“Town Unites Against Federal Mismanagement to Save Forest”

Weaverville, Calif., was once torn apart by forest-mananagent controveries (as were nunmerous communities in spotted owl country). This article from KQED, a San Francisco-based public broadcasting station, “Town Unites Against Federal Mismanagement to Save Forest,” says that this has changed.

As trees across the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests have become drought-stressed and overcrowded, basically all but asking to burn, it’s the forest that has brought people back together. Now, a locally driven partnership forged to make a small community forest healthier is kindling a wider push for resilience and reducing fire risk across the entire county. Community members say a key strategy will be preventing what are often high-intensity wildfires by implementing lower-intensity prescribed burns to eradicate chip-dry tinder and grasses.

“There will be fire on this entire landscape. Do we want it to be controlled or do we want it to be out of control?” said Alex Cousins, a lifelong county resident. “We need to leave these forests ready to accept fire.”

“One of the first federal master stewardship agreements in the country” has helped get work done on the ground. Locals say that thinning and Rx fire has helped:

“The [Oregon] fire ran head on into this thinned and burned unit, and the fire just laid down,” said Nick Goulette, who directs the Watershed Center, a local land stewardship group. “My home was evacuated as a part of that fire, so I was very thankful.”

I reckon many other communities are now interested in such stewardship agreements.

24 thoughts on ““Town Unites Against Federal Mismanagement to Save Forest””

  1. From what I read, the Camp fire burned right through thinned units. It didn’t just lay down. There are lots of examples of fires burning at high intensity right through thinned units and old clearcuts and recently burned stands—it depends on how dry and how windy conditions are at the time more than on how “managed” the forest is. And how does “eradicating chip-dry tinder and grasses” prevent grass from growing and drying the very next year? Are they planning to “eradicate” the grass by burning every year? Wouldn’t the time and energy and money be better spent on making the houses less flammable?

    • It’s not one thing about all else. Homes need to be hardened against fire and have defensible spaces, communities need defensible space around them (even if mowing must be annual), and forests around those spaces need to be resilient to high-intensity fire. Yes, fires can overcome these defenses — the Camp Fire was driven by strong, dry east winds, and fuels were already very dry. But it is best to take some action rather than assuming the worst and doing nothing.

      • Steve,

        RE: “and forests around those spaces need to be resilient to high-intensity fire.”

        What if the forests around those spaces are normally, naturally, ecologically and evolutionarily pre-disposed to “high-intensity fire?” For example, only a tiny percentage (4%) of the entire forested landscape of western Montana and northern Idaho is characterized by dry montane forests, which typically burned at low-intensity.

        • Matthew, do you live in an area that is normally, naturally, ecologically and evolutionarily pre-disposed to“high-intensity fire? If so, what forest-management activities would you propose to make you and your neighbors safer?

          • Hi Steve, thanks for asking a question…even if you refuse to answer the question I posed to you.

            I live within the city limits of Missoula, MT, about 1 mile from downtown. Pre-(white) settlement the Missoula Valley was not normally, naturally, ecologically and evolutionarily pre-disposed to high-intensity fire. However, as I’m sure many people know, much of the forested landscape surrounding Missoula was normally, naturally, ecologically and evolutionarily pre-disposed to high-intensity fire.

            In the 17 years we’ve lived in this house I have dealt with at least 5 wildfires within 1 mile of my home. In fact, two times, I was the first person to call the fire department to report wildfires. Last year, I was mowing my backyard with my push, reel mower and I smelled smoke. I looked up towards Greenough Park and saw a huge plum of smoke. I immediately called 911, grabbed a rake and ran into the park to help put the wildfire out. My path to the fire across the creek was blocked by a black bear, which I had to go around, but I was the first person on the fire.

            Anyway, regarding the activities I’d propose to make you and your neighbors safer, I’d recommend the effective and proven FireWise and Home Ignition Zone recommendations from the USFS’s Dr. Jack Cohen, one of the world’s leading experts on how to protect homes from wildfire. Thanks again for asking the question.

          • I agree that Firewise actions should be done. I don’t think that it’s an either/or- in fact, I and many others think it’s a both/and, and no one has explained to me why it’s a good idea to increase the chances that fire will run through communities.

          • Hi Sharon,

            I can think of very few examples of where the timber industry, or their political supporters, have educated communities about basic FireWise principles.

            I can’t think of many examples of where the timber industry, or their political supporters, have called for stronger zoning laws.

            I can’t think of any example of where the timber industry, or their political supporters, spoke out against over-development of the “wildland-urban interface” or spoke out and raised a red flag about the housing bubble bursting.

            For example, since 1990, more than 60 percent of new homes in California, Oregon and Washington were built in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).

            Did the timber industry or their political supporters speak out against all this development in the wildland urban interface? Or did the timber industry ‘cash out’ because of all this over-development?

          • Matthew, I think your expectations of “the timber industry” are interesting, and possibly a Cal/Ore/Mont
            way of looking at the situation. Which is not wrong, of course, it is just a framing that doesn’t resonate for states without a strong timber industry presence.

            It sounds like you’re saying the timber industry should be supporting Firewise, zoning, “overdevelopment” and so on. I don’t see many environmental interest groups working on zoning issues or keeping development from occurring- around here they seem to be focused on oil and gas (public and private land) and other public lands issues. Except maybe for species-surrogates, as in sage grouse and Preble’s jumping mouse.

            Where did you get the figures for building in the WUI?

          • RE: “Where did you get the figures for building in the WUI?”

            A simple google search of what I wrote:

            “Since 1990, more than 60 percent of new homes in California, Oregon and Washington were built in the wildland-urban interface (WUI).”

            Turns up the actual paper (from, among others, USFS researchers) as well as a recent article. I seem to recall more than a few articles about this fact.



            Also, I’m very surprised that you apparently “don’t see many environmental interest groups working on zoning issues or keeping development from occurring.”

            Again, google is useful for finding things:




            P.S. Yes, I do believe that the “timber industry” supports “overdevelopment” and also over-consumption of wood, paper and forest products in general.



    • The aerial photos show that within minutes, the fire was impossible to safely fight. I’m sure the areas with reduced fuels burned less intensely than lands choked with dead trees and thick brush. The winds make every fuelbreak less effective, or even completely ineffective. However, areas with less fuels can survive wildfires much better than areas with perfectly preserved piles of fuels. Thinning also gives firefighters a chance to stop a fire, when conditions allow.

  2. Every area is different. Where I live, if I didn’t mow or graze animals, the grass would become thicker each year cumulatively.. perhaps the grasses evolved with grazing animals and fires were around but people tried to avoid them. One of the reasons we can’t go back to”historical” conditions on inhabited landscapes.

    The logic of “fuel treatments don’t work all the time so let’s not do them” to my mind, seems like different logic in a state with earthquake standards that will only work for some earthquakes.

    As a rural landowner, I would rather the government supported fuel treatments (protecting the community), and insurance companies gave incentives for investments in protecting homes (that’s our own responsibility as homeowners, IMHO). That’s how it seems to work in Colorado, anyway. Like I’ve said before, lots of things can and do go wrong with evacuations, and the safest approach for people, their infrastructure, and pets and livestock is to keep wildfire from running through communities.

  3. The idea reported by KQED has been around for a LONG time. I remember my first exposure to the “frequent burning” idea in the early 1990s on northwest Montana. Growing up in CA, this blew my mind. But, a wildfire did indeed lay down when it burned into a treated area. It convinced many long-time residents who were more apt to complain about smoke.

  4. “Town Unites Against Federal Mismanagement to Save Forest” vs. “The Forest originally began, in 1999, as community protest against a proposed land exchange by BLM. The Trinity County Board of Supervisors joined with the community in asking BLM to delay the exchange while alternatives were explored. In 2003 the TCRCD Board of Directors decided to take on the project to further explore ways to manage these federally-held lands. In mid-2004, BLM suggested using a new federal tool, Stewardship Contracting, to manage the lands as a community forest.”

    The land exchange was being negotiated between BLM and Sierra Pacific Industries. SPI’s clear cuts affecting their view shed is what the Weaverville community feared and reacted to , not a protest against federal land management. The Forest Service eventually added 10,000 more acres to the original 3,000 BLM acres. The Community Forest wouldn’t have happened if a land exchange with SPI was never considered.

  5. Nice crop of clearcuts surrounding Weaverville, California. But clearcuts don’t burn, right? Right?!?

    • Matthew, your comment reminded me of this classic Derek Weidensee photo from August 2010.Derek Weidensee photo of clearcut surrounded by burned area

      For clearcuts to burn, they would have to have enough material left to burn (seems to me that people used to burn slash in clearcuts) or have grown new trees that would be old and dry enough to burn. Fires need fuel, and at the beginning it would seem that clearcuts have little, but as time goes on, trees generally grow back (as planting is usually part of a prescribed clearcut, not a shelterwood.)

  6. Matthew, I agree with you on the importance of FireWise and Home Ignition Zone recommendations. But since this is a forest-management blog, I’d like to know what your recommendations for the management of the forested landscape surrounding Missoula.

    • Howdy Steve. Have I seriously never shared my views on forest management on this blog? And, by the way, if I want to share the research and findings of the U.S. Forest Service’s leading expert on how to protect homes and communities from wildfires…I will darn well do as I please. Got it?

      When so much of the USFS’s budget is tied to wildfire and pretty much the entire federal timber sale program is justified in terms of fuel reduction and community protection, Dr. Cohen’s research and findings are ENTIRELY appropriate on a forest management blog.

      Let’s see, when it comes to public lands surrounding Missoula how about we:

      1) Protect the remaining roadless areas, old-growth forests and unlogged native forests;

      2) Address the thousands of miles of logging roads in our watersheds, including fully remove and restore unneeded roads.

      3) Improve overall watershed health by not only removing unneeded logging roads, but also upgrade/replace fish-passage culverts. [At one point about a decade ago the fisheries biologist for the Lolo NF told me that nearly 80% of the culverts in this part of the world were impassable to fish.

      4) Allow lightening-caused wildfires to restore fire-adapted ecosystems

      5) Deal with non-native invasive species

      6) Remove impediments to naturally-functioning ecosystems.

      • Matthew, you have expounded at length on this blog about what you don’t like. What I’m interested in is how you and other environmentally-minded folks would so things differently than advocates of active management. The points in your list above don’t directly answer my question about how to mitigate wildfire risk around communities such as Missoula. For example, “Allow lightening-caused wildfires to restore fire-adapted ecosystems” is a worthy tactic, but doing so in areas with high fuel loads isn’t feasible without some prior fuels management, including in unlogged natural stands. In fact, addressing high fuel loads is often crucial to “Remove impediments to naturally-functioning ecosystems.”

        I’m not trying to goad you here, but I’m simply asking for specifics about your views of forest and fuels management, such as in the the 13,000-acre Marshall Woods Restoration Project, which I’m sure you are familiar with (I toured the project area in 2017). That project involved commercial and noncommercial thinning to reduce fire danger and restore a more natural fire regime. As the USFS put it, to “Restore functioning ecosystems by enhancing natural ecological processes” and “Emulate fire’s natural role on the landscape through vegetative treatments including prescribed fire.” Does that sort of project fit with your views on forest management?

  7. Most citizens don’t realize the impacts of extreme weather events, and how they can overcome anything we do.
    In the early 1960s near Lincoln, Montana a clearcut that had been dozer piled and the piles burned was struck with a fierce wind from a fast-moving cold front from the West, that quickly fanned a floor of fire throughout this clearcut. The unit had been dozed so heavily that I swear you could have planted spuds in it. But it still burned, and of course then spread downwind. The next morning it was all covered by a few inches of snow!
    In my opinion, the local authorities are heavily responsible for few if any requirements for special building restrictions or codes in the WUI areas, but of course they would have to face down the real estate and building forces. And that, in this area of north Idaho, would be political suicide. Best bet is for the insurance industry, to charge fees appropriate with the risks, which would force (eventually) some change in the WUI zones.


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