Living With Western Wildfire: Some Possible Principles

idaho power fire

UPDATE: I removed #7 after a comment by John Persell reminded me it was more of a pet peeve than a principle.

I’d be interested in what you think of these principles.

(Warning: I am going to use “we” here to stand for “people” or “the joint efforts of levels of government”)

1) Fires have bad effects and good effects of various kinds. Management of fire should try to maximize the good and minimize the bad, subject to the safety constraint of carefulness with human lives and knowing that fires are unpredictable and dangerous.

2) Fires are not “needed” by the “ecosystem”. Some plants and animals like post-fire conditions. Some climate folks think that trees won’t even be growing back in some places. It’s more complicated than “things would be fine if we let everything burn because that’s the way things used to be”. This point is really a Virtual Book Club point.

3) In many cases in the west, some form of fire is more or less inevitable. So we would like it to burn without hurting people or property. Prescribed fires can get out of control and are smoky, and cost many bucks to redo at regular intervals. Plus the “natural” folks say the effects aren’t the same if you burn under relatively safe weather and season conditions, than in the past, when the fires may have been at the height of summer. So if “naturalness” is your goal you are faced with a number of problems- safety, understanding Native American fuel burning patterns, and how “naturalness” fits with climate change. More Book Club stuff.

Here are the costs for one fire.. again, costs as (may be) litigated. Tens of millions.

So prescribed burning is difficult (in the West) and possibly more expensive than we would like to do, especially the magnitude at recurring intervals.

4) Fire management can be facilitated and negative effects to people, watersheds and wildlife can be mitigated to some extent by vegetation treatments. Given that you’re going to do that, it makes sense to sell the trees. However I do not agree that timber harvesting would have prevented the MPB epidemic in lodgepole, nor that it necessarily would help other places. The main decrease in west side Oregon due to spotted owl is notoriously not fire prone. Many places in the west, trees just don’t grow fast enough, they are too far away from roads, the conditions are too steep and soils too fragile. Many parts of the west there are no trees at all, and climate change predictors say that there will be fewer. I would like to think of living with wildfire as a potentially dangerous and expensive business, and selling excess vegetation is a good way to make things less expansive.

5) Sometimes bad things happen which no amount of money can reverse. We should analyze these situations beforehand and see if we can avoid them. (this story is interesting because of the interview with the USGS folks)

As for some residents’ wish that someone could barricade Manitou Springs, Mau said it simply isn’t feasible to put up barriers against debris flows on this scale for a host of reasons, including daunting logistics, blocking roadways, interfering with water rights and simply diverting flows and problems elsewhere — all at a high cost — when the burn scar will heal in 10 years, or perhaps longer.
Until then, the shadow of the Waldo Canyon fire will continue to loom large.

6) People who live in fire-prone wildlands, especially at low densities, need to be aware of, and respond to, the risks and responsibilities of the situation. More work needs to be done to figure out the best and fairest way to do this; but people and communities are not expected to move out of where they are now.

40 thoughts on “Living With Western Wildfire: Some Possible Principles”

  1. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t read beyond the statement:

    Fires are not “needed” by the “ecosystem”.

    I’ve never heard of that concept before and am sort of curious as to the scientific basis of that statement.

    • Matthew, that really goes back to the definition of an ecosystem. I hope to spend some quality time on that in Virtual Book Club, because it’s really important.

      My plan is to get into it in the second week of VBC, with a post on Sept 16.

  2. Sharon your essay was refreshing and welcome. Fire on the land and its impact on the lives of people and animals is extremely complex. And it becomes evern more so when we explore its relatonship with people and their resource needs. Thanks for opening the discussion.

  3. Shouldn’t these principles avoid generalizations about what the “climate change community” and “natural” folks think or say? Are those terms meant to be less dismissive than “enviros?” Should western communities plug their ears about climate change? Climate change has to be part of the long-term discussion about how to use limited and precious (human life) resources to mitigate wildfire impacts to communities and municipal water supplies.

    • John: Perhaps you are right about the generalizations, but I don’t think terms such as “enviros” or “climate change community” are intended to be “dismissive.” Enviros, in my experience, is simply short for “environmentalists” and is also used regularly by at least some members of that community to describe themselves. I know I use the term fairly frequently myself, with no intent to be dismissive — sort of like saying “Dems” for Democrats. Can you come up with a better term, that you believe to be less dismissive?

      The same with “climate change community.” I presented a paper published by EPA on climate change (then called “global warming”) over 20 years ago and have co-moderated a blog named Global Warming Realists for the past 3+ years and can assure you there is a sharp division — that appears to be largely political — between those that are concerned about human-caused climate change and those that think we are simply taking too much personal credit for “normally” shifting weather patterns. Can you think of a more neutral, less dismissive, term for characterizing those who are seriously concerned with current climatic conditions, such as yourself, and think we “have” to do something about it?

    • John, thanks for going more deeply into this… there exist people who seem to think that “natural is best”. But there are all kinds of gradations. Actually it is the idea that I was saying has problems with the reality, not the people at all, so I don’t know why I brought them into it.

      I referred to climate change in 3 and 4, so I agree that it has to be part of the discussion. What I really meant was

      If you believe the hype about fires and climate change, the solution to the problem is simply renewable energy.. We have had problems with western wildfires before climate change and we’ll have it after. I think using western wildfires as an opportunity to promote a climate change agenda is not helpful. I particularly think using the deaths of firefighters as a climate change tactic is not helpful.

      But you’re right, 7 doesn’t really fit, so I will remove it. It was just one of those annoying behaviors. Although I have specific about who did it.

  4. I’d prefer more specificity rather than broad categories. I’m sure I’ve generalized before. But why use short-hand if one has a particular example?

    Whether one thinks climate change has any anthropogenic component or not, not discussing it with western communities is even less helpful than telling them “it’s really all about about climate change.” And was that an actual quote? Again, specificity is preferable.

    Would any elected official or government agency employee that points out climate change’s role in shifting snowmelt and precipitation patterns, vegetation and species shifts, as well as temperature average changes, be considered part of the “climate change community?” Or just NGOs?

    • John: The point is that snowmelt, precipitation patterns, and vegetation and animal populations are ALWAYS changing. Same with climate. No one argues that at all or needs to have it pointed out to them. I would characterize the “climate change community” as those believing: 1) current climate change is caused by people (usually with CO2 as their driver), and 2) it is a bad thing — even catastrophic in its predicted consequences. Too, it is more of a Democrat vs. Republican political issue at this time, rather than having anything to do with NGOs; many of whom barely address this issue, if at all.

      Also, “it’s really all about climate change” is a generalized quote from many, many sources — popular press, scientific journals, politicians, etc. A list of specific references would be extensive and isn’t really needed because of the large number of generally recognized sources for this concept.

      • At the risk of generalization, the “climate change community” includes the vast majority of research scientists, then, at least under your criterion #1. I’d prefer to let those scientists speak freely about their studies and their research’s implications for communities and policies at every level to provide citizens, elected officials, and agency staff with as much information as possible to tackle the challenges we face now and that lie ahead.

        • John: Science isn’t a voting game, it’s one of challenges. Majority doesn’t rule, no matter where you are getting your information from. Too, the “vast majority of research scientists” probably aren’t even concerned about whether people have caused climate change, or not — they are researching other, often unrelated, topics. And besides, the really vast majority of people in this classification aren’t even scientists at all. I’m guessing that research scientists are far less than 1% of the people in this category. Also, I’m not sure what climate change challenges we are now facing, if any — mostly seems to be the weather, and most of it is hardly unusual or unprecedented.

          • It’s tough to dig into national forest policy and management issues if we have to debate whether climate change is occurring or not, or whether humans have a role in it, every time the subject comes up.

            There’s a PDF at the following link of a paper that “[q]uantif[ies] the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature.”


            Some people are concerned about species’ ranges shrinking, like pikas and other alpine species, as temperatures at higher elevations rise. Some people are concerned about sufficient water supplies in the Colorado River Basin and the Ogallala Aquifer as precipitation and snowmelt declines and populations rise. And the topic of this post has to do with the reality that wildfires could occur more frequently, could burn more intensely, and could affect greater acreage, more communities and more municipal watersheds as time goes forward, for a variety of reasons, including altered precipitation patterns and snowmelt. All of these are current climate change challenges to an extent. How do we respond to them? Can we reverse any trends by reducing carbon outputs? What are the best ways to minimize adverse impacts to people and species?

            • If we could “magically fix” climate change, we would still be having big firestorms and bark beetle infestations, due to too many trees and ample fuels littering our forests. Barring that, how will we know if impacts are the results of climate change, or a lack of fuels projects? Certainly, if there is less annual precipitation, overstocked forests will suffer with more bark beetles and bigger wildfires. Climate change should emphasize the need to have fewer trees in our forests, due to a lack of available groundwater.

            • John: I truly believe that’s another topic for the dozens of blogs dealing with those issues — including one that I have co-moderated for several years. You are asking a lot of questions about speculative studies and possible outcomes. I think the link to Judith Curry’s discussion on those issues is a good approach for this blog. Too, Larry’s concern with the issues we know exist and can actively deal with probably include the “best ways to minimize adverse impacts to people and [other] species” in regards to climate change as well.

              Maybe quantifying consensus is a scientific method of sorts, but it really has little to do with actual facts or circumstances, other than politics. Yes, “some people [including many scientists] are concerned” about potential consequences of climate change — and a lot of other things as well (e.g., war, poverty, over population, etc.) — but that doesn’t mean they have to be the focus of these discussions. Having actively managed safe and attractive forests is probably one of the very best strategies for dealing with such concerns.

            • John

              There is a problem with this story at

              I had a link to a more detailed version (which I can’t find) and wrote an analysis somewhere (which I can’t find) either here at NCFP or on Linked-in 🙁
              Anyway the jist of it was that ~ 36% had expressed no opinion, ~ 62% agreed with man made and close to 2% said not man made. So they got 97% by dividing ~ 62 by ~ 64 to get 97% instead of dividing 62% by 100% to get 62%. Then when you adjusted for the second step (followup phone calls to those not expressing an opinion) the most you could reasonable come to was ~ 75%.

              So the great “anthropogenic global warming” mantra is not as completely accepted as some would have us believe.

            • John.. when I left the FS each unit had to have a climate change action plan. So this has been thought through by a great many people. Other agencies also have climate change action plans and approach different climate scenarios and think about which path forward is best.

              There is even an interagency strategy on fish wildlife and plants.

              On the pika story, the research is not clear.. check out the work of Drs. Connie Millar and Bob Westfall

              Protecting watersheds and riparian areas becomes more important as water is limiting. That might involve protecting water sources from fires that lead to sediment, through vegetation management.

              • It’s great that each unit has an action plan. Hopefully the plans include steps to help reduce carbon emissions to the extent possible as well as help with adaptation. But rather than suggest climate change’s role in current and future wildfires should be downplayed or mentioned less emphatically, why not encourage all factors and previous analyses and plans to be thoroughly considered and discussed with the public, in the media, on this blog, etc.? You’ve already removed the #7 principle, so it’s a rather moot point on this thread.

                As for the paper I linked to earlier, the authors explained how they reached their percentages in the abstract:

                “We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors’ self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.”

                • John, you have made me think about what I think is the appropriate place of climate change vis a vis wildland fires.. I will think more on it and post something next week.

        • John, I follow the climate science business and believe me, there are many things they (people who study climate change) disagree about, many times way more nasty than anyone has ever been on this blog. We’ve had a number of discussions on this blog about it.

          Here’s one:

          Ah.. and there is something about it in Botkin’s book.. so this is another good topic for Virtual Book Club. maybe week 3.

  5. I read the Climate Progress article and it, not surprisingly, doesn’t mention reductions in fuels projects or increased forest overstocking, at all, while complaining about a lack of climate change linkages. If stocking levels matched annual precipitation amounts, surely we’d be better off, eh?? Ironically, some people believe that more trees equals more precipitation in their pursuit of preservationism.

    • Who believes that? Again, it’d be nice to have a specific example of someone saying that he or she believes “more trees equals more precipitation.”

      • Great point John. But you’ll notice that some people on this blog are long on allegations, rumors or just plain make-believe, and sort of short on specific examples, documentation, etc.

      • In the past, I have seen many anecdotal claims by anti-forestry people on anti-forestry blogs saying that. After some Googling, I saw several examples of more recent claims, based on studies. Apparently, this concept is still quite controversial, despite this study.

        As Matt accuses me, it is those same anti-forestry folks on anti-forestry blogs who are “long on allegations, rumors or just plain make-believe, and sort of short on specific examples, documentation, etc.” The blog examples I saw were well before the 2010 date on this study. Those examples used the observation that water vapor from forests must result in “tree-generated rainfall”, instead of simply being excess evaporating moisture.

        Matching stocking levels to annual precipitation amounts is essential to having healthy and sustainable forests, especially in drier forests.. THAT is the real issue, here!

        • I’d never heard that assertion before. The study you linked to seems relatively obscure, but it would be interesting to hear more about it once it undergoes peer review.

  6. Sharon: I think I have to disagree with one of your statements on point 4: “The main decrease in west side Oregon due to spotted owl is notoriously not fire prone.” True, much of the area isn’t subject to lightning-cause fires (the Coast Range, interior valleys, and lower elevation Cascades), but many of the largest wildfires in history have occurred in western Oregon: the “6-year jinx” of Tillamook Fires (1933-1951), the Silver Complex (1987), the Biscuit (500,000 acres), the B&B (95,000 acres), Yaquina (1849 and 1868), Coos (1868), and Nestucca (1856) were all catastrophic in scale, and the Douglas Complex is burning now and is about 50,000 acres (and many millions of dollars) in size.

    • Well, it’s good that you point this out.. I knew that history, in fact sent employees to the Silver and have visited plantations on the Tillamook. I did have a mental image of lower elevation, say HJ Andrews. Of course, you’re right.

      It seemed like much of the discussion back in the day was about how old growth replicated itself and you need to keep the trees because they are legacies (which I agree with in moderation) and if you just left it alone you would always have old growth.. sort of a lower elevation kind of thing.

      Because that seemed to be the OSU center of attention. I worked on the east side and we were definitely not the center of attention.

      But in other places, if old trees must be burned or removed for little trees to regenerate and it takes little trees a long time to become big trees, to make sure you have old habitat now, and some coming on when that dies, almost requires the ecological equivalent of a (gasp!) harvest scheduling regime or leaving it to random wildfire factors.

      These considerations, and strategic fuels treatments, might lead you to different locations of projects than otherwise would have been done under “following the same cutting trajectory without spotted owl.”

      I also don’t think at the end of the day it is so much about what wasn’t done, as what we can learn from that time period to do better now. Better for critters, better for watersheds, better for local communities and better for taxpayers funding fire suppression.

  7. Sharon

    I think that you are off to a good start.

    One concern re: “However I do not agree that timber harvesting would have prevented the MPB epidemic in lodgepole, nor that it necessarily would help other places” – Here is a little to chew on that may change your thinking as to “nor that it necessarily would help other places”:
    —> Thinning helps to maintain vigor and thereby allows the beetles to be pitched out in normal times. In high stress seasons, you are absolutely correct. So thinning raises the threshold for beetle attacks and therefore reduces the build up of endemic populations which has to reduce the number of outbreaks and therefore the number of acres lost.
    —> The key thing that I think you are missing is the normal practice of monitoring for beetle hot spots and carrying out the established and proven effective practices to shut the hot spot down. In the south it is an unquestioned practice that is religiously followed during the appropriate seasons. It is obvious to me that things are a little more complex in the west but there are established practices that work. The success of those practices was affirmed to be effective in Colorado prior to 2005 by the USFS lead entomologist in the region in an article in the Telluride paper some months ago. Access to that link now requires a subscription so I can’t give you a link. You will probably remember his implication that had the USFS continued that practice in 2005 when spruce beetles were found in a USFS wilderness area, there would not have been the extensive loss to Colorado’s spruce trees which he expected to reach 90% of the state’s pine trees. You probably know the guy ??Erick??

    • Gil, I know that the southerners are effective with that approach and southern pine beetle.
      I know that many times it works for ponderosa pine.

      In my experience in central Oregon, it did not work for lodgepole. When we thinned em the bugs hungrily went after the newly sap producing trees.

      With the spruce, there was not really an industry to support a serious effort to go after the beetle, but we could ask the entomologist- if he is a Forest Service person, we do not have to depend on a subscription to a newspaper to get info from him.

      Ideally we could quickly respond to spruce beetle outbreaks before they get large, which again is a different thing than thinning everything to make them more robust.

      So the idea that a regular thinning program would protect against beetles will work in some places/beetles not in others.

      For spruce beetle you would need to get into a blowdown or other place where the populations would start to grow.

      My point is that just because you had timber management going on doesn’t necessarily mean it would have been at the scale, and in the case of spruce beetle, precision and quickness needed, to stop or reduce beetle outbreaks.

      Because that’s often a lot of trees, and the market was very bad. The Black Hills is doing the best they can and being effective but it takes a lot of money to put up the sales. If everyone had tried to do that, in a poor market, it might not have worked.

      I’m just saying that it’s more complicated than “if only we had kept harvesting everything would be fine” (which I’m not sure anyone specifically is saying).

      Markets are still not dependable, so hitching the community protection mechanism to that wagon, is fraught with risks as is prescribed fire. I’m saying that vegetation management is a piece of the puzzle but it’s more complex than just getting more sawmills. Just think of a regular thinning program even for within 1/2 mile of the WUI across the west. That’s a lot of sticks.

  8. Sharon

    I accepted your statement on lodgepole. I just didn’t accept “nor that it necessarily would help other places”

    Re: Your statement: “With the spruce, there was not really an industry to support a serious effort to go after the beetle, … My point is that just because you had timber management going on doesn’t necessarily mean it would have been at the scale, and in the case of spruce beetle, precision and quickness needed, to stop or reduce beetle outbreaks.”

    –> My point is that it has nothing to do with scale or available markets. The whole objective is to get it at the smallest scale possible whether there is a market for it or not. Look at the consequences, 90% of the spruce in the whole state of Colorado is expected to be lost according to Tom Eager, the USFS health specialist / entomologist on the spruce beetle (Telluride news paper). All because somebody chose not to carry out a successful short term emergency SBB control practice allowed under wilderness area rules. See the bottom left of this link which permits insect control on wilderness areas
    In my humble opinion the USFS is liable for treble damages just as surely as if they had purposely trespassed and stolen 90% of the spruce trees from the other landowners in the state. The 2005 decision was willful negligence IMHO. I could understand if they had tried and failed but they didn’t even try.

    –> As to the entomologist, as I said before “The success of those practices was affirmed to be effective in Colorado prior to 2005 by the USFS lead entomologist in the region in an article in the Telluride paper some months ago.” So there is no if, and, but, or maybe involved. Here is a link that explains some of those spot control practices:

    –> Tom Eager most definitely backs me up on the broader, long term role of forest management in minimizing SBB losses.

    At 6:10 – Detecting Damage
    At 8:15 – Windthrow Event in the wilderness area
    At 9:50 – Preference for old mature trees = the need to have a diverse range of age classes to minimize the impact of an outbreak.
    At 9:50 – They like dense stands = the need for thinning or clearcut at an appropriate age
    At 14:45 – Photo showing Spruce Beetle attacking only old mature trees while ignoring the adjacent younger stand.
    At 15:00 – Current outbreak has been so intense that young trees are being attacked
    At 15:45 – The Silvics of Engleman Spruce – Periodic Thinning
    At 16:10 – HOW Forest Management could have reduced the impact of the Spruce Beetle – Diversity of age classes and species across the landscape

    • So given this feedback.. maybe I would change my principle to..

      4a. We should have appropriate landscape scale treatments with protection of resources and communities from fire in mind when we design them, as well as appropriate WUI treatments. These can be mechanical or prescribed fire or fire use.

      4b We should have the ability to respond quickly in specific bug or disease outbreaks to stop the spread.

      I guess my point was that these are two different things, and I don’t agree with the idea that if we had simply continued our old timber programs, they would have accomplished these objectives.

      And I don’t think we can ignore that doing these things and keeping them up would cost a great deal of money. Even if we can sell the products. And many places have shrubs and not trees at all.

      But of course, so does flooding highways and fire suppression and removing sediment from reservoirs..

  9. Sharon

    Can you explain why Tom Eager, the entomologist / health specialist is wrong and you are right when you say: “I don’t agree with the idea that if we had simply continued our old timber programs, they would have accomplished these objectives”? Unless your old programs weren’t sound forest management, I just don’t see where it is constructive for you be making such a claim especially when it goes against basic scientific principles, against established practices which have been documented as effective, and against the advice of the local expert. To me, such a statement is detrimental to our efforts to advance the implementation of scientifically based sound forest management.

  10. Gil, what I am saying doesn’t go against scientific principles or forest practices. It’s not against the advice of the local expert.

    1) I think you perhaps see “old timber programs” as gracefully changing to focus on treatments that are useful to mitigate fire damage and help suppression efforts at the landscape scale as well as WUI treatments.

    Given that people may not agree now or then on what these useful landscape treatments are, this could have been a problem.

    The timber “program” is not always quick and adaptive to change. For example, in my experience, the idea that wood can have negative value and therefore people should not be charged to remove it under those circumstances, seems to have been an issue as recently as a couple of years ago. I don’t think the Handbooks have been updated for a while (of course this is true of many handbooks).

    Finally, if the timber “program” simply continued, there still wasn’t enough mill capacity or value in the amount of material , it would take to do the adaptive landscape and wUI treatments.

    We can learn from the Black Hills that it is possible to do a lot of work, and do it right. But it takes markets and money. Markets we can’t control and money.. well if it only grew on trees…

    2) specific spruce beetle.. they would have had to treat the trees on site.. because there are no roads to remove the trees. Please explain how you see the “spruce beetle” question related to the “timber program” question.

    • I still think it would be much more effective and less costly to “firebomb” those dead spruce stands, in some places, in advance of late fall storms. It would be like using a big hole puncher to break up the contiguous vastness of those dead fuels. A heli-torch could be used to set dozens of fires that should safely burn at varying intensities, going out when the storms arrive.. Certainly that is much cheaper than spending $30,000,000, risking hundreds of lives and tying up suppression resources for weeks on end.

    • Sharon

      Tell me if you think I’ve interpreted your comment above properly. If so, then I think that we are on the same page.

      –> Because of your closeness to the current situation, your focus is on the present limitations and working within the box that the USFS is in. My focus is on what needs to be rather than what is.

      My focus is on what needs to change. My focus is on getting out of the box. To do that, we have to convince the populace and thereby the politicians of the errors of current policy. In order to change the policy box that currently keeps the USFS from carrying out sound forest management (SFM), we have to show everyone a better way. We have to show a way that is better for politicians election chances, better for the federal treasury, better for the forest ecosystem, better for the environment and better for coping with climate change. The present and near future is lost. We have to let that fire burn and go and catch the arsonist spreading all of the incendiary falsehoods that will keep us focused on fighting fires instead of making the world a better place through SFM. It’s time to back burn and turn the fire onto the arsonists.

      We have to defeat the false propaganda of the professional environmentalist activist with a program laying out the incontrovertible facts and make all aware of the consequences of continuing to follow a pied piper. This is where I am so disappointed with the SAF and its unwillingness to take on and expose the falsehoods so prevalently dispersed and held in the US. That is what I would like NCFP and SAF to focus on. We have to document the failures, show what principles they violated, and explain and show what SFM would have done differently and compare the outcome probabilities and expected value of SFM versus the outcome probabilities and expected value of current practices that focuses on “nature only” and “old growth” homogeneity driven policy.

      I agree that the infrastructure isn’t there anymore. The “nature only” and “old growth” policy that arose out of the NSO issue has destroyed the infrastructure necessary to fund and carry out sound forest management that utilizes all of the established advances in the sciences since the “old timber programs”. It took many years to create the infrastructure after WWII as can be seen in the graph at the bottom of this document – The infrastructure can be rebuilt. The large timberland companies will not like it because they will have more competition to deal with in order to sell their timber. But the manufacturers will like it because they will have more sources to choose from. The loggers will like it because they will have more say in what they get paid. But, before anything can happen, there will have to be a long term federal policy change that commits to sound forest management and to selling the marketable wood and timber produced.

      • I’m not sure we’re on the same page, but we are in the same book.

        I think we could do much more than we’re doing in terms of creating mosaics and SPOTS n SPLATs and jobs to help manage fires and help with climate resilience, without damaging the environment or species.

        Barriers include people’s perceptions, markets and funding.

        To build trust, we could take some of the high fire risk areas with current mills.. monitor things people are worried about.. and check back in five years. Use independent audits, but with some form of lawsuit protection. The problem is that these landscape scale treatments will take decades potentially to prove their worth.

        This sounds a bit like 4FRI but establishing an industry is not so easy. To me, policy improvement is generally done by small entities trying things that you can point to, and success spreading. I’m more of the “start small and see where it goes” or perhaps “adaptive management” school.

        Like I said, even if you wanted to do SPOTS n SPLATs I’m not sure people would agree on where they should go. It would be an interesting experiment, though.

        I think folks like the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the Forest Products Laboratory are working on new markets for forest products; also the Chief has spoken of it in testimony.

        • Sharon

          Say what you will but remember that policy was changed very rapidly based not on science but on fantasy dangled by the freeze natural beauty in time people. Until we show that their policies are havoc causing fantasy, nothing will change.

          Once the policy is changed you’d be surprised what free enterprise can do to rebuild the industry. Based on the graph that I pointed you to it only took 10 years to get the first 3 billion increase and in the next 10 years the number was an additional 5 billion. I don’t think that we want to add 8 billion this time especially since a bunch is now tied up in roadless and wilderness areas.

          IMHO opinion, 4FRI and other such piecemeal cooperative efforts requiring negotiations at every turn for every arrangement in every forest in every region will take forever since it will be buried in a sea of red tape. Success at the needed scale for SFM on the USFS timberlands will only come with forest industry bidding on timber sales subject to BMP’s and independent audits in an area where an expected minimum volume (below allowable cut) is a policy based on a sustainable allowable cut after factoring out all of special interest, no harvest areas.

          In summary, I think that we are at a philosophical impasse. Our main difference seems to be our work history. Being from the industry side of things, I know what supply commitments can do to encourage industry. On the other hand, I see you boxed in by all of the regulatory hurdles and rigorous internal structure. Which is why those of us with some time on our hands have to focus our efforts on getting the USFS out of the box ASAP. IMHO we can only do that by exerting the political pressure necessary to influence the public to influence the politicians to change the policy to support SFM as best for the environment and for jobs.

          • Yes, Gil, the idea of blaming the past to block the future is often embraced. They claim a “slippery slope” and fear that we will go back to 1000 acre clearcuts and new roads accessing every acre of timber. They also continue to resist cutting merchantable timber, even in overstocked and burned forests.

            I truly think that it is public education about forests and forestry that will stem the tide. We need to show them the options and impacts, and get them to understand the science and common sense behind site-specific scientific management plans.

      • I think you’re going to have to do a lot more than toss out phrases like “defeat the false propaganda of the professional environmentalist activist” to convince folks that you’re not talking about trying to return to an era that basically everyone admits involved unsustainably-large harvests. What scale of harvest are you talking about?

        If you’re talking about the 10-mmbf era, it is increasingly obvious that those years were a historical anomaly. There was a 30-year period, from 1960 to 1990, in which that scale of harvest was seen. The other 70+ years of the agency have not seen harvests on anything approaching that level.

        • Travis

          Re: “I think you’re going to have to do a lot more than toss out phrases like “defeat the false propaganda of the professional environmentalist activist””

          –> Agree 100% and I have been doing so here and on two Linked-in groups. But I can’t do that alone so I first have to encourage foresters and the Society of American Foresters to rise up and institute a program to counter the false propaganda based on sound forest management and the established science that supports it.

          Re: “convince folks that you’re not talking about trying to return to an era that basically everyone admits involved unsustainably-large harvests. What scale of harvest are you talking about? If you’re talking about the 10-mmbf era, it is increasingly obvious that those years were a historical anomaly. There was a 30-year period, from 1960 to 1990, in which that scale of harvest was seen. The other 70+ years of the agency have not seen harvests on anything approaching that level.”

          –> First, you have to define what you mean as to unsustainably-large harvests. I can’t agree or disagree with you for certain without knowing more facts. What I do know is that the USFS in the ’70’s and later was/is using linear programming optimization and other validated modeling techniques in order to determine what was sustainable in terms of harvest levels. My experience with such tools in private industry validated the effectiveness of such tools. So on that basis, I feel somewhat confident that the USFS would not have exceed those estimations and probably erred on the side of conservatism. So at least on that basis, I can take exception to your assertion.

          –> Second, the world has turned many times since those days. We have a great deal of acreage that has been set aside as wilderness, roadless areas and we have EPA/USFWS restrictions. So, it is only natural to expect that the sustainable harvest level has been significantly reduced. Whether that means that the harvest level could be raised from the current 2 billion to a level of 4, 5, 7 or whatever billion can not be answered by me or you without a whole lot more information and time to analyze it.

          –> Third, as the world turned, people kept making babies. If you can’t sell the timber you can’t afford to cut it. Considering demand to be proportional to population and their affluence in terms of purchasing power, we would probably find a correlation between population and harvest levels prior to 1945 and proportional to population and affluence from 1945 through 1970 and then it looks like the harvest level might have topped out as harvest levels approached some determination of sustainability (my conjecture) then following 1990, the harvest plummeted due to the NSO issue and the ensuing focus on old growth throughout the USFS due to environmentalist pressures. So, your statement “The other 70+ years of the agency have not seen harvests on anything approaching that level.” is in fact true but it does not have anything to do with sustainable harvest levels which are a function of available acreage, stocking, growth rates, and restrictions imposed on those acres.
          USFS harvest levels –
          US population growth –

          –> While the world was turning, the science behind sound forest management has enabled us to better define, refine and implement Best Management Practices than were in place previously. Such refinements are ongoing. It is a constantly improving process. When we combine continuing advances in sound forest management with independent audits we have improved forestry practices, including logging, where responsible landowners utilize up to date forestry practices.
          From all of this, and the level of catastrophic losses caused by the removal of the best available forest management practices on USFS lands sinc 1990, it is my professional opinion that some, to be determined, increase in harvest levels would:
          1) Create more diversity in our nations forests than the homogeneity that we have seen increasingly since the harvests were sharply curtailed after 1990.
          2) Increase spatial and habitat diversity through a more proportional distribution of age classes which would provide better habitat for all of those species that aren’t suited for old growth. In addition, catastrophic acreage, home and lives lost to fires would be decreased and insect losses would also be decreased based on established science.


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