“All Hands on Deck”Effort Toward National Forest Fire Planning?

This is from the NOI so I have no idea how current it is.


Remember, to many ENGO’s, we’re in a “climate emergency.” Which conveys a sense of urgency to do climate adaptation.  I don’t think we need to agree on what proportion of the current fire problem is caused by the human contribution to climate change to move ahead and realize that what we face today is a changed, and extremely bad, situation that needs serious and urgent attention. Back to the Climate Smart Ag and Forestry letters, here’s an idea from The Wilderness Society [1] :

“The Wilderness Society also encourages the USDA to adopt a multi-zone portfolio approach that guides wildfire management and restoration in large, contiguous areas across the landscape. A good, recent example of this kind of zoning system is the revised forest management plan for the Inyo National Forest in California. The Inyo plan designates four Strategic Fire Management Zones across the forest — Community Wildfire Protection, General Wildfire, Wildfire Restoration, and Wildfire Maintenance – and provides management direction designed to protect communities from wildfire risk while allowing wildfire to play a beneficial role in ecosystem restoration and maintenance.”[2]c.

If we add in the frustration associated with plan revisions by Forest Service employees, stakeholders and even law school professors (!) (Squillace, 2019)[1]:

“The time is long overdue for the multiple-use agencies to admit that the current land use planning scheme is not working, and that it cannot be fixed without fundamental change”.

We’d think that perhaps a fire amendment might work.. and another piece is that most ENGO’s seem to like EISs.. so… what about..

All hands on deck” effort on National Forest fire planning. Put a stand down on plan revisions and other major planning projects until each Wildfire Forest (forests for which wildfire is an important problem) has completed a forest plan amendment that addresses fire management zoning, wildland fire use, specific PODs or other strategic landscape fuel treatments design, and all other relevant fire issues. For example, I think it was WEG who suggested a focus on human-caused ignitions; there might be similarities across forests but also specific areas and approaches to target by Forest.

Such an amendment would require coordination with neighboring Forests, Tribes, state and private landowners and communities on locations of PODs and treatments.  Because many ENGOs prefer large landscape NEPA, these could be done as a plan amendment with an EIS for establishing PODs, as well as their upkeep through time (one and one NEPA). It’s possible that the “safety first” and the “departure first” points of view would iron themselves out during this process.  Some type of stakeholder advisory committee, including at the state level, might oversee and help with implementation, take advantage of state expertise including practitioners, natural resource professionals and state universities, increase alignment between local, state and federal efforts, and lift up problems and issues for resolution.

With the large fires we’ve been having, it would also be important to be able to change priorities and POD designs based on opportunities provided by fires, and keep those up to date. I’m not sure that going through the plan amendment-EIS process each time conditions changed would be realistic. On the other hand, an emergency calls for changes from business as usual.

Of  course, if we look at any Forest’s SOPA, we’ll see other permits and NEPA that need attention, so it’s impossible for employees to drop everything else. Still, we can ask the question “what does a climate emergency call for?” and “How far can we move from BAU to respond to such an emergency?

What do you all think?



[1] Squillace, M. 2019. Rethinking public land use planning. Harvard Environmental Law Review (43):415-477.

[1] https://www.regulations.gov/comment/USDA-2021-0003-1074

[2] USDA Forest Service. 2018. Land Management Plan for the Inyo National Forest, p. 75-79.


19 thoughts on ““All Hands on Deck”Effort Toward National Forest Fire Planning?”

  1. Seems the only time we’ve seen a legitimate effort to shift gears was when over the course of decades the enviro arguments in court prevailed so often that Judge Dwyer shut down timber sales until the issues were addressed, or as he explained “were just barely addressed” before he released the injunction. Back in the early 90’s despite all the hot air over the war in the woods, there was so much new direction seeking that was incredibly beneficial.

    But when it comes to firefighting in an era of rapidly accelerating climate change, It’s not going to be a judge that shuts things down until there’s a new direction just barely taken. We need real leadership to do that! Maybe a Green New Deal led effort?

    If I could wave a magic wand over all this I’d establish highly detailed maps of cumulative impacts of all known land use activities on private and public land in past two centuries and then designate fire risk by how recent the latest disturbance was and what vegetation type that disturbance will cause if wind picks up and an ignition occurs. As we all know human disturbance is quickly followed by the growth of brushy fine fuels that make fires quicker to ignite, as well as move faster across the land. But what type of fine fuels and on what kind of terrain its disbursed over are the details that matter if we’re to be effective.

    And the more disturbance a forest has the higher the state, federal and local tax rates needs to be for everyone who is responsible for that disturbance. Currently the property tax structure is upside down and people who protect their forests have to pay more than large scale timber land owners who keep their land as heavily disturbed as possible because there’s more money to be made doing that rather than less.

    I would also map out all the areas where there’s been the least disturbance, as well as areas with the lowest wind speeds and thickest bark and designate those areas for protection as they will be more likely survive the pyrocene era than other more disturbed and wind exposed areas. This could be done as an expansion of stream buffers and would include private lands by way of rescinding property rights that help to better prevent catastrophic wildfire. This will also require funds to buy out timberland owners best, most intact forests to ensure protection until we’re clearly past these terrifying pyrocene times.

    But the bigger problem is how the existing money currently gets spent. And while I won’t get into the uselessness of thinning at a scale we aren’t capable of, I do want to talk about how entrenched the whole system is when it comes to how money gets spent/wasted.

    As in, my other comment this morning in a local enviro listserve we talked about California announcing $5.1 Billion over four years to address wildfire and how that money will get spent: https://www.gov.ca.gov/2021/07/22/newsom-administration-secures-12-additional-firefighting-aircraft-to-support-statewide-fire-response/

    My comment to that announcement:

    “The firefighting industrial complex always spends huge money on these big expensive planes and chemicals that make a big dramatic show of giant pink clouds doing all the firefighting rather than spending money on where the real effort is won or lost.

    Billions of dollars spent on better equipment and training for rural volunteer fire departments, as well as hiring way more people to work fires with hand tools is essential. Also requiring all landowners by law to maintain trail access and have pre-approved maps for backfires so firefighters don’t have to do all the prep work during a fire’s approach and can just show up and start the backfire based on existing maps in their database. That would be way more efficient and way more effective.”

    Also massive funding to have rapidly deployable rooftop mounted metal fabric tents over all structures in the urban wildland interface, as well as burnover shelters similar to what protects people from tornadoes and bombings would allow insurance companies to hire their own local fire crews to save as many houses as possible the minute the fire has finished moving through a rural neighborhood.

    There’s so many things we could do if we all worked together to address this. But as always, people put their own interests above a greater collective interest and that’s going to sustain way more destruction for way longer. And good luck with your real estate investment if you can no longer get fire insurance…

  2. *YAWN*. Same old nonsense over and over. Funny that you hate science unless it aligns with your agenda and personal profit, and ignore any and all things in your personal life that don’t align.
    Write enough words, and most people either accept it as truth, or gloss over it.

  3. One extreme says that we need clearcuts to stop all wildfires. The other extreme says that these western wildfires aren’t a problem. Another extreme says that we need only control the air supply that fuels the wildfires. Established science doesn’t support any of these ideas of dealing with devastating firestorms. If you disagree, then go to court to support your lunacy.

  4. Here’s an idea to get environmental groups to take fire seriously. Amend the Wilderness Act so that when a wildfire burns in a Wilderness Area, any land burned is automatically no longer Wilderness. I bet fire planning would suddenly become their top priority then!

    • You’re two decades behind the times Patrick… Specifically, the Bunch Grass Ridge roadless area on the Oakridge Ranger District was protected from logging except for one sentence in the management plan that allowed logging if the forest burned, same thing you’re proposing.

      And guess what happened? Some folks who think like you deliberately set the forest on fire so they could log it. But even a pro-timber industry judge ruled against the salvage logging plan for Warner Creek Fire because USFS didn’t consider the environmental impacts of potentially rewarding arsonists.

      Of course then in Fall of ’96 the Salvage rider was signed into law that suspended all laws for 18 months allowing the forest service to log it anyways. So we blocked the road and got citizen’s from every state in the United States as well as people from all over the world to stand up against this miscarriage of justice and thousands were arrested in protests all over the PNW to save so many threatened ancient forests.

      And we may of lost most of those old growth forests we had already saved in a court of law, but the Warner Creek area and its ancient forest never got logged and is still alive and connected to two different wilderness areas. What’s more all the USFS corruption that was put in the public spotlight led to an arsonist burning down the Oakridge ranger district.

      So if you want to know what begets what when it comes to people who think like you, now you know…

      • Looks like someone couldn’t tell I was making a facetious joke. The perverse incentives are pretty obvious there. But it does kind of seem like environmentalists would only care about fire if it threatened the one thing they actually care about (Wilderness). Otherwise, fire is only good for them, as it furthers their goal of closing public lands to all human uses more rapidly than anything else does.

        • I must admit that comments to this particular thread have been a joke for sure… I tried to provide detailed thoughts of meaningful ways to address this serious situation and your comment came across as a troll job just like the other comments instead of something funny.

          And doubling down on enviros behaving differently if wildfire threatened wilderness because that’s all we care about is silly. We care about the whole planet, every last bit of it!

          What’s more wildfire is natural and normal and incredibly beneficial for the next generation of forests as long as the soils are not disturbed with salvage logging.

          But it seems your myopic view of us thinks we can be shoved aside into areas of rock and ice and unmerchantable timber that’s easy to designate as wilderness and that’s all we want/need is wrong. We haven’t even begun to show you what kind of land forfeiture reality all you resource extraction abusers are going to lose in coming decades.

          It’s gonna a be a beautiful thing when future generations think of tree farmers in the past tense and with the same level of disdain we have for long ago placer mining, whaling, bottom trawling, gold & coal mining…

            • There are 8 million lightning strikes on this planet every day Larry: https://learn.weatherstem.com/modules/learn/lessons/36/02.html

              This is natural and normal and really quite beautiful if you watch time lapse footage from the space station: https://youtu.be/_gyUKAXRMj0

              And when we aren’t facing super high temps and drought and climate induced peak wind speeds getting more extreme as the amount of carbon in the atmosphere increases every year, these ignition sources almost never burn much land before self extinguishing as Wuerthner’s often referenced studies of Yellowstone lightning strikes have noted…

              Of course when humans make fire weather more common through climate change, as well as make the land more vulnerable to this weather via disturbance creates aridification as well as quickly grows flashy fine fuels than you have what we have today, which is millions of acres lost to fire every years.

          • Deane, in your ideal future, one without tree farms and presumably any logging, what we we use as substitutes for the wood products people use today?

            • Steve, the timber industry and the oil industry have a lot in common in the way they hoard all their massive tax breaks and government subsidies while spending millions on smear campaigns to argue that their natural resources are the only solution and no other options are feasible.

              Detroit started producing electric cars in 1920’s but were shut down by fossil fools. And Look at how much was spent to try to ruin Elon Musk and Tesla a hundred years later as they kept arguing that you can’t scale up and replace fossil fuel vehicles with electric and that its just not feasible. But now Tesla’s valuation is massively higher than every other automaker in the world and every vehicle manufacturer is re-tooling and spending hundreds of millions to put an end to fossil fool powered vehicles by 2030.

              Same thing is happening to the timber industry… The primary driver of building houses out of wood in recent centuries is because the industrial revolution made huge amounts of accumulated carbon that had been growing for centuries a cheap easy thing to steal from the the ecosystem we depend on with very little cost to produce because it has been in production on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, which is why we have oxygen to breathe.

              But with catastrophic deforestation continuing to accelerate all over the world and the price of a single 2×4 hitting $10 at some retail stores in June, the cost of many alternative resources besides lumber are fast becoming more affordable and pretending those alternative aren’t available or not feasible isn’t going to fool anyone especially the engineers who build giant buildings.

              What’s more, since the dawn of civilization wood has always been a short-lived building material and not as lasting as earth and stone… How many building in New York City are built primarily of wood? All the major cities of the world are not built of wood but much stronger and much more consistent quality of material because in a city you have to build up not out and lumber isn’t strong enough to do that.

              In essence its yet another example of affluent city folk moving ahead into a more intelligent future, while all the rural folk wonder why they’re dealing with so much poverty on their logged out former forested landscapes.

          • “It’s gonna a be a beautiful thing when future generations think of tree farmers in the past tense and with the same level of disdain we have for long ago placer mining, whaling, bottom trawling, gold & coal mining…”

            Oh so you mean thinking of it in terms of, “Do all that nasty stuff in 3rd world countries and then ship it across the ocean to us?” Because all those things (except wailing, though I guess Japan still does a little of that) are still done, just not so much in the US so we don’t have do deal with their effects. If you think you can abolish logging entirely worldwide, that’s a pipe dream for sure. Unless you expect people to also stop building houses, furniture, fences, etc., the best you’ll be able to achieve is ban it in the US.

            • The days of doing all the nasty stuff in 3rd world countries is almost done as we reach peak resource depletion of all the easiest to harvest resources on this planet.

              And one concept is that if we succeed in becoming a multi-planet species all the resource extraction and planet destroying activities can take place on asteroids and in other dead off-world places that no living thing depends on for survival and where carbon emissions don’t pollute our atmosphere.

              When you study the amount of lift potential that SpaceX and other companies are developing and project that forward the few decades that it takes to grow the next rotation of stunted sawlogs you come up with the ability to go after asteroids like this one:

              “Made of iron and nickel, 16 Psyche could well be a “protoplanet,” the core of an ex-planet that never got to maturity. About 140 miles/226 kilometers wide, discussions about 16 Psyche never stray too far from its presumed astronomical value. It has been said that 16 Psyche could be worth about $10,000 quadrillion, many times larger than the global economy, which was measured as being about $142 trillion in 2019.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2020/12/05/a-bizarre-trillion-dollar-asteroid-worth-more-than-our-planet-is-now-aligned-with-the-earth-and-sun/?sh=69f6295431c9

              • Well there’s something we actually agree on. I’m a huge SpaceX fan, and I agree there’s a lot of potential to move a lot of heavy industry off-world in the long term. Though it will take a long time, and at least until Mars is terraformed I don’t think we’ll be importing lumber from space.

                • Glad I finally agreed with someone on smokeywire… And I’ve lots to say about how spaceX can affect industrial forestry in the next few decades.

                  And of course when you’re talking about growing trees/forest you’re definitely talking long term, talking decades, yet look at what short-term private investing wall street has done now that they bought up all the timberland that the mills used to own?

                  And isn’t it just a matter of a decade or so before investors see no money in trees because we’re harvesting a nearby 140 mile thick Iron-Nickel metal asteroid that’s actually a failed planet’s core?

                  Echoes of the gold and silver trade from the Americas that’s transformed the economies of Europe after 1492… History may soon repeat itself and bankrupt tree framers and their investment groups all over again:

                  “The Spanish mined American gold and silver at minimal cost and flooded the European market with an abundance of specie. This influx caused a relative decrease in the value of these metals in comparison with agricultural and craft products. Furthermore, depopulation – specifically in southern Spain – resulted in a high rate of inflation. The failure of the Spanish to control the influx of gold and the price fluctuations of gold and silver from the American mines, combined with war expenditures, led to three bankruptcies of the Spanish monarchy by the end of the 16th century. In the 16th century, prices increased consistently throughout Western Europe, and by the end of the century prices reached levels three to four times higher than at the beginning. The annual inflation rate ranged from 1% to 1.5%. Since the monetary system of the 16th century was based on specie (mostly silver) this inflation rate was significant. ” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_revolution

                  • I already have a plan for that asteroid…. heh-heh. It’s more like a sci-fi plot line, but imaginative people come up with imaginative solutions. I could imagine humans attaching rockets to this big and valuable chunk of metals, and ‘flying’ it back to the moon, over many years. The goal would be to crash land the chunk, as softly as possible, near a potential moon base site. It could make for an interesting near-future space series. Of course, a smaller chunk might be more advisable, first.

                  • I totally agree there is a huge potential in asteroid mining over the next few decades. I just question whether metals mined in space can really be a substitute for timber. There will always be some need for lumber, and you’re only going to be getting non-biological resources from space. Trees and other crops will still have to be grown on Earth for the foreseeable future (except in limited quantities to support off-world colonies).

                    Still, maybe if more residential construction is done with other materials like steel and concrete as you say, the demand for lumber for things like furniture will be small enough that even environmentalists will be satisfied with the smaller scale operations necessary to meet that demand.

  5. (This thread sure went a different direction than I thought it would while I was gone …)

    I’m glad to see that you have changed your position some on this since you commented on a proposed fire use amendment on the Tahoe (and now seem to support planning!): “Now, I’m not saying it isn’t good to think about it before, even analyze areas that might be most appropriate and mapping them like the GMUG did. I’m just pointing out that it’s apparently not necessary to have successful WFU.” https://forestpolicypub.com/2020/02/12/tahoe-plan-amendment-for-use-of-wildfires/

    I also earlier pointed out with some approval what the southern Sierra forests (including the Inyo) were doing: https://forestpolicypub.com/2016/06/08/fire-planning-in-the-southern-sierras/

    The first post includes a recitation of what the Forest Service direction is for what forest plans should do about fire. At least as of 2009. I think the Cohesive Strategy (2014) is at too high of a level to be very useful; its Action Plan leaves off here: “Evaluate and integrate applicable wildland fire management strategies and actions from the National Strategy, National Action Plan, Regional Action Plans including recognition of reserved treaty rights, and Wildland Fire in America: The Scientific Basis for the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy into planning and decision-making, such as through future revisions of individual land management plans…” (and many other places).

    I agree with you on what that means: “To me, the key question would be what exactly would need to be done, and how far away, to protect communities?” At the forest planning level, in my view, plans should define the values at risk and areas where their protection would be an objective. They should also define the desired conditions for fire frequency and intensity, as well as for the vegetation and fuels to manage to achieve that.

    Your suggestion of amendments to add this kind of things to forest plans on high priority national forest is interesting. The Forest Service would certainly not like it, but since fire is such a big part of management now, doing fire amendments as pre-work for multiple plan revisions could actually simplify the revision process enough to make it worthwhile. As an example, amendments to multiple forest plans have been adopted for at-risk wildlife species that make this part of plan revisions easier, but fire amendments would have to be based on more local information about values at risk.


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