Gil sent this in and suggested it as a new thread.. but I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition with this piece in the Denver Post on Park Service fire policy.

Otherwise, park officials prefer to herd fires where they want them to go and allow blazes to burn out on their own.

It’s a science-based approach that serves the same function as offseason forest thinning and controlled burns. But those arguments often fail to stand up to public distaste for trees burning in beloved national parks.


As the Rim fire invades Yosemite, park officials pore over maps that reflect the historic fire return interval — the frequency that natural fire goes through an area. Every acre of the park is mapped in this fashion, and each has a fire “prescription.”

So, for instance, when the blaze hits an area of the park where fire returns every 12 years — but hasn’t been burned in 16 years — the prescription for that area is to let it burn.

“In the national parks, a major part of our job is to protect a place so that nature can work,” said Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. “In many large parks in the West, fire is one way that nature works.”

I wonder if these folks are even aware that Nature is an idea and managing to a historic frequency is based on an idea and value, not “science.” These people are in dire need of Botkin and his book. IMHO.

So back to Gil’s post. Like I said, interesting juxtaposition.


Click to access FS_Climate1114%20opt.pdf

– "By the end of the 21st century, forest ecosystems in the United States will differ from those of today as a result of changing climate. Although increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), and higher nitrogen (N) deposition may change ecosystem structure and function, the most rapidly visible and most
significant short-term effects on forest ecosystems will be caused by altered disturbance regimes. For example, wildfires, insect infestations, pulses of erosion and flooding, and drought-induced tree mortality are all expected to increase during the 21st century. These direct and indirect climate-change effects are likely to cause losses of ecosystem services in some areas, but may also improve and expand ecosystem services in others. Some areas may be particularly vulnerable because current infrastructure and resource production are based on past climate and steady-state conditions. "

– PNW – "Climate is projected to become unfavorable for Douglasfir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) over 32 percent of its current range in Washington, and up to 85 percent of the range of some pine species may be outside the current climatically suitable range." Bye, Bye NSO, Hello Barred Owl.

– NE – "A warmer climate will cause a major reduction of spruce-fir forest, moderate reduction of maple-birch-beech forest, and expansion of oak-dominated forest. Projections of change in suitable habitat indicate that, of the 84 most common species, 23 to 33 will lose suitable habitat under low- and high-emission scenarios, 48 to 50 will gain habitat, and 1 to 10 will experience no change."


  1. Sharon, your snide comment about the Park’s burn policy is weird. You seem confused. The quotes from the managers never made a claim of science. They only are trying to copy the fire history of recurrence, something that several of our most “loud” commentors have espoused repeatedly here… ideas which you seem to have supported.
    At this point, I have absolutely no idea of what you think, or support or deride. Can you please explain why this Park burn policy is bad, in your opinion? Or did I miss some subtle underlying thread?

    • Ed

      The first quote from the Denver Post specifically states “It’s a science-based approach”. So slow down and read.

      You must have taken an extra testosterone pill this morning. 🙂

      • Park Policy allows them to light prescribed fires during near-record heat, incorporating “tree mortality” as a goal in every burning project. Their prescriptions are based on “good burning conditions”, rather than “dry enough to safely burn”. They get really defensive when people want to talk about public safety and science.

  2. Sharon

    Thanks for posting the two pieces together.

    The National Park Service (NPS) approach seems to be what the Forest Ecology Scientists and a lot of environmentalists want.

    So, my question to all is: how many people in the NCFP group would think that things would be better off if all USFS lands and budget monies (less any economies of scale savings) were transferred to the NPS along with any resources that the NPS requested?

    If you don’t choose the transfer, then please tell us what advantages you see for some federal lands being managed by the USFS over NPS management.

    As far as I am concerned, with things the way that they are now, I see no reason not to turn all management over to the NPS. It would get the stigma of the USFS being logger friendly off of the table and maybe give the environmental groups a degree of collaborative confidence that is missing to a large degree with the USFS.

    Let’s begin this discussion by assuming that there would be no obligation to log any lands.

  3. OK, Ed, I made an assumption that the reporter picked up “science-based” from the interview, because that did not seem like a term one would use without having hear it. And we all know about assumptions.

    I also don’t think the remark was particularly “snide”(?)

    To be clear, I don’t think the past should be a prescription as presented here. Even the FS says “HRV is information about the past, not a prescription or target.” Perhaps their arguments are more complex about why they want fire back and why that area is in the fire use prescription. But using the past as target is what I don’t agree with. And I may be more nuanced about that than others on the blog, but that’s OK.

    Anyway, there are many places on the blog I’ve talked about that, but here is one..

    I couldn’t find “natural range of variation” in the rule, which seems odd because plans need to promote integrity, you tell if something has integrity because it’s within NRV.. so NRV becomes pretty crucial.

    Conveniently, it is now defined in the Directives, in the Zero code chapter.

    Natural range of variation (NRV). Spatial and temporal variation in ecosystem characteristics under historic disturbance regimes during a reference period. The reference period considered should be sufficiently long to include the full range of variation produced by dominant natural disturbance regimes, often several centuries, for such disturbances as fire and flooding and should also include short-term variation and cycles in climate. “Natural range of variation” (NRV) is a term used synonymously with historic range of variation or range of natural variation. The NRV is a tool for assessing ecological integrity, and does not necessarily constitute a management target or desired condition. The NRV can help identify key structural, functional, compositional, and connectivity characteristics, for which plan components may be important for either maintenance or restoration of such ecological conditions.

    OK, so let’s get the logic here.
    Plans are required to “promote” ecosystem integrity in a regulation.
    Ecosystem integrity is defined in the regulation as equal to (dominant characteristics within NRV) AND (resilient to disturbance)
    Yet, being with NRV is “not a target”. But based on these definitions you can’t have EI without being within NRV. And EI is a target. If I (integrity) is a target and I= (NRV) AND (Resilience) then isn’t NRV also a target implicitly?

    If I want cookies that have nuts AND chocolate chips, then aren’t I saying that they need to have nuts?

    It makes my few remaining (after trying to read the directives) neurons melt. But as during the COS debate on whether ecological sustainability should be “primary”, I still don’t understand what it means in practice. During the selected historic period, you may not have had roads on the Angeles NF; you didn’t have jet aircraft flying over Weminuche Wilderness. So we just start deleting activities until we get to those of some chosen “historic period?” Is this what the public wants from its public lands?

    Plus now we have climate change, so in many cases returning to HRV with any distribution of any species may be impossible. Why would we want to put into regulation impossible implicit or explicit targets?

  4. I think the idea of “historical norms” for “fire frequency” is an artificial construct put together by the fire scar people and has little or nothing to do with actual historical conditions. Most fire frequencies that can be documented are entirely human-based and logical — not computer-generated theories. Tarweed was burned every year; bear grass every two or three years; huckleberries every 5-25 years, depending on their condition and fuel loads. And so on. These are commonsense decisions made by people based upon clear objectives, not some kind of computer-generated constraint based upon assumptions and little qualifying data. People are still smarter than computers, aren’t we? Or maybe we ought to have programmers have their computers tell us what our management objectives should be. “Misdirection” is the polite word.

    Douglas-fir exist from Mexico to Canada, which covers quite a wide variety of weather conditions (“climate”). The range of yellow pine is similar. Both species have adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions and changes over millions of years. Forest managers are doing what because of why? I think we have better things to do with our money and other limited resources than continuing to play this computer-generated “what if?” game too much longer. The predictions have been consistently wrong and plants and animals have consistently adapted or gone extinct. For a very long time. What if the Sierra Nevadas were hit by a meteorite? Or a missile from North Korea? Or if North America got a virus that caused a massive decrease in human population? How about the very real problems that are currently facing us? Can’t we address those first?

  5. Sharon, maybe “snide” was too strong, but I ended up totally confused about your opinion re burning or “let burn” after reading this. In my rather simplistic world the Park Service approach seems to make some sense. Maybe unworkable for “working” forestlands, but at least they have a target or goal or objective of some kind to guide their decisions.
    And I sure can’t throw my arms around Bob Z’s constant refrain about native Americans totally controlling the burn cycle throughout North America.
    So all in all, an exhilarating dialogue about a subject that we all love to dissect. I strongly support prescribed burns. I agree that fire is an important tool, and that the historical USFS approach (no fire is a good fire) was overkill by today’s standards. I can recall going out to smokechase in rain and snow squalls because the DFR was a strong believer in the 10am rule. Dumb but true.
    As far as learning from Bodkin, I was disappointed in the book and the lack of meaningful relationships to today’s forest issues. More on that later in the “book review” time slot.

    • Ed: Just to clarify, I have never said “native Americans totally controll[ed] the burn cycle throughout North America.” I have said — repeatedly — that wherever people lived in pre-industrial times they have established landscape-scale patterns of fire use. They gather firewood, hunt with fire, process crops with fire, clear trails with fire, rejuvenate food plants with fire, etc., etc. Where people don’t live, this isn’t such a regular process and doesn’t produce such stable patterns (e.g., steep, isolated canyons; dry deserts; above timberlines; etc.). People use fire every day. More people use more fire.

      Too, I mentioned specific plants that were burned at specific intervals for specific reasons — not “everywhere.” That being said, people seemed to have done a lot more burning and been a lot more responsible for “wildlife habitat patterns” (aka cultural landscape patterns) than is generally recognized — particularly by much of the environmental protection and ecological science communities.

      Everywhere there are people, there is fire. And it is used in many, many ways — most of them commonsense and predictable and with stable, generally predictable results.


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