Warm Lake Fire Study Excerpts- and Science Policy Situations that Shout Watch Out #6 and #7

The WISE blog here has some interesting excerpts from this paper by Graham, Jain and Loseke on the Warm Lake Fire. It also has a link to the complete paper. This paper was mentioned yesterday in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee at a Wyoming Field Hearing.

Interestingly, in this blog, Ted Zukowski reasserts the knowledge claim that 150 feet is the “science” of protecting homes. Sorry, Ted, people want to protect communities, not homes, and they want firefighters to work around those communities, as I said on this blog here. Perhaps that should be Science-policy Situation that shouts Watch Out #6 – when advocacy groups assert what “the science” says, and number 7- when anyone claims “the science is settled.”

36 thoughts on “Warm Lake Fire Study Excerpts- and Science Policy Situations that Shout Watch Out #6 and #7”

  1. Here is what Ted Zukoski wrote:

    extensive Forest Service and independent studies show that the best way to protect homes from fire is to clear an area of “defensible space” within a hundred and fifty feet or so of the structures. Logging far from communities just isn’t an effective way to protect those communities.

    The link is to Jack Cohen’s Rocky Mt. Research paper from 1999.

    Sharon’s words from her linked post are, in part: “it’s not about the structures- it’s about the fact that people don’t want fire running through their communities”. I disagree. It is about both! It is about the structures, and much work is being done to beef-up fire codes to help people from adding structure-fuel to other fuels that endanger communities and individual, isolated structures.

    I found nothing offensive, certainly nothing to warrant a “Watch Out” in Zukoski’s post. On the other hand some fuel treatments and/or other vegetative manipulation in areas close to communities may be helpful as well in preventing catastrophe.

    I guess we’ll end up parsing the words close and far. But time might be better spent looking into just where and when fuel treatments and other vegetative manipulation efforts are good/bad for the environment and where and when they are worth the money spent. This conversation is far from over.

  2. It is ridiculous to claim 150 feet around structures is adequate protection. 150 feet is nothing to a wind driven crown fire. They need to look at the fuels at a landscape level, and not prescribe a cookie cutter approach, in order to minimize percieved disturbance. The fires of 2007 in Central Idaho were not pretty, and destroyed alot of old growth Ponderosa pine. Flash floods were common the next summer. But at least most of fires were in roadless areas so they can claim they reintroduced fire to the eco-system. Much of this area is going to be prime for a re-burn over the next several decades, and re-burns typically are more severe in my experience. All the more reason to look at fuels at a landscape level and not defer to nature knows best.

    • Michael,

      First, I don’t know where the “150 feet” comes from. All that Zukoski talks about (as far as I can tell) in his post is the “defensible space” that FS Researcher Jack Cohen references in this pdf. And all Cohen was talking about was how to go about protecting an individual structure, by taking a few precautions: creating a “defensible space” around the structure. Here’s the beginning line from Cohen’s abstract, “Understanding how ignitions occur is critical for effectively mitigating home fire losses during wildland fires.” Note that the focus is squarely on individual homes.

      We can add this from page 190, for spice:

      the flammables adjacent to a home can be managed with the home’s materials and design chosen to minimize potential firebrand ignitions. This can occur regardless of how intensely or fast spreading other fires are burning. Reducing W-UI fire losses must involve a reduction in the flammability of the home (fuel) in relation to its potential severe-case exposure from flames and firebrands (heat). The essential question remains as to how much reduction in flammables (e.g., how much vegetative fuel clearance) must be done relative to the home fuel characteristics to significantly reduce the potential home losses associated with wildland fires.

      And this from page 192 (which gets us closer to 150 ft.):

      The results of the diverse analytical methods are congruent and consistently indicate that ignitions from flames occur over relatively short distances—tens of meters not hundreds of meters. The severe-case estimate of SIAM indicates distances of 40 meters or less. Experimental wood walls did not ignite at 10 meters when exposed to experimental crown fires. And, case studies found that vegetation clearance of at least 10 meters was associated with a high occurrence of home survival.

      As previously mentioned, firebrands are also a principal W-UI ignition factor. Highly ignitable homes can ignite during wildland fire without fire spreading near the structure. This occurs when firebrands are lofted downwind from fires. The firebrands subsequently collect on and ignite flammable home materials and adjacent flammables. Firebrands that result in ignitions can originate from wildland fires that are at a distance of 1 kilometer or more. . . . During severe W-UI fires, firebrand ignitions are particularly evident for homes with flammable roofs. Often these houses ignite and burn without the surrounding vegetation also burning. This suggests that homes can be more flammable than the surrounding vegetation. For example, during the 1991 fires in Spokane,Washington, houses with flammable roofs ignited without the adjacent vegetation already burning. Although firebrands may be lofted over considerable distances to ignite homes, a home’s materials and design and its adjacent flammables largely determine the firebrand ignition potential.

      And to add a bit more fodder, this from the conclusion:

      SIAM modeling, crown fire experiments, and W-UI fire case studies show that wildland fuel reduction for reducing home losses may be inefficient and ineffective: inefficient because wildland fuel reduction for several is greater than necessary for reducing ignitions SIAM modeling, crown fire experiments, and W-UI fire case studies show that effective fuel modification for reducing potential W-UI fire losses need only occur within a few tens of meters from a home, not hundreds of meters or more from a home. This research indicates that home losses can be effectively reduced by focusing mitigation efforts on the structure and its immediate surroundings. Those characteristics of a structure’s materials and design and the surrounding flammables that determine the potential for a home to ignite during wildland fires (or any fires outside the home) can be referred to as home ignitability.

      The evidence suggests that wildland fuel reduction for reducing home losses may be inefficient and ineffective: inefficient because wildland fuel reduction for several 100 meters or more around homes from flames; ineffective because it does not sufficiently reduce firebrand ignitions. To be effective, given no modification of home ignition characteristics, wildland vegetation management would have to significantly reduce firebrand production and potentially extend for several kilometers away from homes.

      So let the discussion continue from here. Again, I’m not saying that all landscape level approaches are worthless or even worth less than they cost. I’m just saying that Cohen’s article needs to be discussed in the context in which its written.

  3. Dave- I agree with you that whether something is really useful to protect homes or communities is on a case by case basis.

    I don’t like generalizations either, and when I see them, about science, it makes me suspicious.

    Here are some quotes:
    “The problem, though, is that the science shows this bill is a solution in search of a problem.”
    Now, having looked through the bill briefly I noticed that it also included hazard trees. If Ted is making that claim the bill is not necessary, then hazard trees are not a problem either. Does the “science” show that hazard trees don’t fall down? Or that 85% of the time no one is standing under them, so they are not a problem? I hope you see my point. Studies that frame the issue as being about something other than the problem as determined by the communities (how to protect them from fires) and then claim that their “science” applies to the real world irrespective of others’ framing is, in my view, science abuse.

    Here’s another quote
    “(And let’s not forget the bill is in part a bailout for those who have chosen to live—or buy second homes—in forests. And forests regularly catch fire. Some trees actually can’t reproduce without fire.)”
    Maybe we should just write off those people who live in Dillon or Pagosa Springs or Idlewild or Lake Tahoe..or towns in Florida. Also, as a forest geneticist, very few western trees can’t reproduce without fire. I only know of certain subgroups of lodgepole which have serotinous cones. Of course, a lot of them do need openings..regardless of how the opening happened. And I suspect Pinus contorta will be around long after Homo sapiens is forgotten.

    And another quote:
    “The senator’s response was not to say: “Hmm …. maybe we need to rethink this bill to reflect sound science, and target any logging in areas next to homes.” Instead, it was, as the Durango Herald reported, to label the science “counterintuitive” and appear unmoved by it.”
    I would argue that “counterintuitive” would be a diplomatic way of saying-” there are many possible framings of the problem and your read and my read of what “the science” says could be different.” Or he could have been thinking “local knowledge and “the science” don’t agree- that’s a Situation that Shouts Watch Out!”

    “Counterintuitive the science may be. But “facts are stubborn things,” as President Adams once said.”
    Facts may be stubborn, so maybe, as you suggest, Dave, we should argue facts rather than use “science” claims to advance a particular position. In my opinion, it’s bad for public dialogue (the priesthood of scientists knows best, don’t worry about your own observations of your environment) and it’s bad for real science and scientists (in terms of our trust with the public).

    PS I know part of this is that what the law community calls “rhetoric”, the science community might call “unsubstantiated knowledge claims” and the communities have different values about styles of discourse. But I think it’s important to be able to dialogue across those boundaries.

    • Again, as I’ve said before. Consider the source! You grabbed an Earthjustice blog entry for hell sakes. What else would you expect! It’s like watching Fox News and expecting “fair and balanced.”

      Speaking of “fair and balanced”, what about this statement: “Sorry, Ted, people want to protect communities, not homes, and they want firefighters to work around those communities.” I guess that since you are not directly pointing a finger toward “science” we ought to let you off the hook as per bias? I don’t think so. I stand by my earlier assertion that people care about both better protection for their individual homes (better building codes for structures, and better zoning for “defensible spaces”) and better structured interface zones. At least people ought to, particularly if Cohen is correct and it proves much more effective and much less costly to protect from structures from “near” rather than from “far”. After all, it’s their money used to manage their forests. If they kept a little more of it, they might spend it close to home to help fight wildfire as it sweeps into and spreads within forest-interface neighborhoods.

  4. So your house or cabin is able to survive a hot stand replacing wildfire. I don’t believe the scenery is going to be the same. Get a clue, fuels treatments are not just about protecting houses. The treatments around Warm Lake seemed to have a positive effect. Not only did it help protect houses it did also manage to save a fair portion of the greenery and reduce the intensity of the burns. There was considerable erosion from the hotly burned areas in 2008, that made the South Fork of the Salmon River run black near Warm Lake. Thee severe erosion did not occur in the areas previously treated areas for fuels. The South Fork Salmon has ESA listed fish, Salmon, Steelhead and Bull Trout. The main emphasis in the drainage seems to be letting nature take it’s course, ie “passive restoration”. If the 2007 fires are acceptable as passive restoration, then I guess I don’t know what restoration is!!

  5. Well, the Cedar Fire blew all that 150 feet stuff all to hell. Maybe under perfectly calm creeping fire, the 150 foot rule would suffice. However, since mega-fires have been known to add to the mega-weather driving them, should not we discount “normal” weather? More than 10 times I’ve seen belligerant commenters saying that “the science says… 150 feet…”. Clearly this is rhetoric from the “reverse dittoheads” of fundamentalist preservationism, who graciously genuflect when chanting the sacred words of denial. Then, they blame the “sinners” who choose to live within the forest cathedral, on their own lands, and caring not for the “cleansing” of said sinners from their “promised land” forests.

  6. Dave- the 150 feet came from Zukoski’s blog

    “Second, extensive Forest Service and independent studies show that the best way to protect homes from fire is to clear an area of “defensible space” within a hundred and fifty feet or so of the structures.”

    We probably all agree that people should work on defensible space around their homes.

    We may disagree about the utility, safety, suppression effects, economic efficiency of different treatments. But even the Warm Lake study compared to Cohen’s tell us there are different disciplines, different techniques of study (modeling vs. empirical) and different results such that “science” does not present one picture.

    When someone makes that claim, I continue to believe it’s a Situation that Shouts Watch Out. I’d like to develop an environment where no science abuse goes unchallenged- even on an advocacy group blog.

  7. I agree. We ought not to “cherry pick” scientific results to suit our ideological biases. But we do too often. It is one of those “decision traps”: the “confirming evidence trap“. It gets worse when dealing with “media” and “interest-group blogs”, in part because they love sensationalism, but mostly because like the rest of us, they get trapped in the “confirming evidence trap.”

  8. The National Fire Plan created the hazardous fuels reduction program. The Forest Service says the fuels program is intended to help save the lives of firefighters and citizens and reduce the risk of catastrophic fire to our communities, forests, and rangelands. Since the NFP’s adoption in 2000, the NFP’s hazardous fuels program has treated fuels on 29 million acres at a total cost of at least $2 billion, ranging from $1,200 an acre for hand clearing of brush to $20/acre for prescribed burning.

    So what’s been the return on our $2 billion tax investment? Has the program saved firefighter lives, reduced fires, or protected communities? From 2001 through 2007, 136 firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty. In the preceding seven-year period (1994-2000), 130 firefighters died. Under the NFP, fires have burned an average of 7 million acres each year. In the seven-year period before the NFP, fires burned 4 million acres a year. In the last seven years, firefighting costs averaged $1.4 billion a year. In the preceding period before the NFP, costs averaged half that amount. Under the NFP, 1,482 houses have been lost annually to wildfires (most are in southern California), compared to an average 563 houses lost yearly in the two years (for which I have data) before the NFP.

    Anecdotal accounts of a home here or a community there that may have been saved through the good fortune of having located fuels treatment in the right spot at the right time are heart-warming. But the making of public policy should rest on a stronger foundation than heart-warming stories.

  9. Yes, and it is also the National Fire Plan that has turned 3000 dollar lightning fires into 30 MILLION dollar firestorms. DOZENS of fires! The cost per acre to destroy those forests is phenomenal. “Natural and beneficial”, my green-shorted butt!! The Let-Burn program is a certified bust! Just ask the local and State Fire Agencies if they like having Federal fires roar off federal lands and into their jurisdictions!

  10. There are no easy answers. Andy’s glowing report on the national fire plan seems like more politics and n exercise in the use of sound bite science to make his point. I’d much rather hear about anecdotal site specific science studies than National level sound bite science and political views. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion. I would beware of the tactic of discrediting an organization or person in order to discredit the message.

  11. Andy- correlation, as you know, is not causation. If you wanted to see the difference the Fire Plan made you would have to project the lives and homes lost based on the other factors (climate change, more people building homes in the WUI, other organizational fire suppression factors and policies besides fuel treatments) and then measure the difference between that projection with and without fuels treatments (or the amount done without the Fire Plan).

    On a related topic, since you mention Southern California, I was paying attention there to the press during the bark beetle attack on the San Bernardino NF and the large levels of funding spent, and the utility of removing hazard trees and fuel treatments does not seem to have been controversial at all.

    Is this because there is no timber industry there, (so no opportunity for real or agenda-influenced confusion about motives), or perhaps there were no specific pockets of scientists interested, or because somehow coastal problems seem more real to the media (and/or our political system) than Intermountain West problems, or perhaps because they’re not doing a Roadless Rule? Martin Nie wrote a great book “Beyond Wolves: The Politics of Wolf Recovery and Management” about wolf reintroduction and how the different social factors in the different parts of the country affected the outcomes…

    Ph.D. science policy/political science student alert… it might be interesting to study the “scientific controversy” over the efficacy of fuel treatments in southern California, Eastern Oregon, Colorado, and maybe Florida and do the same kind of analysis. Another great book like Martin’s on wolves could be the product.

  12. There IS one mill left south of Yosemite and salvage logs were, indeed, sold in many sales, down there. Sadly, it’s a 6 hour drive for log trucks, each way, to Porterville and back. A waiver on the no-export rule was achieved but had little effect on the process of dealing with more than 12 million dead trees. Cull logs were bought up by Sierra Pacific and transported all the way to central California, at a big profit. Other culls were transported to a central disposal site, and burned, recovering no costs or social value.

    I blame unharvested wildfires for exascerbating the situation down there, along with drought and air pollution. Even old growth pines along perennial streams were overcome by massive blooms of bark beetles. Notice, also, that there has been no timber program down there since the last mill left the Inland Empire 20 years ago.

    If Chad Hanson would have acted quicker, we would have surely seen yet another anti-hazard tree lawsuit, just for the bucks! Also, the LA Times has always been against ANY harvesting of ANY kind. Hmmm, I wonder where they get THEIR paper from?!?!?

  13. Sharon – Public controversy, or lack thereof, does not measure efficacy. There’s no evidence that dead tree cutting in southern California national forests has reduced acres burned, homes lost, or firefighters’ lives lost. Is this a difficult analysis? No more so than any other landscape-scale ecosystem study, i.e., too many variables and no real experimental control. Does that mean the questions are not worth asking? If so, you might as well toss out all ecosystem “science” as not worth the paper/dollars consumed.

    Michael D — I’m no scientist, sound-bite or otherwise. I reported publicly available data comparing two time periods — before and after implementation of the NFP. If you’ve got other data, let’s see it. If you think anecdotal examples are sufficient justification for spending $2 billion, well, at least you’ve got a lot of company in Congress.

    Fotoware — The LA Times is printed primarily on newsprint made of deinked, recycled pulp, like most other newspapers nowadays.

  14. Idyllwild is a PERFECT example of a town that was at imminent risk of burning up. The 90’s saw a fire roar out of the canyon below, and they barely stopped it at the first line of homes. From 2001 to 2005, they had catastrophic mortality both inside and around the town. Forest Service personnel scrambled to leave the San Jacinto RD, so they wouldn’t have to be associated with the probable incineration of the entire town. Luckily, they were able to “steal” funding from other Forests in other Regions and pay TEAMS and detailers BIG BUCKS to come and deal with the National Forest lands. They also gleaned State funds to cut all the dead trees within the town, even when landowners couldn’t afford the costs. Today, the town is safe, for now, and looks quite nice and clean. Ditto for Big Bear and parts of Lake Arrowhead.

    In contrast, the Station Fire was the complete opposite, where minimal fuels treatments were done and so many homes were lost. “Unstewardship” is clearly to blame for the tragic results there. I have before and after pictures of the botched Yosemite burn last year. The A-Rock Fire burned in 1989, straddling the boundary between the Park and Forest Service. Inside the park, obviously no post-fire fuels reductions occurred, except along the roads, for safety. The fire left HUGE snags in the Forest area and, they had since fallen over and were covered by thick manzanita and other brush. Clearly, the Park Service did an inadequate survey of the hidden fuels before beginning the 90 acre fire during near-record temps. The resulting firestorm burned 17,000 acres of both the old burn and old growth conifers. Within the old burn, EVERYTHING was killed and all those old hidden logs were completely consumed, leaving bare, scorched earth and accelerated erosion. (Yes, I have pictures!) The conversion of majestic old growth to barren, cooked soil was complete within 20 years!

  15. Andy, I think you got little off topic there going straight to the national issue, I don’t believe anyone said it was justification for specific national policy, but rather an example of the effects of fuel treatments. Your tactic of jumping to a national issue then putting out some sound bite facts and figures then discrediting the FS in unflattering terms is all to typical. It took the lessons from Warm Lake and attempted to trivialize them in order to make a political stance. Believers of your stance may applaud you, but your unflattering terms discredit your message with others. But hey blogs are about expressing yourself.

  16. Andy- two things..

    Assuming that what you said above is true:

    There’s no evidence that dead tree cutting in southern California national forests has reduced acres burned, homes lost, or firefighters’ lives lost.”

    If we also assumed that was generally true, that would prove my original point- that for some reason the lack of utility of fuels treatment is not an issue in Southern Cal but is elsewhere. One might wonder (as I did) why that would be and suggest it for graduate student work.

    If you are really saying that fuels treatments (and removing hazard trees?) don’t work to protect communities or firefighter safety, then it seems to go against the Warm Lake study cited above. Or are you saying that locally they help, but nationally they don’t? I am confused.

  17. Sharon — One explanation for why a local fuel treatment “works,” but fuel treatments across regional or national scales don’t is that some fuel treatments may make fire risk worse, not better. Specific-case studies have shown that thinning, a common NFP task, without subsequent fine fuels treatment (e.g., burning the slash) worsens fire risk. Fuel treatments can also increase fine grass fuels and promote exotic weed growth, which can make fires more difficult to control.

    There may also be study bias. I think we tend to study what appears to work, not the failures nor the made-no-difference treatments. How common are randomized selection criteria for choosing which site-specific fuel treatments to study?

  18. C’mon, Andy! There are MANY examples of where crown fires dropped down when they hit thinned stands and fuels reduction projects! Whole tree removal is VERY common, here in California, as fuels reduction projects deal very effectively with the logging slash, including hand-piling of slash (with pile coverings!) alongside roads, for burning late in the fall. The studies that most eco’s cite deal with the old marking prescription of “Overstory Removal”, which was so common in the 80’s. Today’s surgical style of thinning and fuels reductions leave stands looking like parks (which eco’s seem to dislike immensely).

    One example of a project done right is just south of the town of Sierraville, CA, on the Tahoe NF. Both timber sales and service contracts along a 15 mile length of Highway 89 has resulted in huge fuels reductions, thinnings and extremely effective prescribed fires. I’m very proud to have been a part of those quality efforts and how good it looks today.

  19. Andy- that’s right- that thinning without burning the slash would not the best for fuels treatment. But what kind of fuel treatment prescription would that be? If you can show me a present-day (09 or 10) NEPA document with a fuels treatment purpose and need, that doesn’t treat slash in some way shape or form, I owe you a beer.

    I would have to see the citations for increasing grass and weeds and thereby making fires more difficult to control.

    You raise a good point about the study bias and the potential bias for what is commonly thought (e.g, effects of climate change). We should be always aware of, and question, that potential in anything we write or cite.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a study out there with randomized looks at fuels treatments. Or more likely, of a sample of fires in a given year and a look at fuels treatments around them and their efficacy. Does anyone out there know of any such studies or “lessons-learned” efforts?

  20. Rhodes and Baker, “Fire Probability, Fuel Treatment Effectiveness and Ecological Tradeoffs in Western U.S. Public Forests,” uses the back-of-an-envelope to conclude that “even if fuel treatments were very effective when encountering fire of any severity, treatments will rarely encounter fire, and thus are unlikely to substantially reduce effects of high-severity fire.” Their analysis combines fire return frequencies with fuel treatment longevity, i.e., time it takes for fuel to grow back.

    The authors report that “approximately 2.0 to 4.2% of areas treated to reduce fuels are likely to encounter fires that would otherwise be high or high-moderate severity without treatment. In the remaining 95.8-98.0% of treated areas, potentially adverse treatment effects on watersheds are not counterbalanced by benefits from reduced fire severity.”

    Note that this study assumes that fuel treatments are 100% effective at reducing fire from severe to benign; a success rate unlikely to be achieved on-the-ground. The authors examine only the chance of a treated acre being exposed to a potentially high or moderate severe fire during the treatment lifespan.

    Fuel treatments are like home insurance — most home policies never have a claim made against them. Most fuel treatments will never be called upon to ameliorate a fire.

    This sobering reality is most useful in evaluating whether fuel treatments are financially worth their cost; an evaluation I have not seen from public land agencies.

  21. Sorry Andy, but you ignore the benefits of a well-designed project that adds forest health, resiliency and enhances wildlife habitat. There are also benefits to local communities. It’s not hard to select strategic ridgetops to place these fuels reduction projects, as well. You are promoting the idea that doing nothing is better, despite the loss of more than 15 million acres of forest. The probability that bark beetles will gain footholds is incredibly high in untreated forests. The fear that modern surgical fuels treatments will do more damage than barkbeetles and wildfires is unfounded and short-sighted. The costs can be mitigated by restoring historical tree densities and utilizing biomass sustainably.

  22. The National Fire Plan’s goals are to reduce home losses, suppression costs, acres burned, and save firefighter lives. The NFP does not seek to justify itself on forest health, resiliency, or wildlife habitat improvement grounds. Taking the NFP at face value, I answered the question: “Has the NFP accomplished its objectives.” The data I report above do not support a “yes” answer.

    The Rhodes and Baker analysis shows that 95% to 98% of the time, doing “nothing” is identical to doing something when it comes to wildfire and fuel treatments. Except, of course, doing nothing is free; doing something costs on the order of $1,000/acre.

    My first post-forestry school job was chasing mountain pine beetles with a chainsaw on the White River’s Dillon Ranger District. A fool’s errand. Mountain pine beetles are a native, ubiquitous forest insect with population dynamics determined primarily by drought.

    Biomass has a long history as the dominant fuel source of indigenous Americans, during European conquest and expansion, and well into 20th-century industrialization. Biomass then lost ground in the marketplace to fuels with higher energy density, e.g., coal and oil, and/or lower transportation costs from source to market, e.g., natural gas.

    Today biomass persists on its own economic merits as a by-product of other wood product manufacturing. Most other uses of biomass for energy rely upon massive financial subsidies (e.g., corn ethanol) or electricity utility mandates that force renewable power purchases (primarily in blue states). Most national forests are simply too far, too steep, and too remote to justify all but the most financially insane biomass power generation.

  23. The NFP has terminal tunnelvision and should not be considered the end-all and be-all of forest management. When catastrophic wildfires superheat the soils, nothing grows back as it should, in a “natural” sense. Cutting dead trees in a bark beetle infestation DOES reduce wildfire intensities and has value in saving fire-adapted species. Allowing lodgepole pines to push the ponderosa pines out is a significant loss to our forest ecosystems in many of our forests.

    Sustainability is a key to biomass usage but, I’m seeing a kneejerk response to the potential utilizing of biomass, as well as sawlog harvesting. One of my old Ranger Districts had a huge insect salvage program, and in the 20 years since then, fires have been less frequent and less intense.

    Adding to this debate is the NFP’s desire to enhance their illegal Let-Burn fire program, giving fires a chance to “get up a head of steam” before suppression activities occur. This accounts for a HUGE amount of your statements about active management. Turning a 5 acre wildfire into a 40,000 acre firestorm does, indeed, do a significant amount of damage, regardless of previous active management.

  24. I think there are two different kinds of “fuel treaments” that we are talking about here……

    First- zones of protection around communities and firebreaks (roads or ridgetops). These are lands actively managed to change fire behavior and be safe for firefighters to work. Protecting resources and soils in these areas is secondary.

    Second- Reducing future soil and water impacts areas that you are specifically targeting areas so that they will not have negative soil and water impacts if they are burnt. We (in our office) have discussed the tradeoffs of investment in fuel treatments compared to developing more capacity to quickly protect post-fire in the burned areas (possibly more cost-effective than investing in protecting both areas that will burn and those that won’t,especially including re-entries over time). The watershed folks have a variety of technologies with which we could become more proactive. If you argue that with climate change there are likely to be more or more intense fires, then development and staging of these technologies is likely be become increasingly important..

  25. One key issue is that there is currently more trees in our forests than the annual rainfall can support. If we accept that climate change means more drought and less rainfall (as many people assert), then we do need to further reduce the amount of trees per acre in our forests. Reducing tree densities with uncontrolled wildfire cannot end in a “desired future condition”, despite what the NFP claims. No one is proposing to implement “industrial” fuels reduction projects on ALL Forest Service lands. Also, it is VERY clear that the 150 foot “fire-safe” buffer is tremendously inadequate. I will not accept that passive management will result in a desired condition, especially with forests so very far from being “natural”.

  26. And that, Andy, is the canned response from the preservationists. A pal of mine was just there 2 months ago. I asked him how the Park was doing. How it was “recovering”. He mentioned the vast thickets of lodgepoles crowding each other. I asked him if there were any ponderosa pines in that recovery and he said no. Lodgepole forests are DESIGNED to die, rot and burn. Ponderosa pine forest are NOT! Why are old growth P. pines dying in massive wildfires when they had survived so many past fires? Yes, because of lodgepole invasions due to fire suppression. Due to a lack of active anthropogenic management!

    Soooo, you seem quite willing to sacrifice the P. pine component of forests that have encroaching lodgepoles?? The losses of these fire-adapted P. pines will be forever, unless we intervene and and tend our forests, like the American Indians did so skillfully.

    I contend that Yellowstone’s forests were not “natural” when they burned. Active management was abandoned when the Indians were eradicated. I guess if preserving pure lodgepole forests is the way we want to go, then that is how it will be. But, don’t be calling the loss of P. pines “natural”. It is essential that fires only be allowed to “run free” in “naturalized” forests (ie managed), or in Wilderness and National Parks.

  27. Fotoware — Yellowstone is too high and too cold to grow ponderosa pine; no evidence of extensive ponderosa pine forests in Yellowstone since the last Ice Age. Wait 100 years and Yellowstone might yet grow p. pine because, not in spite of, anthropogenic change.

  28. That fact still does not mean that you can transfer the idea that wildfires are “natural and beneficial” to ponderosa pine forests. There are a great many forests where those pines share the land. Basically, Yellowstone is a big-@ss strawman….LOL. How many forests have had the ponderosas forced out by lodgepole’s invasions? Are you saying that trading 400 year old ponderosa forests for 100 year old lodgepole forests is “desirable”? I truly think that it IS desirable to map out the ancient forests that once were predominantly ponderosa, reduce or eliminate the lodgepoles that now grow there, and end up with forests that actually harbor endangered species, instead of forests that die, rot and burn every 80-120 years.

    In those mixed pine forests, (back to the original topic), when the lodgepoles die, I contend that if we don’t cut and remove those dead trees, the ponderosas are doomed to die, en masse. And, what grows back will be thickets of lodgepoles, with maybe a few P. pines. The Forest Service isn’t going to send the firefighters into such stands to save the ponderosas. Prescribed fires aren’t going to save the ponderosas, either. The issue is not easily understood but, trading old growth ponderosa forests for flammable lodgepole thickets IS a serious problem for today’s forests.

  29. Foto- Is what you are saying that in some areas, if you do not treat in some way (say thin and underburn) the ponderosas will ultimately be lost to another species (in your case, lodgepole, or some cases, true fir?). People could find that undesirable for a variety of reasons- one is that wildlife species might prefer ponderosa, or a mix of species. It could be that a mix will make it likelier that some will survive insect attacks or changes in climate.

    So are you saying that in some cases you need to manage for p pine or there is a risk of losing that component? So you are arguing for managing consciously for biodiversity?

  30. With the fact that ponderosa seeds are relatively heavy, it could take a VERY long time before they could repopulate a very large burned area. We’ve seen the trend of not replanting burns and this does not bode well for the ponderosas that won’t compete well with lodgepoles. Frequent cool burns used to keep the lodgepoles at bay but, since fire suppression has allowed them to populate the understory of ponderosa pine forests, this now eliminates to possibility of “natural ignitions” that result in a cool burn. Couple this with the continued illegal Let-Burn program and you’ll see where my concern comes from. Historically, there were a great many “natural monocultures”, mainly because of Indian burning. Also, I really don’t think there needs to any worry over monocultures, as “volunteers” always show up in the understory. The danger is to let lodgepoles (and to a much lesser extent, off-site true firs) clog the understory. The key to minimizing the effects of drought and bugs is stand density. Alas, the idea that “more trees is better” is pervasive and damaging.

    AND, doesn’t the ESA mandate that we protect old growth habitat, instead of letting it turn into pure lodgepole stands that don’t support owls and goshawks, etc.

  31. OK, I hear you saying that in some areas, given the conditions that have developed,
    we won’t get back the array of species we want fter a wildfire unless we plant. This has to do with the size of the wildfire, the scattering of survivor ponderosas within the burned areas, and the alternate species (say, shrubs in California) that could revegetate and not leave conditions for ponderosa seedlings to establish.
    But the question is, would it be cheaper to plant and protect ponderosa after a wildfire than to do a host of fuels treatments repreated through time across the landscape? I just don’t know if a commitment to manage density on all acres through time is affordable throughout the west.

  32. Hmmmm, just a quick note about Yellowstone and P. pines. Just yesterday, I saw a picture a pal of mine took a few months ago showing……..wait for it!…..


    In Yellowstone, near the Grand Canyon(?)


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