This started out as a very long comment on the previous article on Utah. I was deeply involved in the development of the Colorado Roadless Rule. That is, until one morning I came into work and was rather unceremoniously removed, at the behest of parties unknown, for reasons unknown (at least to me). To be honest, the whole episode was somewhere between unceremonious and ignominious. Despite that blip on the screen, I feel as if I have earned Roadless Geekhood status. Nevertheless, I could easily be wrong, so in the interests of explaining this, I’d appreciate any corrections.
Most Roadless discussions in the press and many public comments are at a pretty abstract level. “State opens up roadless areas to unmitigated logging” and so on. Even our own colleague, Dave Iverson, in an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune wrote “I won’t attempt to guess Herbert’s true intentions for bringing this petition to the Forest Service. I do know it is not a sincere or comprehensive attempt to combat wildfires.”
Yet the 2001 Rule, as one of its authors Chris Wood once said “was not written on stone tablets.” As a general rule, any policy should have some kind of feedback mechanism for improvement. For example, in Colorado we had acres that weren’t really roadless in IRA’s and areas that should have been in IRA’s that weren’t. Swapping them around seemed like a good idea.
I am generally a fan of the 2001 Rule and think it was a great policy step forward (even in the early 90’s the idea was an alternative within the RPA Program). Nevertheless, there were things in it that fit those days, but perhaps not today, as well as they might.
When we think about fuel treatments and roadless areas, we have to think about two things. The first is tree cutting and the second is removal. What does the 2001 Rule say?
Exception for cutting:
(ii) To maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition and structure, such as to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire effects, within the range of variability that would be expected to occur under natural disturbance regimes of the current climatic period;
In Colorado, we generally thought that that would work for ponderosa pine, but not so much for dead lodgepole (of which we had many acres). What is the “current climatic period?” Isn’t that influenced by climate change? If so, then what is a “natural disturbance regime” for an unnatural and unknown going forward climate? Or is it the past climate? But that’s not what the regulations says.
And isn’t the whole thing a little dishonest when the purpose and need is really to provide a safe space for suppression folks to work and to change fire behavior? Through at least five years of discussions, we came to the conclusion that this was too fuzzy and could lead to litigation, and that the WUI needed something more specific. Many discussions of WUI definitions took place, as might be imagined.
As part of the negotiations, Colorado Roadless acres were divided into an “upper tier” and “non-upper tier”. Public comment was received on the mapping and the restrictions in each tier.
Here’s what the Colorado Rule says:
CFR part 223, subpart A.
(c) Non-Upper Tier Acres. Notwithstanding the prohibition in paragraph (a) of this section, trees may be cut, sold, or removed in Colorado Roadless Areas outside upper tier acres if the responsible official, unless otherwise noted, determines the activity is consistent with the applicable land management plan, one or more of the roadless area characteristics will be maintained or improved over the longterm with the exception of paragraph (5) and (6) of this section, and one of the following circumstances exists:
(1) The Regional Forester determines tree cutting, sale, or removal is needed to reduce hazardous fuels to an at-risk community or municipal water supply system that is:
(i) Within the first one-half mile of the community protection zone, or
(ii) Within the next one-mile of the community protection zone, and is within an area identified in a Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
(iii) Projects undertaken pursuant to paragraphs (c)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section will focus on cutting and removing generally small diameter trees to create fuel conditions that modify fire
behavior while retaining large trees to the maximum extent practical as appropriate to the forest type.
(2) The Regional Forester determines tree cutting, sale, or removal is needed outside the community protection zone where there is a significant risk that a wildland fire disturbance event could adversely affect a municipal water supply system or the maintenance of that system. A significant risk exists where the history of fire occurrence, and fire hazard and risk indicate a serious likelihood that a wildland fire disturbance event would present a high risk of threat to a municipal water supply system.
(i) Projects will focus on cutting and removing generally small diameter trees to create fuel conditions that modify fire behavior while retaining large trees to the maximum extent practical as appropriate to the forest type.
(ii) Projects are expected to be infrequent.
(3) Tree cutting, sale, or removal is needed to maintain or restore the characteristics of ecosystem composition, structure and processes. These projects are expected to be infrequent.
Next post: Removal of Cut Trees and Temporary Roads
If someone knowledgeable about Idaho Roadless would tell us how fuel treatments are handled in the different themes, that would add to our discussion.