Reducing fuels and advancing equity

Here’s an interesting paper from the PNW Research Station….

Reducing Fuels and Advancing Equity: Incorporating Environmental Justice Into Hazardous Fuels Management

“The researchers … assess the distribution of benefits to local populations created by 10 years of fuels management on 12 national forests in the Western United States. They found that, for the most part, the 12 national forests equitably distributed benefits from fuels reduction projects. However, each for­est had one or more “hotspots” where a localized lack of benefit for concentrated racial or ethnic minority populations raised environmental justice concerns. Interviews with Forest Service manag­ers provided insight into why hotspots occurred and revealed how environmen­tal justice could be more effectively inte­grated into land management procedures.”

19 thoughts on “Reducing fuels and advancing equity”

  1. What the heck is “environmental justice,” who defines it, who measures it, what does it have to do with “land management procedures,” and how does it create “hotspots?” Inquiring taxpayers would like to know.

  2. Can we keep keep in mind also that the practicality of landscape-scale fuel reduction varies with ecosystem type? I live in the OR Coast Range where sky-high NPP rates lead to rates of fuel accumulation that those who have spent their lives in the relatively dry east-side forests have difficulty even comprehending. Couple that with steep slopes and we have a situation in which landscape-scale fuel reduction is just not practical. Yet we persist in advocating for this,

    • Phil… I agree that the east side and west side are different beasts. And traditionally policies on the east side have been inherited from the west side (clearcutting, old growth forests, and so on). Even the idea of stasis that underlies much of environmental policy seems like it was formed in coastal wet forests. And there are areas like SW Oregon that are different from both west and east sides. I don’t know what the solution is.. but I can empathize with the development of regional or national ideas/policies that do not fit specific areas.

      • Have forest plans to date had any provisions for environmental justice?

        FWIW, the US EPA: “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

        In forest management, this may have relevance to low income rural communities, when it comes to fuels and forest health projects.

        • Hi Bob – Your reply sounds to me like you’re saying our error has been to apply west side management methods to the east side without taking into account the vast differences between the two. Yes, but I think (or at least I hope) we’re past that. My concern now is that landscape-level fuel reduction is being touted as a solution to west-side wildfire (megafire) danger when it’s fact it’s totally impractical. There’s not enough money in all of the Middle East to do this. We need instead to put our $ into fuel reduction in the forest land adjoining structures (WUI or not) and maybe some carefully selected stands of scientific, aesthetic, or recreational value. Also fuel breaks along roads and industrial property lines (e.g. the boundary between the CoF Research Forest and residential properties).

          Jack Cohen made this point repeatedly in his papers from about 2000 until 2020. Was he wrong?


          P.S.: Sorry if I’m hi-jacking this thread.

          • Jack Cohen wasn’t wrong that the most effecting treatments for homes is the first 100 feet. However, but his message has been used by some folks to justify not conducting fuels treatments and not suppressing wildfires outside of the WUI. But we all know here on Smokey Wire, there are devastating effects from wildfires….

            “Wildfire burn scars in Northern California see flash flooding, debris flows from powerful storms”


            And “Wildfires Are Threatening Municipal Water Supplies”


          • And people don’t like the safety aspects of fire running through their communities.. evacuating themselves, pets, livestock. Power and telephone poles, etc. etc.

          • Steve, Sharon – I think you miss my point. I certainly wasn’t saying that megafires aren’t bad. Even the wildfires typical before the turn of the century had seriously negative effects as they began to link up creating a mega-landscape of burnt-over land rather than a scattering of smaller fire scars. All I’m saying is that landscape-level fuel reduction treatments aren’t a practical way to mitigate effects of megafires at the landscape-level. Fuel treatments are better focused on the WUI, on industrial and public forest land immediately adjacent to WUI (fuel breaks), and on protecting individual structures scattered throughout forested lands.

            And, how to deal with what I call urban wildfire is yet a different problem. The problem there is house to house ignition more than vegetation to house. Even structural hardening may not help if structures are too close together. The Camp (Paradise) fire began in a well-vegetated area, then spread downwind to the City where it spread primarily from structure to structure (see Knapp et al. Oct 2021 Fire Ecology, the best documentation of this mechanism that I know of). The Almeda fire along US99 between Ashland and Medford began in the US99 corridor and never got near wildland. So much for our standard definition of WUI.


          • Hi Jon: And yes, it is a political statement. That is the point. If this is “science,” then — in my opinion — it is political science. I think it is a bad precedent to have a central government developing local forest management plans based on racial divisions. Shouldn’t that be a “hotspot” in itself?

        • Here’s what I remember.. considering impacts on poorer populations as part of the EIS .. targeting specific communities of color, national origin and race for outreach and involvement in the planning process. People could argue that the complexity of current planning processes make it difficult for economically marginalized people to participate.

          • It is a NEPA requirement per executive order.

            Here is the language from the draft ROD for the Custer Gallatin revised forest plan: “Environmental Justice: Executive Order 12898 Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, requires that all Federal actions consider potentially disproportionate effects on minority and low-income communities, especially if adverse effects to environmental or human health conditions are identified. Environmental justice populations, which consist of minority and low-income populations, are present in the areas surrounding the national forest. Several environmental justice communities were identified in a social area of influence that extends 50 miles from any boundary of the Custer Gallatin. The bulk of these communities are on the eastern side of the national forest and many are associated with an Indian Reservation. No populations in the plan area will experience significant adverse human health impacts or environmental effects due to management actions proposed under any of the alternatives considered. Therefore, I find that the plan is in compliance with this executive order.”

          • Do the residents of the unnamed “Indian Reservation” know that they have been classified/qualified as an “Environmental Justice population?” If so, do they understand what that means and if there are any particular consequences or benefits from such a determination? My concern is that the “environmental justice” movement is little more than racial profiling and geographic zoning by the government. And with no apparent benefit except to regulators and bureaucrats. Other perspectives?

          • The concept is that if the USG isn’t careful, it’s actions will disproportionately affect poor people and people of color and that that needs to be looked at.
            For example, cutting off access to firewood when people depend on it for their heat is an impact you would want to look at if you were analyzing closing roads. I think it’s a good thing and should incorporate.. environmental effects that disproportionately affect these communities, and social and economic effects of environmental policies that disproportionately affect poor people and people of color.

          • Racial profiling is “the use of race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed an offense.” Zoning is a government regulatory tool, which the federal government can not apply to nonfederal lands. A common technique in contemporary misinformation is misapplying inflammatory terms as a means to incite.

  3. “Interviews with agency managers revealed that treating fuels in the location where the minority population could receive the benefit was very difficult because of fragmented national forest ownership, steep topography, limited roads, and prevailing winds that would push smoke from prescribed fires directly into the city’s population center. Confronted with the difficulty of completing fuels work in this location and possessing a strong desire to achieve significant overall fire risk reduction on the lands they manage, this forest’s fuels staff decided to focus on the forest lands north of the city where they were confident that they could accomplish much

    By making the decision to focus on areas where they could “achieve significant overall fire risk reduction”, they inadvertently became guilty of environmental injustice. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


Leave a Comment