Let it burn? Federal agencies draft national wildland fire strategy


Thanks to Terry Seyden for this one..
Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.

I thought that this was interesting..

The national strategy suggests three big goals: Restore fire-adapted landscapes. Protect communities. Suppress fire. And it provides three tools: An unprecedented gathering of fire science data. A mapping project to visualize that information throughout the country. And a risk trade-off analysis to make sense of it all.

The data has been piling up for the past three years. The maps have progressed at the same time. The risk analysis should be ready next June.

For Ann Walker at the Western Governors Association, the strategy is a chance to make some practical decisions. “Everybody has to come to the table,” Walker said. “This is not a partisan issue. We’ve lost lives. We’ve lost homes. We’re not considering wildfire on the same scale as tornados and tsunamis and hurricanes, but we have huge ability to change that path. One key thing we need is to get to a healthy level of active federal forest management.”
One way to do that is to mix more commercial timber cutting into hazardous fuels reduction projects, Walker said. Clearing brush and burning slash doesn’t pay for itself – it must be taxpayer funded. But combining those fire safety projects with sawlog acreage in landscape-scale stewardship contracts could improve the balance sheet. “We need to do a much higher level of harvesting, and even with the current environmental protections in place we can do that,” Walker said. “There have to be viable commercial timber sales to pay for the rest of the work that needs to be done.”

Improving the market to use slash wood as biomass for airplane fuel would also help, Walker said. So would consolidating the checkerboard ownership of forests that jumbles federal agencies, state governments and private entities in a confused and inefficient management tangle.

Many of those suggestions have found a home in the draft wildfire strategy. They’re also the elements that give environmental advocates like Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan the most heartburn.
For example, the strategy proposes greater use of “categorical exclusions” to speed up large-scale landscape management plans. “I don’t think this rises to the level of categorical exclusion when we’re talking about big landscapes like this or threatened and endangered species protection,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Categorical exclusions were for things like painting an outhouse or cleaning a campground. This seems to go beyond that.”

Montgomery said her group was one of several suing the Forest Service for its use of a categorical exclusion to do pre-commercial thinning on 3,600 acres in the Flathead National Forest.
“They didn’t even have maps where the units were so you could find them,” Montgomery said. “If it’s categorically excluded, you wouldn’t find that ever. What if it was in lynx or bull trout habitat? If you’re doing that under the mantra of fire strategy, that’s not good policy.”

Matthew Koehler of the Wild West Institute in Missoula accused the strategy drafters of ignoring calls to put preservation ahead of harvesting. “I will say that based on the list of people who are part of the Western Community Fire Management Working Group (participants in the strategy’s public review process) there certainly aren’t very many dedicated activists from the forest protection community on the list,” Koehler said in an email. “The list, perhaps with an exception or two, seems more like a group of people who have long since attempted to increase logging of our public lands, decrease citizen oversight and have been critical of most efforts to hold the Forest Service accountable when it comes to law, regulations and science.”

A couple of thoughts

First, did Ms. Walker really jump straight from “using wood” to “airline jet fuel”. Maybe she said “an array of uses, including airline jet fuel.” A couple of presentations at SAF dealt with the idea that it is more efficient to use wood for heating than to convert it to biofuels. Still with people getting millions to study E.coli (not the pathogenic one).. as here. I’m getting the idea that using wood for heat just doesn’t have the high-tech component that research panels find appealing. Which would be a sad story for technology development in this country.

Second, CE’s exist and are part of the NEPA regulations. *Warning: below may get a little NEPA-geeky.

The quote goes ” “Categorical exclusions were for things like painting an outhouse or cleaning a campground. “. When in actuality, they are for many things. You can want this not to be the case, but then you should say “I don’t agree with CEQ that it is OK to establish a category for x or y.”

When the quote goes like the above, it sounds as if the FS is violating its NEPA procedures, which is different from a person not agreeing with the NEPA procedures as described in regulation (which had public comment).

In fact, NPS has one for herbicide application. In terms of endangered species, there are “extraordinary circumstances” in the NEPA regulations. Also there are the ESA regulations themselves.

Then she is quoted as saying ““They didn’t even have maps where the units were so you could find them,” Montgomery said. “If it’s categorically excluded, you wouldn’t find that ever.” That doesn’t make any sense as quoted. Plenty of people use CE’s and have maps of units.

Anyway, interesting comments on some of our usual subjects.

I found some public domain fire photos on the NIFC website… worth checking out..here.

5 thoughts on “Let it burn? Federal agencies draft national wildland fire strategy”

  1. In a perfect world, CE’s would be the way to go. However, CE’s tend to be seen as a way to sidestep important issues and avoid litigation. That strategy is doomed to failure, and is a waste of time, money and resources. It is much better to earn trust and develop management plans which jump through the legal hoops. Now, maybe using a CE to cut non-sawlog trees would work. We need to use the three C-words of Collaboration, Consensus and Compromise to continue the education of the American taxpayers. It IS important to me that we do not understock forests to pay for non-commercial work. This includes keeping large trees, where they are sparse. Certainly, scientifically and economically sensible plans can be crafted that can pass legal muster. It simply means that people are going to have to learn about the site-specific issues, and about the rules, laws, legal decisions and policies that direct activities on public lands. One must understand that if landscape-scale compromises are not hammered out, we all lose when intense mortality is inevitable.

  2. They are seen by some as a “way to sidestep important issues”. They are seen by others as ways to avoid wasting money, time and resources, and as legitimate choices under the NEPA regs. The question is “why do some opinions ( do more analysis) count more than others (do just enough analysis)?” The answer is that those who can/will litigate are holding more cards.

  3. How in the world could using CE’s for large-scale landscape management plans be a great idea?

    Arlene is correct and factual when she stated, “Categorical exclusions were for things like painting an outhouse or cleaning a campground.”

    Sharon commented on that, saying, “When in actuality, they [CE’s] are for many things.”

    Ignoring the fact that Arlene was taking about “CE’s were” (ie “in the past”) and Sharon is saying, “CE’s are” (ie “in the present”)….Could someone please point out to me where in the NEPA regs it says CE’s should be used for large-scale landscape management plans? Thanks.

    • Matthew are you talking about a specific project that a ce was used for, or what the story says that the new strategy might be calling for?

  4. My interpretation is that this wildfire plan would propose a new category for exclusion that would provide for landscape scale restoration. Is this correct? If so, I would think it would be tough to do so without running into some kind of “extraordinary circumstance” (e.g. endangered species). Anyone have some ideas on this?


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