Social Science around Communities and Fire Adaptation: I. The Museum Fire and Aftermath

A view of a steep slope burned by the Museum Fire. Photo courtesy of Melanie Colavito, Ecological Restoration Institute
Every fire season it seems like news stories tend to quote a variety of scientists, including climate scientists, but not so much social scientists. Which in a way is odd, because the journalists always ask them questions like “what should be done?” and “what are the barriers?” which social scientists have studied across the West for decades (at least). I’m going to highlight some of these over time, and hopefully we at least will then be familiar with some of their work by next fire season. We can observe the nature and culture of communities that the studies examine; their location and physical/biological/ecological context; their proximity to universities and other scientific institutions, and other elements of interest that may influence the scientists’ findings. TSW and other folks are encouraged to send me links to such studies.

First I’ll start with this post on Catrina Edgeley and Melanie Colavito’s work in Flagstaff. This article was originally posted on the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network Blog and is reproduced here with their permission. They are social scientists with the NAU Ecological Restoration Institute. I first heard about this work via a presentation Catrina gave at the SAF Convention last fall. I appreciate how they condensed their work for accessibility. The Museum fire was started by contractors’ equipment working on a fuels reduction project, so the scientists studied how that influenced peoples’ ideas about fuel treatments.

How can we harness public support for restoration and wildfire risk reduction?

Based on our survey data, high public support for active forest management seems likely to continue. How can we capitalize on this “window of opportunity” moving forward?

*Incorporate and continue community-approved approaches. Familiarity with the rationale and need for existing management activities like FWPP have built confidence in collaborative approaches. That is no small feat and took several decades to achieve in the Flagstaff area. However, now that it has become ingrained in community culture, the community is more socially resilient to fire events when they do occur. Acknowledging local support for, and continuing to invest in, collaborative approaches will be key to maintaining momentum for forest management in Flagstaff.

Collaborative community-based approaches and building trust is significant.

*Demonstrate what you’ve learned from past fires (and how you’ve implemented those lessons) to build trust. The last page of our survey allowed respondents to provide additional comments they thought might be relevant to our study. Many long-term Flagstaff residents commented that once the Museum Fire began, they clearly saw lessons learned implemented from the Schultz Fire. While newcomers and more skeptical respondents asked how professionals would use takeaways from the Museum Fire moving forward. Transparency about how a fire event advances local wildfire response within agencies and governments is key to building confidence and opening an inclusive conversation about local fire adaptation. Successful efforts to create transparency in Flagstaff have included Coconino County and Forest Service employees speaking directly with the public about changes to decision-making processes, mailing fact sheets that document updates and changes on public land to adjacent private property and acknowledging agency and organizational limitations before, during and after fire. Highlighting specific partnerships that have emerged after fire was often well-received and celebrated by members of the public in Flagstaff.

NFS Litigation Weekly February 19, 2021

The Forest Service summaries are here:  Litigation Weekly February 19, 2021 EMAIL

(The last summary we received was dated January 8, so we’ve missed a few things.)

Links for each case are to court documents.


WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Forest Service (D. Utah).  On February 5, 2021, the District Court of Utah upheld the authorizations for a 400-well oil and gas development project on the Ashley NF with regard to NEPA, NFMA, Mineral Leasing Act, Roadless Rule, Clear Water Act and APA claims.

Idaho State Snowmobile Association v. U.S. Forest Service (D. Idaho).  On February 10, 2021, the District Court of Idaho reversed and remanded a travel management decision involving snowmobile access and closure of 72,447 acres of the Sawtooth NF because the research relied on did not support the conclusions about wildlife in the EA.


Arizona Mining Reform Coalition v. U.S. Forest Service (D. Ariz.).  On January 22, 2021, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the District Court of Arizona, regarding the conveyance of Oak Flat Parcel as part of the “Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Resolution Copper Mine Project” on the Tonto National Forest that was approved on January 15, 2021.

Friends of the Clearwater v. Cheryle Probert (D. Idaho).  On February 4, 2021, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the District Court of Idaho, challenging a October 2017 Travel Planning Record of Decision, which allows motorized use along the Fish Lake Trail within a Recommended Wilderness Area on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.


On January 26, 2021, Western Watersheds Project and Rocky Mountain Wild alleged violation the Endangered Species Act and National Forest Management Act regarding the Final Record of Decision and the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Thunder Basin National Grassland 2020 Plan Amendment because of the failure to carry out programs to conserve the black-footed ferret.


Montana Environmental Information Center vs. Bernhardt (D. Montana).  On January 25, 2021, the Montana District Court denied Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction regarding the Rosebud Mine expansion in southeast Montana and its effect on the endangered pallid sturgeon. (The Forest Service is not a named party in this litigation nor are any mining operations on NFS lands. The summary was provided for information purposes.)

Price v. Barr (D. D.C.).  On January 22, 2021, the District Court entered a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction against permit and fee requirements for commercial filming in a national park because they are unconstitutional under the First Amendment (as we discussed here).

Natural Resources Defense Council v. U. S. Department of the Interior (N.D. California).   On January 25, 2021, NRDC, filed a complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the Northern District of California against the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, challenging the decision to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species.

Seeing Through the POG: Federal Oil and Gas Leasing and the BLM Move

One of the things I like about Democratic administrations is that we can talk about issues without what I call a cloud of POG, or Partisan Outrage Generation. It’s hard to see through it when it is so prevalent. So I’m going to pick two issues that have aroused a great deal of concern and see what they look like without POG. Unfortunately, many media outlets and sources of journalism funding actually promote POG, so it takes some careful looking for articles to get past it.

1. Oil and gas leasing on federal lands. The WaPo had this story from November 19.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), a Biden ally, has said she would ask for an exemption from any leasing ban. Three New Mexico Democrats — Rep. Deb Haaland and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich — are all in the running to be Biden’s interior secretary, and they have differing views on whether to prohibit new drilling on public lands and waters.

Both Udall and Heinrich have expressed reservations about a total ban. In a recent interview, Udall called for setting a goal of “carbon-neutral” public lands, where the emissions from fossil fuel extraction could be offset by reforestation and other activities that remove carbon from the atmosphere. “That’s where we should be headed,” he said.


I like Udall’s idea with one addition. For those of you with a historic bent it’s a bit like the National Grasslands becoming an experiment station for the best practices following the Dust Bowl. It could be an opportunity to produce fossil fuels in as environmentally sensitive a way as possible- an experimental ground for innovation. We’re going to use the stuff anyway (and perhaps help other countries convert from coal to natural gas?), so we might as well be an example as to how to do it. I’m imagining a multi-university consortium with industry to develop and test best practices. Now Udall’s bonafides are a 98% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, so I don’t think you can attack him for being in the pocket of corporate polluters and all that familiar anti-R rhetoric.

2. Moving Some BLM Folks to Grand Junction.

This has been a target of the usual suspects; Center for Western Priorities, Grijalva, et al. Colorado Politics had this interesting POG-free article.

GRAND JUNCTION — Colorado U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper says he is urging President Joe Biden’s Interior secretary nominee to keep the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management in the Western Slope city of Grand Junction.

Hickenlooper met Tuesday with Deb Haaland, a Democratic U.S. representative from New Mexico, and invited her to western Colorado to “hear from the community firsthand” about why the public lands agency headquarters should stay, his office said in a statement.

The Democratic senator said that “I made the case that, done correctly, we can better protect and manage our public lands by having a BLM headquarters out west. I look forward to working with her when she’s confirmed as Interior Secretary to make this a reality.”

Hickenlooper sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which will hold a hearing on Haaland’s nomination in the coming weeks.

The meeting came a day after Hickenlooper, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert and Gov. Jared Polis met remotely with local officials to discuss a lobbying effort aimed at Haaland.

Too Many People Recreating: What’s a Fair Way to Permit?

Volunteer efforts have tried in recent years to intercept hikers at the Ice Lakes Trailhead to talk about best practices in the backcountry.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file
I’ve been thinking about “thought channels” in terms of a floodplain. It seems like for whatever reason, many folks are in channels. But Covid and the Biden Administration provide an opportunity for a dam release, where new ideas can be exposed , and new, possibly better, and less oppositional channels or even thousands of rivulets form. Example: old channel “on federal lands, industries are bad and recreation is good.” New set of rivulets: “on federal lands, some industries (e.g. solar and wind development) are good, and some recreation (overdoing it, not just OHV’s or MBs) is bad. Let’s look closer.

I’ve found it really hard to get out of today’s thought channels, as the folks who have power in the different channels don’t particularly want to be flooded with new ideas and partnerships and thereby lose their power. I don’t think this is conscious, but they are in a channel, like a fishbowl, where that’s the way the world looks. To my mind, we’re all trying to do good, with different ideas of what that looks like.

So thanks to Dana for submitting another story on “overrecreating” in Southern Colorado, written by the Durango Herald. I think it’s a problem in other places (based on an RVCC Zoom call), including people tromping about on private land (!) in the west, but I haven’t been able to find many news stories about it. I was on a Society for Environmental Journalists Zoom call, and only a few of those folks were interested. Others were more interested in potential violence cropping up in the Interior West due to the policies of the Biden Admin and what we might call potential Bundification (these journalists were not residents of the interior west). I continue to be fascinated by what (some) non-residents think is noteworthy about us and what concerns them.
What’s Going On: More Poop

All those hikers and campers take a significant toll on the alpine tundra, an already fragile landscape.

For one, hikers have been constantly going off trail, causing erosion and damage to sensitive vegetation. Campers, too, have been seen frequently having fires above tree line. And both have been known to leave behind trash.

The big issue, said Brent Schoradt, executive director of the San Juan Mountains Association, which works in partnership with the Forest Service, is people failing to pack out human waste and toilet paper.

The Ice Lakes Trail is headed toward a permit system after unprecedented high use in recent years has caused damage to the landscape.
Courtesy of MK Gunn
Over Labor Day weekend, SJMA tallied nearly 2,000 hikers and 215 overnight backpackers, and while people are encouraged to carry out their waste, it’s anyone’s guess who actually followed the rules, Schoradt said.

“In a huge use area like that, even burying your waste is not advised,” he said. “People think hiking is the lowest impact way to be out on the landscape, but with those sheer numbers, you’re still having an impact.”

Role of Social Media:

The Ice Lakes Trail has always been a popular spot for day hikers and backcountry campers, but in recent years, the power of social media has caused visitation to blow up.

Can Volunteers Help?
Shout out to the San Juan Mountains Association!

The effort was replicated again this year, albeit under a tent rather than a tiny home, and has had success in mitigating some of the impacts of having so many visitors in one area.

“We want to kill them with kindness and enhance everyone’s experience,” Schoradt said. “The last thing you want to do is give a sense that it’s a free-for-all.”

But, while the volunteers’ efforts have gone a long way to help curb some of the impacts at the Ice Lakes Trail, Forest Service officials say it’s time to increase management measures, namely, through a permit system.

There was an interesting comment about to the story..

I suggest giving priority to residents in the area and not to out of state or even out of town visitors farther than 100 miles away. Some of us moved here from out of state in order to be close to these areas and it is very unfair not to consider our requests first as property and sales tax payers who support the economy on an ongoing basis

This is definitely an out-of-the-traditional channels topic. Generally, it seems like we think “NFs belong to all Americans so everyone should have an equal chance.” But if it were a Rich Person Owned Resort with thousands of acres around a community, we might expect that the concept of “being a good neighbor” would also be involved. For example, we remember the story about Weyco in SW Oregon, in which individuals in the community were concerned that Weyco was charging for access. Is it basically some kind of property rights question?

There are also concerns regarding social equity- should poor local people get preference over better-off tourists? (Conceivably people from outside Colorado must have some money to get here and spend time). OTOH, dispersed camping costs less and may be more affordable to people coming from out of state? Or we might want to give permits preferentially to those communities who have traditionally not recreated on federal lands. What do you think?

Is This True? Is Leaving Things Alone Always Best For Climate? Statements Around the 30 x 30 Initiative

On the trail to Laurel Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in July 2019/NPS

Jon posted this quote from one person’s opinion about the George Washington National Forest and 30 x30. But I have seen this same concept stated in other places that I can’t locate right now.

By protection, I mean minimizing human activity in order to allow for “as natural a state as possible”. This approach is termed proforestation, letting standing forests grow and develop in complexity to their natural old growth state; such restoration is also the most effective way to counter climate change.

I think it’s what was behind many of the 20th century federal lands debates (the LTA concept-leaving things alone, except for preferred forms of recreation, is best for the environment). Still, given the narrative that Anthropogenic Global Warming is the primary environmental problem of the day (crisis), reasonable people have to wonder whether this “LTA is best” remains a true statement. You’ll notice that in the Biden Admin press release on 30×30, it mentions the extinction crisis but doesn’t state that “protecting” areas (to be defined by DOI?) will help with climate change.

So it will be interesting to see how this plays out in various news stories, op-eds and so on. But we can think of various situations in which LTA does not seem to be the best for action on reducing GHGs.

1. Build-out of infrastructure for solar and wind, with accompanying transmission; also pipelines for carbon capture.

2. Leaving fires alone can lead to deforestation and less carbon being soaked up, see Hayman Fire for example.  It’s possible that planting is OK in “protected” areas, but if you’re going for Wilderness, believe it or not, I recall at one time folks said you couldn’t plant disease-resistant whitebark pine in Wilderness because it was unnatural. Maybe it’s the breeding (so they survive) and not the planting that makes it unnatural? Would fuel treatments be OK in these protected areas, or just prescribed burning, or ??  Or maybe suppression shouldn’t occur either.   So many questions and complexities, that are not ultimately not scientific in nature.- because protection is an abstraction, and abstractions are usually defined by … those with privilege.

3. No drilling or mining of fossil fuels will likely lead to increased development on private lands and/or more imports (that’s what decreasing supply without changing demand has historically done.  Thank you economists!). Now, logically, transporting imports from another country may lead to more use of fossil fuels in the act of transporting.

Can you think of other situations in which “leaving things alone except for currently preferred forms of recreation” is not best for climate?

Sidepoint: it is conceivable that any recreation form that requires gas-powered or electricity sourced from fossil fuel energy (a high proportion of most electric grids nowadays), is also not good for the climate. However, I don’t see anyone proposing a regulation that all skiers at FS permitted ski areas arrive only by certified carbon-free vehicles.

My other point about 30×30 is that if we can’t meet our own energy and minerals needs from our own land because we are “protecting” it.. are we merely exporting the impacts on biodiversity to somewhere else, whose biodiversity is just as desirable (or possibly more, for whatever reasons that specialists in the various kinds of biodiversity can think up) as our own?

And of course, there are arguments that for social justice toward our own working classes that we would not want to export jobs. Then there’s the same old forest products argument that asks if the other country’s labor and environmental protections are as good as ours? But we still import wood from Canada, a friendly and benign ally with similar rules.  To say it gently,  our relations with countries such as China, Russia, the Saudis and so on are more geopolitically complex. Not to speak of the concept of balance of trade being a thing worthy of consideration somewhere in all this.

The logical thing to do IMHO seem to be to start with the new infrastructure, and then see what’s left to put into protection. Otherwise, it seems a bit disorganized – especially for solutions to the #1 problem and crisis in the world, that we need to act on urgently.  On the other hand, various scientists and folks like the TNC say that some places are more worth protecting that others. Hopefully, all these concerns will line up- but right now there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism to do that. Or maybe the Biden Admin will be more welcoming of nuclear because more land could be “protected?” Will be interesting to watch.

Another thought, if the US becomes a “park” country, at the expense of other countries becoming “industrial zone” countries, is that a good thing? For whom? What is the net impact on the environment?

Anyway, it seems to me that some people see 30 x 30 as just another opportunity to restate “LTA is best,” with “besides, it’s the best thing for climate” perhaps, as a rhetorical flourish more than a statement of reality.

Covid Recreation and Forest Service Impacts: Interview with Scott Fitzwilliams

In 2020, cars lined the road to Brainard Lake in Boulder County, CO, on the Arapaho-Roosevelt NF. Photo by the FS

This story is from January in the Colorado Springs Gazette, a Seth Boster piece on the impacts of Covid recreation. It features an interview with Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor of the White River National Forest. If you have a similar story in your local media, please share the link in the comments. There’s also some good photos. Apparently there has also been an increase in people moving to Colorado due to Covid, which adds another crowding factor. What I like about this issue is that there are no “bad groups” to stereotype and moralize about, and there’s no partisan angle. The only bad folks are individual recreationists who.. behave badly.

It’s well worth reading in its entirety, and quotes a number of people, but I just excerpted the part on “management scenarios.”

Which begs the question: Could crowd control strategies tried in the summer of COVID-19 be here to stay?

At the Hessie trailhead, for example, the ranger district partnered with sheriff’s deputies. “They were turning people around by the hundreds on busy weekends after parking was full,” Armstrong says.

North of there, at Brainard Lake, a timed entry system was tried. Arapaho National Forest’s most famous destination, Mount Evans Scenic Byway, remained closed, as public health guidelines made opening tricky, Armstrong says. “We’re beginning to have conversations on what to do next year.”

Such conversations are ongoing well beyond that summit.

Reservations continue to be enforced at the Manitou Incline, the iconic trail in Manitou Springs that local leaders closed in March under an emergency order. Similarly, in an announced effort to prevent the coronavirus spread, Rocky Mountain National Park enacted a booking system over the summer that some onlookers see as the future for other overrun national parks in the West.

Another reservation system was born this summer at another Colorado natural treasure: the Maroon Bells. Beyond that scenic area, in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, reservations and permits could soon be required, says Fitzwilliams, who oversaw reservations rolled out in 2019 for Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs.

And he expects more talks regarding more “management scenarios” at other sites under siege, mentioning spots near Vail and Summit County in particular. Above Breckenridge, at the base of Quandary Peak, 14,000-foot summit fever once again led to overflow on the adjacent highway, the lines of cars on either side of the road and jammed parking lot causing hazards for emergency vehicles.

“If things keep growing the way they are, it’s inevitable that some of these areas are going to have to have some management scenarios, either permits or reservations or some sort of those types of tools,” Fitzwilliams says.

“It’s just the way it is. The old days aren’t here anymore.”

In the old days, there were more staff and resources, Fitzwilliams says. Since he started at White River National Forest 11 years ago, the budget he oversees has plunged 45%, he says. The busiest national forest serves as a microcosm for broader cuts to the U.S. Forest Service over recent years.

“We’re hitting a point where we can’t keep going down while the use (of lands) and output keeps going up,” Fitzwilliams says.

Oregon Statewide Forest Practice Negotiation Process

OFRI Oregon Forest Ownership Map.

It’s always interesting to compare how California, Oregon and Washington deal with forest issues. A new process in Oregon deals with developing a Habitat Conservation Plan for private forests by bringing all parties into a collaborative discussion with mediation, and then ultimately passing a bill in the State Legislature. It’s also interesting that as reported “by signing off on the memorandum, the parties agreed to stand down from pursuing legal challenges to the issues while the negotiation process is still ongoing.” But I guess that both sides have the opportunity to litigate afterwards? It will be interesting to watch how all this plays out.

Here’s one version of the story from the Well News, which is an interesting news outlet in its own right.

— Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the first of a series of negotiations Wednesday in a collaborative effort between conservation leaders, fishing organizations and forestry representatives to adapt statewide forest practices.

Brown brokered an agreement between the conservation groups and timber products entities in February 2020 to forgo a divisive ballot initiative battle in favor of “collaboratively developed changes to forest practices,” instituted through legislative efforts, according to a release from the governor’s office. These efforts are aimed at creating new protections for sensitive aquatic species on over 10 million acres of private forestland in Oregon without impairing the state’s timber industry.

“In the past year––despite the disruptions of a global pandemic and historic wildfire devastation which made face-to-face meetings very difficult––this group has made steady progress in establishing common ground,” Brown said in a written statement. “Together, we can build a future for Oregon with healthy forests, fish, and wildlife and economic growth for our forest industry and rural communities at the same time.”

The negotiations between the stakeholders could be finalized in a statewide “Habitat Conservation Plan” from federal agencies for threatened and endangered species. State lawmakers hope the cooperatively developed plan will lead to long-term conservation benefits for the state’s wildlife while establishing greater regulatory certainty for landowners.

The state’s strategy for addressing the concerns and priorities of the involved parties was outlined in a memorandum which was mediated and released by the governor’s office. In the memorandum, the parties agreed they have incentive to reach a compromise on the “historically difficult issues” and that “any compromise must be built on mutual trust and respect.”

“Oregon’s forests are a precious resource that provide extraordinary beauty and recreational opportunities and a source of good, year-round employment and economic opportunity for small, family-owned businesses,” Heath Curtiss of Hampton Lumber said in a written statement. “Our goal is to ensure a vibrant and sustainable Oregon forest products industry, now and into the future, while avoiding the tragic community losses we saw in rural Oregon when federal forest harvest plummeted.”

Curtiss continued, “It will be delicate work, but if we focus on good science, specific problem statements, and the least burdensome measures to help remedy those problems, we’ll get there. It will require compromise on all sides, and a recognition that forestry is only one piece of the puzzle.”

Consequently, the parties hope to come to an agreement that ensures greater business certainty for forest landowners and industries and greater environmental certainty for the protection of threatened and endangered species and “aquatic resources,” according to the memorandum.

Simply put, the conservation entities want advanced protections for drinking water and wildlife and the business entities do not want these changes to compromise the state’s manufacturing infrastructure.

Further, the memorandum outlines a new process for resolving subsequent conflicts. By signing off on the memorandum, the parties agreed to stand down from pursuing legal challenges to the issues while the negotiation process is still ongoing.

Key Abstractions in Forest Management and Conservation: 1. Sustainability and Sustainable Forest Management.

Jon and I have been discussing whether “ecological integrity” and  “resilience” are in fact, the same thing.   I think it makes sense, though, to start from the beginning and go through all the abstractions we’ve used for the past 40 years or so, looking at (1) what actors defined and promoted them, (2) the place of humans in the abstractions, including indigenous and local people, 3) how they handle climate mitigation and adaptation, and 4) how or if the concepts have a link to management practices on the ground.  Two caveats, though, this is mostly from my own memory supplemented with links, so other knowledge, ideas and perspectives (and links!) are welcome.

The first to examine is “sustainability.” This was seen to be the intersection of social, economic and ecological sustainability.  Who defined it: I think the international development community but then the forest community ran with it.  It’s particularly interesting as a result of the Montreal process towards sustainable forest management, the group developed criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management. Here they are:

You’ll note that two additional abstractions- biodiversity and forest ecosystem health- are included in the C&I, also global carbon cycles, even though they came out in 1995.

Then Canada took those and developed its own forest certification standard.  So if you wanted to track this concept, you could go all the way from the abstract idea of sustainability to what things forest managers can and can’t do, and what they should be concerned about.

From the CSA Website:

Developed for Canada CSA Z809 is written specifically for Canada and its publicly-owned forests. The standard was built on top of strong legislative frameworks that govern forestry, follows the CCFM Framework for Sustainable Forest Management, and sets the benchmark for community involvement.

An Active Community Voice in Forest Management
Local advisory committees are involved in identifying values, objectives, indicators and targets for criteria and indicators of Sustainable Forest Management. They also participate in annual
reviews of performance against targets, and continual improvement discussions.
Current, Relevant and Evolving
Helps organizations meet for performance goals and allows for continual improvement through a management system of planning, implementing, checking, corrective actions and management
Outlines how certain information must be made publicly available, such as CSA Sustainable Forest Management plans, annual reports on progress against those plans; and results of independent
certification and surveillance audit reports.
The standard was developed in an independent and transparent process.
Labels for Forest Products with Integrity
The CSA Group Forest Certification Program allows the use of PEFC Chain of Custody labels that demonstrate compliance with the a wood product has been sourced standard and assurance that
responsibly & legally.

If you note, this sounds a bit like national forest planning in the US.

So it appears to me that sustainable forest management was discussed and debated by the usual suspects in the forest policy sector.  At least in Canada, it reaches from concept to the ground, including the use of local advisory committees, defined criteria and indicators, transparency and third party certification.  They updated the standard in 2016 and

Aboriginal Relations
A stronger, standalone section specific to Aboriginal people has been created which highlights the understanding of Aboriginal title and rights, the importance of building good relationships, being flexible in ways of involving Aboriginal communities in forest management planning, and including efforts to identify and resolve disagreement.

Now, there’s another very large body of literature around forest certification itself, which I can’t do justice here.

What about climate? Interest in climate has grown since 1995. In a brief review, I haven’t been able to trace carbon and adaptation concerns into specific current standards, but I’m sure that issues like carbon, reforestation, and adaptation are included.

The California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan of 2021- Forest Service Contributions

Are we headed for an abstraction knock-down with the 2012 Planning Rule requiring managing National Forests for “ecological integrity” and states like California promoting “resilience”? I bolded the FS goals below. Note that with regard to PB, CALFIRE, among other things,  will “increase support for workforce development and training programs, and evaluate options to address liability issues for private landowners seeking to conduct prescribed burns for the private insurance market.” I just posted the summary below, so there may be other FS contributions in the main document.


In January the State of California came out with:

The Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan is designed to strategically accelerate efforts to:
» Restore the health and resilience of California forests, grasslands and natural places;
» Improve the fire safety of our communities; and
» Sustain the economic vitality of rural forested areas.

To meet these goals, the following will need to be achieved:
Scale-up forest management to meet the state and federal 1 million-acre annual restoration target by 2025.
» The Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and other state entities will expand its fuels management crews, grant programs, and partnerships to scale up fuel treatments to 500,000 acres annually by 2025;
» California state agencies will lead by example by expanding forest management on state-owned lands to improve resilience against wildfires and other impacts of climate change; and
» The USFS will double its current forest treatment levels from 250,000 acres to 500,000 acres annually by 2025.

Significantly expand the use of prescribed fire across the state:
» CAL FIRE will expand its fuels reduction and prescribed fire programs to treat up to 100,000 acres by 2025, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks) and other state agencies will also increase the use of prescribed fire on high-risk state lands;
» The USFS, in partnership with CAL FIRE, tribal governments, and other agencies will seek to establish a Prescribed Fire Training Center to provide training opportunities for prescribed burn practitioners and focus training efforts on western ecosystems;
» CAL FIRE will also establish a new tribal grants program, increase support for workforce development and training programs, and evaluate options to address liability issues for private landowners seeking to conduct prescribed burns.” for the private insurance market;
» The USFS will significantly expand its prescribed fire program to attain its 500,000-acre target for forest treatments by 2025.

Reforest areas burned by catastrophic fire:
» The USFS will develop a restoration strategy for wildfire impacted federal lands and CAL FIRE will partner with the California Office 6 January 2021 of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and other federal, state, and local agencies to develop a coordinated strategy to prioritize and rehabilitate burned areas and affected communities. These ecologically-based strategies will focus on silvicultural practices that increase carbon storage, protect biodiversity, and build climate resilience.

Support communities, neighborhoods, and residents in increasing their resilience to wildfire:
» CAL FIRE will significantly expand its defensible space and home hardening programs and launch a new program building upon the Governor’s 35 Emergency Fuel Break Projects by developing a list of 500 high priority fuel breaks across the state. This list will be continuously updated.                                    
» The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) will expand its Regional Forest and Fire Capacity (RFFC) Program to all high-risk areas throughout the state and increase local and regional governments’ capacity to build and maintain a pipeline of forest health and fire prevention projects.

Develop a comprehensive program to assist private forest landowners, who own more than 40 percent of the state’s forested lands:
» CAL FIRE will coordinate the implementation of several grants and technical assistance programs for private landowners through a unified Wildfire Resilience and Forestry Assistance Program.

Create economic opportunities for the use of forest materials that store carbon, reduce emissions, and contribute to sustainable local economies.
» The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) is leading the development of a comprehensive framework to expand the wood products market in California and will partner with CAL FIRE, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GoBiz), the USFS, and the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (iBank) to draft a market development roadmap and catalyze private investment into this sector.

Improve and align forest management regulations:
» The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) is leading the expansion of a new online permitting tool and permit synchronization initiative to provide a one-stop shop for permits from several agencies and will use the California Vegetation Treatment Program (CalVTP) to streamline project planning and environmental review.

Spur innovation and better measure progress:
» CAL FIRE and the USFS, in coordination with the USDA California Climate Hub, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and other agencies, will seek to establish a Forest Data Hub to coordinate and integrate federal, state, and local reporting on forest management and carbon accounting programs, and serve as a clearinghouse for new and emerging technologies and data platforms.
This strategy will also be integrated into the state’s efforts to combat climate change through the following actions:
1.   Scale-up forest thinning and prescribed fire efforts to reduce long-term greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollution from large and catastrophic wildfires;
2.  Integrate science-based climate adaptation and resiliency strategies into the emerging state-wide network of regional forest and community fire resilience plans;
3. Drive forest management, conservation, reforestation and wood utilization strategies that stabilize and increase the carbon stored in forests while preserving biodiversity and revitalizing rural communities;
4. Improve electricity grid resilience; and
5. Promote sustainable land use.

The Path to Healthy Headwater Forests: PPIC Webinar Tomorrow!

The webinar is from 11-12 Pacific and features a presentation of their (PPIC is the Public Policy Institute of California) research paper, a panel discussion, and questions and answers. Here’s the link to the webinar information and registration. The study (found here) has some interesting charts and graphs. I picked a few to highlight below. There’s an interesting interactive map, but I couldn’t copy it here.

Here are their findings:

Last summer, California and the US Forest Service (USFS) jointly agreed to significantly increase two important management approaches—mechanical thinning and prescribed fire—over the next five years. In January, the Forest Management Task Force released California’s first action plan for forest health. State funding for improving forest health has increased since 2019, and the governor’s 2021‒22 budget proposes to continue this trend.

As policymakers and forest managers take steps to accelerate the pace, understanding the scale and scope of recent management efforts can provide useful guidance. Yet until now there hasn’t been a comprehensive picture of how private, state, and federal entities have managed forests. To fill this gap, we did a basic accounting of management efforts in mixed-conifer forests in the Sierra‒Cascade region over the past decade.

Here are four takeaways:

*Forest management is not scaling fast enough to meet forest health objectives. Experts suggest that reducing the spread of severe wildfires requires strategically treating and maintaining approximately 20‒30% of forests on the landscape. Forest managers have treated around 16% of the region’s mixed-conifer forests over the past decade. Management levels vary across the region, with only 8 of the 24 watersheds meeting or exceeding this target (Figure 1c). The pace has been considerably faster on lands owned by the private sector and non-federal agencies (28%) than on federally owned lands (11%).

*Timber harvest has been the main management approach. Though its primary purpose is to harvest logs, some timber harvest techniques also reduce wildfire risk and improve resilience to drought and pests. More than two-thirds of the 912,000 acres managed over the past decade used timber harvesting (Figure 2). The practice was more prevalent in northern watersheds, where private forest ownership is more common. The costs and benefits of different management approaches—timber harvest, mechanical thinning, and prescribed burning—should be at the center of discussions about which to use where.

*Management approaches vary based on ownership. Nearly 90% of acres managed on private forests were harvested (Figure 3). By contrast, federal forests had a more diversified management portfolio, and timber harvest accounts for less than half of managed acres on these lands. In absolute terms, USFS carried out three times more mechanical and prescribed burning treatments compared to private and other public landowners in the region.

*The pace of management has been flat. Although the share of non-timber management has increased, the overall pace of management has remained relatively stable over the past decade—at around 90,000 acres annually (Figure 4). One likely explanation: public funding sources that support management have also been stagnant over this period. The pace should pick up once new state funds for forests reach the ground.

As forest managers and policymakers chart a course to improve forest health, improving our overall understanding of past management activities is essential. Our analysis helps provide a clearer picture of forest management accomplishments and gaps—which can in turn help set priorities for allocating scarce management resources. Yet the technical challenge of even basic accounting of these activities remains immense. Data sets that make accounting possible have different levels of quality and collection standards. Improving the accuracy, completeness, and comparability of data collected on forest management across the headwater region will be critical for evaluating progress toward meeting goals for forest health.

It’s kind of interesting to me that the data we need doesn’t seem to exist, and yet… so much funding seems to be going to various satellite imaging efforts. Maybe it’s time for the western FIA’s to start a Fire-Related Forest Vegetation data effort.. they already have the history of working with stakeholders, States and Tribes and dealing with privacy issues. A bipartisan unity-building effort? After all, everyone likes good data!