In another discussion string, Gil DeHuff suggested posting this link from the July 2 Missoulian, by writer Kim Briggeman:
Key Maclean quote and text:
“The bigger picture is that these acts of nature have become more frequent and more violent, and it’s not going to stop,” he predicted. “It’s not going to get better. It’s going to get worse, and one of the reasons it’s going to get worse in the Northwest where we are is that there’s too goddamn much timber out there that ought to be cut or burned deliberately.”
Timber sale after timber sale, and prescribed burn after prescribed burn, are being stopped, he said. The woods are full of tinder. Couple that with longer and hotter fire seasons due to a variety of reasons, including climate change, beetle kill and drought and the outlook isn’t rosy.
6 thoughts on “John Maclean says wildfires will get “worse””
I think the writer should have delayed publishing his article. He sounds a little emotional about the issues to clearly present a coherent and accurate point of view. He has some points but, they seem biased. Be sure to read the comments, too. I thought the comments would be the commonplace ignorant rants we are used to seeing, regarding forest management. Then, I got to Matt’s comments. He does call out the author on various points but, I still believe that the GAO report was “crafted” to include an inordinate amount of “fuels projects”, in the form of prescribed fires in the South, to slant the stats. I also believe that litigated salvage projects were excluded because they weren’t seen as “fuels projects” by the GAO. Overall, there seems to be plenty of BS going around there but, I award Matt the victory regarding reasonable debate. He had the most facts that I can personally verify and believe in. I also, however, believe that it is, indeed, going to get MUCH worse.
In 1987, our small Ranger District had 43 separate wildfires in three days. In 2007, dozens of major wildfires burned for weeks, sending thick smoke from northern California all the way to Yellowstone. When this happens again, maybe this summer, impacts will be even worse. Couple that with all the other issues like Let-Burn, sequestration, scarce airtankers, reduced firefighter expertise, fewer fuels projects, thicker and more flammable forests, increased human ignitions, etc, etc, etc, we have the potential for a “perfect storm”, once again. However, this one has two serious droughts behind it, with forests more overstocked than we have seen in the past. Ditto for dead fuels residing in our forests. The potential is there, and it is still VERY early in the fire season. If the government follows through with its Let-Burn program, we could be looking at 15+ million acres burned this year, with more of it at high intensity!
Yep, Matthew made some excellent points in his critique — the parts I liked best is when he called his apparently omniscient opponents out for being “anonymous.” Go, Matt!
Maclean claimed to have given five hours of interviews that day, so that may have been part of his problem. Maybe there is no value in grazing or mowing grasslands and chaparral in many places, but regular herbicide and/or regular prescribed fires are really cheap per acre on a landscape-scale basis; way less expensive than all of the manpower, training, equipment, property damage, etc., that take place during wildfires in lieu of these practices.
But Maclean is right about the fuel and wildfire risk in Pacific Northwest forests. This isn’t a Global Warming issue, it’s a common sense and basic observation problem.
Lots of those fires are burning in places that can hardly be called merchantable timber and candidates for thinning. The Yarnell fire is surely a case in point as was much of the Wallow fire area. Yes, forest cover has increased in density in many places but rather little of that area is treatable with thinning and fuels reduction. I think we should do it but there are real limits.
I might assume that if many areas had burned recently they might not burn again as readily, or maybe they do.
We have seen in S CA chaparral that even places burned a few years before can torch hot again in that system.
I recall that the place where that crew papa McLean wrote about in Young Men and FIre, killed in the 40s above the Missouri breaks, were on a steep, grassed hillside, not timbered.
Yes, Greg, you are correct about the Mann Gulch Fire, which overran those smokejumpers, being on step, grassed hillsides above the Missoula River. Here’s a link to a few good pictures.
And here’s the comment I made on the Missoulian site the other morning:
good comment there Matt, thanks for that. And another issue in timbered terrain is whether it should be considered a catastrophic fire regime, when it burns like upper elevations in Yellowstone, it will burn severely. Not much to do in some upper elevation mixed conifer stands where infrequent fires tend to take most of it out.
We might understand low severity fire regimes ( although Baker would disagree with lots of data to support his contention that those places did in fact burn hot as hell in CO and central OR.), but the vast middle ground of mixed severity regimes can go either way depending on conditions. I was astonished to see how hot Biscuit burned across almost bare ridge tops with minimal fuel. Although the thinning treatments in the north that burned over under more moderate conditions fared OK, across much of the central portion I don’t think fuels treatments would have made much difference given the hellish conditions.
Many of us can agree on thinning across much of the gentle P pine zone in Oregon and AZ, some of the easiest terrain to treat, but steeper mixed conifer stands are another can of worms.