Wildfire Economics: Contributed by Bob Zybach

The Pacific Crest Trail, Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area, 2004. In addition to being unsightly and dangerous due to the threat of falling limbs, trees and reburning, much of this trail segment has been closed or difficult to traverse since the 2003 B&B Fire Complex. (Photo: B. Zybach).

Thanks to Bob for these links.

Here is the website version, first published on USFS Wildfire Lessons Learned website in Fall, 2009.

Here is the longer (“more academic”) version, linked to the 2009 publication and also presented to — and discussed with — the Oregon Board of Forestry during their September 7, 2011 Board Meeting in Lakeview, Oregon.

Here is the temporarily halted (again) website, based on these articles.

26 thoughts on “Wildfire Economics: Contributed by Bob Zybach”

  1. When I was a young forest economist, I joined with others challenging the over-quantified approach to economics then in fashion, often titled monetized cost-benefit analysis. That tradition is continued here, under the rubric of “cost plus net value change.” Einstein once remarked that ‘not all that counts can be counted’. Similarly, not all that counts can be reduced to dollars and cents, and some things ought not to be; e.g. trafficking in human body parts, human slavery, etc. So too with narrow focus on instrumental values in forest management. And when you add in the intrinsic values, we end up attempting to enter the territory of ‘Pricing the Priceless’: See, e.g. http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/ecoecon/2006/03/costbenefit_ana.html

    That said, I would relish an in-depth conversation about the analysis from websites above that claim: “U.S. taxpayers typically experience 10 to 50 times more costs and losses to wildfire each year than just the $1 billion to $2 billion in suppression costs commonly reported by USFS representatives and the media.” I’m suspicious that what we see following the links presented above is just more cheer leading from those who already know that we ought to fight all forest fire and replace it with preemptive logging. So: “Show me the money!”

    • Dave: I believe the US Justice Dept. can furnish economic data as to loss in fires. There are three US Attorney teams, one in each of L.A., Sacramento, and SLC, whose sole purpose is to gain civil damages for the US Govt from fire that originates on private land or by private ignition, and burns public land, public assets. There have been two cases that I have seen which should be easily found on the internet: US vs Union Pacific Rail Road, in which the railroad was found at fault for a fire that burned 56,000 acres of mostly USFS designated Wilderness and resources. The US Attorney’s were able to gain monetary compensation for “loss of the grandeur of the landscape.” They recovered $102,000,000 for the US Govt, if memory serves me. The other was a fire that started due to a windstorm blowing a large old growth ponderosa pine across at Pacific Gas and Electric power transmission line. PGE lost their case as well, because they neglected to survey the trees along their right of way and remove ones that could possibly hit the transmission line. The judgement in that case was for $14,000,000, for public land asset and resource losses. The USFS that cannot present a loss/cost of suppression estimate is able to furnish the US Attorney with value estimates for trees that cannot ever be logged, or salvage that cannot be salvaged. It can furnish aesthetic values in dollar terms. Loss of beauty is a compensable loss in Federal Court. It would follow, then, that if there were a NEPA document to determine what “grandeur of the landscape” losses could occur, fires would be fought on that basis or left to burn in butt ugly landscapes. Someone is making the aesthetic judgement, and it has to be the plaintiffs, the Federal Land managers.

      Certainly I know you have to be skeptical of ideas and impressions presented as fact. I don’t think the “one pager” value loss document is anything more than an easy format with which inferred or perceived damage could be reported. When the Feds only present values when they are suing the private sector for damages, in a legal system that has a tort limit that essentially precludes the public from gaining a meaningful judgement for loss against the very same US Govt., there is no “fairness” in the process. No equity or value for value in the adversarial relationship our US Govt prefers to have with its citizens needs to be addressed. Especially when the Feds have not followed the law in the NEPA process to detail the environmental, social, biological, economic outcomes of “let it burn” public policy made by the USFS and not by the Congress or the citizenry. With the “one pager”, and the claims you feel need to be chiseled in stone by a peer reviewed process of some kind, you do have to understand that none have to prove their loss. They just report it. Much of the “damage” is personal, non recoverable, and in many cases, permanent in their lifetimes. Inconvenience, health issues, loss of use of a home for a time, or loss of the home period. Everyone perceives the results in a different light, and the US Govt denies that there is any loss at all on public land fires, except for the costs associated with suppression. It is disingenuous, at the least, to act and report as if there was no loss of animals, plants, landscapes, access, heritage sites, what have you, from unrestrained fire, and from public policy that is hell bent to burn public forests. If burning public forests were a Congressional goal, signed by the President, then let ‘er rip. Until then, it is irresponsible and not good citizenship to not make some effort to either get the NEPA process working, or to deny land managers the option to not fight a fire at their whim and fancy. They need to have a process, a valuation parameter, to not fight fire. A public process and a very publicly garnered blueprint of when and when not to, fight fires.

      How do we get there from here? Zyback, et al, have the only offered process. Sure it is not perfect. The question becomes: what would YOU do to gain better land management and more fuel removal by means other than wildland fire, with all its attendant problems and very real human results over a large landscape of diverse interests and values???

      • John, asks, “What would YOU do to gain better land management and more fuel removal by means other than wildland fire, with all its attendant problems and very real human results over a large landscape of diverse interests and values?”

        First, I would not jump to the conclusion that wildland fire is always and everywhere harmful. It has in many ways, times, and places very desirable effects. It can also have very disastrous effects, particularly to human abodes that have been allowed to be built in urban/forest interface zones. Second, if/where fuels are determined by the government desirable to be removed, I suggest, as I have in the past that the government contract for such removal (by controlled burns, by contract logging, etc.). If there are marketable products (e.g. timber) that can be sold, then by all means the government ought to sell them to help defray costs. Third, I would ask, as the nonprofit (FSEEE) that I belong to has repeatedly asked, that the Forest Service and other land management agencies prove up the effectiveness of their policies, and the environmental effects of such, e.g. bull-dozed fire lines. Fourth, I would ask that municipalities, counties, states and the federal government work together to get better zoning, defensible space ordinances, and building codes in place in urban/forest interface zones.

        As per: “it is irresponsible and not good citizenship to not make some effort to either get the NEPA process working,” I agree and offer this, titled “NEPA is not the problem”: http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/blog/2007/10/nepa-is-not-the.html

  2. Hi Dave: Thanks for the response. Your suspicions could be answered by following the links. I think you’ll find they lead to the latest authoritative sources on the topic and I don’t think any of them were done by cheerleaders.

    You are right about dollar evaluations, of course, and we briefly address that topic in terms of human life — and why we don’t consider dollar values in those regards. When I was in school the economic question was “the value of a goose call.”

    The reason everyone was trying to attach monetary values was because of their importance in decision making processes. Yep, people make decisions with their pocket books and we all conveniently use the same monetary system, so that’s a major reason we try and attach numbers and dollars to everything. It’s how we manage our affairs (and our forests).

    An in-depth conversation would be great — after you’ve followed and read the links, of course!

    PS I was paid no money for work on these articles or website, so there’s nothing to show in that regard.

    • Bob,

      I followed the links prior to my comment, and will do so again if given some specifics to guide my search. In the meantime it proves useful to remember what Milton Friedman said about government planners and their abuse of economics. In “Market Mechanisms and Central Economic Planning” Friedman said that at best government administrators “play at capitalism”. But as Allan Schmid argued in his book on government number crunching (cited in my ‘Critiques’ below), the only time that Friedman’s notion proves true is if the political authority actually attempts to collect the revenues from their cost benefit analysis, which almost never happens.

      So “playing at capitalism” degenerates to “pretending to play at capitalism” if the political authority actually uses the benefit cost analysis as THE decision tool. In most ‘studies’ the political authority is nowhere near the analysis, often conducted by economists who are heralded as informed observers. But how can these economists ‘observe’ what can’t be seen or tested in the marketplace? As bad as that is, cost-benefit analysis (CBA) only measures gains to private, not public good. There is no means for such to measure public good unless as Schmid suggests the political authority blesses CBA as his/her chosen decision tool. And where have we ever seen that?

      For now, I’ll stick with my Top Ten Reasons Why Cost-Benefit Analysis Fails in Public Choice Settings, here: http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/10_reasons_cba_fails.html

      And I’ll stick with my own authorities on the subject matter, as summarized here in my Critiques of Cost-Benefit Analysis: http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/econcritiques.html

      • Dave: I think we are in agreement more than disagreement. I do NOT think decisions should be made on purely economic grounds — heck, I’m still not even convinced that economics is really a type of science.

        Still, the more information we have from a wide variety of sources and in a wide variety of formats, the better informed our decisions are. By definition.

        I can assure you, most of the Colorado homeowners who lost their homes to wildfire in the past 30 days would probably have a hard time listing “benefits” from this event. Certainly the firefighters are making good wages, and certainly a few local businesses are doing very well so long as the fire lasts . . . but then what?

        The four authors had different academic and professional backgrounds regarding this topic — and none were in economics, although all included extensive backgrounds in wildfire management and wildfire research. The list of references and list of reviewers provides our most recent and most authoritative sources of information regarding wildfire economics in the western US.

      • If we don’t put monetary costs on the negative impacts of wildfires, how are citizens supposed to be able to choose a path of land management? Americans understand dollar figures but, they don’t want to hear about “re-wilding” through expensive and damaging wildfires. Of course, we cannot suppress ALL fires, and few are saying we could or should. Reducing wildfire impacts means saving money, which we SHOULD be doing in today’s budget-crunched world.

        We KNOW how many homes were lost but, what kind of dollar figure can we apply to the loss of endangered species? Pretending that there is no impact here is akin to burying your head in the sand. It almost seems like some people don’t want to know the costs of their political beliefs, as applied to our National Forests. The unintended consequences of such political beliefs must be monetized, so accurate comparisons can be made upon the impacts to our society.

        • “If we don’t put monetary costs on the negative impacts of wildfires, how are citizens supposed to be able to choose a path of land management?”

          I have never argued against putting costs on “impacts” where such are identifiable. But I have argued against such where no markets exist. Furthermore, where such costs are borne by or benefits given to individuals or groups, not the public at large, that too ought to be identified, along with whether or not such costs are buffered by insurance. Finally, there ought to be more attention paid to underlying production functions to which costs/benefits are attached. I remember having dinner long ago with John Krutilla (noted resource economist), when he suggested that one benefit of forest planning of that era might be that we would learn a bit about underlying joint production functions. Thirty years later, I believe that very little was learned. Instead, we continue to blindly attach monetary numbers very partial analyses, and then to leap to broad sweeping conclusions from such.

          “Pretending that there is no impact here is akin to burying your head in the sand.”

          I have never argued against trying to identify impacts of action, and “inaction.” What I have argued against is sophistry as practiced by many I label economic fundamentalists. See, e.g. My Wars Against Economic Fundamentalism, here http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/blog/2011/09/my-w.html

          “The unintended consequences of such political beliefs must be monetized, so accurate comparisons can be made upon the impacts to our society.”

          NO. Intended and unintended consequences of political action must be addressed. But there are better ways than by using flawed techniques. See, e.g. my three part series on economic practice that I put on Eco-Watch in 1995 (hyperlinks embedded in the earlier referenced “My Wars Against Economic Fundamentalism”).

          • Dave: I followed and read your link, and agree with much of what you write. Too, I was heartened by the Lewis Carrol quote and the “Marvin.” I had never heard of the Marvin before, in spite of being a regular contact with Beuter and Johnson through the years since the 1980s. I did a series of lengthy oral history interviews with Marv Rowley in the early 1990s. He was one of the best foresters I ever met, and one of just a few people I knew who could go into the woods and begin discussing the history of the location, based on current vegetation and human construct patterns. He could not be replaced with a model, and FOR-PLAN was certainly no competition.

            Yes, there are (theoretically) “better ways” to make management decisions than by economics, but the public needs to buy into those methods first, before they can become practical. For now, everyone remains focused on money, so that’s the “flawed technique” we are left to deal with.

            I think the first “cost-plus-loss” approach to economics was in the 1920s, when a gallon of gas was 25-cents, a candy bar 5-cents, and beer was a dime and against the law. Everybody still uses nickels, dimes, and quarters to this time, so the “historical value” of economics seems obvious (as you write); and certainly it should not be the key consideration in making a decision — but it remains an important one. This article is a reflection of that importance, and the “one-pager” a method for anyone (not just scientists or economists) to evaluate wildfire-related damage. And that documentation doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of dollars.

  3. This is economic nonsense. The “cost plus loss” checklist is completely lop-sided because it turns over every rock looking for “costs,” while failing to perform an equally diligent search for “benefits” of fire, which are legion. In particular the coast-plus-loss framework fails to account for:
    1) the ecological and other benefits of fire, such as periodic fuel reduction, landscape heterogeneity; nutrient cycling and transport, forest disease control (e.g. mistletoe), early seral habitat renewal; dead wood habitat creation; and many more;
    2) money wasted on ineffective and unnecessary fire suppression efforts; and
    3) forgone ecological benefits of natural fire where suppression is effective.

    • Tree: Thanks for considering these ideas. You are confusing “cost plus loss” with “cost and benefits.” We had no intention of trying to assess the so-called “benefits” of large wildfires because the authors were in disagreement as to what that might mean, and because there is very little in the literature to quantify such claims.

      Your list is a fine example: a) try and find a common definition of such “benefits” (several of these are very debatable); b) try and find any literature at all regarding the evaluation or other quantification of this stuff. (We couldn’t find much, either.)

      As a person who has studied large-scale wildfires for more than 30 years, I have to say that I probably have an entirely different concept regarding “natural fire” than you do. I’m guessing you’re talking about wildfires started by lightning — and I’m talking about fires started every day by people (which I think is only “natural,” given our lack of fur, fear of the dark, and poor teeth.

    • Perhaps the transcript of the successful litigation by US Attorneys gaining judgements against private businesses for fire damage needs to be examined for the US Justice Dept listing of benefits from those fires. You won’t find any. Those would be offered by the defendants, and most likely be ignored by the presiding Judge. Our Federal Government sues for damages. They don’t sue to gain benefits, except treasure for the US Govt. Certainly there are ancillary benefits about any action. Population control by motorcycle accidents in which females die. Random killings in gang wars in inner city slums. Fewer demands for government assistance in medical care over a lifetime, fewer seats needed in schools. And then you have to determine what a “benefit” really is. And how to give value to a human life? Or a loss of heritage, connection, the tangible links to family and history, all consumed by a fire made large by abnormal fuel buildup? What is “good?” What is “bad?” Our legal system, those trial lawyers who support the liberal agenda with their money, measure it all in terms of dollars. Dollars are the measurement. You lose $3000 worth of timber per acre, and gain $150 worth of grazing over 100 years. What is the biological gain? Can it be measured? By whom? The current system of unlimited resources of the Justice Dept running down private citizens with limited resources, is supposed to private citizens to be protected by the EAJA, which seems to mainly finance NGOs suing the Feds, in a very comfortable arena where it appears there is way too much comity and shared values in outcomes. My take. Nevertheless, the common denominator of loss or gain is dollars. The “one pager” is a vehicle not now provided by the Government to offer citizens a way to respond to Federal action or inaction. “Cost-Loss” is a common concept. There has to be a way to adapt to the fire issue, and perceived or real losses, tangible or emotional. That fire is a neutral action in forests is only partly true. Man came here as forests were just beginning or had yet to start, to gain a foothold on land that has recently been ice or snow covered for millennia. A hundred or more. And man used fire to sustain himself in myriad ways, with landscape burning but one. So we end up with European exploitation of forests human managed for ten thousand or more years, and the political and economic paradigm changes, and so does the relationship between man and the landscape. I would offer that Zybach, et al, with the “one pager” are most interested in creating a more friendly to humans management of fuels and fire. After all, what is purported as “natural” is quite the opposite, if the history of man and fire on the landscape is true. That it would change over time and scope of human occupation is not questioned, but how to deal with it now, and in the future is. Zybach, et al, just threw seeds on barren ground. That, in and of itself, is no guarantee of fruition. Or long term success. Descartes said you could deny anything, but the fact of your being able to deny was proof of your existence. Now what?

      • John says: “[Zyback and others’] ‘one pager’ is a vehicle not now provided by the Government to offer citizens a way to respond to Federal action or inaction. “Cost-Loss” is a common concept. There has to be a way to adapt to the fire issue, and perceived or real losses, tangible or emotional.”

        I don’t disagree that there needs to be a way to deal with the very real issue of ‘cost plus (or minus if you’d rather) net value change’. In my framework, adopted many years ago when I was a graduate assistant at Utah State U. for Larry Davis and Norm Johnson, is to do it via a ‘one pager’ that doesn’t reduce all to dollars and cents. Davis and Johnson’s ‘one pager’ simply listed things (measured by whatever metrics might be found: dollars for costs and revenues, quantitative measures too, and qualitative measures where appropriate) to try to help managers and the public better assess whether things would help defray cost of proposed federal action, or whether and how such ‘action’ might actually add to social cost (whether or not measured in dollars).

        During a critique of the FS forest planning effort some years back, I proposed my suggested changes in FS economic practice, noting that it is folly to try the impossible: to add all into some agreed-upon dollar metric like ‘net present value,’ or its equivalents ‘monetized cost-benefit analysis’, or ‘monetized cost plus net value change’. Rather we need to retreat to something that might add value to public discourse and federal decision-making–something like Davis and Johnson’s social accounting matrix.

        I concluded that rather than continuing to attempt the impossible, to develop a monetized “bottom line,” we would do better to try to assess three things, which I characterized as “who wins, who loses, and who pays” for proposed federal action. A colleague suggested in follow-up comments that we need to add a “what” to my ‘three’, e.g. who wins what, who loses what, and who pays what. I concur.

  4. Once upon a time, in my role as FS Regional Economist, I was asked to help assess the “damage” wrought by a fire in Southern Utah started inadvertently by a troop of Girl Scouts. The Forest Service was intent on suing the Girl Scouts for damages. The damage assessment process followed the Cost Plus Net Value Change model. My first comment into the process was that cost of fire suppression, more than a million dollars as I recall, was suspect since although FS policy was to suppress all human-caused fires, the fire was staged in an area that was ripe for natural regeneration (likely by fire-induced events) anyway, and was in an area that would not affect urban-forest interfaces in any case. And the “resource values” in question were those of timber that would likely never be harvested and wildlife that probably would benefit more in the long term from the fire than be harmed. Water resources (e.g. municipal watersheds) were not an issue. And so on.

    Then there was the problem that FS policy at the time was not “quick initial response” so the usual fire drill of taking three to five days to stage up a fire camp was in order–wherein the staged crews were pretty much watching (and gobbling up tons of federal fire money) until seasonal rains came to put out the fire — think Colorado today, as monsoon rains are putting out the fires there. So the underlying FS policy was as much the problem as was the carelessness of the Girl Scout troop.

    Then there were the so-called resource damage effects, that were being assessed as if the forest structure were to remain static forever, instead of being ripe for regeneration. There were likely other flaws too. In any case, the lawsuit never materialized, which was fine by me.

  5. Bob argues earlier that he and I might not be as far from agreement as I might think. Where you and I tend not to agree, Bob, is in what ought to be included in cost assessments. My economic advice tends to err (to the extent I err) on the side of not including things that others might include. My reasons for not including things that others readily include as ‘costs’ or in expanded form cost plus net value change, are that many future “costs” (and particularly ‘net value change’ (plus or minus)) are too uncertain to put any faith in, that there is social disagreement as to whether things are counted as benefits or costs, that the correct discount rate is contested, and so on as outlined here: http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/10_reasons_cba_fails.html My “economic advice” is here, in part: http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/ew950209.htm

    I challenge Bob and others to prove up on the assertion that “our own findings paint a far different picture than that commonly reported by the media or understood by the public. We have found that total short-term and long-term cost-plus-loss attributed to wildfires typically attains amounts that are ten to 50 times (or more) reported suppression expenses.”

    Finally, even the question that leads the effort to assess the stuff of the “one-pager checklist” is suspect: “What are the actual costs of a wildfire?” This question is used as a backdrop to try to assess the costs of, say, all wildfires in a season. I’m reminded of an article I included in my roll-up of seminal articles critiquing cost-benefit analysis, titled “Ask a Silly Question,” summarized along with other articles here: http://www.fs.fed.us/eco/eco-watch/econcritiques.html

    Why might the question posed in the ‘one-pager’ be a “silly question”? Simply because costs ought not to be tallied the way they the authors attempt to tally them, not according to economic reasoning which requires that choices be presented in a manner in which society can judge the worth of alternative courses of action. What choice is presented here? So we are left with an “accounting frame” not an “economic frame.” And I believe it to be a flawed accounting frame at that.

    • Hi Dave: Thanks again for another thoughtful reply.

      Regarding your “challenge,” I think we already did that by citing widespread media (including USFS) reports of “costs” of wildfire that merely listed suppression costs — when other literature we cited of specific studies were typically a far greater amount.

      Our methods of quantification were based entirely on the literature, and not our own formulas. Oregon Department of Forestry ran some test runs on the “one-pager” and found a number of categories that didn’t apply, or that they couldn’t quantify — for individual, relatively small wildfires. Still, the checklist provided a common focus to these events, and produced preliminary numbers far in excess of suppression costs alone.

      Your point is well taken, and doesn’t preclude out efforts to IDENTIFY (not necessarily quantify in dollars) all of the major costs and losses that CAN take place during a large-scale wildfire.

      Finally, maybe “what are the actual costs of a wildfire” IS a “silly question,” but I don’t see why. Maybe “what are the costs of a wildfire, as measured in current US dollars” might be a silly question, but that is not the question being asked.

      Bottom line is, the checklist is intended to consider all negative consequences of a wildfire, not necessarily some kind of debatable dollar figure. We understand that every single individual that fills out one of these things is going to end up with a different summary of numbers, dollars, and personal values — but the point is, they are all considering the same list of potential losses. And that should make future discussions and plans more focused regarding management of future events and mitigation of past events.

      • The “Ask a Silly Question” article I referenced was about contingent valuation as often related to recreation visitor days. The reason the question is silly was once well identified by a study done in the SE United States that argued that with contingent valuation estimates of recreation visitor days for “bird watching” enough “value” could be generated within a few years to retire the national debt. My critique then was that it proves “silly” to use such fabricated ‘value’ estimates to try to contrast to real dollars spent on federal actions. So any time I see what I used to call “funny money” being contrasted to real money I cry fowl. That’s why I opened up this dialogue with “Show me the money.” Real money, not funny money..

        But as I look more closely at your 11 categories, I don’t see reference to such “contingent valuation” references. Still, I suspect some will want to add them in. So I’ll drop this line of critique, and switch to another.

        When costing stuff out, one has to ask “compared to what?” I would much rather focus attention on what might be done to trim the costs of about a billion a year spent on federal firefighting efforts, or if not to trim them to at least redirect them to more effective firefighting. Your work, while useful in setting up preliminary categories, does not get to the heart of non-silly questions relating to federal firefighting efforts.

        A non-silly question might be what is the most appropriate and cost-effective way to use aerial support for federal firefighting?

        • Thanks, Dave: Our intent was just that — to be useful by setting up “preliminary categories”; i.e, keep a focus to resulting estimates and claims.

          The contingent valuation method you refer to is a poorly developed concept — much like “critical habitat” in that regard. It’s what we called “the value of a goose call” in forest economics class. And you’re right — using those methods (and citing our sources!) we could have inflated the values beyond all reason.

          It is possible that a few of our cited sources used this methodology in part, but I can’t recall any actual instances (three years ago). The San Diego work is probably most detailed — and yields a total number that is more than 50 times greater than original suppression costs that made newspaper headlines on their own.

          • I followed the link on your “one-pager” to Matt Rahn’s video (describing the San Diego State research). Sorry for being so dense as to misread your stuff. I agree that there are many un-reported or under-reported costs associated with wildfires. But in the case of the San Diego fires, or Santa Ana wind events generally, the question becomes “What can realistically be done about them?” and “At what cost?” Just because something costs a bunch does not imply that we ought to throw a bunch of money at it, unless we have paid close attention to what we might gain by the ‘money toss.’

            I now see that you folks only make the case that not all costs are counted. That’s OK. Instead of continuing to misread your stuff, I need to focus my attention on any who would take the next step and jump to the conclusion that say, we need more 747s dumping fire retardant without doing due diligence on whether or not (also where, when, and why) such might be appropriate in beefing-up fire suppression activities.

            • Thanks, Dave: Rahn and I both served on a panel last year in San Diego, at the annual Catastrophic Wildfire Litigation Conference (about 200 lawyers. Really), discussing these topics. I had presented this paper to the same conference the preceding year, in Reno, as a 60-minute workshop.

              I’m pleased you have taken the time to be so thorough in your reading of this paper — a number of your comments are very helpful.

              The question : “What can realistically be done with them” is exactly what I tried to address (and you helpfully discussed) with an earlier post of a popular article I had written on the topic of “preventive maintenance”: https://ncfp.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/8829/

              So far as what methods or boundaries or strategies should be employed during wildfire management activities, I leave that to the experts in that field. Preventive maintenance and conservative use of resources are my principal interests.

  6. I think we can all agree that when goshawk or owl territories burn to a crisp, that the fire is indeed “catastrophic”, and the loss to the environment is “priceless”.

    • Catastrophic to a chick maybe. But to be deemed catastrophic, we need more in terms of definitions and context. But I’m sure your tongue was firmly wedged into your cheek when you wrote this reply.

      • Dave: My dissertation had “catastrophic wildfire” in its title, and I defined such events as either covering more than 100,000 acres, or costing human lives (which don’t have a dollar figure). 100,000 acres of prairie is a lot different than a 100,000 acres of old-growth conifer, of course, but the impact to local plant and animal populations (maybe including people) is comparable at this scale.

        Probably not the best definition, but it’s workable and can be quantified (without dollars).

        I’m not sure Larry was joking, these “territories” cost a lot of money to create and their loss can be measured both in mortality of desired birds, and in further erosion of professional and scientific credibility by both the unnecessary creation and subsequent destruction of these places.

        • Thanks Bob for the intel/definitions from your dissertation. As Larry’s losses, my point was simply that one fire does not make for species extinction. Cumulative effects of multiple fires over many years may be a different story, but one that hasn’t yet been spelled out in any credible way.

      • Just how long does it take for “nature” to replace nesting habitat? How long does it take for a single nesting pair to develop a network of viable nests? Yes, it is no wonder that the ESA has northern goshawks listed, due to lack of nesting habitat but, some think that whatever happens to them in wildfires is of no consequence. Yep, I guess it is “natural” that endangered species suffer from wildfires, natural, or not.

  7. Goshawks and owls use existing nests, on a rotating basis. When the nests within a 6000 acre nesting core are gone, sometimes it takes years for a nesting pair to find an adequate site, and to build a new nest. Our California Spotted Owls suffered big losses during severely cold winters during the last ten years. Their nesting territories are the most rare and most flammable of all forests in the west. Again, these birds are listed solely because of the rarity of their nesting habitats. The ESA doesn’t protect the birds from wildfires, including so-called “natural fires”.

    I think it was Derek who posted an article about the current steady decline of goshawks populations in Wyoming, due to wildfires and bark beetles.


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