WaPo Story on Prescribed Fire Around Seeley Lake, Montana

PB areas near Seeley Lake, from WaPo story

This WaPo story is from a few weeks ago, but I thought what they did with graphics and maps was very interesting and novel.. TSW readers with long memories may remember Seeley Lake maps from our discussions of the Colt Summit project.

There are at least ten TSW posts following this project as it wended its way through objections and a couple rounds of litigation and more analysis. Dueling op-eds in the Missoulian and all that. After several trips through the court system, though, the project was successfully implemented.

So I was curious as to whether any of the projects shown in the WaPo piece were part of Colt Summit and so I asked Tim Love, the District Ranger when this happened (who turned out to be on a fire). It turns out that the Rx burning pictured was on units in the Horse Shoe Hills treatments which were part of their CFLR projects that weren’t litigated.

25 thoughts on “WaPo Story on Prescribed Fire Around Seeley Lake, Montana”

  1. Really good article. The advantage of media like WaPo is they can still do in-depth reporting; graphics are simply outstanding!

    • Agreed. Excellent story. Written by “Amanda Monthei is a freelance writer, former wildland firefighter and host of “Life with Fire” podcast, which explores the role that fire plays in America’s forests, lands and communities. She lives in Bellingham, Wash.”

      This kind of story will help change the narrative among policymakers and their constituents. I think this story wouldn’t have been written absent the huge fires int he western US is recent years.

  2. “Seeley Lake is home to one of the largest western larches in the world, a towering attraction known as Gus, some 163-feet tall and about 1,000 years old. Trees this big are intimately connected to fire, because heat and flames strengthen the trees’ bark and protect them from future, higher-severity wildfires.”

    Heat and flames strengthen the trees’ bark? First I’ve heard of that. Anyone else know about this?

    • Heat and flames strengthen the trees’ bark? First I’ve heard of that. Anyone else know about this?

      In a word — “biochar.”

    • Yes, agreed… Imagine how many fires has this tree has endured in a thousand years? Imagine how many trees just as old as it didn’t survive because it wasn’t in as an ideal location when the wind blew the fires through in the usual ways.

      When you spread out your perception of time like this tree can and you can view forests landscapes over a thousands years fires can be more like ocean waves crashing on the shore rather than how us short-lived humans experience it as one big wave hitting the forest one time and then us not living long enough to see how the forest regrows between many waves of fire moving through.

      I’ve often wished space aliens would give me a hard drive of high resolution aerial photos of my favorite forests taken every 10 years and going back hundreds of thousands of years so I could watch forests come and go like I was watching a movie. If we had access to a data base like that we’d have very little to disagree about when it comes to where specific forests and tree densities will be sure to thrive, rather than die.

      As for the author reaching a bit when it comes to heat and flames strengthening / thickening tree bark there may very well be some chemical messengers that signal the tree to increase bark thickness on the windward side of periodic fires, but us humans are still just short-lived babies to these knowings. However if you’d like to go further down this rabbit hole here would be a good paper to start with:

      Fire effects on tree physiology https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.15871

      • I find it hard to believe but once in awhile you say something that makes sense. Not often, but once in awhile. I have seen trees that are 400 years and older growing in a creek bottoms that have survived many fires just be incinerated in recent ” full suppression” fires.
        I just don’t like wasting our timber resources. We aren’t preserving or conserving them.
        To bad you are so anti wood use.

        • That thousand year old larch tree would of survived a catastrophic fire like the one that took out those 400 year old trees more than once without much issue.

          And if we had standard decadal stereoscopic aerial photos from transects dating back tens of thousand of years we could literally map out areas for wood production / clearcutting soon as the next catastrophic wildfire was scheduled to hit while dedicating trees that are known to survive/on outskirts of the core of that periodic burn pattern for protection/long term carbon sequestration/ecosystem services.

          Sure would be way better than the dishonest racket of mean annual increment, or “simulating stand replacement events” that is constantly justifying clearcuts based on how growth rings don’t tell the truth of the true value of carbon sequestration over time when it comes to the biggest oldest trees in a forest.

      • Uh, no, because the trees are going back and forth due to availability of seed and changes in climate… so what thrived where during the little Ice Age might not thrive there today.

        • Actually if you had high resolution aerial photo data going back 100,000 years at 10 year intervals, you’d be able to target specific time periods similar to our current time period and could not only avoid ice age data points, but you could actually track different era of seed dominance. We can currently do this fairly well with pollen, but not so much with seed.

          As in the biggest problem with conflicts over forest management is we’re all trying to predict future outcomes even though we don’t have enough quality data showing different growing conditions of life on earth over large scales of time to be certain.

          • But no earlier eras were similar to our current conditions, because even if the climate were identical (which seems unlikely) the genetic composition our our species is different now than it was then. For evolution, time’s arrow only goes one way. Past genetic combinations are permanently gone (and unknown).

    • I asked Aaron Sparks from the University of Idaho who had written a paper on larch physiology and fire https://www.publish.csiro.au/WF/WF18044
      and he replied
      “Douglas-fir bark has been observed to expand when heated, which lowers the density and slows heat transfer into the tree stem – thus helping protect the cambium/phloem from harmful doses of heat. Maybe this is what the authors were trying to get at? It wouldn’t be surprising if larch bark was similar.

      It’s an interesting concept, but I would consider this much less advantageous for the tree than fire’s ability to kill competitors and any small ‘ladder fuel’ trees that may allow a higher-severity crown fire to develop.”

      • I’ve seen that in Doug-fir — the bark when burned puffs up a bit, making for good insulation. I have not seen western larch bark do that. Anyone else?

  3. For whatever it’s worth, here’s another view of the same area as the photo in the main post. Note the larger meadow on the upper left of both images, for context. Also, note how heavily hammered (logged, roaded, very likely weed-infested) the landscape is.

    Also, below is an image of the Colt Summit project area. The Colt Summit project area is located in the upper-center portion by the “83” and bend in the road, approximately 20 miles north of Seeley Lake. The area surrounding the Colt Summit timber sale (including the portions of the Lolo National Forest, State DNRC lands and private lands) have been heavily logged and roaded, significantly compromising critical habitat for lynx, grizzly bears, bull trout and other critters.

    • Thanks yet again Mathew Koehler for consistently proving that fuels build up from fire suppression is a lie and that these areas that are burning in horrible ways were hammered with logging & grazing many times over in the past century. These fires are not a failure of human neglect of the landscape, rather a failure of human over-use and abuse of the landscape, which increasess aridification / vulnerability to catastrophic fire.

      It’s actually your post on this blog almost a year ago regarding the Holiday Fire that got me wanting to participate more in proving on here that the fuels build up from fire suppression hoax is a delusional distraction/avoidance of cumulative impacts of abusive land use practices.

      It’s not more than a century of fuels build up that’s the problem, it’s more than a century of mostly unregulated resource extraction and disturbance that encourages the growth of flashy fine fuels in weeds and trees too young to be able to survive wildfire.

      It seems that as more and more of us speak out, the timber industry lobbying effort to eliminate what little regulation we currently have under the guise of preventing wildfire is finally starting to be successfully undermined.

      Keep up the good work!

      • “consistently proving that fuels build-up from fire suppression is a lie”- I would be really curious how you made that jump. There are hundreds if not thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles that have shown over and over again the impacts of fire suppression and how generally our forests are denser, less healthy, and transitioning towards shade tolerant, less resilient species compositions because of it.

        • Really Patrick? Hundreds? Even Thousands? And you can’t provide any valid peer reviewed scientific reference to back up your claim? Not even one? Clearly you must have an index that at least points to dozens?

          What is it that makes the pro-logging fanatics so gullible that they can’t even back up their claims by referencing published papers? Reminds me of Trump claiming election fraud. The goal with Trump as it is in status quo forestry isn’t to find out the truth, the goal is to convince enough people of a lie to overthrow the Constitution, Laws, regs, etc. in order to maintain a firm grip on power to control the narrative so the dishonesty of the claim can easily be covered up.

          Us enviros however offer plenty of references to back our claims because we’re more concerned with the truth instead of preserving an antiquated land use practice that is doing more to create fires hazards than they do to eliminate them.

          Us enviros also do more than making overly-broad generalized statements and actually look at the site specifics of previous land use activities that are relatively well documented on maps and aerial photos. That’s why Mathew has done such a great job at showing aerial photos of wildfire burn areas that are not suffering from fire suppression/fuels build up, but suffering from over-harvesting, abusive grazing and mining, all of which are human activities that may eliminate fuels build up but it creates invasive weeds and flashy fine fuels build up that burn hotter and faster than a patch of land that has been left undisturbed for a 100 years. Of course the amount of land that is actually as nice as that is exceedingly rare, but dishonest advocates of logging will always make sure to conflate this scarcity of undisturbed land with relative abundance of destroyed and deteriorated lands that by their nature are vulnerable to extreme weather and highly flammable.

          Here’s lots of references to back up my claims, something which you seem unwilling to take the time to do because you’ve made up your mind and I guess facts don’t matter anymore to you? But I get it, I know the routine… The next step is you briefly and crassly dispute all my references with some kind of caustic remark about my person, rather than having an intelligent well referenced discussion.

          1) “…if we assume for the sake of argument that thinning will reduce potential fire intensity, Rhodes and Baker (2008) found that, due to post-thinning vegetation regrowth, as well as the extremely low rate of occurrence of high-intensity fire currently, an area would have to be mechanically thinned every 20 years for about 720 years to have a mere 50% chance of encountering high-intensity fire and reducing its intensity. Not only would the adverse impacts of such repeated thinning on soils, watersheds, and wildlife be profound, but
          such constant thinning would permanently suppress carbon storage levels.” https://johnmuirproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/TheMythOfTheCatastrophicWildfireReport.pdf

          2) “…The average fuel loading for all transects was much greater in year 5 than immediately pre- or post-treatment. Fuel loading was greatest at post-treatment year 11. In year 16, the average fuel loading was higher than pre-treatment but lower than the post-treatment year-0 fuel load. …Conclusions:
          Forest rehabilitation frill treatments caused surface fuel depths and fuel loading to rise, peak, then fall within <20 years. Fuel bed depth and loading of the finer fuel size classes peaked around five years after treatment." https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/11/6/691/htm

          3) "Citizens have actively opposed fuelbreak projects out of fears that the breaks will fragment forests and degrade wildlife habitat, destroy scenic resources and look like industrial logging sites, or open up areas to unauthorized off-road vehicle use (Arno and Allison-Bunnel 2002). Fire scientists have also raised concerns that traditional linear fuelbreaks may not effectively function as wildfire containment lines during extreme weather conditions (Omi 1977a, Finney 2001). Increasingly, critiques have centered on the effects of fuelbreak projects on fire ecological processes, charging that fuelbreaks aid and abet fire exclusion, or, ironically, that fuelbreaks may actually increase fire spread and fireline intensity." https://fireecology.springeropen.com/articles/10.4996/fireecology.0101085

          4) “During extreme weather conditions, the relative importance of fuels diminishes since all stands achieve the threshold required to permit crown fire development. This is important since most of the area burned in subalpine forests has historically occurred during very extreme weather (i.e., drought coupled to high winds). The fire behavior relationships predicted in the models support the concept that forest fire behavior is determined primarily by weather variation among years rather than fuel variation associated with stand age” (Bessie and Johnson 1995). https://rewilding.org/indian-burning-myth-and-realities/

      • This sure looks like a fuels build-up, to me. This is pretty typical of pure white fir stands impacted by drought. Ironically, this parcel ignored the idea of “natural succession”, establishing a white fir stand before the brush or the pines can even seed in, after a wildfire. Everywhere you look in this stand, there are sticks, branches and logs, just waiting for that inevitable spark.

        • Hi Larry Harrell Fotoware,

          Have you ever looked at studies of the fire risk of the flammable oils in different types of conifer leaves compared to the much lower flammability risk in dead wood, especially after its been taken over by fungus/rot after a few years?

          Your picture of this forest regrowth after a clearcut/stand replacement fire that is still very young and undeveloped/or in language money-obsessed mass murderers of forests can understand: “hasn’t yet been clearcut or thinned yet” has no site specific details/context. Please elaborate?

          These are the exact forests us enviros prioritize to protect. They are finally starting to show the signs of a mature self-sustaining natural and normal closed canopy forest, which long ago blanketed the earth and are now becoming extremely rare at this point in our planet’s near death experience.

          And of course forestry is always site specific. So if this stand of trees was on a ridgeline where high wind speeds were common and wet weather was rare we’d all agree it was doomed to the next lightning strike or inept rural landowner who doesn’t understand fire risk when that spark he didn’t take seriously enough gets away…

          However if these trees were growing on a river bottom surrounded by steep cliff like slopes that rarely aloud prevailing winds to these trees, let alone most of the day’s sunshine, then it’d be fairly certain these trees would be growing for many hundreds of years into the future as long as humans destructiveness/profiteering stayed away from them.

          • Still lobbing insults, eh?

            I fully expect the pictured stand to be incinerated, as it is in the direct path of the Caldor Fire. We get it, YOU support the idea that ‘Whatever Happens’ is fine and dandy, as long as humans don’t intervene. Good luck changing that mindset in today’s reality. YOU will be left behind when the rest of us compassionate humans want to save forests from horrible firestorms.

            • You’re wrong Larry… I directly intervene daily to protect forests with valid peer-reviewed science so future generations still have trees older than them to work with. As forestry scholar Chris Macer often says, “every tree cut down today is one less option future generations will have to work with.”

              Everyday that’s what I work on. Our forest landscapes are so damaged and young and unable to be resilient to fire that there’s no such thing as no intervention anymore. We need massive intervention, just not from the timber industry who’s constantly making this problem worse, not better.

              But I get it, when you’re part of a death cult that thinks you can manage your way out of preventing catastrophic wildfire with the same behavior that made the fires so much more severe in the first place, you have to say silly things like that don’t make sense to future generations who will read this.

              • Deane, if you were a District Ranger, Forest Supervisor, or Regional Forester, responsible for the ecological, economic, and social values of a national forest in the west — and the communities in and around it — what would you do? Nothing? Something? What? You’ve thought a lot about this. Put yourself on the hot seat. What would you do?

                • FIrst step is in depth inventory of flora and fauna, then thorough documentation of existing cumulative impacts on forests stands, soils and hydrology.

                  Then a long term moratorium on logging to regrow the trees with funds to replace timber reciepts coming from funds from monthly payments for alternative forest resource cultivation, long term permaculture experiments, as well as recreational opportunities doing stream restoration, plant surveys and branch pruning & chipping and most importantly collaborative forest plan writing that operates much like how a tech venture capitol start-up incubator operates.

                  A local USFW employees in my town is actually building this model right now under the name of “Restoration Camping.” And if more revenue can be generated than the total cost of operating the forest administration than that money would go into remote sensing gear to build up an online forest monitoring network with members of the public and scientists, and field researchers working together to generate even more monthly revenue from the forest without cutting down any trees.

                  The big pay out for this type of recovery effort wouldn’t be in our lifetimes, but in a century or two of people paying monthly rent to work in the forest we’ll have endless examples of how fecund the whole ecosystem becomes under this method and it will become a new standard of forest protection management in every forest in the world.

              • It is also true that ‘every tree burned down today is one less option future generations will have to work with.’

                THIS is the same thing. Now, imagine an entire Ranger District burned to a crisp, in one easy firestorm. THAT is a TON of options that future generations will not have to work with. Fewer owls, fewer goshawks,

                People were worried about plantations and the Forest Service eliminated clearcuts in the Sierra Nevada. Now, those same people get to have VAST plantations, unless they prefer a landscape without planted trees.


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