Just Move Out of the Woods, Because of Climate Change?

Idyllwildpanorama This is the town of Idyllwild (Inciweb had no photo links)

I thought, given our discussion here and elsewhere on the framing of the issue as “just move ’em out of the woods”, it was interesting to see, once again, exactly who and what is “in the woods.” Check out this article on the Idyllwild fire:

The communities of Idyllwild, Fern Valley and smaller surrounding communities in the mountains southwest of Palm Springs were under evacuation orders affecting some 2,200 homes and 6,000 residents and visitors, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Carol Jandrall.

People were being allowed home long enough to pick up essential items before evacuating as the flames crept over a peak just east of the towns, Jandrall said.

There were 4,100 residences threatened by the fire including homes, hotels, condominiums and cabins, Forest Service spokeswoman Melody Lardner said.

Coincidentally, there was this story on Southern Cal public radio.

I wonder if the Forest Service ever said the below specifically (new fire policy = function of climate change) or this was an interpretation..

Climate change is forcing the US Forest Service to rethink how it fights large wildfires. Global warming has increased the intensity of fires, forcing the USFS to spend more and more of its money fighting them. Now the agency has decided that it should be less aggressive in attacking big blazes, so long as they are not threatening property.

In 1991, the US Forest Service’s spent 13 percent of its budget on fire management. Today, because of climate change, that figure is more than 50 percent, officials say.

The change is visible at the top. Three years ago, the USFS added a chief climate advisor. Agency veteran Dave Cleaves holds the job; he’s been with the Forest Service for more than 20 years. He says forest managers used to consider global warming as a future problem, “but now we’re finding more and more it is an issue of the present and the future.”

Headwaters Economics, a Montana think tank, found that when the temperature is one degree warmer, fires burn on average three times as much terrain. Headwaters economist Roy Rasker said the cost of fighting larger fires could overwhelm local, state and even federal budgets.

The Forest Service already cuts underbrush and thins tree stands to minimize risks. But agency predictions of increasing fire intensity suggest that, even with these tactics, the amount of forestland vulnerable to burning will increase in the years to come, says U.S. Forest Service fire researcher Elizabeth Reinhart.

That reality is changing federal fire management. The Forest Service has been successful over the decades fighting fires with personnel-heavy attacks that aim to shut a blaze down right when it starts. Reinhart and other federal officials say sticking with that strategy is costly, and could overwhelm other necessary work in the forest.

“So in some cases, rather than direct aggressive suppression tactics, we’re able to monitor wildfires to stop its movement in one direction while letting it burn in another,” Reinhart says. “This sets up the landscape to be more resilient to the next wildfire.”

Picture supplied by Larry, below.

10 thoughts on “Just Move Out of the Woods, Because of Climate Change?”

  1. I added an example of what the San Bernardino National Forest looked like back in 2004.

    Luckily, roadside hazard tree projects weren’t litigated by Chad Hanson, so road access to this wildfire isn’t impacted (as much) by falling snags and unsafe roads. However, VERY little was done outside of those projects around Idyllwild. You’ll notice just how many pines are dead in the picture. I spent a lot of time working around the town, an artsy enclave shaded by pine forests. Without a local lumber mill (nearest one is more than SIX hours away, ONE WAY!), transportation costs have virtually eliminated the possibility of thinning projects.

    Also, if you click on the panorama picture, you can see the ample snags, still standing on the slopes in the background.

  2. As the discussion goes on about wildfire it is about time to add another dimension, the impact of fire on the land. It would seem the debate needs to include both the negative and postive results on soils, habitat, water supplies, fish, especially the endangered salmon, short term and long term economic and environmnetal costs.

    It is not an absolute that a burned area will recover and be more fire resistant. Trinity County in California has been hit with major fires in the last decade, something like 300,000 acres. The country has carried out several studies of the fire impacts. One study looks at fuel loading created by the fires. Dead trees are now becoimg fuel for the next fire, and in forested areas the fuel loads are in excess of 200 tons per acre.For many decades this loading will contribute to hotter burns and seriously increase soil destruction.

    • Yep, John, re-burns are always a result of large wildfires. Some people love to say that “fires supply resources benefits”, in the form of fuels reductions. This statement assumes that green trees are not “fuels”. Even moderate-intensity fires kill green trees, through cambium damages, supplying vastly more “fuels” that need to be reduced. Additionally, cambium damage can result in trees that take years to finally die off, but not before they supply multiple generation of bark beetles that spread far beyond the firelines, resulting even MORE wildfire potentials.

      Are we to expect that wildfires (including arson, vehicle accidents, children playing with matches, etc) will continue to burn “naturally and beneficially” until they reach some kind of “eco-equilibrium”?? That is the snake oil that some seem to be selling.

  3. Re: “Global warming has increased the intensity of fires” in the opening post

    I don’t agree – This self serving statement is designed to cover up the mismanagement brought on by uninformed environmentalists when they used their political power to shut down the USFS beginning in 1991 – Reduction in harvests since 1991 has allowed the forests to become overgrown and decreased their vigor making them more susceptible to beetles and fire.
    This increase in susceptibility is the culmination of the reduction in harvests that began 30 years ago – See the reference here http://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/documents/sold-harvest/documents/1905-2012_Natl_Summary_Graph.pdf

    • I’m in total agreement with Gil on this. There is zero evidence that “Global Warming has increased the intensity of fires,” and whoever is making this stuff up or manipulating data or “peer reviewed” literature to conjure up this phony relationship should be outed and unemployed. At some point these pseudo scientific pronouncements have to be disregarded for the self-serving phony excuses they really are. It was predicted — and has been apparent — for 20+ years that our forests would begin exploding into catastrophic wildfires if something wasn’t done about the massive fuel build-ups that were taking place because of passive mismanagement on our federal lands. And still there seems to be no personal accountability or responsibility for this mess — just time-worn feeble excuses and outright fabrications. Enough was enough years ago. This is just nuts and fools and political posturing and should have been stopped years ago.

  4. One interesting thing I noticed a few years ago on the San Bernardino’s website was a statement that essentially said they don’t have a Let-Burn policy, flat out. Since their entire Forest is close to settlements of all kinds, the only place where they might consider letting burn is in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. They have seen too many Santa Ana conditions to allow fires to get that big.

  5. I have driven through (and stopped a few times) the Idyllwild playground in the pines several times over the past few decades. A beautiful spot to get away from the desert heat and crowds.
    But can’t help but ask the question, I guess of Larry since he knows the area and has kinfolk there, what efforts the private landowners and/or the county have taken to “fireproof” their properties? Those dead/dying pines (in your picture) could easily be dropped and cut up for firewood for those residents, as one example. But I realize that area, surrounded by explosive brush as it is, carries a very high hazard of fire that can’t be mitigated to any great extent during severe weather or Santa Anna winds. The whole village area is, in my opinion, un-insurable against fire. If I were an agent, I sure wouldn’t write a policy there.
    This area is a picture-perfect example of a community living on borrowed time…if global warming is real and coming.

    • I DO agree with your assessment, Ed. There certainly IS a mindset there, just like in Colorado’s Black Forest area, that more trees are always better. Similarly, they love and cherish their shade and privacy, over fire safety. I don’t agree that “global warming” is the driver of the mortality I have seen in the LA Basin. I contend that there is a distinct lack of active management, in its many forms, within the the entire National Forest, resulting in overstocking and fuels buildups. There IS an excellent logger, who does very small scale projects, AND is very skilled at customizing treatments to fit all the variables.

      Ed Arredondo has his center of operations here;


      You can see an example of his work around homes on the north side of Apple Canyon road. Yes, he does do a great job, and he often does all the work by himself. I worked with Ed on the west side of the highway, salvaging the Mixing Project, extending from Lake Hemet to Mountain Center.

      It appears that the town of Idyllwild doesn’t meet the strict new State fire safety laws. Many of those cabins are quite flammable, as well. Barring a shift in the winds, I think Idyllwild will dodge yet another bullet. Many of those dead trees still lay on the ground, surrounding the town.Dead trees don’t turn into soil, here in this arid forest. They wait until the next inevitable wildfire, Today’s reality says that next fire will probably be man-caused!


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