Wildfire, Carole King and an Urban Majority House Committee- Tomorrow!

From the national presentation as part of the NFF roundtables.

Bill Gabbert at Wildfire Today has a helpful post with links on the Congressional hearing tomorrow on wildfire.

Remembering that Congressional Hearings are political theater.. it’s only appropriate that Carole King will be talking about how to deal with wildfires.   I guess the only witnesses who have worked directly with fire suppression are Chief Moore (they had to ask him, I guess) and the (one) minority witness, Jim Hubbard. Not a good look, majority. Not to disrespect TEK or scientists.

Here’s the witness list:
Mr. Randy Moore
Chief, U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Panel II

Ms. Carole King
Celebrated Singer-songwriter, Land Conservation Advocate

Ms. Ali Meders-Knight
Mechoopda Tribal Member
Traditional Ecological Knowledge Practitioner

Dr. Michael Gollner
Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of California, Berkeley
Deb Faculty Fellow
Berkeley Fire Research Lab

Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala
Chief Scientist, Wild Heritage
Project of Earth Island Institute

Mr. James Hubbard (minority witness)
Former Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment
Department of Agriculture

I thought that this was rather odd:

While wildfires are an important part of maintaining healthy forest ecosystems, careful prevention work is crucial to mitigating the damage from increasingly dangerous fires.  The hearing will examine several strategies the Forest Service employs to prevent wildfires including prescribed burns, thinning, and commercial logging, as well as the challenges the Forest Service faces, such as a tight budget and an influential commercial logging industry.

I wonder how exactly the commercial logging industry is a problem.. for those of us in Colorado and the SW, a lack of logging industry is a problem, let alone an influential one. If you look at the map above, you’ll see lots of firesheds at risk with minimal timber industry. Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, LA, San Diego, the Front Range of Colorado, around Santa Fe, Albuquerque and so on.

But perhaps members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Environment Subcommittee aren’t familiar with these areas. Let’s look at the composition of the majority..

Ro Khanna, California, Chair- representing Silicon Valley
Jim Cooper, Tennessee – Nashville
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York City
Rashida Tlaib, Detroit
Jimmy Gomez, LA
Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chicago
Cori Bush, St.Louis

Well then.

Then there’s the fact that this is usually the biz of the Natural Resources Committee, so it seems unlikely that this will yield anything substantive.

But maybe these folks will learn something about our world (she said optimistically). Might  be interesting.

45 thoughts on “Wildfire, Carole King and an Urban Majority House Committee- Tomorrow!”

  1. Sharon,

    You end by saying “But maybe these folks will learn something about our world (she said optimistically). Might be interesting.”

    An outside observer might suggest you’ve predetermined there is nothing new “you” should learn and that it is always “them” who need to learn.

    • To be clear, I was thinking not of the witnesses but of our urban Congressionals possibly learning something new.

      Yes, without hubris, I think I can safely say the probability of me (as someone following the same stuff for 50 years) finding something new in what some of the “usual suspects” say… is less than the probs of urban Members, who haven’t been following this stuff, learning something new (to them.)

  2. I’d rather see Carole King and DellaSala than unqualified people like Malcom North or Scott Stephens. Although truth be told, Carole King’s lack of recent chart success means she’s losing her academic luster.

  3. If there ever is/was a better definition of “Political Circus”, this confab is sure to be one. As for ‘firesheds at risk’ around Santa Fe, Albuquerque , its a matter of opinion. I look out my back door at these places, no different, better or worse then hundreds of others throughout the West. There is probably no higher per capita occurrance of Enviros here except maybe Western Oregon.

    • Tom: Thanks for the shout out. I had been hoping that the western Oregon demographic for Enviros was an exception, and not typical, for the rest of the US. These people have been indirectly responsible for the massive forest fires we have had here since 1987 — and totally incapable of accepting responsibility for their actions. I thought the Labor Day Fires would (finally!) be a wake-up call, but nope. Legal actions designed to “preserve” the millions of flammable snags from salvage or treatment are only the latest stupidity being promoted by these activists. In my opinion.

      • Bob, I had the pleasure of working on the Willamette & Siuslaw NFs for 20 years form the 70s to the 90s, lived outside Eugene OR so I had plenty of exposure to the numerous enviros during that time. A lot of them planted trees for the Hoedads COOP, I inspected their work. Fall 88 I was working in the Willamette NF SO in the Federal Bldg one day in downtown Eugene, I heard a rukus on the 2nd floor. Some enviros had snuck up the stairs to Forest Sup Mike Kerrick’s office and dumped a few buckets of urine-soaked sawdust on his desk, with him sitting there, then ran off. I got to help clean up. My favorite encounter, though, happened a few years earlier up on the Detroit RD on Breitenbush Rd. I was running a roadside cleanup project that included some spraying for weed control, folks at the Breitenbush community didn’t like it, after some discussion 11 of them laid down by the side of the road to prevent further progress. I radioed back to the office, Ranger came out with Marion County deputies rather quickly, and they spent an hour or so trying persuade the folks to leave, even offering them the oppurtunity to do the work themselves to no avail. These were the same folks who earlier in the year had protested a timber sale nearby by chaining themselves to trees so they couldn’t be cut. Ranger and deputies finaly called for a bus. Protestors were cuffed, arrested, and hauled off to court in Salem, I believe most of them ended up in Federal Court in Portland.

        • Tom: So you know these people and their tactics. I was VP for Associated Reforestation Contracts for many years, when the Hoedads got their start in the early 1970s. The main thing was they avoided paying compensation insurance payments by forming a dubious “co-op” and also by using government subsidies to operate their crews. Private industry wouldn’t hire them for lack of insurance (and work quality), so they existed almost entirely on government contracts — before the government started awarding “low bid” contracts to migrant farm labor crews in the 1980s that worked even cheaper. EAJA gave these people access to taxpayer funding in 1989, the spotted owl arrived around the same time, and the environmental law and the wildfire fighting industries have boomed ever since, from my perspective.

          Here is what I’m doing on the topic now: http://nwmapsco.com/ZybachB/Articles/Magazines/Oregon_Fish_&_Wildlife_Journal/20220317_Global_Warming/Zybach_DRAFT_20220317.pdf

  4. Sharon, what material would a timber industry presence in LA or San Diego process? Why would one make a connection between lack of a forest products industry in these areas and wildfire?

    There is a decent sized mill 30 miles north of Santa Rosa, in Cloverdale, but it’s tooled for redwood, because that’s the only abundant commercial tree species in the area (most of Sonoma is non-commercial woodlands, chaparral, and grasslands). Shoot, even the forests in Santa Cruz are composed of a lot of tan oak, live oak, bay, and shrubs, lots and lots and lots of fire loving shrubs. Sure, there’s some D-fir and redwood, but the redwood in Santa Cruz is mostly limited to small state parks and quite a bit already burned. Prescribed fire in those areas would have been the better option for fuel treatment than a timber project.

    The fires in coastal California are most often not associated with forest that provide commercial wood products. Chaparral is a high severity fire adapted shrub community. A forest products facility isn’t going to solve the problem of people building their houses in a non-commercial native ecosystem ecologically adapted to burn hot every 30-60 years, coupled with a longer hotter fire season.

    Biomass isn’t going to solve California’s fire loving shrub issue either. Having been a forester in California, I can say that the shrubs are the real conundrum, even in forests with commercial trees. Following fire or mechanical treatment, shrubs grow back extremely fast. It’s a soul sucking experience to prescribe chemicals for fuel maintenance following a mechanical treatment because prescribed fire isn’t an option. Sure herbicides can hold back the shrubs for a while, but covering a large chunk of the state with chemicals every 10 years was not a solution I was comfortable with. Not to mention, the herbicide crews were really bad at distinguishing between species I wanted them to keep, vs. those that I did not.

    • A. my point was that if you are saying that “timber industry” is the problem as the announcement says.. that “timber industry” is not part of many of the firesheds in the FS map.

      Some of us would like to sell our mitigation materials to a forest products industry but there is none to be had. As you say, parts of California are shrublands and that calls for something different.

      Here is what I observe. People do fuel mitigation projects on their own land. Our State supports them via grants. There is no place for the material to go to be used, so they are burned in piles. Some years there is not a good burning window. Industry using them.. even if we gave it away.. would be better than the status quo.

      Hope this is clearer… I’m a native of Southern Cal so am familiar with the vegetation (and took plant taxonomy at UCLA!)

  5. Hey, Sharon. Do you have any comments about the totally unscientific opinions expressed by the “Good Ole Boys (and Girls)” from the GOP minority during the first panel of this Oversight Committee hearing?

    Are you concerned that Rep. Ralph Warren Norman Jr (R-SC), a real estate developer, just said that the Biden administration was pushing the country toward “communism?” Do we have much evidence for that?

    By the way, each political party gets to pick what Reps and Senators sit on various committees. This hearing is taking place in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Perhaps some of the more rural members of Congress don’t have a strong desire to sit on the Committee on Oversight and Reform?

    • It’s a shame that some of these Republicans subscribe to QAnon-like conspiracy theories about the Forest Service. Many of those types don’t want to act on those ‘stories’, but they like to complain about them to their voters, instead. Some States still want to be able to ‘thin out’ the big trees, without environmental rules, laws and policies getting in the way.

    • Matthew.. if there is another link about a wildfire panel hearing held by the minority please send. I don’t really know that remarks about communism fit into a wildfire hearing.

      I do know how committees are chosen. If you’ll recall I spent a year working in the office of Carrie Meek, D. Florida. That is an interesting possibility that- that they might prefer agriculture or natural resources- because those are more useful to their communities.

  6. The Hill has this on Carole King’s testimony:

    Carole King on Wednesday called on Congress to crack down on the logging industry during a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing centered on forest management and reducing wildfires.

    “They continue to facilitate felling mature trees under the guise of Orwellian euphemisms: thinning, fuel reduction, salvage, management, and the ever-popular restoration,” the singer-songwriter said told the panel.

    More at https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/598491-carole-king-calls-on-congress-to-crack-down-on-logging-industry

  7. Maybe CK was talking about the West Bend Project on the Deschutes National Forest (at least take a look at the pictures):

    These are not 12 inch diameter trees growing under larger trees, and their contribution to fire risk is probably nil, but the response seems to be: “if 99 percent of the acres commercially thinned are moving our forest in the right direction then we don’t think it is appropriate to vilify the Forest Service for the 10 acres which could be inconsistent with the overall intent and vision of the [Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project].”

    Oregon Wild’s Fernandez said he’s documented at least three dozen trees in the timber sale that would be off limits if those rules (21″ diameter) existed in the West Bend Project area. He said that just because leaders of the collaborative agree the rest of the forest is being treated properly, that doesn’t mean these trees aren’t worthy of protection.

    • Her Op-Ed targets ALL National Forests


      I’m sure there are a few places that propose projects that probably shouldn’t, but I, personally, defer to the Forest Service’s science (when appropriate) before I consider what a celebrity thinks (ANY celebrity, R or D). I do think it is the politicians who are playing word games with “restoration”, “management” and such ideas.

      If CK is really concerned, she can certainly afford to hire lawyers, to represent her point of view, in the courts.

      • “If CK is really concerned, she can certainly afford to hire lawyers, to represent her point of view, in the courts.”

        Well, Larry, you’ll be happy to know that Carole King has been a longtime supporter of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Carole has also been a Wilderness and public lands activist for over three decades. To think that she doesn’t understand these issues just because she happens to be one of the greatest signers and songwriters of all time would be wrong.

        Really bizarre, but mildly entertaining, to see some of the conspiracy theory-ish comments about this oversight hearing, BTW.

          • On the West Bend Project, where some larger PP trees are marked for removal…. Oregon Wild objects to removing these “old-growth” trees.

            This statement was issued March 4 by the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project co-chairs and Vice Chair Ed Keith:

            Longtime stakeholders of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project (DCFP) have raised concerns about some larger trees marked for commercial thinning within the West Bend project on the Deschutes National Forest. (The trees in question are within Unit 5 of the Euro stewardship contract).

            Both the Forest Service’s West Bend NEPA planning document and the DCFP’s recommendations for restoration in dry Ponderosa pine forests reflect a desire to promote more large and old tree structure in open stands – a stand condition that we have a deficit of since the aggressive old-growth logging and fire suppression of the early and mid 1900s in the region.

            After hearing about the tree marking in this unit within the West Bend Project, the Steering Committee of the collaborative did a field trip in late February to review the unit. We found that there were trees marked for removal that were larger and older than the typical 60-80 year old second growth ponderosa pine that all stakeholders have agreed are appropriate for removal in order to bring densities to sustainable levels and to accelerate the growth of remaining trees. The trees in question were not necessarily old-growth, but were older and larger than the standard “black bark” trees (60-80 years old) that are very common throughout the West Bend Project.

            A number of DCFP Steering Committee members did not feel that the mark in this unit was consistent with the overall vision of the West Bend NEPA document or the DCFP recommendations and suggested that retaining the oldest and largest trees would move these stands towards the desired condition of large and old pine in open stands faster. During the field trip, we begun the discussion of how our recommendations and monitoring processes within the Collaborative and how the process of translating planning to implementation within the Forest Service could be refined to reduce the likelihood of marking that does not match our shared vision in the future.

            For context, within the West Bend Project there were 14,500 acres of commercial treatments with fuels reduction planned. The majority of those acres have been implemented at this point and the DCFP has tracked that implementation closely through the years. Within the 14,500 treated acres, we can only point to about 10 acres where we had concerns that trees inconsistent with our vision were being removed. In the ideal world, that number would be 0 acres, but if 99 percent of the acres commercially thinned are moving our forest in the right direction, then we don’t think it is appropriate to vilify the Forest Service for the 10 acres which could be inconsistent with the overall intent and vision of the DCFP.

            The DCFP Steering Committee will reconvene on Tuesday to continue our discussion of how to refine our and the Forest Service’s processes to ensure that even higher percentages of implemented treatments meet our vision.

            For more on the history and goals of the West Bend Project and the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project’s work on it, please see a letter to the editor written by the Deschutes Collaborative Steering Committee in 2013:
            [The link to the letter is broken, but the DCFP’s info on the project is here: http://deschutescollaborativeforest.org/the-west-bend-project/%5D

            – Phil Chang and Sally Russell, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project Co-Chairs
            – Ed Keith, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project Vice Chair

            • If it is only a few trees, what would be so bad about ‘blacking-out’ the paint, and saving those trees? Certainly, if the tree is big, but actually younger than old growth, wouldn’t that be some excellent genetics we would like to allow to spread? It DOES sound like they are using spacing and basal area as justification to cut a tree that might not be “old growth” in a Forester’s eye.

              “…the DCFP’s recommendations for restoration in dry Ponderosa pine forests reflect a desire to promote more large and old tree structure in open stands – a stand condition that we have a deficit of since the aggressive old-growth logging and fire suppression of the early and mid 1900s in the region.”

              Keeping those ‘oversized’ trees seems to be in line with these guidelines and ‘desired stand condition’. It’s not like Unit 5 will burn up if we don’t log those fire-resistant trees. This seems more like a ‘test unit’, to see if the public will accept the idea of less protection and more ‘discretion’.

              • We don’t know anything about the 10-acre area where the larger but not old-growth trees are. Are there true old-growth scattered around amongst the marked ones? Do the marked trees have mistletoe? Broken tops? Is the 10-acre are destined to be an opening for early seral habitat? The FEIS mentions “Openings from 2-10 acres covering up to 10% of each stand will be made in these stands and planted with ponderosa pine seedlings” for deer, and other openings for other critters. What are the conditions surrounding the 10-acre are in question? Etc., etc., IOW, there may be a reasonable explanation for marking them. We need more context.

                IMHO, Oregon Wild seized on a very minor aspect of a thoroughly vetted project — the 600+ page FEIS was released in 2013 — to score points with their donors/supporters and the media (which dutifully published Oregon Wild’s photos and video of the marked trees).

                • If you have been over in Deschutes county you can see that the FS has done a pretty good job of thinning. The area is so important to economy for recreation that you really don’t want to burn it up.
                  Oregon Wild must be running out of things to protest.

                • From a distance (as a former resident of the Bend area), it seems like folks in Oregon are getting more concerned about smaller and smaller areas, which I might take to be a good thing (everyone agrees on the larger areas) but now it seems to be getting to “we agree that openings are needed for early seral habitat, but not there, maybe here instead” which would be hard for us to parse out from a distance.

    • Reading the article and seeing the pictures, I do agree that such trees should stay. The arguments for cutting them really don’t convince me. Placing the decision of whether a large tree is “old growth” or not, on a Temporary Employee, results in these kinds of mistakes. Hey, even experienced Foresters would argue about those decisions (I’ve seen that actual thing go on, when I worked on a marking crew of all Foresters). There is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving an old growth clump, instead of using spacing guidelines to justify thinning it. Looking at the rest of the stand, leaving such trees should be a good thing. Another argument might be economic, which shouldn’t enter into it. Such projects don’t need extra old growth volume to turn a profit.

      I’ve always thought that the USFS should ‘walk the talk’, with full transparency. Others appear to not feel that way.

    • Some people are concerned over 3 dozen or so trees greater than 21″ being cut on a 26,000 acre project? If that is 26,000 acres of veg treatment, we are talking millions of trees to be cut or killed through Rx fire. Even if only 1000 ac of that is commercial harvest, we are talking around 100,000 commercial sized trees to be cut.

      36/100,000 = 0.036% of commercial cut trees are >21″ DBH

      It would be more interesting to compare the number of cut trees >21″ to the number of leave trees >21″ within cutting units, but I’m not going to dig that up.

      Anyway, 3 dozen trees is negligible and a disgusting waste of an outcry – IMO.

      • There has been diameter limits in other places, without any real problems. It’s a basic part of a timbermarker’s job to use that diameter tape. I’m all for cutting trees close to those diameter limits, if the tree meets the marking guidelines. I enjoyed it very much when a nasty old white fir was 29.7 inches in diameter. Sometimes they end up being 30.3 inches in diameter, and that makes them unavailable to cut. (Yes, I do know that it wouldn’t be likely that anyone would find that ‘over-sized’ tree and complain about it, maybe in court. It’s easier to just follow the rules, and not worry about it.)

  8. Here’s Jim Petersen’s take on the hearing.


    I like the quote he ends with:

    My old friend Alan Houston, a PhD wildlife biologist in middle Tennessee summarized this for me in an unforgettable 1997 observation:

    “When we leave forests to nature, as so many people today seem to want to do, we get whatever Nature serves up, which can be pretty devastating at times, but with forestry we have options and a degree of predictability not found in Nature.”

    • Jim’s screeds are always fun to read, if not always so accurate. He writes: “I believe the current diameter limit on federal timber is 18 inches dbh. That’s diameter breast high and it means that no tree larger than this can be harvested. This rule applies on the 26 percent of the 193 million acre federal forest land base that is open to harvesting. The remaining 74 percent is in land classifications that prohibit timber harvesting.”

      Jim is wrong. There is no nation-wide diameter limit. And in those few locations where there is a diameter limit it is greater than 18 inches.

      I do agree with Jim that the Shirelles rock!

          • Yes, Steve. Andy had a good catch, and fact check.

            I’m actually very surprised that you don’t seem concerned at all that “The Voice of American Forestry” Jim Petersen falsely believes there’s an 18″ diameter limit on federal timber sales and that no tree larger than this can be cut down on federal public lands. Where in the world would he get that notion?

            “I believe the current diameter limit on federal timber is 18 inches dbh. That’s diameter breast high and it means that no tree larger than this can be harvested. This rule applies on the 26 percent of the 193 million acre federal forest land base that is open to harvesting.” – Jim Petersen, Evergreen Magazine, “The Voice of American Forestry”

            • I haven’t heard of a USFS-wide diameter limit. The “east side screens” in Oregon had a 21-inch diameter limit. Larry has mentioned diameter caps in the Sierra forests. In any case, diameter caps are often unhelpful in managing older stands. So are age limits.

              Does anyone here know of data on the actual average DBH harvested in USFS regions or on forests?

              • I think that would be very hard to get, but I don’t think it matters.
                I think this discussion is, has been, and is likely to always be about values and people marshal data to support their position. In a sense, that wastes time of data producers, because data will never resolve the controversy. On the other hand, getting a paycheck from producing data feeds many families. So there’s that.

              • I did see one average diameter for a project, within a timber cruise report. Of course, those ‘cut-tree’ diameters vary Region by Region and Forest by Forest. The average diameter I saw was 14.5 inches. That does make sense, being that most all of the merchantable trees (in Region 5) between 10 and 14 inches are cut. Another large amount of trees between 14 and 20 inches in diameter are cut. The amount of trees between 20 and 29.9 inches in diameter pushes the average diameter higher, depending on how crowded the stand is.

                A fairly-recent change in marking guidelines allowed the Forest Service to use larger oaks to use in spacing considerations. That is a significant boost in thinning more conifers, over a huge area.

                • Aside from any diameter limits (or the lack of them), I agree with Petersen that the hearing ought to have included “a forest scientist whose peer reviewed research drills deeply into the multiple ecological benefits associated with thinning and prescribed fire in overstocked forests.” In place of Ms. King. I like some of her music, but she has no background in forest management. Ms. King wouldn’t appreciate having me, Andy, or any of us from Smokey Wire testify at a hearing on music industry regulation, since we know little or nothing about it.

                  • But that’s not the point of hearings.. it’s political theater.. to promote your allies and punish your enemies, using whatever tools at your disposal. I can safely say that for either side. Real work does not get done in hearings.

                    • From my point of view, it is the Republicans who, generally, subscribe to one or more conspiracy theories (out of many!) involving the Forest Service. Even Congress people spew those ‘stories’ back to their voters, while not bringing those claims up when in session. They KNOW that those are just wild ‘stories’, because Congress has access to the real data.

                      Again, yes, it’s political theater about getting re-elected, especially in the House.

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