Joint Fact-Finding: Let’s Locate Forest Service “Fuels Projects in the Backcountry”

Do different parts of the country define “backcountry” or “far away from communities” differently?

Ten years or more ago, when I was Planning Director, our Regional Forester decided to have a meeting with some professors/scientists from CU Boulder. One of the professors at the meeting said “doing fuel treatments in the backcountry doesn’t work to protect communities”. I tried to ask the question “what specific projects are you talking about?”. I didn’t know of any, but I certainly didn’t know of all the projects in the Region.

I felt that if we got down to the details, we might agree. But I’d want to look at the fuels specialist’s report, and the purpose and need of the project. There is a strategy for resolving factual disputes called “joint fact finding” and I thought that it would have been powerful to do that with our team of (awesome) regional specialists and the CU folks. Alas, it was not to be.

And here we are over 10 years later, and people are still saying the same thing. So we are still apparently talking past each other. But it’s not too late to try again..

1. “Backcountry” is an abstraction, as is “close to” communities. When I think backcountry, I think Wilderness or Roadless. Which takes us back to the 2001 Rule for most states, and no roadbuilding. If it’s a logging project, as most people I think would define it, you need to take the trees out (yes, there are roads in Roadless, so-called substantially altered acres, so it’s possible, but I think most Roadless Geeks would say that those acres are a minority of roadless). You can still have tree-felling without mechanical removal, but is that “logging”?

Also, as Steve points out in a recent comment, how far is “too far”, given how fast fires can go? It seems to me to understand whether a project is “too far” you would have to understand a) what the project is trying to do and b) local fire behavior, slopes, vegetation and so on (as per the Stewardship and Fireshed Assessment process, for example).

2. There are other things that fuel treatments can help protect besides communities. Watersheds around reservoirs is one obvious example in Colorado. I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be true in other places. That’s why the purpose and need would be important to look at.

2. I’m sure TSW readers can help me here. I thought that there was (maybe HFRA?) an effort to encourage the FS to focus on WUI for fuel treatments. My memory could be bad on this, but I think I remember those acres being harder and more expensive to accomplish, so at one time metrics favored getting more cheaper acres wherever it was convenient, until the change.

So here are my questions:

1) Can we figure out where the Forest Service is doing fuel treatment in “the backcountry” and why? I’m sure we disagree on the definition of backcountry, and what the WUI is and so on, but those are all abstractions and looking at projects would bring it down to earth.

If some believe it is due to the influence of the timber industry, we could expect “backcountry fuel treatments” to occur in the big timber areas (where trees have positive value), and not so much elsewhere. We also can look at the purpose and need and the fuels specialist reports for those projects.

2) Were “backcountry fuel treatments” something that the FS used to do more of, and then changed policies for whatever reason? If we looked at “far from communities” projects with a purpose and need of fuel treatment, would we see more in the past and fewer today?

I’m thinking that if people have been saying this for at least ten years, we should be able to engage more deeply here at TSW on where it happens, how often it happens, and why it happens.

31 thoughts on “Joint Fact-Finding: Let’s Locate Forest Service “Fuels Projects in the Backcountry””

  1. In the Sierra Nevada, thinning projects aren’t solely ‘fuels treatments’. They accomplish multiple goals, and “greater good”. The projects under CASPO rules were never restricted to just the WUI. The Clinton plan, however, did establish 12 inch diameter limits in the WUI. Imagine trying to put up a thinning project, cutting only trees between 10 and 11.9 inches in diameter.

  2. I like the concept of “joint fact finding”. I tried to initiate that quite a number of times while taking part in a collaborative. I didn’t know there was a name for the concept. I was frustrated and consistently belittled by others. Ultimately, over 4 years time, the collaborative failed.

    • Greg, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it done successfully. I’d be interested in examples. It sounds like the Malheur is doing something like that, although perhaps not calling it JFF.

  3. “If you are playing darts, and communities are in the bull’s eye of highest value-at-risk/highest vulnerability to fire, then focus and aim for the bull’s eye! Why throw darts (a.k.a. fuels treatments) randomly across the board—or worse, chuck them blindly against the wall?” – Timothy Ingalsbee, Executive Director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, & Ecology (FUSEE)

    • But what evidence supports the claim that they are at random? Where I live communities pressure the FS to treat near them. There are also collaborative groups prioritizing where treatments are located. Plus as I’ve said I think there are WUI targets. Why would Ingalsbee think they are “at random”? Or is it just a rhetorical device, and if so, to what end? I’m puzzled.

      • Sort of funny to me that you would chose to focus on the “random” part of Ingalsebee’s entire statement and point. What’s you opinion about this, Sharon: “If you are playing darts, and communities are in the bull’s eye of highest value-at-risk/highest vulnerability to fire, then focus and aim for the bull’s eye!”

        When I was involved in some collaborative groups in the past, including ones that got a lot of media attention like the Southwestern Crown of the Continent collaborative in Montana, it was quite clear that the USFS was showing up to “collaborative” meetings with a whole slew of proposed timber sales and projects that the agency fully admitted were already in their “NEPA pipeline” or identified year’s earlier as places they want to log, do some road work, ‘reduce fuels,” etc. Getting a bunch of “yes men” and “yes women” (many paid to sit around a table) simply agree to what the Forest Service wanted to do 8 years before is not really the same a collaborative group organically “prioritizing where treatments are located.”

        Anyway, remember this study that looked at 44,000 fuels treatments were implemented across the western United States under the National Fire Plan (NFP) from 2004-2008?

        Here’s part of the abstract from that study: “We assessed the extent to which these treatments were conducted in and near the wildland–urban interface (WUI), where they would have the greatest potential to reduce fire risk in neighboring homes and communities. Although federal policies stipulate that significant resources should be invested in the WUI, we found that only 3% of the area treated was within the WUI, and another 8% was in an additional 2.5-km buffer around the WUI, totaling 11%. Only 17% of this buffered WUI is under federal ownership, which significantly limits the ability of federal agencies to implement fire-risk reduction treatments near communities. Although treatments far from the WUI may have some fire mitigation benefits, our findings suggest that greater priority must be given to locating treatments in and near the WUI, rather than in more remote settings, to satisfy NFP goals of reducing fire risk to communities. However, this may require shifting management and policy emphasis from public to private lands.”

        So, I agree Sharon. “I’m puzzled” as to why anyone immersed in these issues can honestly think there isn’t a bunch of “at random”-ness when it comes to what federal public lands agencies are doing regarding this issue.

        • Where treatments are done has everything to do with what the desired effect is. I can’t seem to find it, but I really liked an article that Tim wrote 15-20 years ago where he outlined that fuel treatments should be viewed as a drawbridge rather than a moat. Where treatments aren’t designed to stop severe fire events but instead to allow for the reintroduction of fire (Rx and wildland fire use) under more moderate weather conditions. Wildland Fire Use will never be an exceptionable risk near communities. The only way we can have more Wildland Fire Use and natural disturbance of fire on the landscape is if we design and implement fuel treatments so that it can be done with less risk. Those treatments should be done in part, away from communities where they increase the opportunities for WFU fires. If mitigating fire impacts to communities is the only desired outcome and we are going to ignore the ecological benefits of reintroducing fire on the landscape then yes treating as close as possible to homes is the best strategy.

          • Yes, if we go with Tim, we would say that (1) there is a place for strategic fuel treatments so that more PB and WFU can be used.

            (2) Somewhere there is the idea also that PB and WFU can have ecological benefits. Some may be HRV related, or ???

            Also if we add in what Larry said, there is a combo of (1) and (2) plus the idea if (1) works for increased PB and WFU it might also help with keeping “wild” wildfires from places we don’t want it.

            But these are fundamentally different ideas, it seems to me, than
            “fuel treatments are all about home protection and they should all be in the WUI”. I think where we may be getting stuck is that “fuel treatments are all about home protection.”

            when they could be about 1) wildland infrastructure protection
            2) keeping access to roads and making them perhaps better fire lines
            3) putting more fire back on the landscape safely
            4) reducing watershed damage from fires and sedimentation.

            So the problem with the statement we started with (and keep hearing) is that it’s not all about protecting homes- a framing issue.

            • I don’t think it’s correct to frame the issue as one where the 3 and 4 should be the same priority as homes and lives. There is also the effectiveness argument – I’d suggest that you have a better idea what your payoff is going to be from structure protection than from logging the backcountry.

        • “Only 17% of this buffered WUI is under federal ownership, which significantly limits the ability of federal agencies to implement fire-risk reduction treatments near communities. Although treatments far from the WUI may have some fire mitigation benefits”

          Interesting part to leave out without the bold from an abstract.

          Also, I thought climate change is a major player and changer in fires, communities, and resources. And that in the last decade it has increased importance and rate of change. Seems a paper from 2009 that looked at data that was even older might…no longer be relevant, by most arguments here?

          Or rather that the answer is multi pronged and taking hard sides one way or another or aloofly trying to present data in one hand and then taking hard exceptional stances in another based on a fistful of data, is well, making this whole situation worse?

          • Hi anonymous “Of The Woods.”

            I’m sorry that I didn’t bold the entire abstract. Apparently providing a link to the entire study and clearly publishing the part that you would like bolded in my comment wasn’t enough for you. I will try better to please you.

            Also, climate change does not change the fact that of 44,000 fuels treatments that were implemented across the western United States under the National Fire Plan (NFP) from 2004-2008 only 3% of the area treated was within the Wildland Urban Interface.

            Truth is, while eating dinner I recalled that study, did a quick google search, found it and posted the study to add to our discussion. If someone can find documentation about more recent fuel reduction projects on federal public lands, and what percentage of those occurred in the WUI, please post them. I agree that would be more relevant, to some extent. I also think that since these problems were decades (and centuries) in the making, looking back to what was done (or not done) 12 to 16 years ago under the National Fire Plan and with all the money thrown at it is, in fact, relevant. For example, what if 100% of the areas treated from 2004-2008 were within the WUI? Would more lives have been saved the past few years? Would more homes have been saved the past few years?

            Finally, many of us do believe the answer (and the problem, for that matter) is multi-pronged and not just related to federal public land management and logging.

            For example, the abstract of the study that looked at 44,000 fuel treatments under the NFP from 2004-2008 and found that only 3% of the treated area was within the WUI ended with this suggestion “this may require shifting management and policy emphasis from public to private lands.”

            This might be good to consider, if you indeed want a multi-pronged approach.

  4. In Mt. Hood National Forest, we recently won a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit challenging a 12,000 acre “fuels reduction” project that was far from any communities and included logging in almost 3,000 acres of mature and old growth forest (opinion here: Here’s a bit from a litigation brief that illustrates how the project was not in line with any of the local strategic fire plans:
    “Though the stated purpose and need of the Crystal Clear Restoration Project (CCR) was to ‘provide forest products where there is an opportunity to restore resiliency to forested areas and reduce the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire,’ the CCR Project is not located on land prioritized for fire risk reduction by the Wasco County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (“WCCWPP”) as it is in Zone 3 of the WCCWPP. Recommendations for Zone 3 focus exclusively around protecting settled communities, of which there are none in or adjacent to the proposed Project area.  Neither is the CCR Project a priority under the MHNF Strategic Fuel Placement Plan, as it is not a priority area in the Community Wildfire Plan, nor primarily outside its natural vegetation condition class.  The majority of the CCR Project is within Fire Regime Condition Class 1, meaning that it is least departed from its natural (historic) range of variability for fuel composition, fire frequency, severity and pattern.”

    • Steve is our local expert on the project, but here’s the P&N and it talks about what infrastructure is in the area…EA page 16

      “The planning area is in close proximity to several landowners, including the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation to the south and major vehicle routes. The Warm Springs Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) shares the boundary between the Mt. Hood National Forest and the Warm Springs Reservation. This WUI was segmented into several compartments in the Wasco County Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), two of which are adjacent to the CCR planning area: Compartment 1 and Compartment 6.
      Compartment 1 is located in the northwest part of the Reservation and adjacent to the westernmost portion of the CCR planning area. It is adjacent to most of the moist mixed conifer treatments. There are no communities in the compartment, but power lines cross it from east to west. Also, the compartment has year-round logging activity, hunting use, and wilderness trails that are used eight months of the year.
      There are traditional food areas and cultural sites. Compartment 1 was assigned an overall wildfire risk rating of “moderate” in the CWPP primarily because no people live there and it has a low fuel hazard level.

      Compartment 6 is the largest compartment in the Reservation and is directly east of Compartment 1 and is adjacent to most of the dry mixed conifer treatments proposed in CCR. This compartment contains communities, individual homes, logging, high traffic volumes, campgrounds, wood cutting areas, hunting areas, and power lines. Four of the eight communities identified at risk by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs are partially, or completely, within the compartment. The CWPP has assigned this
      compartment a “high” overall wildfire risk rating based on fuel load hazards, ignition risk, and past fire history.

      The Juniper Flats WUI, which is included in the eastern portion of the planning area, is made up of a rural area with scattered farms, ranches, and subdivision development. Light, flashy fuel and frequent down canyon winds often result in fast moving wildland fires. The Pine Grove community is one of the biggest
      concern for this WUI. This community has a high risk rating based on fire occurrence and a high density of homes. It has the second highest hazard rating of the communities in the Wasco County CWPP. This high score is justified from the type of fuel involved and the crown fire potential. Additionally, limited road access presents a unique risk for home-owners and fire fighters. The community is situated in, and adjacent to, a highly hazardous fuel situation on private and public lands.
      US Highway 26 runs through the planning area, serving as a major cross-state highway. Through the planning area, this highway sees approximately 7,000 annual average daily traffic as reported by ODOTs Traffic Volumes on State Highways in 2015. The high volume of vehicle traffic, fire risk from increased human presence and potential risk to public safety from a wildfire support the need for action adjacent to this travel corridor.

      In addition to the Wasco County CWPP, in 2012 the Mt. Hood National Forest developed a Strategic Fuel Treatment Placement Plan. This was established to create a strategy to help guide the purpose and need for interdisciplinary projects and to create a forest landscape with a network of fuel breaks and natural openings that would promote the following:
       Increased public and firefighter safety;
       Decreased management costs;
       Increased suppression effectiveness in protecting private and federal improvements, timber and
      sensitive natural resources; and,
       Disturbances in unit sizes representing the natural disturbance regime.
      The Strategic Fuel Treatment Plan spatially identifies areas of the forest where buffers and fuelbreaks would help meet the Plan’s objectives. In order to help meet these objectives, the Plan recommends the need for a reduction in horizontal continuity of surface fuel and canopy fuel and a reduction to vertical continuity associated with ladder fuel. ”

      • Looks like the 17,383-acre White River Fire burned through part of the Crystal Clear Restoration Project area. It’ll be interesting to see what burned and how hot — and what didn’t.

        • Yup – I’m super interested to get in there and see the burn patterns in all the different forest types. Also, it burned in part of the Ahoy sale that had already been logged, and part that hadn’t, so it will be interesting to see how the treatment affected the fire behavior.

          However, to the original point of this post, it is nowhere near any homes and communities.

          • According to The Oregonian:

            “Residents of more than 100 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders as a wildfire continues to burn southeast of Mount Hood.” And “In addition to the mandatory evacuation orders, residents of nearly 200 more homes have been told to get ready or set to evacuate. The fire has prompted campground, recreation area, trail and road closures, as well.”

            I presume that covers the community of Pine Grove and summer homes in that area.

      • All this information is accurate – but not at all contradicting what I said above. The quoted material describes the Fire & Fuel Plans that exist and the different Compartments on the Reservation. What is does not do, and can’t do, is show where those Plans prioritize fuels reduction in the Crystal Clear area, because they don’t. I have read them all, and the entire Forest Service project record, and hiked a good part of the area. The project simply isn’t near any homes or communities.

  5. USFS is being pressured by citizens/communities to conduct fuel treatments to reduce the risk of wildfire. Fear of or inconvenience from any aspect of wildfires on the forest (smoke, highway closures, loss of phone/internet access, reduced tourist visitation) contributes. For many people, concern about wildfire impacts is the only aspect of a forest they care about and are interested in.
    Here in Chaffee County, CO, a new Community Wildfire Protection Plan defines the WUI as anywhere within 2 miles of a subdivision (one parcel split in at least two parts). The Colorado Roadless Rule allows treatment of Roadless in a CWPP WUI, so we will may have a two mile wide band of Roadless land receiving treatment.
    That CWPP also prioritized some designated Wilderness land for fuel treatment. We will see how that proceeds.
    This County recently raised sales tax, with some of the funding (minimum of ~$250,000/year) specifically allocated for ‘improving forest health’. So there is outside funding available and additional pressure on the Forest Service to improve forest health via what seems to be the method of choice – fuel treatments.
    Monarch Ski area (a small minimally developed ski area on the Forest) pushed hard to get a <5000 acre fuel treatment approved that would protect their lift towers and lift op shacks. Nearest house is ~5 miles away.
    When private land Forest inholdings/edgeholdings are developed, it seems to redefine what is considered as backcountry.
    Changes in transportation technology (ATVs, 4WD SUVs, mtn bikes, snowmobiles, ebikes, rafts/kayaks) have allowed easier access to more remote areas by more people. This has changed the concept of backcountry. For many, protecting that recreational access and use is more important than protecting the forest surrounding it. GPS, wifi, smart phone and drone use/access in remote areas has also modified the concept of backcountry.
    Fuel treatments always seem to receive ample support from the Division of Wildlife and ranchers with grazing permits. Cut trees to increase forage for big game and cattle.

    • Hi Tom, thanks for letting us know what’s going on. I attached a gmaps of Monarch and surrounding country for those in other parts of the country. From gmaps you get an idea of how patchy our forest tends to be in some parts of Colorado…valley, no trees, slopes trees, top of mountain, too high for trees. It’s a band of forest.

      It looks like they have a building, a saloon? and a Tesla charger (good to know). How far away is Monarch lodge and condos? By road it says it’s 3.9? Not to quibble, but I agree with your point that at least in our part of the country, it’s getting harder and harder to tell what is “backcountry”. Then we get to the designation of Roadless and Wilderness..

      Here’s a link to the 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule. There have been others (final rules0 published more recently but I think those are all about the North Fork (still in litigation) so I think the rest of it is valid. . The actual rule part start on page 39602 of the Federal Register.

      Under the Rule, there are two tiers of acres, so called Upper Tier and non-upper tier, in upper tier there are no exceptions for fuel treatments. If I had to guess the area around Monarch would be non-upper tier, but the maps are online.

      If the area mapped is in the non-upper tier, then these restrictions apply
      You can’t build a temp road for fuel treatment unless it’s within the first 1/2 mile of a CPZ.

      (vi) The Regional Forester determines a temporary road is needed to facilitate tree cutting, sale, or removal (§ 294.42(c)(1)) within the first one-half mile of the community protection zone to reduce the wildfire hazard to an at risk community or municipal water supply system;

      so what is a CPZ (community protection zone?)- if you go past the one half mile, it needs to meet criteria 1, 2 or 3.

      Community Protection Zone: An area extending one-half mile from the boundary of an at-risk community; or an area within one and a half miles from the boundary of an at-risk community, where any land:
      (1) Has a sustained steep slope that creates the potential for wildfire behavior endangering the at-risk community;
      (2) Has a geographic feature that aids in creating an effective fire break, such as a road or a ridge top; or
      (3) Is in condition class 3 as defined by HFRA

      But you can also cut trees for fuels reduction with these restrictions..situations 1 and 2 are different. 2 focuses on municipal water supplies, so I think is not applicable to the Monarch situation.

      (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.

      So to simplify, (if you are not talking about municipal water supply system) regardless of what is in the CWPP you can potentially get temp roads only up to 1/2 mile, and treatments without temp roads up to 1.5 miles and only that if it’s in a CWPP AND meets criteria 1 2 or 3. So it’s not as simple as the CRR allows treatments if it’s in a CWPP.

      Nothing about the CRR is simple but it is carefully crafted, as you can tell, to respond both to communities’ concerns and those of people who don’t want projects willy nilly in Roadless Areas. The idea of the RF making the decision is meant to heighten the attention and importance of these projects in CRA’s (Colorado Roadless Areas).

  6. I agree that “backcountry” is not limited to roadless and wilderness areas. There are a lot of roads through a lot of empty country on national forests, where reducing fire risk to humans is a lot less important than in the WUI. When I hear from the Forest Service that the amount of land that they want to “treat” is overwhelming, it tells me they need to seriously prioritize what they are doing. I might be more interesting to know where they are doing “backcountry” treatments for fire purposes where there are unmet needs closer to where people live. I support the idea of bringing fire back to ecosystems that need it, but I don’t think many people would prioritize that over saving homes.

    Given that the lands closest to homes are likely to be private, what is the opportunity for the Forest Service to “defund” national forest backcountry treatments, and divert that funding to private lands?

  7. As another example, it might be worth thinking about how “condition-based” projects that attempt to cover huge areas with a single decision would address this. Here are some parts of the purpose and need for the LaVA Project on the Shoshone National Forest (that we discussed most recently here:

    “Heavy fuel loads have accumulated in conifer stands and around critical infrastructure. This situation conflicts with forest plan goals and objectives that require reducing the threat of wildfire damage to communities and reducing fuel loadings in the interface next to homes, cabins, and other structures (forest plan subgoal 1.c, objective 2, page 1-5).

    The existing deadfall in much of the beetle-killed conifer stands makes access for recreation, some wildlife species at times, hunters, and special-use permittees difficult, thereby reducing forest visitor and permittee satisfaction. There is a need to reduce the heavy buildup of dead and down material through fuel reduction and salvage treatments.

    Overhead hazard trees caused by the bark beetle epidemics decrease public and employee safety and increase the risk to firefighters in wildland-urban interface areas. There is a need to remove hazardous trees in these and other critical areas.”

    The Forest has certainly given itself enough discretion to treat fuels wherever it wants to (the second bullet has no limitations, and the third could apply in any “other critical areas.” Since there is no further NEPA planned for when and where they actually decide to do fuel treatments, there would be no accountability for how it prioritizes them (and no requirement to provide a specific purpose and need for each area).

  8. Jon, we’ve talked about that before, maybe while you were gone. Here’s their process for prioritizing (with the communities involved).

    The Forest doesn’t have enough money to do everything everyone might want so they need to prioritize and will do so with the help of the communities. I don’t think doing a separate NEPA doc for each project necessarily gives any more accountability for how they are prioritized.. it just means that people with enough money to hire lawyers can hold it up.

    Without CBM there are plenty of folks who want their favorite projects prioritized and if they are not, I don’t think they can litigate based on “the FS should have done my project and not the proposed one.”

    • Actually I responded to your points in that previous discussion (which I also linked above). Replacing a legal process with a voluntary one removes accountability. A forest plan that includes “priorities” (which many do) could be enforced.

  9. Brenna, I’m trying to relate your comment to the map. I pulled this up on googlemaps, is this the area? do you know of any imagery that shows the outlines of the project? Thanks!

  10. WUI is fast becoming an outdated term. First, it’s been defined far to broadly to encompass vast areas that are not near homes. The best available science (Jack Cohen et al ) shows that mitigating the risk of fire to homes and communities is best accomplished by hardening structures with firewise retrofits, and creating defensible space by reducing fuels in the structure ignition zone, within 100 feet of homes, especially within 10 feet of homes.

    Other factors: (i) We don’t have the resources to treat the broader landscape. (ii) Fuel treatments are very unlikely to interact with wildfire. And, (iii) more often than not, fuel reduction further from homes is funded by commercial logging that makes fire hazard worse instead of better by making forests hotter, drier, windier, generates more hazardous slash, and stimulates the growth of surface and ladder fuels.

    • Nothing in the second paragraph holds true in the Sierra Nevada National Forests.

      (i) If we can fund all these firefighters, we can certainly fund more active forest management.

      (ii) We saw that happen in the Rim Fire, after plantations (from a previous fire ) were thinned.

      (iii) Thinning projects in the Sierra Nevada remove branches from the small “commercial” trees at the landings. Restoring trees densities to pre-European times doesn’t make forests hotter, drier or windier than those forests. Resilience is an excellent non-commercial goal, don’t ya think?

    • 2nd, I spent Monday with a friend who lives in the mountains outside Denver. They have a variety of thinning projects going including neighbors with big trailers having slash days where they haul to the county slash pile. The local fire district the Denver Mountain parks and Jeffco open spaces are all working together to reduce fuels and clearly we are not talking about 10 or 100 feet from homes.
      My question- we have no commercial logging here. Are you saying that all these people are just wrong?
      You say “more often than not” but I’d say for most of Colorado “more not than often”.
      Also you can say that fuel treatments are “unlikely to interact with wildfire”? Then why do you think we have so many that seem to do that- including those documented in the Fuel Treatment Effectiveness Monitoring reports? If we believe climate change is making fires worse and they’re already at 200K acres or so each, then we could image that anywhere is “likely to interact with wildfire.”

  11. I was wandering around the aerial photos near Quincy, and found this legacy of an ‘old school’ Quincy Library Group project (it seems). Their idea was to mimic small lightning fires, all across the landscape, through 2 acre patch cuts. I once worked on those, farther south and west of this spot. That project lost in court.,-121.047022,565m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

    I never really was a fan of this idea. It looks to me that this parcel probably fried to a crisp, as the wind pushed the fire through.

    Other observations: There’s a LOT more vegetation at the lower elevations than you might think. It’s a real smorgasbord of flammable trees and brush. If you haven’t seen a digger pine crown out, then you missed out on something special. You feel the rush of the wind when the crown reaches its flashpoint.

  12. “If some believe it is due to the influence of the timber industry, we could expect “backcountry fuel treatments” to occur in the big timber areas (where trees have positive value), and not so much elsewhere.”

    I don’t believe it would be hard to find the Forest Service saying it needs to cut big trees to pay for a fuels project. You can some even find some references to fuel treatments in these examples:

    Regarding HFRA priorities, they include WUI, but not exclusively. “HFRA focuses attention on four types of land:
    The wildland-urban interfaces of at-risk communities,
    At-risk municipal watersheds,
    Where threatened and endangered species or their habitats are at-risk to catastrophic fire and where fuels treatment can reduce those risks, and
    Where windthrow or insect epidemics threaten ecosystem components or resource values.”


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