Last week, some scientists and practitioners met to discuss the utility of fuels treatments in creating defensibly space around communities. Even on a fairly simple question (what stages of dead trees have what kinds of fire behavior?) there are a variety of approaches to think about the question.
One is practitioner observation. For example, one practitioner had spoken to suppression people in BC who said that fire can move through dead trees with needles like a “tall grass fire.” Another piece of evidence (called “the science”) was based on looking at the past, that when there were many dead trees, there was not more fire. But if we believe the climate is changing, what do studies of the past really tell us in terms of relevance to the future?
I ran across this set of photos by Derek Weidensee on observed fire behavior (granted, not entirely about dead trees). His piece is worth a read- he rounds up both some research and empirical evidence. He also has some latitudes and longitudes you can plug into Google Earth and see the changes through time for yourself. Here’s a quote I found interesting:
I’ve read dozens of USFS EIS’s and EA’s, and frankly the litigation-driven reliance on published “best available science” means the public doesn’t have a clue what the EIS authors are talking about. Nothing makes the public’s eyes glaze over faster than fuel models, fire groups, fire regime condition class, canopy bulk density, etc. etc. Local experience carries a lot of weight with the local public. And pictures are worth more to the public than the thousands of words in the fires and fuels section of an EIS. It’s unfortunate local experience doesn’t seem to carry much weight with a judge.
It made me wonder to what extent local collaboratives may come to different answers than national groups, not based on “caving to pressure” but based on empirical ways of knowing.
Last week there was a piece in New West by George Wuerthner.
Here are some quotes:
the Forest Service exploits the public’s misconceptions about wildfire and forest ecology to further its logging agenda
Research by the FS own scientists suggests that thinning any greater distance than a hundred or so feet from a home provides little additional reduction in fire risk. In other words, this timber sale will do little to safeguard Elliston from wildfire—indeed; most of the town is in no jeopardy what so ever from a direct fire front
Furthermore, if the County Commissioners were truly concerned about fire hazards, they would not permit house construction in the fire plain. Zoning is the best way to protect homes and safe lives rather than expect taxpayer to fix the problem they created by allowing home construction in inappropriate sites. Building in a fire plain is just as foolish as building in a river floodplain.
It may be desirable, in the view of some, to move everyone out of treed and (chaparraled) western landscapes. However, in my view this is not practically feasible.
And once again the “timber wars filter” is part of the story..
Instead of using the Elliston Face to counter misconceptions about wildfire and who is actually responsible for protecting property, the FS exploits the fears of misinformed citizens. One can only conclude the agency is still the handmaiden to the timber industry rather than a public servant working on behalf of all citizens of the country.
The Elliston sale is…is yet another example of how the Forest Service exploits the public’s misconceptions about wildfire and forest ecology to further its logging agenda.
Based on looking at press stories, fuel treatments in Southern California don’t seem to be all that controversial. I wonder if that is because in the Interior West the specter of the timber industry still lives in the imagination.
Derek said in his post
In the ongoing debate, the public and policy makers need more unbiased research and a one stop database to see for themselves what fuels treatments can do.
I think we need a central place to show the results of different ways of knowing, and have an ongoing conversation about what they each tell us about the reality of fuel treatments and fires.