VIDEO: Counties in Crisis – final cut

Subscribers here, I thought, might be interested to know that the documentary video titled, “Counties in Crisis – final cut,” is now available at YouTube, here:   Incidentally, the full text of the video’s script is also available at the Not Without a Fight! blog, here:  Thanks!  Ron Roizen

65 thoughts on “VIDEO: Counties in Crisis – final cut”

  1. I was curious enough to watch it, so I might as well say what I thought.

    It’s a story worth telling, but not surprisingly this is only one side. It lost most of its credibility when it repeatedly implied that the creation of national forests was a “land grab” – as if they weren’t federal lands to begin with. And lost the rest representing as a fact that lack of logging causes forest fires.

    I was looking for the rationale for an obligation for federal payments to counties. I thought the analogy to Washington, D. C. was pretty nonsensical, and reassurances from Gifford Pinchot should carry a lot of weight a century later?

    The fishing village analogy was appropriate. But an analogy to a whaling village might be more relevant. Ok, the logging industry didn’t decline for technological reasons, but it also didn’t decline because of “national level pressure groups.” The owners of the resource just agreed (via Congress) that there was a better use for it today.

    I agree that created some financial/social problems. This didn’t convince me that more logging was the best solution.

      • I appreciate getting this information from someone who has obviously been deeply immersed in it. From my shallower perspective, I still just don’t see much ‘there’ there. (And I still have to be skeptical of facts presented by a source that maintains that national forests were “taken over” by the federal government.)

        I agree with these statements:

        “The revenue-sharing method Congress selected more than a hundred years ago inevitably established and nourished a legitimate interest — indeed, a profound stake — on the parts of forested counties in the management of national forests.” (I would make it clear though that “legitimate” means “real,” but not legal, and specifically not legal in the sense that shareholders have an ownership stake in a company.)

        “If the recent historical decline in national forest revenue could be said to have resulted from correct, prudent, and justifiable management practices in our national forests, then it would be entirely fair to say that the federal government and the people of the United States owed forested counties no compensation.” (I’m not saying I also agree with the converse.)

        This means that whether the local interest is realized depends on the values of the nation. Which means you have to sell the idea that logging is good on its own merits, rather than basing it on benefits to local communities. All of which I also agree with. We just don’t agree on what management practices are correct.

        I think a “fee for services” would be the most defensible approach, but that would have to be net of reciprocal services and other localized benefits. It would be relatively stable, and eliminate an artificial incentive for local communities to view the national forest as an entitlement. I don’t really understand the rationale for property taxes, but the fact that employees use schools is already accounted for in their personal property taxes (unless they live in Forest Service housing).

        One last thought. Why don’t counties with limited private land bases and populations consolidate (and thus shrink) their governments to be more in line with their actual size, and maybe help smooth out some of the bumps associated with uncertainty in national forest management?

        • Thanks for taking the time, Jon. Permit me to comment on just one point you’ve made — it should be noted on my part, a correct point in my view: The film’s script asserts at one point the following sentence: “Because federally owned lands would pay no taxes, county governments and local school districts saw that their property tax base shrink – in more than a few cases, dramatically.” This sentence lacked a single word to correct the problem and inaccuracy you’ve pointed out. It should have said: “Because federally owned lands would pay no taxes, county governments and local school districts saw that their POTENTIAL property tax base shrink – in more than a few cases, dramatically.” Because the expectation prior to the development of the forest reserves and the national forests was that these lands would ultimately flow to state or private or university or other ownership, folks like Idaho’s Senator Heyburn were (justifiably) concerned and upset that potential growth in commerce and population would be blunted. Potential property tax would be blunted too. Frankly, there was just no way I could re-retain the narrator for the film just to add that single word. I hope most viewers of the video will not be too badly misled by the words omission in the narrative. In short, I grant you your point, but I’m not losing sleep over this flaw either. The film has a story to tell from a particular perspective. And it does that about as well as we could, I thought. (Then again, I shouldn’t be the one saying that!)

          • It must be noted that some federal lands were, in fact, privately owned and on the tax rolls; e.g., Oregon’s O&C lands. It seems to me Vanderbilt owned a significant amount of forest that became a national forest in N. Carolina.

            I know of some lands in Oregon’s Coast Range that were not only private but had roads, apple trees, etc. and became national forest. I also know a fellow who was contracted to plant trees on this land which, amazingly, became a “wilderness” area!

  2. What an absolute bucket of propaganda — I am horrified to learn that I have been sucked into wasting my time on a website that is obviously funded by the Koch Brothers.

    • Hi Nancy, I watched most of the video also and was pretty much not impressed either. This website contains a number of voices, from different perspectives, so please don’t assume that Mr. Roizen’s opinion is shared by everyone. Thanks for commenting and checking out the site. Hope you continue doing so.

    • I’m sorry you felt you wasted your time on our video, Nancy. For what it’s worth, however, I can assure you the Koch Brothers played no part in its (very modest) funding. Best regards, Ron

  3. I thought this was a great video in that it gave some historical perspective as to why the national forests were created in the first place and what purposes they were to serve. One of these purposes was to serve local communities.

    Yes, the video’s producers have a viewpoint but it is well grounded in national forest history. They are saying that the national forest purposes have been so greatly changed that the federal forests are no longer serving their communities. Instead, the communities are serving the national forests.

    There are a number of graphics that are particularly noteworthy. At 2 minutes, 16 seconds, the map shows the proportion of each state that is federally owned. Most western states are hugely federally-controlled while the eastern states have little federal land. The implications of this are of great consequence.

    In Oregon, our counties are mostly supported by property taxes. Thus, when a county is mostly federal, it has lost a tremendous amount of potential property tax revenue. When federal lands produce little in the way of goods and services while the forest and its employees use locally supported schools, roads, libraries, law enforcement, etc. I think it fair to say that the federal lands are NOT paying their fair share and that is the main point of the video.

    At the same time, too many of our citizens seem to think everything they use comes from the store when, in fact, EVERYTHING comes from natural resources. It is fair to say that we’ve set ourselves apart from the natural world while we are still very much a part of the natural world and are totally dependent on the natural world for EVERYTHING we use and need. When a landowner (i.e., the federal government) produces little in the way of good and services, the consumer has to look elsewhere.

    We need to decide what it is we want for/from our national forests and, yes, I realize that what we want today may not be the same as it was 100 years ago. We need to develop a long-term plan that will sustainably produce those goods and services that meets our collective needs/desires for social, environmental, and economic concerns. I think it is possible and critically important that we do so.

    However, this means that no one can have the power to dictate what that plan is. That also means our elected officials must have the political courage and gumption to make those decisions and then stick to the plan. That has not happened for the past 20-30 years and I’m not at all optimistic it will happen any time soon.

  4. Thanks for your comments, Dick. Our video speaks from a perspective that is too little heard in the national debate over our public lands and national forests. That’s why it was made. None of us who were involved in its production will be surprised by the negative reactions it stirs. Even these, I’d like to think, can help shed further light on this public arena and its stresses and strains. Best, Ron

  5. Counties will garner very little public sympathy as long as they continue to vote down proposals to modernize their tax structure and pay their fair share for the services they want.

    • What would you propose that would “modernize” a county’s tax structure and would pay for their “fair share” of services?

      The problem seems to be limited tax revenues while increasing public needs requires more money. As it is, counties are already paying for the services they want while federal lands get a free ride as they use locally provided services.

      Increase property taxes or income taxes? People are already tapped out which probably explains tax limitation measures some states have enacted.

      Increase corporate taxes? That will likely send those businesses overseas.

      I suppose a “fix” would be to renew/extend the Secure Schools Act (or whatever it was called). In essence, this is nothing more than federally funded welfare.

      I think it better and more in keeping with American values/traditions if the counties could use their own resources to support themselves.

      • It’s hard to have a productive conversation as long as the counties consider national forests to be “their own resources.”

        It would also be helpful to calculate the “locally provided services” (provided by the local government) that are used by bare land. (If nothing else, it could justify fees for those services.)

        I agree that the property tax structure can create some hostility towards adding more conservation lands if they aren’t going to be taxed (even though that probably also represents a future cost savings to government). This keeps leading me back to questioning the idea of property taxes. Sales taxes on tourist expenses (lodging, restaurants, gas) could at least capture some benefits of selling an amenity resource. State revenue sharing formulas (more to distressed areas) could also be on the table.

        • Locally provided services – schools, roads, law enforcement, jails, social services, libraries, etc.

          I’m not sure what is meant by bare land as no land is bare. In any case, the lands (in this case, federal lands), whether bare or not, have to be managed to one degree or another. That means federal employees will be using locally provided roads and, assuming they live in the local communities, they will be using those other locally provided services as well.

          Yes, property taxes may/may not be the best or the most equitable means of providing tax revenues. However, when I pay my property taxes each fall, I certainly do NOT feel my tax bill is “artificially” low and I find it that increases every year. But, for Oregon, the property tax train left the station many years ago. Taxes on tourist expenditures is nonetheless a tax. And, for the state to share revenues means the state must first have revenues to share; that means someone has to pay into the state’s treasury.

          Any way you look at it, the source of ALL things used by people comes from the natural world. Further, the source of ALL wealth comes from the natural world and, ultimately, so too, taxes. When a significant portion of a state/county is no longer providing commodities, taxes, or wealth, somebody has to do without. That means some of our counties no longer have 24-hour law enforcement, do not have 7-day a week libraries, have prisoners released early, and so forth. None of this is hypothetical; this is reality.

    • Misinformed on National Forest Property Tax Rates
      By Robin Stanley
      It appears to me that someone is making assumptions about things they really know little about. For example to suggest they know that national forest counties are not paying their fair share of taxes suggests they know something the rest of us do not.
      Let me preface my comments with I do NOT profess myself to be a tax expert. In fact, I want to go on the record to say the more I learn about property tax equity, the more I realize I do not know and understand. My information comes from my participation in the Idaho School Funding Lawsuit. I was actively involved in the negotiated settlement. The basis of the lawsuit was rich districts vs poor districts, based on market value. Market value is directly related to tax rates. Numerous attorneys from both sides, the State Department of Education, the Idaho Education Association, the State Board of Education and the Idaho Legislature were all at the table. Months were spent trying to get a handle on “tax rates and market values” throughout the State of Idaho. In the end it was next to impossible to objectively measure the influence of all the different variables that play into the tax rates and market values. Ultimately, our side prevailed in the lawsuit, but our victory was not based on us establishing a basis for determining equitable tax rates. That’s why I am so amazed that 2ndLaw or anyone else can get a good handle on the equity of property tax rates. With that being said I want to challenge anyone to provide factual data that can statistically prove that, in fact, national forest counties are not paying their fair share of property taxes. I am anxious to hear from anyone. But just providing a spread sheet showing the tax rates does not cut and have they truly considered all the following.

      First, Idaho property tax rates cannot be compared with Washington, Montana, or any other neighboring states because of the different tax structures in each state. For example, Idaho tax payers pay three taxes; sales tax, income tax and property tax. Other states, like Washington, may have only sales tax and property tax. Because sales tax and income tax are contributing to the state tax structure, Idaho’s property tax is artificially lower compared to other states because we are supplanting the property tax bill with our other taxes. The rate of sales tax, income tax and property tax paid all skew the common factor on how much “property tax” an individual in any particular state pays. Unless all states are paying the same total tax rates in all taxes and then compare property tax between the states, it is impossible to legitimately compare the property tax rate of an Idaho National Forest resident property tax rate to a rate outside the national forest.

      Secondly, on the county level, homeowners exemptions and businesses that do not qualify for home owners exemptions skew the rates. Areas with older populations have greater percentages of homeowners exemptions and large businesses, (like the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan Idaho) play a significant role in helping keep the property tax low in communities with significant industry presents that do not qualify for homeowners exemptions and of course home owner’s exemptions themselves. And then you can throw in supplemental levies, municipal bonds for water systems, sewer systems, road construction, as well as tax exempt businesses like federal installations etc. etc. etc. that all factor into the local property tax rate and the rates issue becomes even more convoluted. Another issue we attempted to address was the ability to pay. The per capita income of the county tax payers also needs to be factored in. Then once again one needs to consider the unemployment rate and the cost of living. So it is another calculation that needs to be factored in.
      Wow, so there is a little more to it than just looking at a tax rate data sheet, If anyone can put this together and come up with some statistically provable conclusions, contact the Idaho State Legislature as they are once again going to try to tackle the issue of school funding which always comes back to property tax.
      So to make an assumption that some of the National Forest residents have a lower property tax rates has not been able to be statistically proven. Good luck on that one. I really do look forward to the research behind it. It sure sounds good to throw out comments based on some superficial statistics and unfortunately, if you do not have some back ground on Idaho taxes, it is easy to misrepresent the data.

      • As the head of three companies in Washington state, I can assure you Washington state has three tax sources. The third is a tax on the gross revenue of businesses, applicable even to a business that is in the throes of bankruptcy when revenue is still incoming. We are sufficiently taxed that it makes up for the loss from an income tax but does result in this not being a business friendly state.

  6. Hmmm… Where to begin? The video struck me as revisionist history as to the genesis of our national forests. The primary objective 100 years ago was protectionist in response to the rapacious exploitation of a public resource. After using every imaginable tool (mining and homestead laws, etc) to give emergent states and their counties a basis for settlement and commerce, the evidence was quite clear that greed (as always) dominated western land use. So TR imposed a “conservation solution”. Yes, things have been controversial ever since. But I shudder to think what our West would like like today if not for the “land grab”. I think society has spoken loudly that economy is not the only or even most important consideration when it comes to natural resource policy. The sparsely populated and relatively poor West is a real and long-term reflection of the inherent productivity of arid and mountainous landscapes (a global reality). I don’t believe western counties will ever be financially robust. Accordingly, local govt demands for public lands, whose primary values are ecological, should not focus primarily on economics. BTW it doesn’t help to keep property taxes on private lands artificially low, exacerbating the problem.

    • So you advocate moving people into densely populated cities instead — a situation which creates violence, unhealthy living conditions and is generally not reflected as healthy living by any animals in the natural world?

  7. Misinformed on National Forest Property Tax Rates
    By Robin Stanley

    It appears to me that when some people do not like how we have detailed the historical changes in the forests management practices, they can only hearken back to accusing us of changing history. And some of the latest comments are so heavy with personal bias they refuse to see the facts.
    I will start out with the simplest misunderstanding. Having participated in the State of Idaho school funding lawsuit, our team, with attorneys from both sides of the argument, and the Idaho State Tax commission labored for hours trying to get a handle on the “equity and fairness” of the tax rates across the state of Idaho. After months of studying and comparing tax rates across the state and between states, it was impossible to determine a commonality among all the different contributing factors.
    First, Idaho property tax rates cannot be compared with Washington, Montana, or any other neighboring states because of the different tax structures in each state. For example, Idaho tax payers pay three taxes; sales tax, income tax and property tax. While other states may have only sales tax and property tax. Because sales tax and income tax are contributing to the state tax structure, Idaho’s property tax is artificially lower compared to other states because we are supplementing the tax bill with our other taxes. The rate of sales tax, income tax and property tax paid all skew the common factor on how much “property tax” an individual in any particular state pays. Unless all states are paying the same total tax rates and then compare property tax between the states, it is impossible to legitimately compare the property tax rate of an Idaho National Forest resident property tax rate to a rate outside the national forest.
    Secondly, on the county level, homeowners exemptions and businesses that do not qualify for home owners exemptions skew the rates. Areas with older populations have greater percentages of homeowners exemptions and large businesses, (like the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan Idaho) play a significant role in helping keep the property tax low in communities with significant industry presents that do not qualify for homeowners exemptions and of course home owner’s exemptions themselves. And then you can throw in supplemental levies, municipal bonds for water systems, sewer systems, road construction, as well as tax exempt businesses like federal installations etc. etc. etc. that all factor into the local property tax rate and the rates issue becomes even more convoluted.
    So if anyone is expert enough to draw any valid statistically provable conclusions, they can make a great deal of money as a technical tax expert and they should contact the Idaho State Legislature as they are currently reviewing the school funding formula which will once again be grounded in the equity of local property tax rates.
    So to make an assumption that some of the National Forest residents have a lower property tax rates has not been able to be statistically proven. Good luck on that one. And I do look forward to the research behind it. But is sure sounds good to throw it out based on some superficial statistics and unfortunately, if you do not have a good back ground on Idaho taxes, it is easy to misrepresent the data.
    Moving on, I am perplexed how referencing the Pinchot “Use Books” and the agreements reached by Congress to supplement the western states loss of potential property tax with the 25% funds off the national forests is revisionary history? It doesn’t take much research find those agreements and see how Congress even felt the original 10% was not high enough so they raised it to 25%.
    The western states were never doomed to poverty. In fact, Pinchot and TR promised an ongoing source of revenue from the timber harvest that would be even better than privately held land. And I believe the states from both east and west of the Mississippi would agree the agreement worked well for almost a hundred years until Congress reneged on the deal. It is only after Congress changed the rules after almost a hundred years of success, did the western states become poor and our communities begin burning up.
    Rather than brand the video as revisionist history, maybe a little closer look at the real history of the national forest might be in order. I would suggest a good place to start would be the Pinchot ‘Use Books”, 16 US Code 500 on the National Forest Payments and Compact of 1908. And to get a little “historical” flavor of how the western states Senators were reacting to the fed land grab, how about reviewing some of the letters between Senator Heyburn, Idaho, the President, Pinchot, and others. All three will confirm our video is well grounded in history and not personal opinion.

  8. I take your points. But I didn’t say western counties were doomed to poverty, only that they would not be financially robust — that’s like the difference between an F and a C on a report card. Some counties got A’s for awhile (western OR) until mining OG forests ceased. But for most counties, even 25% will never provide affluence. And if you rely on a portion of receipts, how do counties ride out boom and bust cycles associated with markets (like a protracted housing constriction)? There should be a system that is stable and fair, much like the 10-yr trial County Schools Act that was reflective of both acreage and history. Counties and states need federal certainty so that they can accommodate their own unique structures.

  9. There have been some booms and some busts over the last 100 years. But for the most part, for the first 80 years the system worked quite well. Rural county commissioners and school administrators worked closely with the Forest Service to help anticipate the booms and the busts and we were able to tighten things up during the busts, while still anticipating a boom sometime in the future. We have been on thirty year bust and that changes all the dynamics. The “deals” negotiated between 1905 and 1910 have been abandoned by Congress. Instead of honoring the commitments made almost a century ago, Congress has thrown the western states “under the bus” in order to appease the preservationists. And one of the unintended consequences of their preservationist management is catastrophic fire. Simple eighth grade science states that fire requires oxygen, a heat source and a fuel source. We cannot smother a forest fire so cutting off the oxygen is off the table. We cannot provide enough water to cool a large fire so that option is out. So the only thing left is controlling the amount of fuel. Fire fighter attempt to do that by cutting fire lines or fire breaks, or one might even call them “roads” to try to remove some of the fuel. Decreasing or controlling the fuel source is best done by managing the forest by thinning to create healthy forests, less prone to disease and subsequently becoming fire fuel. If anyone really has a better plan to control catastrophic fires, I am anxious to hear them. So there is a simple solution. Managing the forest generates income to replace the lost revenue promised a hundred years ago in the Pinchot Use Books while addressing the forest health issues and protecting our rural communities from catastrophic fire. Sure appears to be a simple solution to me.

  10. To which I say, not so simple. Many (myself included) would argue that where we find ourselves today is not a product of “preservationist mgmt” but rather decades of aggressive fire suppression in the West, plus a timber-first philosophy after WWII, which combined to produce heavily stocked landscapes that seemed more benign in a long-term “wet cycle” but are baring their teeth today. You can’t catch up in a relatively few years to decades of accumulated biomass and a much more dangerous and persistent (perhaps permanent) drought pattern. I certainly support some intelligent thinning in many (not all) forest types where risks are greatest, like WUI (where FS needs pvt land partners to do their part).

  11. The problem with the WUI management mentality is that by the time a large fire reaches the WUI area, it is too late. Historians documented during the 1910 fire, and more recent catastrophic fires have confirmed, that large fires rain fire embers miles ahead of the actual fire area. Most WUI areas can be measured in “yards” or even feet around communities. By the time a large fire hits the WUI area, it is too late. WUI protection works great for smaller fires that can be fought and, to a degree, controlled. So I am not “dissing” the WUI efforts. But if anyone is really serious about protecting rural communities from catastrophic fires, the battles must be fought well beyond the WUI area. I am only advocating building a fire defense line that can make a significant contribution toward protecting rural communities.. Potential high fire risk areas well outside the WUI must be identified and treated to lower the risk of a catastrophic fire developing and reaching the community. That can only be done by treating the area. Again, the simple well known scientific equation, fires need oxygen, heat and a fuel source. If anyone has a way to significantly control the heat or oxygen of a major catastrophic fire, I am anxious to hear it. Maybe we can both make a great deal of money. But as far as I and fire fighters for the past 100 years have known, the best way to control a fire is to control the amount of fuel. Sure some planes and helicopters and help control heat in “hot spots” by dropping water on fires. But the real solution is controlling the fuel. That is done by thinning the forests. Thinning not only reduces the risk of catastrophic fire but also makes for a healthier forest. With fewer tree competing for a limited water source, the forest becomes healthier and less prone to fire. Where am I wrong??

    • The problem with some of you opinions here, Robin, is that they are actually not backed up by the science and research.

  12. What???? Maybe some of my comments are just based on common sense which appears to be lacking in much of our society. The question I have for you is” What better solution do you have?” Your people have had their way for the last thirty years and it has resulted in our forests becoming unhealthy thickets and burning our rural communities. And no, I have not had a scientific study to walk through the forests of Shoshone County. It is just the hunters, huckleberry pickers, hikers etc, etc. that can personally verify we can no longer walk though large portions of our forests because they are thickets and not ever suitable for large game wildlife anymore. And as far as scientific research, check out some of the U.S.F.S. reports on the condition and mortality of our national forests. Is that scientific enough?? Unfortunately, some people only want to see and here what they want to see and hear and refuse to accept reality if it conflicts with their visions. And lastly, are you saying there is no science behind fire needing heat, oxygen and a fuel source? And again I ask, do you have a better solution or do you want to just continue to watch our rural communities burn and our forests continue to deteriorate? Oh yah, you will probably say “let nature fix it”. What a joke.

    • Hi Robin, Wow, I failed to realize “your people (my people) have had their way for the last 30 years.

      I agree with this statement you made though: “Unfortunately, some people only want to see and here what they want to see and hear and refuse to accept reality if it conflicts with their visions.”

      My ‘solution’ is science based management of our public lands and wildlife that’s open, inclusive, transparent and follows the laws and regulations of this country. If that’s a joke to you, so be it.

      Regarding your ‘solution” to protecting homes from wildfire, seems like you don’t want to take the advise of the U.S. Forest Service (and likely world’s-leading) expert on the matter. Ok, fine.

      Looks like you are calling for “Building a fire defense line that can make a significant contribution toward protecting rural communities.” Ok, how far from homes would those ‘fire defense lines’ be? After all, you talk about embers traveling miles.

      Oh, and you do know that according to Forest Service 44,000,000 (that’s 44 MILLION) homes are found in the Wildland-Urban Interface. That’s the real reason wildfires are getting more expensive to fight. So, what would you “fire defense lines” look like to protect those 44 million homes in the WUI? What’s the cost of building your lines, to taxpayers and also to the environment?

      Finally, we of course, we know that environmentalists are the ones who are responsible for those 44 million U.S. homes in the WUI. And, of course, we also know that a few dozen lawsuits filed annually by environmental groups against some U.S. Forest Service logging projects would protect those 44 million homes.

  13. Matthew,
    A couple of things worth considering. First, the cost of fighting fires could be easily reduced by managing the forests, thereby curtailing the amount of fuel available. That does two things. If the Forest Service were not so burdened with all the federal regulations and court challenges, they could thin the forests, reduce the threat of fire AND generate revenue at the same time. The the Forest Service cannot manage the lands adequately because they do not have the resources to do so. Too many regulations drive up the cost making many thinning projects unfeasible. While on the other hand, the Idaho Department of Lands and private companies can manage the same timber land and show a profit. So the money from scientifically managing the forests pays for the fire fighting and all other expense as the Forest Service did for the first 80 years of their existence.

    With regard to the cost to the tax payers protecting the 44 million homes from the government caused catastrophic wild fires, do you feel the same way about the tax money being spent to protect and repair homes from catastrophic floods, (those people shouldn’t be allowed to build near rivers) and from hurricanes, (those people shouldn’t be allowed to build near the coast) and from tornadoes, (those people shouldn’t be allowed to build in tornado alley). Or is your tax payer concern limited only to us who choose to live in rural areas.

    With regard to creating defensive barrier away from communities, science and fire experts should identify historical wind directions, repeated lightning strike areas, terrain, condition of the forests, type of forest, access and any other information that can help identify factors that facilitate catastrophic fires. The local community should decide how far away from their back porch they want to fight the fire. Putting the defensive barrier too far away defeats the purpose by allowing a fire to start between the barrier and the community. The barriers should be thinned and managed for the primary purpose of protecting communities from catastrophic fire by forcing fire to the ground and preventing canopy fires and to allow fire fighters the best and safest opportunity to fight them.

    Then again, rather that cut trees, we can leave our forest to nature and all the 44 million homes should be abandoned and all move to the cities as well as all the coastal resident, those living along rivers and streams that flood and those in tornado lanes. Look at all the money we can save the tax payers if we treat all these disasters equally. Or is it just those of us that live near the forests that are creating the burden on the tax payers. HUM Something just doesn’t appear to be right with that one.

    • Agreed!

      And while he talks about abiding by the laws, he fails to talk about how laws are created by humans — alledgely for humans — and the human voices that are loudest are the environmentalists, who will go to dramatic lengths — temper tantrums in my book — to get their way. What we need is for the silent people to speak up but most people are working to stay alive rather than working in nonprofits.

  14. I had a friend who cuts timber. Last year he went down on to Sequoias to fight fire, cutting trees.
    We he got there the fire was 10,000 acres. By the time he left, 40 days later, the fire was 140,000 acres.
    His comment was ” we did a great job, didn’t we.”
    It’s not the interface that is causing the problem. I have seen hundreds of thousands of acres of burnt FS land, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to “fight” and not a house anywhere near.
    It is the lack of active management that is causing the problem. How many more years are we going down this road? Till all the old growth is reduced to ashes?

  15. There are many dynamics in play when fire visits populated forested areas, and I believe reality defies simplistic approaches such as “just manage all the forest.” I have seen fires in heavily managed ponderosa pine (Jasper Fire ~ 100k acres – Black Hills NF 2001) blow out of control primarily due to weather at the moment of ignition (arson). And lodgepole pine, spruce/fir behave entirely differently than ponderosa pine. The salvation of individual structures has more to due with “defensible space” and building material factors seen to in advance by the home owner than anything else. Effectively managed WUI perimeters can be used for aggressive backfiring against fires approaching from “unmanaged” areas. I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. There is no single, simple panacea.

  16. Jim, I can agree with much of what you say. A question would be how far out does the WUI reach. If it is only 100 feet from the homes, then it helps with a low intensity, manageable, fire. But when a catastrophic fire is raining burning embers from a half mile away, there needs to be more than the WUI to protect the homes. And yes I agree that construction plays an important part in protecting homes. Unfortunately, many rural areas have lost logging jobs and saw mills resulting in high unemployment and few people can afford remodeling. Maybe that would be a good investment for some federal grants with taxpayers money.

    A second issue with fire is heat. Even if the flames don’t directly destroy the homes, in the mountains where we live, the oven effect, and the void of oxygen (historians reference several of the men dying in the Pulaski Tunnel because of the lack of oxygen) all contribute to the fire devastation. The heat can lack of oxygen can also be killing agents.

    So the operative word is “manage”. Why are so many people opposed to managing the forests, to thin and address the dying and diseased trees to protect the healthier trees, wildlife and watersheds from catastrophic fire. Everything boils down to the fuel, the type of fuel, the condition of the fuel, the amount of fuel, the terrain of the fuel, and it goes on. And the key element is controlling the amount of fuel available for consumption. By thinning and replanting healthy, disease and fire resistant trees help create a healthier forest and decreases the risk of catastrophic fire. Less fuel, less fire under similar conditions.

  17. Well, to be blunt — and having worked 34 years in the FS — the reason some folks are resistant to “management” is that what they see being done does not comport with an intent to primarily reduce fire risk, but rather to produce timber even where other critical values (eg ecosystem health, water quality, wildlife) are put at risk. For example, I think keeping big mature Ponderosa pines in the forest is a critical anchor for ecosystem health and fire risk reduction. I’d rather do 100 acres of excellent forest management than 300 acres where big pines were sacrificed for “economic” and timber production reasons. If you read my book (Toward a Natural Forest) you’ll find my passionate argument for management; but of a different kind than what’s been practiced.

    BTW: the width of WUI should vary based on local circumstances.

  18. Jim, This is even more discouraging than I can imagine. Having read some of the reviews on your book I can better understand where you are coming from. My questions would be as a past forester, are you happy with the conditions of our national forests now? If you were “King”, what would be your recommendation in dealing with catastrophic fires across our national forests? I will be writing a blog on the roadless issue later. Thanks for your thoughts I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

  19. Briefly, no, I’m not generally happy with the condition of our NFs. But factors such as past fire suppression policy and aggressive, simplistic forest mgmt contributed significantly to the current situation. And we now confront growing consequences assoc with climate change. I think proper restoration techniques, as opposed to managing primarily for timber production, can make a significant improvement over time. I also think conserving roadless values is appropriate, as is wilderness protection. For context, NF’s in the eastern US are in far better condition than 100 years ago, so my unhappiness is not comprehensive.

  20. PS
    Responding more specifically to your fire question, I suspect that fires seem more “catastrophic” due to the collision of houses and fire and forest dweller’s expectations that somebody (firefighters) will save their at-risk property. Admittedly, we are going through a hard time and I’m not sure there’s enough money or will out there to make everything “peachy.” My recommendation is to focus our money and energy on “best value” investments in the most at-risk landscapes. Pvt landowners, insurance companies, and local govts have a far greater responsibility to shoulder. Things will be tough for the foreseeable future.

  21. Jim,
    I would agree with you that several factors have contributed to the unhealthy condition of the forests. And while you keep suggesting that the over production of timber in the past was a contributing problem, I fail to see the nexus to the unhealthy forests of today. At least in our area, the clear cuts that were used as the poster child for anti-logging, thirty years later have grown into luscious, green healthy disease and fire resistant forests. And yes there were some abuses as there is with most major undertakings. But the untended consequences of the anti-logging sentiment has lead to an over growth of the forests, something you fail to address or recognize.
    Secondly, are you suggesting that the health of remote forests should not be a concern? I am sure you have studied Pinchot’s concerns about the National Forests being a source of clean water. Catastrophic fires destroy clean watersheds. I am not suggesting things need to be “peachy”. What I am suggesting that if we continue down the same path we have been on for the last 30 years, things are only going to get worse. Once again it sounds like the can is being kicked down the road to the private land owners, insurance companies and local governments. The local governments, private land owners and insurance companies did not create the problem. Poor forest management is what has created the problem. Would you agree or disagree, that generally speaking the problem is too much over growth in our national forests? What do you suggest the local governments, insurance companies and private land owners do to resolve the problem of catastrophic fires? Thanks for your professional input.

  22. I always cringe when I hear the term “common sense” used in political discourse (often as a compound word). What it seems intended to mean is, “You would be a fool to disagree with me.” What I often find is that what it really is is an oversimplified response to a complex problem that scores points for someone’s position – regardless of the underlying facts. That said, here is my (non-expert) “commonsense” response.

    If you get a fire start in the right weather and fuel conditions, you’ll get a big fire (amount of fuel is only part of the formula). If you’ve got a fire that is big enough to be spotting long-distances, fuelbreaks can only help control the fire in the immediate vicinity of the break. Therefore you start by spending money on fuelbreaks next to what is most valuable. I see no social or economic sense in backcountry fuelbreaks until the front-country is under control (and that should keep us busy for a long time).

    “By thinning and replanting healthy, disease and fire resistant trees help create a healthier forest…”
    Another over-simplification. At least under the ecological definition of “healthy,” disease and fire (even catastrophic) have their proper places, and that (ecological integrity) is what the Forest Service must manage for (not “fire resistant” forests).

  23. P.S How do you feel about Clinton’s proposal to manage the forests for sustainable timber? Thanks for your thoughts.

  24. I cringe at the fact too many people do not use common sense (check out the definition) when contemplating national forest management. I agree with part of what you say about fires getting started. The type of fuel, the condition of the fuel, the size of the fuel, the terrain, and the amount of fuel all play a part in generating catastrophic fires. We cannot control the climate or the terrain, but given the resources, we can manage the type of fuel, the condition of the fuel, the size of the fuel and the volume of the fuel. In doing so, we can influence the severity of the fire. It’s a little like the difference between burning diesel, gasoline, and propane and the amount of each we make available for combustion. There are all kinds of excuses for not addressing the problem and continuing business as usual. Does anyone really have a better solution other than blaming it on climate change and past fire suppression?

    • And I (and likely other Americans who also own these public lands) cringe at the fact that some of what you have proposed you actually think is ‘common sense.’ By the way, I’d love to see that definition.

  25. Matthew,
    Two definitions of Common Sense are: good sense and sound judgement in practical matters. Another by”Webster” Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” Hope that helps. They are really pretty easy to find on the internet. Isn’t it wonderful that we all own the national forests. Unfortunately, only a few are having to sacrifice to pay to provide services on those national forests. For example, how much have you contributed to the EMT programs that respond to injuries on national forests. What about the Search and Rescue teams that search for lost hunters or skiers buried in snow slides. Or for the schools that provide education for those students living in the National forests. Or for the police protection. Yah the list goes on and on. Congratulation if you are donating. Shame on all those other 300 million plus “owners of our national forests, that are free loaders. Matthew, you never did respond to my questions on my post to you dated on June 3. Hope you get a chance to review my post and can offer a response. I look forward to hearing from you.

    • Robin, I hate to say this but your concept of how to solve this huge problem on the national forests of the West is so overly simplistic and naive that it is difficult for Furnish or others with decades of USFS experience to respond. Yes, the federal forests and rangelands have been overly protected from fire for decades, contributing to the buildup of fuels. Remember, we are dealing with hundreds of millions of acres of federal land, overseen by a few agencies that are so understaffed and underfunded that it is heartbreaking to see. You need to be aware that the root cause of much of this mess is Congress, and all those corporations and citizens (I used that term loosely) who only want to reduce or eliminate all taxes and/or support for these agencies. (USFS, BLM, NPS). There is NO SIMPLE SOLUTION!!!!
      And the buildup of residences along forest boundaries in the past few decades has seriously inflated the problem and costs. Too much of our firefighting resources are now being targeted to save million dollar homes and lives of people and pets. These people and the local pols who allow helter-skelter development smack against these flammable forests should be bearing a much larger responsibility for the costs associated with their desire to “live next to the forest”. I could go on and on….

  26. I do not agree that THE problem is too much overgrowth in our NFs (as caused by, as you say, the “path” of the last 30 years).

  27. The problem is much more complicated than just the accumulation of fuel as I have stated and restated numerous times. The type of fuel, the condition of fuel (climate related), the size of the fuel, the terrain, the volume of fuel all contribute to the problem. And I do attribute the problem to Congress for over burdening the F.S. with regulations and lawsuits while cutting appropriations. Isn’t it a little interesting that the federal government owns/manages 32,635,835 acres in Idaho, as compared to the 2,446,651 acres of state land. In other words, the federal government owns 61.7 percent of Idaho as compared to 4.6% state managed. The direct federal-land payments made to Idaho is $68,046,153, while the annual distributions to state trust beneficiaries is $51,676,270. That breaks down to the revenue per acre from federal lands at $2.09 per acre while state manged land generates $21.12 per acre. Hum, I wonder if anyone can figure out why the state can generate ten times the revenue off state lands as compared to what is generated off federal lands.
    If the problem with our national forest health is not growth related, what suggestions do you have to address the issue of catastrophic fire? And once again as I stated in a previous post, should those of us living near national forest be forced to move to save the tax expense of fighting wildfires? And at the same time maybe we should ask all those people living on the coast subject to hurricanes to move inland to avoid the federal expense of rebuilding on the coast, as well as all people living on rivers that flood and along hurricane alley. Or do you want to balance the federal budget on the backs of the rural citizens living near the national forests. There really IS a simple solution for a complex problem, manage the land. If the Idaho Department of Lands can do it, why can’t the Forest Service? Again, if anyone has a better suggestion than decreasing fuel to addressing the catastrophic fire issue, I am anxious to hear from you.

  28. Trying to keep this simple –

    If the problem is risks to where people live, the science-based and relatively simple solution is to create defensible space close to structures (which won’t necessarily involve national forest lands at all).

    I think we are disagreeing about whether there is an equally important problem that requires “managing” (which I assume to you mostly means logging) the rest of the national forest lands. We now have a NFMA regulatory requirement to look at the question of ecological integrity in the forest planning process on a place-by-place basis. In Idaho, we could talk about the pending Nez Perce-Clearwater plan revision, and where restoration would be a good investment of our tax dollars.

  29. Defensible space around homes can make you feel good but it is not going to protect a home or community from a wind driven catastrophic fire event. How many homes and lives will be lost before people can figure out that if the fuel is available, under the right conditions it will burn. It’s a little like having a nice house, protected from fire as much as possible, but having a burning barn down the street filled will barrels of gasoline and the wind blowing your direction. To protect your house, you should want to remove the barrels of gasoline from the barn down the street. By thinning (logging) our forests, (all other things equal), we can reduce the amount of available fuel, create fire breaks, and potentially reduce the intensity of fire. By reducing the intensity of the fire we can help avoid the sterilization of the ground and better protect the watershed and wildlife habitat. Are any of these statements false? I cannot understand the aversion to logging to thin our forests to protect the old growth, thin and make our forests healthy again, while protecting our rural communities from catastrophic fire. There I go again with one of those common sense no brainers I guess. But it does go against the anti-logging at any cost mentality.

    • “Defensible space around homes can make you feel good but it is not going to protect a home or community from a wind driven catastrophic fire event.”

      Hi Robin, This is an absolutely false statement, disproven by lots of research by the world’s leading experts on wildfire home protection and defensible space. Once again I’d encourage you to watch this video based on the research of Jack Cohen, U. S. Forest Service, Research Physical Scientist, at the Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula.

      The program discusses how the combustion process effects forest fires, what homeowners can do to create survivable space, why some homes are destroyed while others survive and how to identify your home’s Ignition Zone – the area that includes the home and its immediate surroundings, which, if properly conditioned, can save the home during a wildfire.

      The video was produced by the folks at FireWise Communities, the experts on this issue: Nowhere on their website do they even come close to suggesting the things you are claiming we need to do on National Forest lands miles away from communities.

      I believe you are doing your community a tremendous disservice by making defensible space around homes and communities into some ‘feel good’ excise. It’s effectiveness has already been researched, proven and verified under lots of different conditions and in different parts of the U.S. and world. If the goal is protect homes, lives and firefighter safety, everyone should be educating the public about these ‘common sense’ FireWise measures. Thanks.

  30. Matthew, You cannot pick and choose what parts of the sentences I write and call them false. You do not get to edit my statements and claim they are false. If you read carefully what I said “wind driven event”. Please take the time and review the history of some of our major wind driven fire events. Probably the most infamous would be the 1910 fire. Look at the pictures of Wallace and Avery Idaho. Do you seriously think a “defensible space” around the homes and businesses would have saved Wallace? When fires get so hot that trees explode and suck the oxygen out of the air, do you really believe a defensible space will protect your house. Do you really believe that when a fire is coming down a ridge at 70 miles and hour, that the defensible space around a home will make much difference? And even if it did, what about the “oven” effect in the valleys? Again, please carefully read what I am saying here. I did not say defensible space is not a good idea. I encourage people to participate in WUI project and do everything they can to protect their homes. My point is that large catastrophic wind driven fires will not be thwarted by the defensible space around someones home. And to make people believe that by creating defensible space they will be protected or immune to catastrophic fire is the real disservice to the public. Maybe by creating a good defensible space, they can sit on their porches drinking cold beer and watch the fires burn past. Those of us that live in the national forests do not want to fight the fires from our porches. We would rather fight them in your communities or at least a couple ridges or miles away from our homes. How about pointing me to some scientifically peer reviewed studies on protecting communities from catastrophic fires.

    • Hi Robin, Please watch the Jack Cohen FireWise video as it clearly counters much of what you are saying here, including what you are claiming about wind driven fires and defensible space. Thanks.

  31. I guess the argument that Robin is making is that the forest could be managed so that fires would never reach “catastrophic” conditions. I’d like to see some scientifically peer reviewed studies supporting that (I know they’ve been looking at something like this in parts of California). I’d also like to see the ecological trade-offs of doing so. Then you’d have to convince the local property owners and federal taxpayers to divert resources from relatively proven approaches like defensible space to what looks like a crapshoot a long ways off.

  32. While some are pleased with what they have accomplished over the past thirty years in virtually eliminating logging, closing saw mills, and protecting the trees, what they are refusing to accept is the condition of our national forests. Please check out and disease, risk map. Look at northern Idaho. Most of all the national forest in north Idaho is red and at risk. So how long are we going to continue to go down the same path, continuing to burn up communities, destroying valuable timber resources, destroying watersheds, destroying old growth trees, destroying wildlife habitat, for the sake of what???? What is your real goal or purpose?? You cannot save the trees from disease and fire. So why not manage the forests to protect them from over growth, and disease? The maps speak for themselves. Einstein is credited for saying ” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.” The question is “Are you really satisfied with the current outcomes?”, (again, look at the maps showing the conditions of our forests) and read the news papers and watch television to see how many homes, communities and hundreds of thousands of acres are destroy each year by catastrophic fire. Do you really want more of the same? If not, what are you proposing that we do different to change the outcomes??

  33. P.S. California had over 1000 homes burned during the 2015 fire season. Has anyone told the Californians about the Fire Wise video? Again, I do not for one minute want to down play the importance of defensible space. Everyone needs to do everything they can to protect their property. And there is plenty of research that supports defensible space can save property. My point it that defensible space is not enough. Houses will still continue to burn under certain high wind catastrophic fire conditions. Consequently I believe more needs to be done to attempt to decrease the potential of catastrophic, or unmanageable fires getting started in the first place. And contrary to all the rhetoric, there is a reasonable solution and that is to decrease the availability of fuel. And yes, I agree the size, type, condition, types of fuel are all contributing factors. But all things equal I believe science would confirm that less fuel usually means less fire.

    • Hi Robin, Do you know how many of the 1000 homes burned in California during the 2015 wildfires (which occurred mostly on private land and not on federal public land) actual had implemented the FireWise measures as outlined in the Jack Cohen FireWise video? My guess would be very few had. Perhaps Jack Cohen actually went to California to do an analysis and research as he’s done for other wildfire incidents that included home loss.

  34. Matthew, Nope I don’t know. I trust you do though so enlighten me please. I am very curious as to the number and where you got your data. Did you ever get the chance to do a little review on the major wind driven catastrophic fires to do your professional assessment on how providing a defensible space may have saved Wallace. Maybe both our time would be better spent figuring out how we can save our forests and communities by doing a better job of spreading the word on Jack Cohen’s Firewise Video. No question it will help in many situations. Maybe we can fine a “Firewise” house and you and I can sit on the porch drinking a cool one watching a catastrophic fire pass us by and “high five” that all the houses burned around us, but we watched a catastrophic wind driven fire burn around our the Firewise houses.

    • Hi Robin. Once again Jack Cohen has do lots of reviews of lots of major wind driven fires and looked at defensible space.

      Also, regarding the Cohen video I keep posting here, I’ve already done plenty to spread the word about it. About 10 years ago we sent hundreds of those videos to small town, rural libraries throughout the western U.S. I also produced about 1/2 million copies of a wildfire primer, which included Jack Cohen’s research and we had that newspaper primer inserted into small and mid-sized papers throughout the western U.S.

      WildWest Institute also helped establish FireWise Montana. I also personally raised $25,000 back in 2006 and 2007, when WildWest teamed up with the West End Volunteer Fire Department and I hired a Montana-based fuel reduction crew to create defensible space on private land around the DeBorgia, MT community through education, action and fellowship. Our focus was creating defensible space around the homes of the elderly, disabled and those who couldn’t afford to do the work. Check it out:

      So, perhaps you can save your ‘high five’ until after you actually stop posting non-sense and mock sincerity about FireWise measures and take them a little more seriously and actually help educate people on how to effectively protect homes and communities from wildfire. Thanks, man.

  35. Matthew, guess I am an outcomes person rather than effort person. So for 10 years you have been doing a yoman’s job. But for some reason, it appears to me that the fire situation appears to be getting worse. I am not dissing your effort, but rather trying to point out to you that apparently, Firewise isn’t enough as things are continuing to deteriorate with regards to the number and size of catastrophic fire. I guess my problem is that I am not content watching families lose their homes and blaming it on them, like you have, for not watching and following the Firewise recommendations, particularly when neither of us have a clue how many of the 1000 homesthat burned were provided a defensible space and still burned.

  36. I’ve sat in the room with Jack Cohen many times as he explained this.

    “So where’s the disconnect in all of this. Well, the disconnect is between what we feel as a person and what it takes to ignite this structure from flames. What we feel is pain and injury from exposures to heat that is considerably less than what it takes to actually even char wood. The exposure that will produce a 2nd degree burn on my exposed skin in 5 seconds, takes over 27 minutes to ignite the wood.” – Interview with Jack Cohen, Fire Sciences Researcher, Fire Sciences Lab, Missoula, Mt.

  37. Whew Matthew, it’s very reassuring to know rather than a house just exploding into fire it will takek 27 minutes. Hum?? Does it really give you comfort knowing homeowners have an extra 27 minutes to thwart a catastrophic fire from destroying their home? Not to keep beating a dead horse, but I respect, and appreciate the defensible space. I just feel greater effort needs to be made at attempting to lessen the possibility of catastrophic fire thereby make Firewise an even more valuable and successful solution. But as long as we continue to put all our eggs in the defensible space basket, we are going to continue to see home destroyed by wind driven catastrophic fire events.

    • Once again Robin you fail to understand what’s going on here. The point Jack Cohen, the world’s leading expert, is trying to make (based on his research in the field, in the lab, doing forensic evidence on homes burned, and homes that didn’t) is that a full wall of flames simply doesn’t happen for 27 minutes surrounding a home. While your skin would get 2nd degree burns in only 5 seconds, here’s what the home in the video looked liked after that impressive and very ominous wall of flames burned out (long before 27 minutes).

      Finally, your comment here: “but as long as we continue to put all our eggs in the defensible space basket” makes no sense in the context that 44 million homes exist in the Wildland-Urban Interface, but according to there are very, very few communities, developments or neighborhood associations that have actually taken all the effective FireWise measures and officially become FireWise.

      Oh, and by the way, as long as you keep claiming that FireWise really doesn’t matter as much as your quest to log deep in the forest, build more roads, clearcut more firelines on our public National Forests lands, I and many others will fight you and expose that idea for what it is. Thanks.

  38. Matthew, you got to quit “cherry picking” parts of my comments. You need to read the entire statement. I think Firewise if a very valuable tool in the tool box to be used it 90 percent of the fire cases. My point is that Firewise and defensible space is not enought. Maybe this analogy will help. Its a little like going to a Dr. for a medical treatment. Most of the time the Dr. can treat the problem with just one visit. But sometimes one visit isn’t enough and the Dr. requires a return visit. Firewise and defensible space is like the first visit. It IS a very good thing. But there are times it is NOT going to be enough. And those time appear to be coming more frequently. So we need to look for an additional treatment. That treatment is to try to stop the “spread” of the disease. And in this case the disease we are trying to stop the spread of is catastrophic fire.

    There is no question you and many others will fight me and others on this issue. And I welcome the fight. I welcome the opportunity to expose the consequences of your and others having your way for the past thirty years which is a sick national forest system, prone to catastrophic fire with homes burning and lives being lost. I believe you and many others are very content at “status quo” as long as no trees are cut regardless of the condition of the forest, and regardless of home many homes are burned. I believe you and others “blame us” for living too close to the forests and if homes burn, it is our fault for first, building near the forests and secondly, because we did not “firewise” our homes. The reality is thyat everything was working very well until the anti-logging element took over the management of our forests resulting in sick, diseased and dying forests, burning homes a communities. But at least there is no logging going on. Bob Sproul sums it up very well. Is there something wrong with logging our National Forests as was the commitment 100 years ago by Pinchot and T.R.?

  39. I don’t think you can cherry-pick G. P. and T. R. The overriding commitment made 100 years ago was something like “the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run.” The greatest number speaks through Congress, and Congress acknowledged in NFMA that logging is sometimes wrong. It’s up to the forest planning process to determine where and under what conditions it should be allowed. That process should also answer the question of where fuel reduction in the backcountry should be a higher priority than in defensible space.


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