Success Story for “All of the Above”- Post Blow Down Actions in Boundary Waters

Severe blowdown in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness and adjacent areas.

It might be illustrative (and encouraging!) to look at landscape scale fuel treatment strategies that did work- when all the forces are aligned- and what it takes to get things done and the effects. It’s also interesting to take the discussion (with the same elements, prescribed fire, mechanical fuel treatments, wildfires) away from the western US. Oh, and this one has Wilderness to add to the complexity.

Let’s look at a success for an All of the Above Strategy and how it happened. Remember 1999 and the 500,000 acres blowdown event that occurred in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?

The obstacles to preparing and planning for the fire seasons to come were formidable. First, they needed to develop an entirely different set of suppression responses. The sheer scale of downed timber made it difficult to move around in the blow-down. This created conditions that negated the effectiveness of most direct attack strategies. The fire management personnel had to develop a set of ‘check and hold’ techniques. Also, the potential size of a blaze and the threat it could pose to communities and lands outside the forest meant that emergency response would
involve local, State, and federal resources. Extensive planning and coordination was required.

Second, the Forest needed to implement large-scale, landscape level fuel treatments and they needed to do it as quick as possible. This was made more difficult by the fact that most of the blow-down was in the nation’s most popular Wilderness area with a local economy dependent on uninterrupted access to the backcountry. There would have to be new levels of cooperation and communication established with the
local communities that would be the most impacted by the fuel treatments.

The fuel loading was beyond the experience of the land managers and fire personnel on the Superior; and they needed a quick upgrade in skills and training to do able to do the large-scale fuel treatments, primarily large acreage prescribed burns. Again, they had to develop interagency and public/private partnerships that were only loosely organized at the time of the blow-down.

The Forest quickly requested and received alternative NEPA procedures from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the White House allowing expedited salvage logging, mechanical fuel treatment, and prescribed fire in the area around the Gunflint Corridor. This allowed the land
management staff to get a quick jump on the work that needed to be done. The National Forest staff made a conscious effort not to short-circuit any of the regular public involvement procedures. They held tours. They conducted pubic meetings. And, they established a monitoring board to oversee the fuel reduction efforts. But, most importantly, they got to work.

Here’s a description of how it worked and the results in the Cavity Lake Fire in Advances in Fire Practice.
Here’s the a fuel treatment effectiveness report.

Here’s a couple of possible observations of why things worked so well:

(1) Alignment among federal agencies (and state and local)
(2) Sense of urgency
(3) Budget
(4)”Leadership” (this is in quotes because it’s a bit fuzzy wuzzy for me, would like to understand more about what this means and how it plays out).
(5) Focus (a bit like fire suppression, a clear sense of priorities)

I’d be very interested to hear from people who participated in this project and their views.

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