10 thoughts on “Forum: How Do We Live With Fire?”

  1. I find it interesting and curious that out of 8 hand-picked speakers on the panel not one slot was giving to anyone from within the environmental/forest protection community in Montana.

      • Not true, Steve. Matt Arno is owner and president of Woodland Restoration, Inc a forest product company he founded.

        Since so many elected officials in Montana blamed this summer’s wildfires in Montana on “environmental extremists” “radicals” and “fringe elements” you would think one person from the environmental/forest protection community would be given 1 out of the 8 slots for a discussion about “how do we live with fire.”

          • Yes, he does. I like Matt Arno and don’t mean to focus on him or any of the other panelists at all.

            I simply said originally that “I find it interesting and curious that out of 8 hand-picked speakers on the panel not one slot was giving to anyone from within the environmental/forest protection community in Montana.”

            I’ll also point out that this is a very common occurrence here in Montana. By that I mean that it’s common to have some public panel, which at some point will either bring up the environmental/forest protection community and/or be asked questions about the environmental/forest protection community…but then there will be no reps of the enviro/forest community to response. Only seems fair, if you’re going to have 8 people talking about the 2017 wildfire season to have one slot representing the environmental/forest protection community. Thanks.

  2. This will inform several threads on this blog…. From ClimateWire today:

    Experts call for climate adaptation as blazes continue

    Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter
    Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017

    The intense, record-setting fires in California’s wine country that are now being corralled by firefighters signal the need to adapt to climate change, experts said yesterday.

    Fire is a normal part of California’s landscape. The state has a Mediterranean climate with rainy winters and long, dry summers. But warming temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns are priming the state for more intense fires later in the year, and there are ways to be better prepared, experts in climate, forestry and public health said in a call hosted by Climate Nexus, a communications firm funded by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

    The fires that quickly spread into urban areas of Napa and Sonoma counties on the night of Oct. 8 happened too fast to alert residents, whose homes went up in flames within an hour of the first detections. That’s an obvious area for improvement, experts said.

    “These have to be done much faster than hurricanes,” said Bill Stewart, co-director of the University of California’s Center for Forestry. “They basically had an hour’s warning. We’re going to see a major push to understand how to do this better in the future.”

    The quality and concentration of housing are also issues, although building standards have improved in recent decades. “A lot of new homes could actually withstand some of these fires,” Stewart said.

    Property owners should make sure they aren’t storing fuel — like firewood, or lawn mower gas canisters — right next to their houses. “Not having firewood right next to your back door is equally or as important as defensible space,” he said.

    There’s only so much homeowners can do in urban areas, though. “If you only have a small area around your house that you can control, a lot of the damage can come from the house next to you,” pointed out LeRoy Westerling, co-director of the University of California, Merced’s Center for Climate Communication. State and local agencies are going to have to improve their coordination in order to manage vegetation across private land, state parks and open-space districts, he said.

    In recent years, officials have blamed some of the increase in fires’ severity on decades of federal policies that focused on extinguishing all fires as quickly as possible. That enabled forests to become overcrowded with accumulated plant matter, making them more vulnerable to disease outbreaks as well as fires.

    That’s an issue in California. But for the recent fires, state and local agencies could focus on clearing plant matter around urban areas, especially as Northern California is seeing the growth of small shrubs, rather than trees, which are more prone to catching fire. “Northern California, as it dries out, is acting more like Southern California,” Stewart said. “That’s the most flammable vegetation we have in California. Warmer shrublands does not portend well for us.”

    “California’s probably underinvesting in how we’re doing some strategic work on reducing the amount of vegetation that can burn,” he added. “It’s a challenge, because removing vegetation also impacts wildlife habitat, recreational habitat; it costs money. But we’re really going to have to figure out how to do more strategic vegetation management, especially around communities.”

    However, studies have shown that high-intensity fires don’t discriminate between areas that have recently been burned and those that have more flammable materials. “Vegetation clearing makes a difference,” Westerling said. “How much of a difference it makes depends on how severe the fires are.”

    Forty-two people died in the fires. The flames have also caused health impacts, and not just from the smoke itself. Two major hospitals were evacuated and pharmacies in the area are still struggling to fill prescriptions, both for respiratory issues and for elderly residents who were evacuated without their medicines.

    Health care clinics should be prioritized so that they are the “last building standing,” said Linda Rudolph, director of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute’s Center for Climate Change and Health. “It’s important we pay attention to vulnerable groups like the elderly.”

  3. Here’s more for discussion, from today’s E&E News PM:

    Bipartisan bill would direct funding to at-risk communities

    Scott Streater, E&E News reporter
    Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017

    A bipartisan group of senators today introduced legislation that would direct $100 million a year in federal funding to help communities near forestlands most at risk of wildfires help prepare for and reduce the risks of damaging blazes.

    The bill attacks the issue of increasing wildfire risks and exploding firefighting costs from a different angle from most other pending legislation by addressing steps to prevent fires near urban areas in the first place.

    The “Wildland Fires Act of 2017,” led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), is aimed at “hazardous fuel reduction” projects, such as the removal of “flammable vegetation or woody debris” on national forest system lands, as well as Bureau of Land Management areas.

    The “financial assistance” would go to at-risk communities “adjacent to Federal land” and would be used “to assist the at-risk communities in planning and preparing for wildfire,” the bill says.

    It would also establish a pilot program directing the Forest Service and Interior Department to conduct treatment projects such as installing fuel breaks near so-called wildland-urban interface areas and conducting prescribed fires on the 1 percent of lands deemed most at risk of wildfires — roughly 2 million acres — over the next 10 years, particularly in ponderosa pine forests.

    The measure would allow the Interior and Agriculture secretaries to use categorical exclusions to reduce environment reviews for projects under the pilot program if their main purpose “is to reduce the risk of wildfires to communities or to reestablish natural fire regimes on Federal land,” said the bill text.

    “It’s time to create new tools to reduce fire risk and help better protect our communities,” Cantwell said in a statement. “By targeting our most vulnerable pine forests, this science-based pilot program gives the Forest Service tools to address wildfire in our most vulnerable forests and prioritizes cross-laminated timber.”

    The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
    Fire borrowing

    While the proposal would not address specifically the ballooning costs of battling wildfires — which reached record-setting levels this year — it would address one of the impacts of escalating costs: fire borrowing.

    That’s the Forest Service and Interior Department practice of taking money from other programs, including programs that help mitigate blazes, to cover wildfire suppression costs once the firefighting costs have exceeded budgeted amounts.

    By designating an allocated amount for fire mitigation projects in the most at-risk areas, it can help ensure these projects are completed regardless of wildfire suppression costs.

    All five sponsors signed a letter this week to Senate leaders urging the chamber to include wildfire budgeting reforms to end fire borrowing in the House-passed disaster supplemental package (E&E Daily, Oct. 19).

    The House last week easily passed a $36.5 billion disaster supplemental that includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund, $576.6 million for combating wildfires and $16 billion in debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate will follow suit and pass the supplemental — or an amended version — after completion of the budget.

    “As record megafires continue to rage in the West, we absolutely must accelerate the restoration of our National Forests and reduce threats to local communities and wildlife,” Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.

    Separately, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and other lawmakers have introduced legislation to make FEMA funding available for “fire wise” home projects in areas affected by wildfire. That work could help reduce the risk from subsequent fire (E&E Daily, Oct. 12).

    In addition, Congress is mulling language to relax environmental laws to allow for quicker clearing of dead or diseased trees in national forests most at risk of fire (E&E Daily, Sept. 28).

    The latest Cantwell-led bill would require the administration within 180 days of the enactment to “develop and publish” a map showing at-risk communities, “including tribal communities.”

    It also would require agencies each year to conduct a “cost review of each wildfire that covers an area greater than 100,000 acres.” The review would look at, among other things, “the effectiveness of wildfire management decisions.”

  4. This sounds good, but the devil is likely lurking in the details of the “map showing at-risk communities” and what area of public lands is considered within the 2 million acre scope of the legislation, and what role the public will have in answering these questions.


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