Premonitions of the Forest Service Wildfire 10 Year Plan

Note: this is from Ager et. al 2021. I don’t know to what extent these concepts or maps will be used in the final 10 year plan.

 

Chief Moore said many interesting things in his talk at the SAF Convention and in the Q&A’s that followed.  In this post, I’ll just talk about what he said about the Ten Year Plan for Fire.

Three caveats: first, the formal announcement of the Ten Year Plan is not out yet, so it may have changed since his talk; and second, I don’t have all the information but tried to piece it together from what he said and may have got something wrong; third, I am really lousy at taking notes.  Any mistakes are no doubt mine and not his.  People who attended the SAF Convention can watch the recorded presentation and correct me.

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Wildfire is at a crisis level (remember Chief Moore was formerly the Regional Forester for the California Region, so he has been dealing with some of the worst ones).

He said that 98% of the Mendocino had been affected by wildfire in the last two years. In 2021, 2/3 of the town of Grizzly Flats, including the school and the Post Office were burned.

What can we do?  Reintroduce low intensity fire and strategically place fuels reduction treatments (and maintain them).

With increasingly bad wildfire behavior, small areas of treatments are not enough to help firefighters get control.   So-called “random acts of restoration” aren’t cutting it.

Using the scientific analysis in the Fireshed Registry, they found that 90% of exposure to communities could be reduced with work on 15% of the total land area.   But not only is it important to pick the right areas to reduce risk to communities, but also to plan for maintenance of those treatments over time.

Given that, Chief Moore assigned Brian Ferebee (whom many of us may remember from Region 2) to refine, adjust,  and implement the 10 year plan to address the wildfire crisis.  It’s a small team with representation from many parts of the Forest Service.  They will not be using the old approach- “everybody gets $5”.  In the first two years, they will identify projects where the NEPA has already been done and is a critical match with the Fire Registry/Scenario Planning effort.  Note that Scenario Planning can be used in a variety of ways at a variety of scales, but I think here it’s a shorthand for a certain way (see Ager and his group’s research) of dealing with fire and fuels planning at the national scale. However, that same group has done scenario planning incorporating a variety of objectives at a variety of scales, as we’ll examine in later posts.

If you haven’t been following this literature, you can see there is some overlap between this and the scenario planning for wildfire risk reduction in this and other papers by Alan Ager and his collaborators at the RMRS Fire Lab.  For the purposes of its possible application toward the 10 Year Plan, probably the best paper to read is this one Ager, A. A., C. R. Evers, M. A. Day, F. J. Alcasena, and R. Houtman. 2021. Planning for future fire: scenario analysis of an accelerated fuel reduction plan for the western United States. Landscape and Urban Planning 215:1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2021.104212.   Fortunately, it can be accessed openly here.

From the conclusion section:

Our study demonstrated a top down approach to develop a large-scale prioritization to address wildfire risk to developed areas, and an approach to coarsely assess potential wildfire impacts and spatial in tersections with treatments during implementation. The results of the study are being used by the Forest Service to communicate a strategy to ramp up current levels of hazardous fuel treatments to the legislative branches that oversee the agency. The methods can be used by other national scale wildfire management agencies to develop strategic plans, including the assessment of planning risk (Mentis, 2015), i.e., the range of potential wildfire impacts on implementation of strategic risk reduction programs.

Future work can explore the effect of climate change as part of scenario analyses (Star et al., 2016) including assessment of planning risk for fuel treatment and restoration programs (Peterson et al., 2003). For instance, will extreme variability in future wildfire make the use of risk assessment ineffective as a prioritization method for 510-year restoration and risk reduction plans? Wider use of scenario planning models by land management agencies is consistent with systems thinking, data analytics, and prescriptive intervention (National Academies of Sciences, 2019), as a way to enhance foresight into natural resource management outcomes, and as part of addressing wildfire challenges in the near term future.

But back to the 10 year plan.. there will also be a monitoring plan to see how it works and to adapt.. plan,  implement, monitor and use that information to continue to understand and further improve risk reduction efforts.

Previous efforts to not do the “$5 for everyone” approach have foundered on the shoals of any priority setting mechanism (those left out/delayed aren’t happy).. so it will be interesting to see if this one, with a science base, and because the areas with most exposure and in the early years generally have lots of people (hence votes), will be successful.  Given the crisis, though, clearly something different needs to be done.

Finally, the Chief said it would be out soon (at the SAF Convention in early November), so I contacted a source at the FS earlier this week, and the reply was still “a few weeks.” So soon we should see how it comes out.

(Note: this post has been corrected in terms of Ager is at RMRS, and a miscopied quote from the paper and some other edits)

7 thoughts on “Premonitions of the Forest Service Wildfire 10 Year Plan”

  1. Ok, I like the “Premonition” thing, it opens the door for a lot of alternative thoughts and ideas on this subject, another “Plan”, especially a “10 year plan” is probably not going to get anymore traction then numerous previous plans. Focus on R5 for now, it’s a different animal for the FS for a number of reasons. Set aside the social, cultural, and ecological issues, let’s focus on Fire management issues.
    California has CALFire, (used to be called Ca Dept of Forestry or CDF) which in many ways is a highly organized, well trained, and well funded statewide Land Management Agency. To my experience (20 years of fire assignments, either as an IMT member or single resource) they do a better job than the FS in numerous areas, not the least of which is the basic way field going employees are managed. I can’t even count the many times I’ve worked beside CalFire folks on the same incident doing the same function, trying not to step on each others toes, and arguably wasting valuable resources. In the end they would take pity on me and get me a motel room so I wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground for a few days. (Lets not even talk about the brass on our collars worn nowhere else in the FS, at least not in my day.)

    I believe it’s time for the FS to open the door and let CALFire in as partners in managing all lands, not just State or Federal lands in the state of California. This would be difficult at first, but given the political conditions in our great country it would make sense in the end through decided on shared resources and goals, instead of working against one another, often not intentually. Federal lands would be managed seamlessly across other ownerships by a unified workforce with the same goals. I believe the recent stewardship agreements will be a place to start. FS management may see a suggestion like this as impossible or sacreligous, but hey, we all bleed green, right? Might as well include other Federally managed lands also.

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  2. Randy is exactly right, and it sounds a lot like the POD concept to me. Build large boxes with thinning, mastication, and/or Rx fire, and burn the inside of the box under the right conditions. Although this is what is necessary, it’s a lot easier said than done.

    I want to know what Randy is doing to break down what is arguably the greatest barrier to Rx fire – the availability of qualified personnel to burn. Exhausted full-time firefighters accrue a lot of annual leave during the summer wildfire season that they need to use before the year ends, the seasonal staff are not around for a lot of the burn windows in the fall and winter, staff are involved in training during spring windows, and the wildfire season is ever increasing in length. Not to mention, a lot of firefighters don’t like Rx burning because it involves sucking a lot of smoke and there isn’t much overtime or hazard pay associated with it.

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    • No one has mentioned just how many full-time positions will be flown. I have doubts that the Forest Service will meet the ‘targets’ that Congress desires. I would expect that “time in grade” issues might prevent some from being hired. After all, those full-time positions are usually of a higher grade. Many firefighters have become jaded about careers in the Forest Service. With CalFire hiring a bunch, I would expect that the Forest Service is lacking expertise in fire suppression, too.

      In many parts of the west, prescribed fire is tied to thinning projects. Without hiring more timber folks, will there be a bottleneck to accomplishing burn targets? With a year-round fire season, can we afford to limit vegetation management to just 6 months (the 1039 hour Temporary Employee work season)?

      Yes, people often try to use firefighters as timber experts, but that hasn’t worked out that well for the Forest Service. They might be better off outsourcing timber management to qualified private ‘for-profit’ crews (which don’t really exist, right now). That would solve many problems the USFS has with its significant workforce issues.

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    • Congress has authorized a substantial increase in the fire suppression corps, as well as an increase in fire-fighter pay (including hazard pay), in the recently-enacted infrastructure bill. There are additional billions in investment in firefighters in the not-yet-enacted reconciliation bill.

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  3. Any use of prescibed fire must be planned to allow a grazing permit to continue use of the allotment with full permitted AUMS still I use and any damage or destruction to improvements must be replaced at Forest Service expense.

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