Michael Rains’ Letter to President Trump

Thanks to Evergreen Magazine. They are having a series with an interview with Michael Rains. Michael Rains is not only both experienced, and a brilliant guy in general, but has a gift for both budget and politics, so he’s worth listening to.

Here’s a link to his letter.

Please allow me to summarize:

The management of the nation’s forests, especially the National Forests, need immediate, aggressive attention.
Years of shifting resources (skills, money and projects) from non-fire work to the fire effort has created a huge gap in the ability of the Forest Service to carryout forest management actions on the ground. Thus, wildfires are larger and more intense than ever before.
The current 2018 budget; the 2019 proposed budget; and, the latest Senate and House Action on the proposed budget do not address, in any significant way, the required forest management needs of our country, perhaps especially those on the National Forests. Thus, large, high intensity wildfires will not subside.
The so called “fire fix”, if deployed in 2020 can help slow the shift of non-fire activities for the fire effort. But, we cannot let the “fire fix” keep us from understanding that the real brass ring that the Forest Service is searching for is effective fire management resulting from aggressive forest management. That is, the fire fix is only the first step toward a forest fix.
As the 2018 fires season unfolds, it is easy to forecast another destructive fire season and $5 billion will be expended by federal, state and local sources to suppress wildfires across the country.
Funding for forest management actions, including targeted hazardous fuels treatment, is woefully inadequate. In fact, at the current funding level, forest health will continue to decline and the impacts of wildfires on the land and people’s lives will only get worse. A budget increase in the range of +$1.3 to +$2.2 billion is required. Eventually, this amount can be reduced as aggressive forest management enables fire management to take place and fire suppression costs begin to decline.

United States taxpayers are losing $70 to $350 billion a year in wildfire-related damages to infrastructure, public health, and natural resources. Wildfires are a major cause of losses to the forest-products industry and rural communities, especially, are at peril. Fuel accumulations have enhanced high-intensity wildland fires. There are more than a billion “burnable” acres across America and an estimated 120 million people in more than 46 million homes are at risk due to wildfire; 72,000 communities are directly in harm’s way. Thousands of heroic firefighters have died protecting people and property. How many more reasons does it take before we can begin to improve America’s forests so fire can be used as a conservation tool and no longer feared for their destruction. We need your Administration to act. Clearly, now is the time. Positive impacts will be immediate.

In the draft EO Rains cites the need for PB as well:

The reduction of hazardous fuel is accomplished by an aggressive forest management strategy of increased timber and other forest product harvesting, salvage logging after a wildfire, and extensive application of pre-approved and planned prescribed fire.

Rains mentions the need for more small diameter uses and products..

Earlier I stated that due to the extreme costs of fire suppression, fewer funds and resources are available to support the very programs and restoration projects that reduce the fire threat. A program that emphasizes the innovative, cost-effective use of biomass is a prime example. Some examples of uses for biomass are wood-based nanotechnology; “green” building construction, including advanced composite materials; and certain aspects of energy production, such as torrefaction, which removes moisture and volatiles from woody biomass, leaving bio-coal, an advanced, more-efficient form of wood for energy. Such uses offer pragmatic market-based solutions to help forests become more resilient to such disturbances as widespread catastrophic fire loss. Biomass uses are outcomes from restorative actions to our forests.

I’m thinking of a competition for cost effective small diameter products like this XPrize for Carbon Capture and Storage.. could even use that model. For techie readers, albeit somewhat off-topic, I recommend taking a look at some of the prizewinners if you’re interested in CCS.

14 thoughts on “Michael Rains’ Letter to President Trump”

  1. Lumber mills only help when there are excess sawlog-sized trees on slopes less than 30% (tractor ground). ‘Restoring’ funding to the previously-inadequate levels through the misnamed “funding fix” won’t fix some of the key problems stopping the USFS from doing more active management. Here in California, the “pace and scale” cannot be increased, due to a lack of staffing and expertise. The work cannot be done using temporary employees wielding paintguns.

  2. There is a market for small-diameter timber: cross-laminated timbers, or CLTs, which can be made with timber from thinning or salvage projects that otherwise would have little value — say, blue-stained beetle-killed lodgepole. Appearance defects don’t affect the CLT strength. Here’s an example:


    But groups such as Oregon Wild campaign against CLTs, because they require timber to be harvested.

  3. Amongst the hyperbole in this opinion piece is the following inaccurate claim: “Thousands of heroic firefighters have died protecting people and property.” Wildland fire fatalities total 1,114 since 1910 — not the “thousands” Rains claims. It may be a small matter, but exaggerating easy to confirm facts undercuts the author’s thesis.

    • I agree with you, Andy and I would take your comment one step further.. even exaggerations that are difficult to confirm undercut the author’s thesis.

  4. Without nit-picking his comments on complete accuracy, as some here have done, Raines has presented a very good summary of federal forest conditions and challenges, and in some respects, such as magnitude of forests needing management before turning black, his estimation may well be conservative. All one has to do is fly over the 13 western States to get a full sense of the pending disaster that threatens our public and private forests.
    The new Chief, and Director of BLM, need to repurpose their priorities instead of only chasing the next fire.

    • I don’t think it is a “pending disaster”. I think we are in the middle of a huge slow-motion disaster, already. Preserving a non-resilient landscape is doomed to fail, spectacularly. Sadly, the serial litigators like to claim that the current situation is ‘normal’ and we should just get used to it or move into the cities.

  5. “There are more than a billion “burnable” acres across America and an estimated 120 million people in more than 46 million homes are at risk due to wildfire; 72,000 communities are directly in harm’s way.”

    Among other issues, this article treats this entirely as a forest management problem rather than an urban planning problem. It is a serious issue that people keep building more and more exurbs in close proximity to wildlands with fire-adapted ecosystems, and then complaining when those ecosystems experience fire. Many of those communities would be in less harm’s way if they adopted fire-smart infrastructure planning, required defensible space be established, planned buffer zones and avoided endless expansion. But instead, we’re told that the answer is to just cut all the trees down.

    • And yes, I’m being a little hyperbolic with that last line. But nowhere in this article is there a call to address the human-factors side of the growing wildland-urban interface problem. It suggests that the solution to everything is more logging and burning, while implicitly denying our shared responsibility for developing fire-adapted communities in fire-adapted ecosystems.

    • I don’t know of a single person, public forester or private, that is suggesting “cutting all the trees down” is any form of solution. That’s what we commonly refer to as “over-speak” to put it nicely.
      I certainly do agree with your assessment of “home building in the WUI;” it’s such a huge problem and local County Planning Departments and their Supervisors, are either unwilling to make a stand on this or are on the dole.

      • Hi Ted, I’m on the El Paso County Planning Commission and our County folks are talking about planning in the WUI and attend meetings where different ways of doing it are discussed. I will try to find more info and post it. Retirees… if you are concerned about this.. and interested enough in planning to read this blog (!!!) you might consider volunteering for your county Planning Commission. It’s been eye-opening to me.

        • Sharon
          Good to hear your Planning Commission is at least talking about “what to allow in the WUI.” I urge you to ask local USFS or BLM Fuels personnel to be part of that discussion. I would also urge representatives from the Insurance groups to also take part. The risks to “all” in the WUI are like nothing else.


  6. Everybody ought to look at Rains’ discussion with Evergreen Magazine about USFS harassment stuff. For those of you that might have worked with him, it will make you gag. Constant no mea culpa. Northern Research Station had a culture under his leadership of sweeping things under the rug for the favored set and turning the screws to the ones that spoke truth to power. Plus he pretty much gutted the forestry, forest ecology and forest economic projects and lines of inquiry to set up his pet urban projects. You can say he is experienced, but he’s not brilliant as much as he is simply a slick bureaucrat interested in his survival, then that of the bureaucracy…..the resource we’re charged with managing was somewhat lower in his priorities.

    • In his letter to Trump he proposes that the FS timber cut should be increased by 6-billion board feet per year – the amount the spotted owl removed in the name of developing a sustainable forestry program. Then what about the rising demands for recreational opportunities that might be used to supplement any decreases in revenues from big tree harvest? Seems the BLM is way ahead of the FS in this area.
      Thy Kingdom come.


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