Vilsack: we have tried to do this job on the cheap

Thanks for Bill Gabbert at Wildfire Today for this article. An excerpt:

On August 4 Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and new U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore met at the burn scar of the 2020 August Complex of fires in Northern California to discuss state and federal collaboration on ​wildfire response and fuels management across the West.

During a press availability, Secretary Vilsack uttered words we don’t hear from Chiefs of the Forest Service, or certainly from Secretaries of Agriculture:

We are prepared to do a better job [of forest management] if we have the resources to be able to do this… Candidly, I think it’s fair to say over the generations and decades, we have tried to do this job on the cheap. We have tried to get by, a little here, a little there, with a little forest management here, a little fire suppression over here, but the reality is this has caught up to us.

We have to significantly beef up our capacity. We have to have more boots on the ground… And we have to make sure our firefighters are better compensated. Governor, that will happen.

We need to do a better job, and more, forest management to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire.

18 thoughts on “Vilsack: we have tried to do this job on the cheap”

  1. Bill Gabbert worked as a wildland firefighter in California for twenty years but today he lives in a Black Hills county named for a war criminal where he writes as an expert on wildland fire. Using metrics that measure the probability of ignition or PI he took a firm stand on the risk of wildfire starts after a return of pyrotechnics to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in my home state where he was Fire Management Officer for four years.

    Gabbert recently posted an article on evidence gathering and forensics after a weaponized wildfire. His most recent post is simply more evidence for moving the Forest Service from USDA into Interior.

      • That drama drives this blog, Sharon, is lost on none of your readers.

        Perhaps a better question is whether moving the Forest Service into Interior makes sense for the Earth.

  2. About time! We need to get back to at least 8 billion bd ft/year sales program. Prioritize treatments and staffing (National Fire Plan) to reduce risks in high-hazard areas. NFP was a great conceptual movement, but budgeting and moving Human Resource Management off Forests and into Albuquerque (ASC) has been a disaster. Retaining competent HR staffers, and funding the bribery that entails ASC is on a collision course with the new norm.

    The Service has been gutted of any semblance of a timber organization, so it must be rebuilt from the “paint squirter”, up. Then, convincing industry “we really mean it” now.

    I think, maybe, folks are getting tired of “woke management”, and watching entire towns be incinerated!

    • When they decide that timbermarking is more than just a “Temporary” job, I’ll believe that management is serious about doing the right thing. Or, they can continue being cheap, and failing once again.

      It’s going to be amusing when they try and replace all the firefighters ‘stolen’ by CalFire, too. Remember, women and Hispanic people get priority, especially for the permanent positions the new bill in Congress will require. The Forest Service has been resistant to fill all those positions as permanent, in the past, for various reasons.

      • Larry can you tell me how women and Hispanic people get priority for these positions? It’s not something we discuss during regional firehire selections, so wondering if they are vetted before they get that far? I’m unsure of the process other than forests making selections off the certs we’re given.

    • Jim it would be better if you’d avoid silly terms like “woke management” when you comment. “Wokeism” has been a thing for like two years, our land management issues go back hundreds of years. Silly to blame anything on “woke management”.

      • Agree. Also to avoid promoting a “sales program” as the solution. That’s actually part of the “on the cheap” problem. Priorities shouldn’t be based on where there are big trees that would lower costs.

    • I would argue that commercial harvest is only one tool and it should not be prioritized to fix this situation that has been in the making for over 100 years. Surface fuels and the understory are what drive fire intensities. In other words, fire exclusion is what got us here. There must be a distinction made in “forest management”, otherwise the discussion gets watered down; there are complexities to this that must be addressed. Significant/meaningful implementation of prescribed fire and surface fuel reductions must occur. Wildfire to meet objectives also has a place in this. And yes, let’s harvest a boatload of trees while we are at it, just not commercially high-grade the best and most resilient stands out there….which, historically, has been the easy and wrong answer to the problem.

      • Since 1993, National Forests in the Sierra Nevada have been doing this kind of commercial thinning. They cut 15 inch average diameter trees, while strictly preserving old growth trees over 30 inches in diameter. Of course, that also means a ban on clearcutting, too. While the USFS has been doing this for close to 30 years, without significant litigation, it hasn’t been enough. We need to triple the amount of this beneficial thinning, and subsequent prescribed burning.

        It is Congress who isn’t funding more of this. Neither political extreme wants to give more money to the Forest Service.

        • It’d be an interesting idea to let the USFS raise its own money by following a model similar to Germany’s, where (there state- here federal) agencies run their own sawmills and market their own timber. Aligning financial interest and forest management while preserving the public nature of the land and allowing for much longer cycles of harvesting (in some western ecosystems centuries) pertinent to our tree species.

          • “Aligning financial interest and forest management.”

            I don’t know what Germany has done differently for this to lead to longer rotations, but if you look at what private industry in this country has done with their financial incentives it’s pretty much the opposite. Failure to account for the non-marketable benefits of forests seems a major problem to me.

  3. George and John, I fully disagree with your assessments over “word choice”. Really? The forest service is a big outfit; remove the Forests east of the 100th Meridian, because they are making use of true ecosystem manage, yielding sustainable timber outputs.

    West of the 100th, it is a mess! We need to cut timber, we need viable sales programs to support the costs of redeveloping timber industry. Full silvicultural and ecological restoration can only be possible if everyone is all in. I have no stomach to keep throwing federal $ at pies in the sky; 4-FRI cured that!

    Back in the day, Region 6 done a great job at cutting timber and managing the fuels, along with other resources. Trouble was, we were cutting too much, and we’re very good at it.

    “Woke management” is a new term, with a definition developed around 1990, I think I’ll stick with it!

    I see no resolve in combating large-scale wildfire in the short term; as soon as the unicorns begin snorting fairy dust maybe we can come to our senses…..


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