A number of years ago, before I graduated from the Forest Service, our Regional Forester invited some academics from the University of Colorado at Boulder to talk to us. There was a fairly large groups of Regional Office specialists at the meeting (including our Regional Fuels Specialist, wildlife, fish, ecologists and so on.). I do remember the professors kept telling us that logging in the backcountry was not necessary for fuel treatments to protect communities. We found ourselves in agreement (of course there are many definitions of WUI and backcountry) and said “but we’re not doing that.” But it was like information only went one way.. from them to us. My hypothesis is that teachers are sometimes not used to being challenged by people who know the same, or more, about a topic. Of course, I wanted to ask them to cite evidence for their claims, but in the context of the meeting that was considered to be – I guess- inhospitable or inappropriate. The underlying fear, I believe, by FS folks was, that if challenged, even in the most gentle way (I thought I was gentle, anyway), they might become even more outspoken about us in a negative way. I don’t know if that was true and suspect that they might have enjoyed an intellectual free-for-all.
Nevertheless, here we are, years later, and Matthew has brought up a related concept.. “protecting homes and communities from wildfire does not include logging miles away from the homes and communities.” This sounds a lot like what those professors from CU told us years ago. But since then I realized that the professors framed fuel treatments as only being about homes and communities. I know, Denver Water headquarters is not that far from Boulder, but I don’t know that the circles ever crossed.
Denver Water, for example, does not want wildfires costing them large amounts of money in sediment removal.
At the EADM workshop for Region 2, power line folks were represented. They were looking for coordinated NEPA approaches to do vegetation management around their power lines. Are there power lines in the “backcountry” or does the existence of power lines make it “not backcountry”?
So fuel treatments may be desirable to protect infrastructure besides home and communities. And where is that infrastructure located? Are we just talking past each other when some say “homes and communities” and others say “protecting water supplies” or “power lines”? Do different parts of the country have different infrastructure concerns that drive the way this discussion gets framed? Should someone (??) organize field trips so that people can see the same projects and discuss them?
I think to really understand each others’ points of view, we would need to find some examples of “logging miles away from communities” or “logging in the backcountry” and see 1) if fuel treatment was in the purpose and need and 2) specifically what infrastructure the treatments were intended to protect (what we might call “protection targets”.
Based on Dr. Mark Finney’s work, it can be “science-based management” to do treatments that are further away from specific protection targets based on the model. So it would be interesting if that science (on Strategically Placed Landscape Treatments) is currently being used, and how far those treatments are from protection targets. Here are the links to two posts one on Finney’s work and its application in the Sierra Nevada in California.
Here’s a link to the Forests to Faucets YouTube video in the image above.