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.