Still More Agreement About Fuel Treatment: Conservation Colorado and former Secretary Zinke

In this article from Colorado Politics, Joey Bunch, a political reporter, talks about a press conference after Trump’s “raking the forest” comment.

“Yes, the temperatures are getting hotter, the seasons longer,” Zinke said. “But there are active forest management principles we need to go forward on. One is to remove the dead and dying trees, to thin, to do prescribed burns late in the season rather than mid-season.”
Both secretaries said the Trump administration needed more authority from Congress to get ahead of fires by expanding “good neighbor” programs with local governments, expanding the fight against diseases and insects and managing funding better.

Bunch spoke with Scott Braden, the wilderness advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, who talked about points of agreement with Zinke.

He and Zinke had points of agreement, however. The landscape is increasingly dry, they said, and a century of fire suppression has built up a powder keg of brush and weeks awaiting their spark.

Braden went farther: Building houses and communities in these vulnerable places worsens the risks and raises the cost of solutions.

“Pretty simple,” he responded in an email when I asked his opinion. “Solutions, less so.

“We need to build smarter, fire-resilient communities where vulnerable (hello, Woodland Park, the next Paradise), address climate and reduce fuels (prescribed burns, not fighting every fire, thinning and fuels reduction, which is not the same as logging all the big trees; the big trees are the fire-resilient ones you want to leave).”

Thinking about our previous discussion about California, it seems like the difference between Colorado and California is that we think -if people would actually buy thinned material, that would be a good thing, so we don’t have to burn it. And dead trees are not particularly “fire resilient” and we have lots of those. Perhaps superstitiously, I would prefer if Braden hadn’t targeted my neighbors as “the next Paradise.” Especially since they have been leaders in community fire efforts.

The summary from Bunch: Again, it sounded like the two sides, at least in rhetoric, aren’t that far apart about tackling the symptoms, even as they differ on the cause. “We’ve talked about active forest management for a long time,” Zinke said. “The talking is over. Now it’s time to act.”

That sounds like, “Grab a rake, Colorado.”

We have one more type of straw project to add to the list:
1. FS clearcutting in California
2. Fuel treatments in backcountry
3. Fuel treatments taking out big fire-resilient (living?) trees

So the only thing this Administration and this environmental group disagree about is their approach to climate change mitigation? That seems to leave lots of opportunities for agreeing on priorities and on-the-ground community planning, fuel treatment and prescribed fire and all the rest of it. It would turn out that we’re all in agreement- and what’s wrong with (admitting) that?

8 thoughts on “Still More Agreement About Fuel Treatment: Conservation Colorado and former Secretary Zinke”

  1. Somethings, Sharon, I think you put too much stock into a sentence or two in a newspaper article, which may or may not be accurately presented.

    Also, I guess I don’t see much agreement from the Trump administration about these points raised by Scott Braden:

    • We need to build smarter, fire-resilient communities where vulnerable? That sounds like zoning and holding developers and builders accountable, something the GOP, and developer Donald Trump in particular, have long opposed.

    • Address climate? Well, it’s a joke to think that the Trump administration and/or Ryan Zinke want to, or have done anything, to address climate change. It’s pretty clearly the exact opposite. But, hey, in the original article link here, Trump says he wants “a great climate.”

    • Reduce fuels (prescribed burns)? Ok, maybe some mild agreement there. Not fighting every fire? Can’t see much agreement there at all. Thinning and fuels reduction, which is not the same as logging all the big trees? Mixed bag on that one because while the rhetoric might be in agreement, the policy coming from the Trump administration is not really supportive of this, or designed in any way to just do thinning targeting only small trees.

    And where do you get the impression that “So the only thing this Administration and this environmental group (Conservation Colorado) disagree about is their approach to climate change mitigation?”

    Anyone can spend a few minutes on Conservation Colorado’s website, or any of the social media handles, and see that they have very strong opposition, and very principles objections, to much of the Trump administration’s agenda as it relates to logging, public lands management, clear water, clean air, fossil fuel extraction, climate change and a host of other issues.

  2. Nope, Matthew, building resilient communities is not a partisan issue, at least not here.

    Not fighting every fire? WFU ? I don’t know anyone that’s against that. Since the FS and BLM work for the executive branch and WFU is in use, then you can’t really think that the administration is against it..

    No I didn’t mean they don’t disagree about anything except “approaches to climate mitigation” what I was saying was that “as far as approaches to dealing with wildfire are concerned, they are basically in agreement except for the role of climate change mitigation”.

    Where did the Trump administration say that they were against targeting small trees?

    I can find many news articles about wildfire that focus on what people disagree but not so many on what people are agreeing on. That’s why I am pointing these things out. I’m also thinking that the disagreements are more at the rhetorical level than on any individual or group of projects.

    “Trump says this”…”Brown said that”…Meanwhile folks around the country are ignoring the hyped up partisan bickering, coming together, and getting on with living with fire. No enemies here.

    • Ok, Sharon, then maybe Colorado is much different than places like Montana and Idaho.

      I can’t point to a single GOP politician in Montana or Idaho that supports stronger zoning laws that would regulate building (and building materials) in the WUI.

      I also can’t point to a single GOP politician in MT or ID that supports Wildland Fire Use. However, there are many examples of GOP politicians complaining that the USFS has a “let it burn” strategy.

      Also, where did the Trump administration say that they were only going to target small trees and brush? Do you seriously believe that the federal land management agencies currently do not have the tools, or regulations in place, to target small trees and brush around communities with fuel reduction activities?

    • Wildfire use has come under strong attack in southwestern Oregon/northern California after the last 2-3 fire seasons. And the head of the Washington State DNR is now touting the need to keep fires small. Folks don’t like the endless smoke in the summer, the loss of tourism dollars and the effects of that on tourism-dependent local economies, etc. On the other hand, the state of Oregon just announced that their are loosening their smoke management rules to allow for more prescribed burning, and they are touting that doing that will likely reduce unpleasant summer wildfire smoke.

  3. Here is what I see as the areas of disagreement related to managing fuels on national forest lands:
    1. Where is the “backcountry” (which is apparently how we would characterize the area where we don’t need to reduce fuels, and maybe also where we should let fires burn, or maybe these are two different questions)?
    2. What is a “big tree” (which seems to be one that is worth more standing than the risk it contributes to fires)?
    3. When is a dead tree worth more than no tree (for salvage logging, how to balance its ecological value with its contribution to fire risk)?
    4. When is there some other reason why front country, small tree removal shouldn’t occur that outweighs fire risk (such as where removing small trees or building roads affects wildlife or fish)?
    (I haven’t mentioned economics, where merchantable trees that are not a fire risk are viewed by some as a way to pay for fuel treatments.)
    And the answers could vary by location.

  4. I really like this, Jon and the way you’ve set it out.
    1. I think what you said reminds me of the GMUG Wildland Fire Use amendment. It seems logical for each forest to think about all these things, in cooperation with counties’ planning and communities’ CWPPs. Kind of a joint prioritization process that the Western Govs were for.

    The others seem to me to be about project design and the topics you mentioned are all topics that are in EAs and EISs, with documents written by wildlife biologists and fuel specialists.

    That’s why I’m thinking that finding some projects that entail:
    1. FS clearcutting in California
    2. Fuel treatments in backcountry
    3. Fuel treatments taking out big fire-resilient (living?) trees

    Would help us understand exactly what the issues are.

  5. Here are a couple of recent journal articles that may be of interest:

    Evers, C. R., A. A. Ager, et al. (2019). “Archetypes of community wildfire exposure from national forests of the western US.” Landscape and Urban Planning 182: 55-66.
    Risk management typologies and their resulting archetypes can structure the many social and biophysical drivers of community wildfire risk into a set number of strategies to build community resilience. Existing typologies omit key factors that determine the scale and mechanism by which exposure from large wildfires occur. These factors are particularly important for land managing agencies like the US Forest Service, which must weigh community wildfire exposure against other management priorities. We analyze community wildfire exposure from national forests by associating conditions that affect exposure in the areas where wildfires ignite to conditions where exposure likely occurs. Linking source and exposure areas defines the scale at which cross-boundary exposure from large wildfires occurs and the scale at which mitigation actions need to be planned. We find that the vast majority of wildfire exposure from national forests is concentrated among a fraction of communities that are geographically clustered in discrete pockets. Among these communities, exposure varies primarily based on development patterns and vegetation gradients and secondarily based on social and ecological management constraints. We describe five community exposure archetypes along with their associated risk mitigation strategies. Only some archetypes have conditions that support hazardous fuels programs. Others have conditions where managing community exposure through vegetation management is unlikely to suffice. These archetypes reflect the diversity of development patterns, vegetation types, associated fuels, and management constraints that exist in the western US and provide a framework to guide public investments that improve management of wildfire risk within threatened communities and on the public lands that transmit fires to them.

    Ager, A. A., R. M. Houtman, et al. (2019). “Tradeoffs between US national forest harvest targets and fuel management to reduce wildfire transmission to the wildland urban interface.” Forest Ecology and Management 434: 99-109.
    US public land management agencies are faced with multiple, often conflicting objectives to meet management targets and produce a wide range of ecosystem services expected from public lands. One example is managing the growing wildfire risk to human and ecological values while meeting programmatic harvest targets for economic outputs mandated in agency budgets. Studies examining strategic management tradeoffs on federal lands and program efficiencies are rare. In this study we used the 79 western US national forests to examine tradeoffs between forest management scenarios targeting wildfire risk to the wildland urban interface (WUI) and those meeting agency convertible volume production targets. We quantified production frontiers to measure how the efficiency of meeting harvest volume targets is affected by prioritizing treatments to areas that transmit fire to the WUI. The results showed strong tradeoffs and scale effects on production frontiers, and more importantly substantial variation among planning areas and national forests. Prioritizing treatments to reduce fire transmission to the WUI resulted in an average harvest volume reduction of about 248 m3 per ha treated. The analysis also identified opportunities where both management objectives can be achieved. This work represents the first large-scale tradeoff analysis for key management goals in forest and fuel management programs on national forests.

    • Are you Alan? If so, please say hi to Vicky for me. Since we have another “Anonymous” on this site, it might be handy for us understanding your point of view if you changed your name to something equally anonymous but not the same.


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