Lead to determine next steps.

NFS Litigation Weekly October 9, 2020

Forest Service case summaries are here:  Litigation Weekly October 9 2020 EMAIL

Links below are to court documents related to each case.

COURT DECISIONS

On October 2, 2020 the District Court of Colorado issued an order allowing a mining company to continue its operations using new roads constructed into a designated roadless area to the West Elk Mine on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.  Road construction in the Sunset Roadless Area was allowed under a lease pursuant to an exception to the Colorado roadless rule, but that exception was subsequently reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  On remand, the district court did not vacate the lease.

(BLOGGER’S UPDATE:  On October 9, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily barred further surface disturbance by the West Elk Mine so it can consider the legality of that activity. The complicated history of the exception and this case is included in the Forest Service summary.)

On September 29, 2020 the District Court of Montana issued a decision allowing the Darby Lumber Lands Phase II Project on the Bitterroot National Forest to proceed.  The court also upheld a project-specific forest plan amendment to “suspend” an elk habitat effectiveness standard.  While the court invalidated the Forest’s reference to a minimum road system under the Travel Management Rule because the forest-wide Travel Management Plan did not properly establish that, the court did not find that to be a reason to vacate the Project decision.

  • Van McGibney, et al., v. Missouri Department of Natural Resources

On September 24, 2020 the Circuit Court of Oregon County Missouri determined that lands acquired by the state can’t be used as a park because of restrictions in the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers easement, so the state must divest its ownership.  The lands are located near the Mark Twain National Forest.  Plaintiffs also owned land subject to the easement.  (Local reporting here and a viewpoint here:  “… the Judge reasoned that without unfettered public use of the land, it could not be a park. This defies both common conservation practices and common sense.”)

Planting Aspen Trees in Ski Country: Tiny Effort Provokes Maximal Skepticism

Part of video from Vail Daily News story

In the Sunday Denver Post was a reprint of a story from the Vail Daily. The headline was “should aspen replace lodgepole in local forests?”.

This is about a partnership to plant aspen in Summit County, described by TNC this way:

The partners are testing the potential for increases in aspen trees to act as natural fuel breaks for wildfire at the 46-acre Barney Ford open space site, just outside of downtown Breckenridge. Since aspens are less flammable and have a higher moisture content than conifers, they may act to reduce fire severity. Adding more aspen in forests also has wildlife benefits, as it increases insect and plant biodiversity and creates valuable habitat for elk, moose and deer.

Seems like a small, innocuous project, right?

Back to the news story:

“We were very intrigued with the idea of how can we help establish aspens in Summit County,” Lorch said. “One of the issues we see is that as we do the buffers around our communities for wildfire purposes, most of what’s growing back is the same lodgepole thicket that we had before. So in a short period of time, 20 years or so, we’ll have the same issues with fire concerns as we had prior to the cutting. We’ve done some places where we’ve thinned things in order to try to avoid having such a fuels load, but really aspens, and having a more diverse forest, is a much better plan in the long run.”

One interesting thing was this take (drive-by?) on The Nature Conservancy by Tom Veblen, a professor at the University of Colorado.

It’s true that aspens are less flammable than pine trees. And trying to populate former lodgepole zones with aspens can be a worthwhile cause, says forest ecologist Thomas Veblen with the University of Colorado.

“If the financial resources are available to spend a lot of money on forest management, that’s a worthy goal, to increase the area of aspen, and that’s likely to decrease the spread of fires in the future,” Veblen said.

But The Nature Conservancy’s studies on fire fuels reduction, which includes examining aspen repopulation in areas clear cut of lodgepole pine, may end up helping, most of all, The Nature Conservancy, Veblen says.

“They have a structure of people and resources that can do fire mitigation, they’ve got to keep it funded, so there’s a self interest there,” Veblen said. “They have contracts with the Forest Service to do a lot of forest management, so The Nature Conservancy, from that perspective, has a self interest in promoting fuels reduction.”

I called the folks at TNC about this, and while they were interviewed by Mr. LaConte about the project, they were not asked to comment on Veblen’s assertion, and say that it is incorrect.

University of Montana fire ecologist Richard L. Hutto is skeptical of The Nature Conservancy’s efforts.

“I don’t see wholesale conversion of something to something else in the name of fire safety,” he said. “The thing that determines fire behavior and whether it’s going to get crazy is temperature, humidity and wind, not fuels.”

We’ve gotten from diversifying the forest to “wholesale conversion”. I guess that’s building a straw person. We fans of the robust and resilient Pinus contorta know how unlikely that result would be under any scenario. It’s a fairly strong statement to say that fuels don’t “determine fire behavior”.. maybe that’s Hutto’s careful use of language but certainly fuels impact fire behavior.

Another fire ecologist (Baker) says that they should spend money instead on adapting the community and should work with Fire Adapted Colorado (I think it’s likely that they are already doing this). But are fire ecologists good sources of info on what communities “should” spend money on?
Baker also uses the “it doesn’t always work” argument – “in aspen stands many, but not all fires hit the ground.” I’d take “many but not all” over “none” myself.

If Fire Adapted Colorado sounds familiar, it works closely (according to its webpage) with FAC Net, which is of course, a partnership with … The Nature Conservancy.

Fire Adapted Colorado is an independent non-profit organization closely associated and born out of the Fire Adapted Community Learning Network (FAC Net). FAC Net is a national network of people working to build wildfire resilience capacity in wildfire-prone communities. It is supported through a partnership among The Nature Conservancy, the Watershed Research and Training Center and the USDA Forest Service. FAC Net’s purpose is to connect and support people and communities who are striving to live more safely with wildfire. A fire adapted community is a knowledgeable, engaged community that is taking actions that will enable them to safely accept fire as part of the surrounding landscape. For more information about FAC Net, visit www.fireadaptednetwork.org.

I’ve always thought that it is interesting when people get together and do something they think is good, and how these stories are reported. For example, how many inches are devoted to description of the actions compared to critics (in the Denver Post reprint, it was almost 50/50). And why people from elsewhere (Steamboat, Boulder, Wyoming, Montana), academics and not, are thought to be experts on managing areas around Breckinridge. And when the doers get a chance to respond to critics.