Two Reasonable Colorado Voices on Fires: Denver Post Sunday 6/24/12

The Waldo Canyon fire continues to burn northwest of Manitou Springs, Colorado today June 24th, 2012. The fire which is threatening the Cedar Heights neighborhood has already consume over 2,500 acres with 0% containment.
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

What I liked about the pieces was that there was no “enemizing” no “someone is to blame and it’s the stupid homeowners, FS, enviros take your pick”. It’s more “we’re all in this, how are we going to go forward.” I don’t know where all the enemizing comes from, but op-eds are usually full of it. Especially in election season, in a fought-over state. Thank you Denver Post for resisting the temptation!

Here’s an excerpt from Problems in the wildland-urban interface by Lloyd Burton. Here’s the link.

Have an open, evidence-based conversation about proven policies for effective loss prevention from WUI wildfires. We need to have a frank discussion about changing the ratio between fire suppression and loss prevention expenditures in the WUI. We are not going to prevent all wildfires in the tinder-dry, fuels-laden red zones of the West; dry thunderstorms will see to that.

Controlled burns are smoky and sometimes risky. Mechanical thinning is an alternative on some terrain, but it’s more labor-intensive and thus more expensive. And in addition to expense, we now know that fuel load management must be a continuous process for as long as people live in the WUI. Think of it as the Forest Service mowing the national lawn, which it needs to do at regular intervals in some areas for prevention to be effective.

None of these observations should be construed as victim-blaming. Long-time WUI residents moved there well before it became so risky, and more recent ones may not have been fully apprised of the dangers before they moved in. We’re all ascending a steep learning curve together, in terms of both fire behavior science and effective policy alternatives.

I’ve lived nearly half my life somewhere in the Western WUI, but am only now coming to fully understand the risks and responsibilities that doing so includes. It’s something that all responsible stewards of the West need to do collectively. If we want to develop a safer and more sustainable relationship with nature in the WUI, we need a richer and more complete narrative to help us do so.

Here’s an excerpt from Tony Cheng’s “Are Colorado forests just tinder?”. Here’s the link.

At the end of the day, even ecologically “normal,” low-intensity fires in Front Range Ponderosa pine can result in highly severe human impacts. The draft report for the Fourmile Canyon Fire that burned in September 2010 northwest of Boulder showed that most of the homes destroyed were in areas that burned with low severity. Indeed, studies by the Missoula Fire Lab show that a vast majority of homes destroyed during wildfires are not from the fire itself, but flying embers that land on shake shingle roofs, mulched garden beds, woodpiles next to the house, or pine needles in rain gutters.

Just as forest restoration seeks to develop fire-adapted ecosystems, there is a need to develop “fire-adapted communities.” A good starting point is by creating defensible space. Equally important are communication systems that allow for quick, coordinated response in the event of a fire.

Economically, the costs of actively restoring our Front Range Ponderosa pine forests and creating fire-adapted communities are probably on par with the true costs of a large wildfire. The Western Forestry Leadership Coalition conducted a case study of the Hayman Fire and found that, when all the costs are added up, the fire’s total bill is around $207 million and counting for the 138,000-acre burn. That comes to about $1,500 per acre — about the average cost to conduct forest restoration activities. If public and private funds are going to be expended on these forests, wouldn’t it make sense to use them for preventative measures that create healthy forests rather than waiting for disaster to strike?

The Ponderosa pine forests of Colorado’s Front Range are meant to burn. By combining forest restoration at a landscape scale with defensible space actions and coordinated emergency response at the community scale, we might make headway towards fostering fire-adapted ecosystems and communities.

When I got back from hiking yesterday both columns were in the Perspective session of the post. I did think it interesting that today if you went to either Cheng’s or Burton’s piece, the first story that shows up as “related” is one from May 14. More on that one later.

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