Pro Build Back Better Letter

Nick Smith’s Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities newsletter today has a link to a letter by a group of scientists who support the Forestry title of the Build Back Better reconciliation package pending before Congress. Signatories include some well-known folks, such as

Craig D. Allen (PhD Adjunct Professor, Department of Geography & Environmental Studies University of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM, and a retired USGS research ecologist — he’s done some outstanding research), Gregory Aplet (Senior Science Director The Wilderness Society), Jerry Franklin, and Thomas Swetnam, Director Emeritus of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona. Too many to list.

“As researchers and practitioners with the overwhelming weight of the scientific evidence behind us, we write in support of the Forestry title of the Build Back Better reconciliation package pending before Congress. In our view, the $27.7 billion investment in science-driven, ecologically based forest and fire management is an historic commitment that should be enacted into law. This investment supports dry forest restoration, climate- and wildfire-adaptation, fire risk reduction, and carbon storage as well as collaboration, forest inventories, monitoring and adaptive management, and other forest programs.”

It is interesting that they mention those who oppose some or all of these management activities:

“A minority view opposes forest and fire management that involves cutting trees or fire use, such as prescribed burning; however, as recent events and the preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrate, the combined influence of more than a century of fire exclusion and rapid climate warming jeopardizes both forests and communities.1 The scientific evidence also shows that combinations of forest and fire management can mitigate wildfire impacts and protect our forested communities from the ravages of climate-driven wildfires.2 The most successful resilience treatments are those that facilitate the role of low- to moderate-severity fire as an ecological process.3 Mechanical treatments in dry pine, dry and moist mixed conifer, pine and oak woodlands, and hardwood forest types reduce tree density, remove ladder fuels, and prepare forests for a warmer, drier climate. To mitigate future fire behavior and severity, prescribed burning is necessary to reduce hazardous fuels.4 Revitalizing and supporting Indigenous burning practices is also a key component of landscape and community resilience.” [emphasis mine]

11 thoughts on “Pro Build Back Better Letter”

  1. Letting ‘Whatever Happens’, happen, isn’t supported by science of any kind. Accepting high-intensity human-caused wildfires as “natural and beneficial” is not the way to ‘restore’ function to our unbalanced ecosystems. Hoping that forests grow back after firestorms is not a good plan.

    • I think “Accepting high-intensity human-caused wildfires as “natural and beneficial”” is an alternative made of straw. I think high intensity wildfires would be better characterized as a price we have to pay for our past mismanagement of forests and carbon in those places where trying to fix the problem is likely to cause other problems, or where the potential benefit is otherwise not worth the cost.

      • There are people out there who do think that ALL fires are “natural and beneficial”, lumping them all together while claiming that “Some trees cannot reproduce without wildfires”. Many of the species that actually do need fire to reproduce are trees that we really don’t want in our forests. Same for species like lodgepoles, which die rot and burn about every 100 years. Lodgepoles are a problem where they are becoming the understory for other kinds of mixed conifer forests.

        Finally, are we supposed to embrace this “price” you say that we have to pay? Personally, I don’t think we should have to pay, especially when we have the knowledge to mitigate these problems. Either we say that more Dixie Fires are ‘just fine’, or we can learn from them. Jon is saying that it is not worth the cost, but we’re seeing Congress throw a ton of money at it. It looks like the ‘Whatever Happens’ mindset is still at work, here, for people who want to preserve out-of-balance forests.

        • I didn’t say any particular situation isn’t worth the cost – just that the payoff needs to be fully evaluated (which 2nd Law has described in here much more detail.) But Congress does want somebody to do something, so I guess the immediate question is now whether we will spend that ton of money wisely in the most beneficial and least harmful ways.

          • I still support full transparency in proposing all these new projects, but I still think there is a lot of transformation that needs to occur, to get them implemented. Of course, Congress didn’t want to listen to too many stakeholders, legal experts and employees, about what else would be needed to get it all done. Did the Agency tell Congress that money would fix everything?

            One thing is for sure; Many employees will have a nicer “High-3”, for their retirements, due to the promotions that are on the way.

  2. This is just wrong: “Concern has been expressed about the potential carbon and climate impacts of the forestry provisions in the package. Vegetation removal, forest thinning, and the use of prescribed fire all increase carbon emissions in the short term. But these emissions pale in comparison to those of modern peak season wildfires in fire-excluded forests.”

    Bev Law: “[T]here is no guarantee that thinning across vast landscapes will stabilize carbon stores. Rather the best available scientific study has shown that thinning reduces carbon stores more than fire itself and reduces carbon stores whether or not fire burns that particular forest.” Law, B. 2021. Response to Questions for the Record, attached to STATEMENT OF DR. BEVERLY LAW, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY, BEFORE THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS, APRIL 29, 2021, CONCERNING “WILDFIRE IN A WARMING WORLD: OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY COLLABORATION, CLIMATE RESILIENCE, AND WORKFORCE CAPACITY”,%20Beverly%20-%20Testimony%20-%20NPFPL%20Ov%20Hrg%2004.29.21.pdf (link to Statement, without Response to Questions).

    The 2018 US Forest Service Northwest Forest Plan Science Synthesis concluded that fuel reduction is unlikely to be an effective climate mitigation strategy.

    Some studies from other regions in the Western United States (i.e., the Southwest and Sierra Nevada) suggest that thinning and fuel reduction can mitigate carbon loss from fire. Fuel reduction may reduce losses of carbon at stand levels compared with the consequences of high-severity wildfire burning in stands with high fuel loads (Finkral and Evans 2008; Hurteau and North 2009; Hurteau et al. 2008, 2011, 2016; North and Hurteau 2011; North et al. 2009, Stephens et al. 2009). However, because the probability of treated areas burning is generally low (Barnett et al. 2016), and most biomass is not consumed by fire, slight differences in losses resulting from combustion in fire compared with losses from fuel reduction are unlikely to make fuel reduction a viable mitigation strategy (Ager et al. 2010, Campbell et al. 2012, Kline et al. 2016, Mitchell et al. 2009, Restaino and Peterson 2013, Spies et al. 2017).

    USDA 2018. Synthesis of Science to Inform Land Management Within the Northwest Forest Plan Area. General Technical Report. PNW-GTR-966 Vol. 1. June 2018.

    Law & Harmon (2011) conducted a literature review and concluded …

    Thinning forests to reduce potential carbon losses due to wildfire is in direct conflict with carbon sequestration goals, and, if implemented, would result in a net emission of CO2 to the atmosphere because the amount of carbon removed to change fire behavior is often far larger than that saved by changing fire behavior, and more area has to be harvested than will ultimately burn over the period of effectiveness of the thinning treatment.

    Law, B. & M.E. Harmon 2011. Forest sector carbon management, measurement and verification, and discussion of policy related to mitigation and adaptation of forests to climate change. Carbon Management 2011 2(1).

    Campbell and Agar (2013) conducted a sensitivity analysis and found robust results indicating that fuel reduction does not increase forest carbon storage.

    … we attempt to remove some of the confusion surrounding this subject by performing a sensitivity analysis wherein long-term, landscape-wide carbon stocks are simulated under a wide range of treatment efficacy, treatment lifespan, fire impacts, forest recovery rates, forest decay rates, and the longevity of wood products. Our results indicate a surprising insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks to both management and biological variables. After 80 years, … a 1600% change in either treatment application rate or efficacy in arresting fire spread resulted in only a 10% change in total system carbon. This insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks is due in part by the infrequency of treatment/wildfire interaction and in part by the controls imposed by maximum forest biomass. None of the fuel treatment simulation scenarios resulted in increased system carbon.

    Campbell, J, Agar, A (2013) Forest wildfire, fuel reduction treatments, and landscape carbon stocks: A sensitivity analysis. Journal of Environmental Management 121 (2013) 124-132

    Recent studies (Hurteau and North, 2008, 2010; Hurteau et al., 2008a; North et al., 2009; Reinhardt and Holsinger, 2010) have focused on carbon responses to fire in individual forest stands as a basis for gaining insight into terrestrial-atmospheric carbon fluxes. Suggested management treatments to protect, maintain, or enhance forest carbon stocks forest carbon stores include mechanical fuels treatments, prescribed fire, and suppression of wildfires (Canadell and Raupach, 2008; Hurteau and North, 2008, 2010; Hurteau et al., 2008b; McKinley et al., 2011; Stephens et al., 2012). Results from these studies suggest that fuel treatments can reduce wildfire severity and protect forest carbon stocks from future loss from severe wildfires (Hurteau and North, 2008; Hurteau et al., 2008b; Stephens et al., 2009b), but management of carbon in fire-prone and fire-adapted forests is more complex than simply minimizing wildfire carbon emissions and maximizing stored carbon in individual stands. The stochastic and variable nature of fires, the relatively fine scale over which fuels treatments are implemented, and potentially high carbon costs to implement them suggest that fuel treatments are not an effective method for protecting carbon stocks at a stand level (Reinhardt et al., 2008; Reinhardt and Holsinger, 2010).

    Rachel A. Loehman, Elizabeth Reinhardt, Karin L. Riley 2014. Wildland fire emissions, carbon, and climate: Seeing the forest and the trees – A cross-scale assessment of wildfire and carbon dynamics in fire-prone, forested ecosystems. Forest Ecology and Management 317 (2014) 9–19.

    • Of course, there are other proven silvicultural benefits (which never seems to be mentioned in your posts, or citations) to thinning forests, in many different types of forests. Also, with firestorms like the Dixie, Caldor, Rim and Biscuit Fires, we can be assured there will be a high likelihood that a given piece of land will burn. Most of the Plumas has burned in the last 20 years, alone.

      Come join us in the ‘real world’.

  3. I was just thinking that by thinning the forest at least you are utilizing that carbon, those trees, before they have a chance to burn up. Anyways it does seems like it helps. I know the forests after thinning seem to really take off and grow which I would think would add to increased carbon storage.
    And I have never seen a thinning project where the overstory, and the large trees were targeted for
    removal. Of course in the even aged stands it is matter of spacing, with so many possibilities.

  4. In response to Congress regarding the topic of “Managing Wildfires in A Warming World,” Bev Law state:“[T]here is no guarantee that thinning across vast landscapes will stabilize carbon stores. Rather the best available scientific study has shown that thinning reduces carbon stores more than fire itself and reduces carbon stores whether or not fire burns that particular forest.”

    Two points. First, managing forests for “carbon storage” is a passing fad and/or fool’s errand. Carbon has very little value because it is so common. If people actually believe they can use forests as a temperature control for the climate, then God help us. Rain dances were never very effective, and neither are carbon taxes, electric cars or light bulbs. My thought remains that this racket has cost significant misery and death to the poor and to wildlife, but has had zero to do with the “climate crisis.” Thirty years ago I figured people would have these “peer reviewed” science policies refuted by now. Check out the modeled “predictions” of the environment in 2021 that the government and the environmental lobby were starting in 1991 and 2001. Or even in 2011, long after after we had reached some kind of arbitrary “tipping point.” I’m guessing current predictions by these people for 10 and 20 years from now will also end in obvious error.

    Second, the so-called “best available science” is a legal term that favors government modeling over independent scientific research. The “best” refers to political and legal expediency, rather than the quality of the actual work. Further proof of its political nature, the process of determining these qualities is so accepted it is often written in caps or even as an acronym (“BAS”)!

    My thought is that resulting comments regarding wildfires, “carbon storage” and forest thinning may or may not be accurate, depending on measuring methods used, but should reasonably be ignored in any instance. In my opinion.

  5. The Build Back Better proposal is dead. A Demicratic senator stated he wouldn’t vote for the bill, in large measure, due to the DNC and Biden administration lying regarding the total cost. Whether you believe any of the forest practices being conducted for the benefit of timber corporations have any efficacy, it doesn’t matter if they relied on taxpayer “magic money” for implementation.

    Quite simply, BBB is a bailout of corporate interests, as well as state and local governments. Giving away tax breaks to timber companies resulted in several OR counties facing severe budget deficits. Those depleted public resources could have been used to maintain and enhance all publicly owned resources, not just timber. Now that BBB has failed, the state and local governments will need to take responsibility for their appeasement policies to private equity firms that own a great deal of OR forests..,


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