As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been reviewing what different environmental groups wrote in their USDA Climate Smart Forestry and Agriculture comments. One I found particularly worth discussing is from the Environmental Defense Fund.
Our national wildfire strategy should have two priorities: 1) Protect communities in the line of fire; and 2) Reestablish natural fire patterns to protect ecosystem values and sustainably manage fuel loads. Reestablishing natural fire regimes can only be realized when fuel loads, particularly in the West, are greatly reduced using both mechanical treatments and prescribed and managed fire. Implementation will require an updated wildfire triage approach to ensure that we address the most pressing threats to communities and human lives, first. Using fire as a management tool requires as a precondition that communities feel that their lives and property are safe and secure. Where and when this condition is met, managers will have greater flexibility to manage vegetation in wildlands.
A special burden falls on USDA Forest Service due to its management responsibility for National Forests and Grasslands. USDA can act now to revitalize and reorganize the Forest Service in support of a new national fire strategy, an effort that will require an all-hands-on-deck commitment from staff scientists, fire practitioners, land managers and community outreach specialists.
I like their priorities 1 and 2, and their mention of fire practitioners. Many groups did not mention fire suppression or fuels practitioners at all. I’d think they’d be key to developing strategies to deal with wildfires.
Specific recommendations include:
· Establish a Wildfire Commission, co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and bipartisan western governors to develop a new western fire strategy that will increase the pace and scale of ecologically-sound fuel reduction treatments on all lands (federal, state, private and tribal), modernize firefighting response and increase the use of prescribed fire.
· Address significant gaps in our national approach to forest pest and disease — both native and non-native invasive pests and disease — including increasing funding for research, monitoring, detection and treatment on both federal and non-federal lands. USDA should work also with other federal and state agencies to address the significant risk to native vegetation arising from the wide import of products in wood packaging.
· Rebuild and restore staff capacity and morale within the USDA Forest Service by investing in science capacity within the research units, creating more sustainable career paths for staff, and creating a path to leadership positions for a diversity of critical job categories (e.g., not just timber and fire). Development of communication, community engagement, negotiation and partnership-building skills should be prioritized in recruitment and advancement.
· Expand year-round, career-track jobs for a new category of forest restoration practitioners that combine seasonal firefighting and forest restoration work.
· Create training opportunities for youth and members of disadvantaged
I don’t know that we need a new strategy, but I’m wondering what others think. And I do think involving the western governors would decrease the partisan fussing around the topic. I also like that they mention insects and diseases and even wood packaging! It seems like many environmental groups may not be concerned about the impacts of introduced forest insects and diseases, at least based on the letters I’ve read. I do think there is a path to leadership outside of timber and fire- I’ve seen a broad variety of folks. How about your experiences? I like the year-round career-track jobs for forest restoration practitioners, but perhaps that runs counter to other efforts to equalize the pay of wildland firefighters with other entities (as discussed here at Wildfire Today and many other places)?
I was also intrigued by this suggestion:
Build consensus within the science, forest industry and NGO communities to ensure that climate-smart forestry practices are recognized, valued and non-controversial.
and wondered what mechanisms the author might propose to accomplish this. I’m trying to contact the authors, but meanwhile you all may have ideas on whether this is a good idea, and if so, how to do it.