Fires bolster political support for forest thinning- From Payson Roundup

Photo courtesy of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Enlarge photo. This aerial shot shows where a thinned area in the foreground stopped the rush of the Wallow Fire near Alpine

Here’s the whole story from the Payson Roundup. Below is an excerpt.

With Arizona’s worst fire season in history still roaring, oft-delayed plans to use a resurrected timber industry to thin millions of acres of badly overgrown Arizona forests have suddenly gained broad support.

In a flurry of developments last week, the Department Agriculture announced $3.5 million in new funding for the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative, the Forest Service released ground rules for contractors and assorted politicians promised their support.

Environmentalists, scientists, loggers and forest managers have worked for years to create The 4-Forests Restoration Initiative (4-FRI), which hopes to convince a revived logging industry to spend millions on new sawmills and power plants that could turn a profit on the small trees now choking millions of acres of forests.

The group that proposed the effort agreed on a plan to thin millions of acres by leaving most of the remaining big trees and focusing on the trees smaller than 16 inches in diameter, which now form tree thickets across millions of acres.

The Forest Service now supports the plan and last week put out requests for proposals for timber companies interested in bidding on 10-year contracts to thin 300,000 acres in the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves forests.

Ultimately, the project will encompass perhaps a million acres — which is only twice as much as the Wallow Fire consumed. However, by concentrating on areas near forested communities, backers hope that the massive thinning project will provide much greater fire protection for those settlements.

The release of photos from the Wallow Fire effectively underscored the value of that strategy. Some of the photos show that thinned areas stopped the fire in many places.

6 thoughts on “Fires bolster political support for forest thinning- From Payson Roundup”

  1. Great, another photo point that’s supposed to show ______ (??) beyond a doubt!

    Far as I can tell from that photo, most all of that area has been logged and roaded in the past. Sure, perhaps the area in the foreground was “thinned” recently…it also appears that the area was on the other side of a road, where one might assume wildland firefighters made a stand and used the road as an anchor.

    Again, just not sure what one photo of a few hundred acres is supposed to show in the context of a 500,000 acre fire perimeter.

    News flash: When it’s hot, dry and windy, and you have an ignition source, forests burn.

  2. Beautifull photo. What’s cool is you’re looking at around 15-25 trees per acre, which the “best available science” says was the “pre-settlement” density (It could be “clumpier”). Isn’t the USFS required by law to follow the best available science?

    Todd Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity seems to think that “thinning” stops wildfire. The press release of a couple weeks ago trumpets their participation in the White Mountain Stewardship Program which has managed to “thin” 35,000 acres in the last 6 years. Unfortunately their litigation also shut down the timber industry in 1995. The 1987 Apache-Sitgrieves forest plan called for “commercial thinning” on 21,000 acres/year. So that means in the 15 years since the CBD shut down the timber idustry there were 300,000 acres that did NOT recieve the very treatments that Todd has just endorsed. On a forest that has 800,000 acres of “conifer forest”.

    Look, I’m all for “zones of agreements” and I don’t begrudge people who “change their minds” about things. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things over the last 30 years. I hope their collaboration works and the OSB mill gets built. But I also believe in “accountability”. The USFS has spent 20 years Kow Towing to demands of accountability. The CBD has, for all practical purposes, been in charge of managing(or not managing) the Apache-Sitgrieves. Should they not be held at least partially accountable? How many more tens of thousands of acres would have looked like the above photo? Just once, I would like to hear them say “well, maybe we did go to far”. Or is that role the exclusive domain of the lackeys at the USFS? That’ll be the day. Bungling.

    I don’t think the local public are thankfull for their burned forest. I don’t think they blame the USFS. I think the USFS knows that. Everything is going according to plan.

  3. I tend to think that there is PLENTY of blame to be spread around. The Forest Service needs to take some of the blame going towards eco-groups. This firestorm didn’t take anyone by surprise, and fires like this have long been predicted. It’s just the chickens coming home to roost. Dr. Pyne’s commentary in an Arizona newspaper lays it out. Yes, we need to carefully thin forests, returning species compositions and densities to sustainable levels, where appropriate. An irrational fear of management causes some people to prefer embracing such fires. In the New West site, I’ve been battling this mindset against George Wuerthner. He is using the past, to thwart the future, in an effort to “re-set” those forests back to zero. Nope, nothing worth saving. Clean slate, “scorched earth policy”. It is quite easy to do nothing, but certainly not cheap! We’ve spent well over the reported amounts of $500,000,000 on incidents this year, and it’s not even July. We’ve burned over 7 million acres this year, already, and it has been a wet spring for parts of the west. Yes, 10+ million acres is certainly within reach.

    Remember, the Wallow Firestorm disaster is FAR from over. There WILL be flooding when the monsoon rains come. Hooray for “unintended consequences”?!?!?

  4. This is a great photo. It accurately depicts conditions found in Oregon following the B&b Complex and the Biscuit Fire as well. Stands thinned to early historical densities cannot support crown fires.

    The solution is to thin stands from the “crown down,” reduce fuel loads to early historical levels (including ground and ladder fuels), and reintroduce regular prescribed fires.

    These events are unprecedented, predictable, and preventable. There is no good reason to allow them to continue.


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