Thinking About Fuel Treatments

I'm running out of photos of fuel treatment projects and am recycling them..
I’m running out of photos of fuel treatment projects and am recycling them..if you have some that are not copyrighted or you have approval for, please send.

This post is a followup to Matthew’s comment here.. in the quote below I removed the references to the firefighter deaths, as I think the ideas he expressed should be followed further aside from that context.

Some frequent commenters on this blog often call for the Forest Service and other land management agencies to put out all wildfires. Phrases like “we need to be more aggressive and put these fires out” are common both in this blog and in letters to the editor during fire season across the west. Often times some of these same commenters claim that more logging will prevent “extreme” wildfires.

Is “fuel reduction” work in chaparral and grass even possible? If not, will that prevent some people from using this tragedy to call for more logging?

(edited from Matthew’s original).

So I will introduce you to my logic path on this, as clear as I can be.

1. People and infrastructure live in and around fire-prone vegetation throughout the West.

2. Fires can have negative impacts to people and infrastructure due to both the original burn and later flooding.

3. The condition of fuels can make a difference in how expensive and or safe it is to fight fire to protect people and infrastructure.

4.. Therefore treatment of fuels around infrastructure and in strategic areas for future fire lines is important(this seems to be where OMB is not in agreement, for reasons that are not transparent at this time).

5. In some cases, these treatments can be used to grow food or fiber for people to use and the “extra” plant material can be used instead of burned.

6. “Use” instead of “burning or putting in a landfill” has social, economic and climate benefits, not least of which is the ability to do more fuels reduction because each treatment costs less.

Therefore, using plant material removed in fuel treatments can be a good thing.

I’d be interested in what others think about these assertions.

24 thoughts on “Thinking About Fuel Treatments”

  1. Regarding OMB. I was Assistant Secretary in the Bush Administration (2002-2005) and helped to implement his Healthy Forest Initiative beginning in 2002. The focus was on treatment to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the WUI. Some in the environmental community regarded it as “logging” in disguise and therefore “bad.” Others, like the Wilderness Society, Nature Conservancy worked with us on solutions. One of the early eyeopeners for me was a very angry and disrespectful call between my office and the career OMB staff who were in the camp of treatment equals logging and therefore we don’t support guidance on treatment protocols. We tried to work with OMB for the over 3 years I was there to get OMB approved guidance on treatment in the WUI. Never happened. This OMB refusal occurred even though this was a signature Presidential priority being implemented with focus by two Agencies – DOI and Ag. And remember, OMB is part of the White House management structure. It is frustrating. I agree with the way you have laid out the issues.

    • Thank you, Rebecca, for standing up and telling it like it is (was). We need to “put their feet to the fire” and demand their reasonings for putting the public in further danger, especially in light of conditions and happenings in the West right now. How can there be “logging, when there are places where there are no mills to process logs? Yep, let’s punish BOTH Democrats AND Republicans, who live in rural WUI’s, equally!! *smirk* Could this be the beginning of a new “Sagebrush Rebellion”, where residents band together to thin Forest Service lands close to home, without Federal approval?? I would support this!

      • Gotta love it when a federal employee (Larry) working for the Forest Service calls on US citizens to break US laws and just start cutting down trees on public Forest Service land….*smirk*

        Perhaps, Rebecca, if your Bush Administration would have focused more tightly on a WUI immediately around homes and communities -– and not 2, 3, 5 miles away from structures – your efforts, er I suppose the popular word these days is “solutions,” would have been more successful and accepted.

        Instead, we got stuff like this from you folks. Revise history all you want Rebecca, but some of us don’t forget the facts of the past.

        Furthermore, Rebecca, perhaps “some in the environmental community regarded it as ‘logging’ in disguise and therefore ‘bad’….because, in fact, some of it was “logging in disguise.”

        See this link for a vivid example of what we faced in Montana with your first HFRA logging project.

        And didn’t the US Federal Court system strike down many of your Healthy Forest Initiative provisions?

        • Matt’s reply is a good example of the atmospherics that surround the issue of fuels treatment and give pause to agency efforts to change the status quo on how public land forests and wildfires are managed — or not.

          • Rececca’s reply is a good example of how some people who work/worked for the federal government don’t actually respond to legitimate ecological, economic and public policy concerns which in turn give pause to many environmental groups and citizens about how public land forests and wildfires are managed.

        • I haven’t been a Federal employee since December Matt! *SMIRK* I was “downsized”, from a Collaborative Ranger District.

          Sometimes extreme situations require extreme measures. It looks like Matt is not in favor of strategic treatments, including fuelbreaks on key ridgetops. He also seems to be in favor of “Death by Decapitation”, in our forests, including endangered species habitats. How can there be “logging” in places where there are no mills?!?!? Applying extreme cuts in hazardous fuels treatments all across the country reminds me of the pioneer tactics of “burning people out”, because, in their opinion, “they shouldn’t be living there”. Again, I liken this to people living in crime-prone areas, or people living near oceans where hurricanes happen. While we are at it, Matt, why not reduce funding for “hazardous crime treatments”, or hurricane recovery? They chose to live there so, they should take on all the costs for their choices, eh?

          • Larry, Please don’t tell me what I supposedly believe or don’t believe, OK. However, we do know that Larry believes it’s cool for US citizens to break US laws and just start cutting down trees on public Forest Service land.

            P.S. Glad you no longer work for the Forest Service, Larry. *SMIRK*

            • That just means I can be here more often to offer alternatives to preserving fire danger. Yes, the Forest Service is paying for my unemployment. If the local public is overwhelmingly in favor of extreme safety measures, after exhausting regular avenues, yes, I will support that.

            • Of course, I can be easily replaced by any old warm body, who will make plenty of mistakes while learning on the job. In two summers (if they make it that far), they will be disillusioned and angry, moving on to another job, allowing yet another “tree killer” to make those same mistakes over and over and over again. Federal McForestry, in action.

              My last Ranger District wasn’t prepared last year to have their first marking crew in 15 years. The only person on the entire Ranger District qualified to supervise was the District Ranger. He decided to take some of those Collaborative funds this year to outsource the labor needed to deal with the increased workload. I guess it is one way to “share the wealth” with the rest of the Forest, who covets the extra Collaborative money. I wasn’t willing to stay in the barracks 150 minutes away from home.

  2. Thanks, Rebecca! I remember those same days you were in Interior from working with the Forest Service on a couple of initiatives. My impression was (as an underling, but attending meetings with CEQ and OMB) was that at some point the head of CEQ told staff “this is an administration priority, either come up with meaningful questions that can be answered or it’s over.” This put to an end the bureacratic stalemating technique of “endless questions.”

    That did not seem to happen with OMB for some reason, or at least I was not aware of it if it did. In fact, there appeared to be some kind of communication/relationships among staff that once the fight was lost at CEQ, the same would be taken up at OMB. An exhausting road for those attempting to get things cleared, both political and career. Now I have been a career person all my life, so I like the general idea of career people having power… I just think any OMB misgivings, and edits to regulations should be transparent and FOIA-ble, just like the agencies’ development of the regulations (it’s all the same process, right?).

    When I was on a detail at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the 2000 Planning Rule came to the White House agencies for clearance.. one of the young OMB staff had misgivings due to potential costs. Since I was on detail from the Forest Service, I shared with her some information and my similar misgivings, and we were working together; but the next thing we knew it was “goin’ through”. So it clearly can, and does happen, when appropriate pressure is applied.

  3. Unfortunately, one of the replies above shows a complete lack of understanding of how the blind hatred of sound logging practices and their subsequent removal from the tool bag of sound forest management has been a significant influence in exacerbating the beetles, fires, and subsequent soil erosion.

    Preservation Kills. As humans we go to doctors for help in maintaining/managing our health. Principled foresters are the doctors for forests. Preservationist can’t lay the blame for their failures on global warming. Global warming only increases the need for sound forest management. Uninformed environmentalism has destroyed and continues to destroy the very thing that it wants to save.

    • Unfortunately Gil’s comment “shows a complete lack of understanding” of what the environmental community has actually been advocating for for well over a decade now regarding wildfire policy, restoration, commercial logging and protecting communities from fire. Gil’s comment also “shows a complete lack of understanding” of that fact that “sound forest management” has not been “removed from the tool bag” of Forest Service management.

      Gil creates a Straw Man Argument, based on misleading statements and false (perhaps intentional) misrepresentations of what enviros actually advocate for on these issues to make himself look like he defeats the Straw Man soundly. You the Man, Gil!

      • Matthew

        1) As to your comment about “the environmental community has actually been advocating for for well over a decade now regarding … commercial logging …”
        –> Read your own link here and then tell me it isn’t filled with venomous statements against logging of any kind and especially against the commercial logging necessary to pay for healthy forests. Your reference is but one of many that I could go to to refute your statements above. Here is but one of many quotes from your reference: “[The Healthy Forests Restoration
        Act of 2003] will do far more to improve the economic health of
        logging companies…than it will do to improve the health of forests or
        to reduce the threat of wildfires.” = unsubstantiated fear mongering.

        2) As to your comment about “Gil’s comment also “shows a complete lack of understanding” of that fact that “sound forest management” has not been “removed from the tool bag” of Forest Service management.”
        –> I’d appreciate it if you could give me a quote from my post above where I said anything remotely similar to that – Read it again, I said “… sound logging practices and their subsequent removal from the tool bag of sound forest management”
        –> Check this link out and tell me with a straight face that the “environmental community has actually been advocating for for well over a decade now regarding … commercial logging …”. Note that the uninformed environmental pressure and fear mongering has steadily brought USFS harvest levels prior to 1991 with reasonable levels and reasonable fluctuations down to consistently unreasonable levels from 1991 to the present. = More than two decades of uninformed environmentalists advocating against and exerting the political pressure to halt the commercial logging which would have minimized the current disastrous fruit of their uninformed and emotionally driven labors.

        I wish that I could have chosen my words so as not to have provoked your emotional response but what I said is the truth and can be supported with links ad nauseam.

        You need to listen to principled foresters in order to achieve your goals. Principled foresters are true environmentalists and show it by their commitment to their education and by their experience gained through sweat and blood while trying to make the world a better place fully realizing that sound forest management is one of the key components to surviving climate change. Principled foresters deserve your respect and as long as you continue to discount their knowledge you will only dig a deeper hole for us to climb out of.

        • Gil,

          I think you are new here, so I’ll offer this up:

          You can not, will not win or even influence this arguement. Give it up. It’s becomes an inane non-versation after a while, a fool’s argument. Principled forestry (or responsible land management) has very little (if anything) to do with today’s public land management decisions. As pointed out in last week’s Senate hearing, the FS does more to “bomb proof” a project decision (from the paper-work side of things) against legal challenges than it does to actually work on what REALLY needs to happen on the ground. Move words around on paper, re-arrange words, make MORE words….the end result on the ground is the same, except for the reams and reams of explanation. Public process or abuse of the public process? I can tell you for certain what the answer is to that question.

          • JZ

            It is a fools errand isn’t it? But when you believe in something and think that it matters to the world, it is kind of hard just to let it slide and not even try to bring facts and reason to the table. To give up on the truth and to have no hope of making a positive contribution is to die.

            Foresters have a responsibility to stand up and be heard rather than be coward by the intimidation tactics of those in the environmental camp who aren’t interested in facts. I am not suggesting that all environmental groups are at fault. As mentioned elsewhere, there are several environmental groups who are changing their tune and listening to foresters. If I am not mistaken several groups like The Nature Conservancy have embraced the need for commercial logging in order to protect the unique ecosystems that they have been entrusted with.

            There is hope. Places like this blog are a great opportunity to practice telling our story in as nice of a way as we can so that when the opportunity arises we won’t stumble, bumble, inflame and blow our chance to be a calm, reasoned and positive influence. I need a lot of practice.

        • Gil:

          The quote: “[The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003] will do far more to improve the economic health of logging companies…than it will do to improve the health of forests or to reduce the threat of wildfires” was actually written by the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the most influential newspaper in the state of Wisconsin. It wasn’t written by myself, so please don’t hold me accountable for simply sharing their words with people.

          Furthermore, talk all you want about “uninformed environmentalists” and your “principled foresters.” Hey, wait, are these the same “principled foresters” that brought 400,000 miles of roads to our national forests and cut down most all of the ancient, old-growth forests and punched clearcut after clearcut into our public mountainsides? Fact is, our organized has had “principled foresters” on our staff and we still seek council from these folks.

          Besides, I’m not digging a deeper hole for anyone to climb out of….I’m digging a hole to bury the type of industry, agency and political mismanagement that got us into this mess.

          I think the “fools errand” here is coming into this debate/discussion with guns-a-blazin’, like Gil has done, spouting off about “self-proclaimed environmentalists” “not having a clue about what they are talking about” and then thinking that we can have a real discussion.

          • Matthew

            This isn’t about you or your organization. If what I say doesn’t apply to your organization, then I am not criticizing you or your organization but there is plenty of proof that other organizations have exerted undue influence on federal forest policy. Your small organization obviously was not one of the environmental organizations responsible for the drastic decrease in USFS harvest levels. In your response to my comments above, you seem to ignore all of the other anti logging references in your link. The Milwaukee paper was but one very representative quote out a whole lot of such anti-logging quotes in your link.

            Your disdain for roads, clearcuts and harvesting over mature trees stated above puts you squarely in the camp of the uninformed preservationists who are destroying the very thing that they want to preserve. In addition, that same disdain counters an earlier statement that you were open to sound forest management. Do you understand the science behind clearcuts? If you do, why are you being inflexible on that issue? Why are roads a dirty word to you? Do you understand their role in sound forest management? Why is old growth so worthy of worship that you are willing to withdraw the very management needed to have healthy forests and extend the life of those over mature trees? Wilderness Areas are great but they still need sound forest management, within the constraints of the law, in order to preserve the wilderness.

            90% of the spruce in Colorado is expected to be killed by beetles because the USFS chose, in 2005, not to fell the beetle hot spots in a Wilderness Area in spite of the provisions in the wilderness act that charge them to keep such incidents from spreading to adjoining landowners. The felling hot spots process had been successfully implemented prior to 2005 on non-wilderness areas. By 2008, any hope of minimizing the outbreak in the wilderness area was lost and now the whole state is infested and the resulting fires will be horrendous. Why did the USFS make that choice? Was it made because of fear of angering the preservationists or was it made because 50% of its budget had been diverted to fire fighting because environmental pressures to reduce harvest levels had removed the logging necessary to minimize the incidence and impact of fire by keeping stand densities low enough to maximize vigor so that the trees would have more success in pitching out the beetles and by providing clearcuts to bring crown fires to the ground and by roads to provide access to deal with spot fires, insects and disease before they get out of control and destroy the very thing which was intended to be preserved including old growth?

  4. There are still some hardcore preservationists out there who will sue to get their way. This IS a reality.

    Luckily, many preservationists are now conservationists, opening their minds to site-specific science and the need to do “something” about our vast unhealthy and dying forests. Similarly, some eco-groups have dropped the preservationist mindset, too. And, some of those merely want to control all the parameters, through litigation, declaring that to be “sound forest management”. Yes, I will admit that some projects need some oversight and adjustments to meet a true balance that will fulfill the purpose and need. Many litigators subscribe to a “do no harm” policy regarding project plans. They will not accept short term impacts in exchange for longterm benefits.

    Pushing the extremes back closer to the middle represents “progress”, in my mind. One thing Matt has shown me is that not every project is what it purports to be. Yes, we must “trust but verify” that such projects offer the true benefits of a valid compromise, balancing impacts and issues. Selective ignorance is a common problem in dealing with both extremes.

    One thing IS clear. Americans need more education in site-specific science, human necessities and forest realities, which active forest management should be based on.

  5. Sharon, Your logic path needs to account for the fact that “using” the byproducts of restoration requires skid trails, roads and heavy equipment which cause adverse impacts which must be weighed against the alleged benefits. Fuel is also habitat, so reducing/exporting fuel is reducing/exporting habitat. Another trade-off that needs to be accounted for.

    • TreeC123

      A great deal of study has already been done on these tradeoffs. Over the life time of a forest these concerns of yours are generally inconsequential, providing that best management practices are followed. A study that I read back in the ’70s said that the soil lost/acre in a commercial forest over one rotation is less than that lost in one year from farming. Again, that is providing that responsible people carry out the activity. Another recent study found that most soils, like the forests that grow on them, is amazingly resilient and compaction impacts disappear over relatively short periods of time as the roots and other organisms underground work their magic.

      Regarding residual materials being used for fuels and thereby reducing or exporting habitat or future soil nutrients:
      – Studies to date, generally show no serious loss of nutrients. To the best of my knowledge, the Black Forest of Germany has been managed intensively for centuries and no serious problems have arisen there.
      – As to habitat, the key is to look at the forest as a whole. Where you have a dynamic forest there are more diverse habitat opportunities than in an un-managed mostly single aged mature stand with few internal edges. Finally, can any loss of habitat from logging be as significant as that from the increased incidence of scorched earth because fire incidence and damage was vastly increased by overly dense, over mature, low vigor stands that extend forever without any significant breaks in the forest cover to bring a crown fire to the ground.

      All of these concerns of yours are valid. But, what principled foresters do is appraise the situation on each site and make the best decision possible based on sound science where available and the science has to be modified by local experience. I’m sure that whatever job you do, you couldn’t do your job if you had a committee looking over your shoulder telling you all of the things that you need to consider in order not to make a mistake or telling you to do global impact studies on the millions of unquantifiable impacts that your job might possible cause. You are trained to do your job and foresters are also. Only God can understand all of the ramifications involved in micro-managing every action on earth.

      There is such a thing as Analysis Paralysis. That is one of the many tools that uninformed environmentalists are using to ham string sound forest management in the US public sector. The results can be seen in the news almost daily and especially in the fire season.

    • If roads and skid trails are already existing, properly installed and maintained, what is the problem with re-using them? If they “serve the ground” well, they should be utilized. Modern equipment is “easier on the land”, with feller-bunchers able to cut trees without having to drive to each and every tree. Skidders can grab bundles of small trees, reducing the amount of trips from the unit to the landing.

      Here is an example of plantation thinning, using ultra-modern mechanized equipment. The plantation is the result of the old Pilliken Burn on the Eldorado NF. I supervised the logging back in 2000, and I liked how it turned out.,-120.242786&spn=0.007152,0.016512&t=h&z=17

      Under the “whatever happens” strategy, this area would be thick manzanita and whitethorn.

    • Tree- it’s not that simple.

      I think you are saying that if you do fuel treatments, then to “not use” the byproducts you can burn in piles or broadcast burn.

      Now, I am not an expert but have been on 40 years worth of field trips in various places I’ve worked.

      First, in some places there is too much material on the ground (and this is also a function of how close the remaining trees are ) to be able to do that without burning the residual trees. You have to get it out for the fuel treatment to work. So getting the logs out of the stand is part of the treatment itself. To something we might call a “landing”. Now, if that material is at a landing on a road, we can’t really attribute the environmental impacts of the road and the landing to the fact that we are using the material.. in fact the question becomes

      Not unrelated, burning big piles in place may have negative impacts on the soil. How big the piles are seems related to how much moisture the site gets, and how large the trees are that you need to remove.

      Second is what Larry said – of the places where you could burn piles effectively, many already have roads and then you are talking about the properties of specific equipment choices to get to the trees, and what impacts you are talking about, and to what degree the impact (say compaction) can be mitigated, say through ripping.

      Third, I was not talking about fuel (except for firewood) specifically, I was talking about any use.

      As I’ve said before in Colorado, green industry folks, who see themselves as “white hat” folks, see piles along roads and frame that as “using waste products”. Folks at the Forest Products Lab, as the Chief says, are finding new ways to use wood. Using wood we would otherwise burn seems like a good idea to many outside our traditional public forest world. And to be sure, the need for fuel treatment occurs on many private lands as well.

      • Here in California, the logging slash and cull logs cannot be economically utilized under the current situation, with transportation costs being so very high. In 2000, we were doing roadside hazard tree projects, requiring removal of slash from the sale area. The biomass burning plants wouldn’t pay for anything except for the transportation costs, since they are far away from the National Forests. One logger-purchaser was creatively smart, trading firewood generated in the project for intensive slash-work required on the project. Currently, there are mountains of slash on landings used in thinning projects that utilize whole tree logging. Landings need to be made larger than in the past, to facilitate burning.

        I suggest having mobile biomass burners and permanent collection sites, where biomass can be deposited and burned when conditions allow it. Such sites need to be located near powerlines, and strategically located to reduce transportation costs. I really think this is a viable idea that can work for all parties.


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