What Do You Think About?: This Forest Supervisor’s Wildfire Comments

This article in High Country News seemed to fit with Sharon’s post yesterday, but also seemed worth a separate post.

In the view of this forest supervisor, the solution is more landscape-scale decisions (which we have discussed a few times, like here), and more categorical exclusions (which we have discussed a few times, like here.)  But his deliberate effort to cut corners with the public is getting pushback from all sides.

All sides agreed that more details were needed to assess the impacts and justifications for the proposals. They wanted to know where projects would occur, and how and when they would be carried out. In short, they felt like Mark was going about this the wrong way.

After receiving that community feedback — and seeing other national forests get sued for similar landscape-level categorical exclusions — Mark put a pause on the proposals. “Some people are uncomfortable, and I knew that coming in,” he said. “But I guarantee you get another (fire) that’s threatening this ridge with a smoke cloud that’s 30,000 feet in the air, I know you’re going to be uncomfortable.”

(To me, that feels a little bit like extortion.)

And then there is this – what I think of as the “bake sale” approach to forest management:

As part of the process, the Forest Service often offers large, fire-resistant trees — which are more valuable because of their size and tight grain — as an incentive for companies to bid on the thinning that, in many cases, is a sale’s true objective. “Something’s got to carry the load,” Mark said. “Otherwise, you’re not going to be able to sell the sale and you won’t get anything done.”

I suppose there is authority somewhere for the Forest Service to cut down trees because they are the most valuable, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a forest plan say this (and it’s sure contrary to pursuing ecological integrity).

Some interesting commentary on competing collaboration efforts in the article, too.



7 thoughts on “What Do You Think About?: This Forest Supervisor’s Wildfire Comments”

  1. Ah, the paradox; knowing something terrible is going to happen, just not knowing when, and biting our proverbial tongues, wanting to say “I told you so” after it happens.

    I certainly see his dilemma, and have shared his concerns to try and get meaningful work done on the ground. Do you challenge “the bull”, or lead him out of the field with a bucket of feed? The Bull is getting bigger and meaner, and time is a’ticken’ as we say down on the farm!

    So yes, Mr. Mark is identifying some of the root constraints over treating landscape scale, and trying to initiate those actions he knows can and will help.

    I applaud his efforts, but fear the old “analysis paralysis” will rear its ugly head!

  2. “What Mark didn’t foresee was that wielding this tool, even to mitigate wildfire risk, would stoke the frustrations of groups that had felt left out of the Forest Service’s plans in the past.”

    Any effective planner/NEPA practitioner could have pointed this out to Sup. Mark (maybe they did!). This is the natural outcome of what ends up being a vicious cycle: the FS tries to work with the public, the pace of decisions is too slow, the FS changes the rules of public engagement, the public reacts adversely, the FS tries to work with the public (rinse, repeat).

    I have advocated that, while a Categorial Exclusion may lessen the analytical effort by the FS, increased public engagement for a CE project may be needed to avoid conflicts. But, all I kept hear from line officers is “that is not required” and “I am willing to take the risk of not engaging people”. So, to cite Jim’s comments above, the FS planners are well positioned for the “I told you so” exclamation.

  3. In places where large trees were seen to be needed to ‘sweeten the pot’ in thinning projects, maybe a Service Contract would be better to remove the flammable understory, instead? Of course, some people in Congress are politically against THAT idea. Through clever design, a Service Contract can be crafted to not involve huge amounts of money paid out. It can have a sawlog timber sale embedded within it, to take care of the amounts of merchantable timber cut in the project. That helps offset the non-merchantable tasks in the Service Contract. There are solutions between the extremes.

    • My first question would be: “strength of local industry”. That’ll make all the difference in the world as to whether an “IRSC” has any legs. Other problems with Service Contracts are the warrants needed by the CO, and if that individual has any timber background to service that part of the $. Also, we have been told many times, loggers need to log, let someone else do the service work!

      Look at 4-FRI; excellent collaborative and Planning effort on the part of four different national forests, for Heavens sake, but contractors have been quite “duds”. The formula is there for success but industry is almost non-existent. What’s that saying about “driving a horse to water…..”?

      So, not knowing industries “reach” on the Salmon-Challis, that’d be my first concern. Should it be the Colville, we would be having a different discussion.

      Just my dos centavos…..

      • Oops, that was Jim Zornes, by the way, replying to Larry’s comment.

        It was also great to hear from my old buddy, Tony Erba on his take on the matter….

      • I was saying that if a thinning project needs to cut large trees to make a timber sale pencil-out, maybe it shouldn’t include cutting the most fire resistant trees in the forest. THAT is one thing that litigators look for. Would the Ranger District rather fight court battles, or get emergency work done? Yes, it is not a great option but, it would fulfill the purpose and need of a modern thinning project.


Leave a Comment