Update From the Fremont-Winema NF

(One of my pictures from the Biscuit Fire)

From Greg Walden’s Facebook posting:

I just got off the phone with Kent Connaughton, the Forest Service’s Regional Forester for Oregon. In September, I brought Kent to Lakeview to meet with landowners who suffered horrible losses of timber and livestock during the Barry Point fire. These landowners are very concerned with how the Forest Service fought the fire and are trying to figure out how to cope with the losses they’ve suffered

.Kent gave me a status update tonight, and here is what I learned:

1) The Forest Service is conducting an independent review of its own operations during the Barry Point fire. It is still in the works, but Kent believes it raises a number of unanswered questions, and he has asked for a more formal review by the states of Oregon and California. He will share a copy of the report once it is completed next month, and I look forward to getting to the bottom of these unanswered questions.

2) Kent has sent a special team into the Fremont-Winema National Forest to ensure there is no disruption in timber supply due to the fires. The Forest Service has also announced it will make 30 million board feet of timber available for each of the next two years, double the current production.

3) Kent also gave me an update on the Forest Service’s work with affected ranchers and landowners on recovery and repair to fences and property damaged during the fire. The Forest Service is putting $100,000 into the repair of fences destroyed during firefighting, and an additional $350,000 for materials to repair fences destroyed by the fire. Additionally, the Farm Services Administration is making $196,000 available to landowners for use in repairs.

It is good news that this fire recovery work continues, but we need to see it through to the finish. I will continue to work with citizens recovering from these wildfire disasters and make sure that all levels of government are helping with recovery as quickly as possible.

20 thoughts on “Update From the Fremont-Winema NF”

  1. The regional forester sounds like he hails from inside a nonsense bubble, especially when he says “Kent has sent a special team into the Fremont-Winema National Forest to ensure there is no disruption in timber supply due to the fires.” He should familiarize himself with the dynamic character of forests and the fallacy of stable timber flow. Jack Ward Thomas 1997. The Instability of Stability, http://web.archive.org/web/20001201174000/http://coopext.cahe.wsu.edu/~pnrec97/thomas2.htm

    Then he says “The Forest Service has also announced it will make 30 million board feet of timber available for each of the next two years, double the current production.” Sounds like the decision to salvage the Barry Point Fire is a forgone conclusion in violation of NEPA’s mandate to consider environmental impacts before making decisions. Why can’t the Regional Forester stand up to a member of Congress?

    The local mill will be busy salvaging their own land for the next year or more and the small trees on federal land probably won’t be suitable for salvage after the unavoidable delay. In spite of that fact, the Forest Service’s recent scoping notice proposes 20,000 acres of salvage logging up to 1,200 from roads. This almost certainly means they are going after the big trees that will persist the longest and need to be retained to help close the future “snag gap.”

    The Regional Forester is apparently not willing to follow the 2011 Long-Range Strategy for the Lakeview Sustained Yield Unit which calls for retention of all large snags and recommends post-fire treatments similar to pre-fire treatments, i.e. remove the excess of small trees and leave the large tree structure that is in short supply.

    The 2008 Forest Plan for the Klamath Tribes, cited favorably in the 2011 Long-range Strategy for the Lakeview Stewardship Unit says of large fires —
    “Such fires do generate a large pulse of dying, dead and down material. After a stand-replacement fire, that pulse of large wood is all of the large wood that the recovering ecosystem is going to get for the next century or more—i.e., until trees of large size are once again a part of the stand. Some of this dead wood legacy will persist and fulfill important functional roles in the recovering forest for many decades and, in the case of the largest and most decay resistant material, even for a century or more.”

    • Tree, I don’t know about a “non-sense” bubble, but Kent did not just fall off the Pacific Northwest turnip truck (hop truck?). He has forgotten more about forest policy than most of us ever knew, including ideas like non-declining even flow and suchlike policy artifacts.

      Possibly he does not need to “stand up to a member of Congress” because he agrees with him.

  2. Ah… Sustained Yield Units.. haven’t thought of them in a long time. Who remembers 1) when they started and why and 2) how many and where they were established, without using the internet?

    • Without using the internet (truly!), I recall the Shelton, Lakeview and Paisley SYUs. Shelton was the only “cooperative” SYU as it included private combined with federal land. Lakeview and Paisley are in the same neck of the woods, but actually distinct SYUs that each required logs be processed within facilities located near the town of Lakeview or Paisley.

      The Lakeview and Paisley units were the site of notorious bid rigging by the local purchasers who divvied up the SYUs into geographic units within which they wouldn’t bid against each other. That ensured no bid premiums. The scheme worked for years until a new investor built a mill that refused to join the cabal.

      Shelton was the site of notorious over-cutting on the national forest half of the SYU based upon the proposition that the private lands that had been overcut previously would mature and take up the slack after the federal lands were depleted. But the private landowner withdrew from the agreement after the fed timber was liquidated because it wanted to log private land faster than the SYU agreement would have permitted.

      The law allowing SYU establishment passed in the 30’s (I think 🙂 ), but the SYUs were not established until the 60’s (?). Hazy on the dates — a sign of age.

        • Sharon and Andy: The SYU’s were established at the end of WW II to build local economies and our nation’s homes. They were a direct response to the Depression, CCCs, and WW II and the need to put everyone (“young men”) to work. I’m not sure how widespread they were — I’m only familiar with the ones in Oregon and Washington

          Yes, there was graft. I think there is graft today, too. There are many people, though, that have a far more positive perspective on the communities that resulted from the SYU’s than Andy’s jaundiced memories.

          Much like the history of our railroads, freeways, and national forests: there are people with negative perspectives regarding the graft involved in putting those together, too, but there are also people who would argue that the resulting good outweighs the instances of bad.

          • The fundamental goal of the SYUs was local protectionism by restricting who could purchase NF timber. The restriction was geographic in Lakeview and Paisley. It was company-specific in Shelton, i.e., only Simpson Timber Co. could buy the timber. One of my former professors, John Beuter, did an excellent study of the Lakeview and Paisley SYUs. As I recall (without using the internet), he found those two SYUs had met their goal of maintaining local employment. The concentrated benefits of restricting competition accrued to the local workers and mill workers. The widely-diffused costs were borne by the Treasury in the form of foregone timber sale receipts.

            • Andy: I would argue that the “fundamental goal” of the SYU’s was to create jobs and put our nation’s timber resources to good use — NOT “local protectionism.” That was just an outcome of strategy.

              I would also argue that benefits were extended to everyone that used the resulting wood products (including those of us using many of the same products today), and that the “widely-diffused costs” were covered many times over by increased availability of low-cost (“savings is passed on to the customer”) forest products, NOT “forgone timber sale receipts.”

              Beuter was a great guy, I’m pretty sure I read his work on SYU’s (it’s ringing a bell, but my memory is losing its hearing), but I don’t recall the details. I do remember his work on timber jobs, however, where he claimed that each logging job created 18 to 24 (I think that’s right) spin-off jobs — and everyone PAYING taxes into the treasury. Now can I use Google?

              • Yes, I did find an article about one on the Carson in New Mexico, which I will post later, but no laundry list of all of them (which I was looking for). So it is definitely time to open the internet.

                I did run across these two pieces in the Journal of Forestry, which the Society kindly let me post here.Granger JoF 1944 s6(1)

                And “these coooperative sustained yield units”, (Mason, Earl G.
                Source: Journal of Forestry, Volume 45, Number 10, 1 October 1947 , pp. 735-740(6)) a back and forth about the Shelton Unit. It starts with a piece by a fellow named Earl G. Mason, who is not a fan.
                We’re still working on this problem from Mason’s piece :

                The justification usually given fro the formulation of these cooperative sustained- yield units is that the annual cut from the unit will be in accord with the land therein to grow timber, thereby stabilizing the lumber industry, stopping migration from one location to another, giving permanent jobs to workers and a constant economic support to the community.

                The desire for good permanent jobs with money going to local communities does not seem to have changed in the last 65 years or so.

                But people had other concerns then:

                It nurtures a healthy seed bed for the development of communism. It must be remembered
                that the lumber industry is a large and important one. Many youth must therefore find in that industry their life’s opportunity to serve society usefully. Once the lumber industry becomes one composed essentially of large operations, the capable, ambitious man to start and develop a business of his own
                has been largely eliminated for those in lumbering. Under such conditions men become dissatisfied
                with the social order which so limits the opportunity of the individual. They therefore
                become advocates of a changed set-up with the principles of communism finding many a ready ear.

                Then Ira J. Mason of the Forest Service and George L.Drake of Simpson make comments. Shelton was a cooperative SYU, but many of the comments fit the others as well. Thanks again to SAF for making history so accessible.

  3. I was raised in Lakeview and worked in the woods there. This fire was in mostly Ponderosa Pine. These Ponderosa pine forests used to have fire intervals of 15 – 30 years, usuallly low intensity underburns. The frequent low intensity fires consumed the large dead wood. The open park like stands did not have an abundance of dead wood because fire would clean it up. I seriously doubt that any large wood would persist into the next century. Large stand replacing fires in densly stocked ponderosa pines stands are often followed by a reburns. Leaving some dead wood out there is fine, but leaving it all in densly stocked stands is folly.

    I was involved in a tornado blow down slavage here in west central Idaho in 2006. There was a swath of blowdown and snapped off trees a quarter mile wide and 10 miles long. The Forest salvaged trees, but left adequate large wood and snags, probably about 15% or so, much more in riparian areas. They broadcast burnt and planted after salvage. The adjacent roadless area was not salvaged logged, burnt or replanted. You could not even walk though the blowndown in some areas. They decided not salvage the blown in the roadless area that was accessable by existing roads, and that they were saving it for other resources. Well this year the Wesley fire burned through the roadless area blowndown, but was stopped where it salvaged logged. The burn in the blowndown was hot leaving a moonscape of bare ground with very few charred remnants of dead wood. So the salvaged looged area has an appropriate level of dead wood, snags, and is stocked with seedlings. The roadless area is bare ground with no deadwood or seedlings. The FS spent big bucks suppressing the fire in the roadless, but made money and payed for the planting and burning in the salvaged area, while supporting the local economy. .

  4. Anecdotes are the weakest form of evidence. People should back up their anecdotes with scientific evidence that uses random samples and controls.

    An example of a place that experiences reburn needs to be evaluated along with the various places that do not reburn.

    An example of a place where fuel reduction “works” needs to be considered along with places that were treated ad did not burn, and places that were treated and still burned severely.

    • Tree- interesting that you should mention random samples and controls.. in my past I took many courses in experimental design.

      What we could do is find an area that is currently the same, do fuel treatments in parts and not in other parts, run a wildfire through and see what happens.

      There are several problems with this approach, and if wildfire researchers are still following this, maybe they can comment.

      Wildfires would have different behavior depending on host of variables. The weather. How fast they are going coming into the experimental area. What direction they come into the experimental area. Fuel conditions. (all the variables that go into modelling).

      People will also want to suppress a wildfire in different ways depending on the different conditions, including the availability of fire suppression resources.

      So that’s why we have to rely on other methodologies such as modelling and post-fire observation.

      We posted about an effort of the current fire scientists to explore this in the webinar here.

    • Yes, I have posted pictures of catastrophic re-burns, in unsalvaged forests, which clearly show the devastation of former climax old growth stands, which have survived dozens of past wildfires in the last 300 years. Now, very few conifers exist in the re-burned areas, and brush like manzanita and deerbrush now dominate those cooked soils. What used to support endangered species now will need many decades to grow into being nesting habitats. I guess this is fine for a National Park but, not at all fine for our National Forests. Again, we need recovery plans for endangered species to include protections from catastrophic wildfires.

  5. Remember, the key to a successful salvage project is the removal and utilization of the smallest merchantable timber, before it goes bad. Sadly, litigation seeks to block all salvage logging, regardless of the intent, purpose and need. They don’t care about the future outcomes of re-burn and accelerated erosion that goes with unsalvaged forests. Yes, Tree, we CAN prepare a salvage project, get it through an injunction attempt, and be logging within the next working season. Some Forests have it together, and some don’t. It is still kind of rare but, I have seen it work.

    • Larry: You are right about the need for haste in developing and completing salvage operations after a forest disaster takes place, whether fire, wind, bugs, or whatever. I have seen it work, too — in several instances, but none in the past 25 years on federal lands (I know there are probably exceptions to this — I just haven’t seen them): Silver Complex; Biscuit; B&B; Red Zone; etc., etc.

      I think this ability to respond immediately on a local level, whereas as centralized government approach might take days or years (if at all), is one of the key characteristics that made the USFS so successful through the years — it’s local Ranger Stations and the people who worked in them and had the authority to solve a problem when it happened. Now that capability no longer exists, and I would argue that our nation’s forests are in such poor condition in large part because of this change.

      • The Rabbit Creek Fire of 1994, on the Boise NF, survived a lower court decision, beginning work in June of ,1995. It also survived an injunction by a purchaser, who wanted a non-helicopter project available to bid upon. The project went to completion, despite more attempts to block it.

        The Power and Fred Fires on the Eldorado NF of 2004 were sold in May of 2005. While a temporary injunction stopped work as loggers were moving in, the injunction was lifted as litigants couldn’t gather their case in front of the Judge. The 9th Circuit overturned the lower court decision an gave Chad Hanson a “blank check” settlement, with no Forest Service input.

        I worked on both of these projects, and the final results were generally excellent.

        • Larry, that case sounds interesting.. do you remember the name of it?
          Also six years later it would be interesting to see what the area looks like (e.g., photos).

  6. Bob,

    Successful recent salvage: (also hazard tree removal). My previous boss was there when it happened, so I heard about this firsthand.

    USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-46CD. 2007. 290

    Forest Response
    After Katrina made landfall, the first and foremost concern of the Forest and District staff was the well being of District employees. Locating our employees and confirming that they (and their families) were safe were difficult tasks. Phone lines (including cell phones) were down all across the southern end of the State. Some employees had moved inland with family or friends. But eventually all employees either were contacted by or made contact with their supervisors.
    The next concern of the Forest was to reopen Forest roads for emergency and essential travel. Over 1,300 miles of Forest roads were totally or partially blocked due to fallen trees and other debris. The Forest brought in two Type 2 Incident Management Teams to accomplish this task. Over the next 2 weeks, using chainsaws and mechanized equipment, personnel opened more than 1,000 miles of roads. It was only then that we realized the magnitude of Katrina’s fury.
    The fuel loading on the two Districts had gone from around 1 ton per acre to upwards of 60 tons per acre. We knew this new fuel had to be removed quickly due to the rapid rate of decay for wood products in the South. If this fuel was not salvaged, it would become available to burn within 1 or 2 years.
    Use of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) authority was critical in meeting the time sensitive issue of salvaging these 1000 hr fuels. Proactive collaboration played a critical role in expediting the process. Key collaborators included U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, and forest industry. Weight scale authority was granted to expedite removal of downed timber. Salvage sale preparation was conducted concurrently with the National Environmental Protection Act process in order to expedite offering of merchantable timber.
    All sales prepared were sold. Over 1.2 million tons or 276 MBF on 109,828 acres on the Chickasawhay and De Soto were removed.
    Because of all the new fuel on the ground, access through the Forest was difficult if not impossible. We knew it was critical to establish fuel breaks between the Forest and adjoining private lands, especially those in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas. The lines were needed not only to prevent wild fires from spreading onto private land from the Forest, but more often to prevent the spread into the Forest of fires started by the adjoining landowners as they were cleaning up debris. Using existing District resources, detailers, and contract resources, the Forest constructed more than 600 miles of WUI lines. While we knew that these lines would not stop an approaching wildfire on its own, they would serve as fuel breaks, provide access routes into areas where we needed to position suppression resources, and serve as escape routes if needed. It was not long before we began to see just how valuable the WUI lines were. On the Burnt Dog fire, the WUI line put in between the Forest and some private houses made it possible for our resources to make a stand and save the homes.
    With the additional fuel loading, the District was reluctant to try any prescribed burning at first. It was actually after a wildfire or two that they realized they could conduct prescribed fires without doing resource damage, causing excessive smoke issues or creating a situation for extreme fire behavior. It turned out that what we had thought to be the case all along was actually true. Previous years of aggressively burning the Forest had reduced the fuels to such a level that, even with tons of fuel added to the forest floor, it was still manageable. The District successfully burned more than 14,000 acres but then, the Forest made a difficult decision. To concentrate all efforts and resources on assisting with the mechanical removal of fuels that were already sold. While the entire Forest burned only 91,000 acres that year, we were able to count an additional 112,000 acres as mechanical fuel reduction. This year, 2007, the De Soto jumped right back into their normal burning routine. At the time of this writing, they have successfully burned 74,017 acres with no plans to let up. The cost of burning is higher now due to additional preparation and holding resources needed but that will go down as time goes on.

  7. Sharon: Wow! What a success story! This sounds like what happened here in the PNW 50 years ago after the Columbus Day Storm: real experts using sound judgment to make some common sense decisions — and then doing them! Without a bunch of nitwit opportunists and ambulance chasers getting their pictures in the papers and putting families out of work while allowing our nation’s resources to become ugly, wasted and degraded landscapes. Which is what keeps happening over and over where I live.

    We needed these guys (“the Forest and District staff”) and their methods here in 1987 (Silver Complex) and ever since. I really like the phrase “jumped right back into their normal burning routine” a lot, as you might imagine. My personal preference would be to have everyone spend two or three years working on prescribed fires first, before being sent out on wildfires. Experience is valuable, and these are the types of people we need making decisions about managing fires. Not lawyers and their pay-per-view experts.


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