Chief’s Letter of Intent (Wildfire) Letter 2022

Here’s is the letter. I’m going to focus on the WFWB (Wild Fire With Benefits) and prescribed fire section, since that seemed to cause the most controversy.


As we work to address immediate threats of uncharacteristic wildfire, it is important we continue to take proactive steps to reduce future risks of damaging wildfires when and where opportunities present themselves to employ fire in the right place, at the right time, and for the right reasons. In addition to mechanical treatments, extensive science supports using fire on the landscape and recognizes it as an important tool to reduce risk and create resilient landscapes at the necessary scale. I recognize that can be controversial and cause concern. Therefore, we must have a clear understanding of when, where, how and under what conditions we use this tool.

We do not have a “let it burn” policy. The Forest Service’s policy is that every fire receives a strategic, risk-based response, commensurate with the threats and opportunities, and uses the full spectrum of management actions, that consider fire and fuel conditions, weather, values at risk, and resources available and that is in alignment with the applicable Land and Resource Management Plan. Line officers approve decisions on strategies and Incident Commanders implement those through tactics in line with the conditions they are dealing with on each incident. We know the dynamic wildland fire environment requires the use of multiple suppression strategies on any incident; however, this year we will more clearly articulate how and when we specifically use fire for resource benefit. The Red Book will be updated to require that during National and/or Regional Preparedness Levels 4 and 5, when difficult trade-off decisions must be made in how to deploy scarce resources most effectively, Regional Forester approval will be required to use this fire management strategy.

This is commensurate with Red Book prescribed fire direction during these periods. I am committed to an ongoing dialogue with our partners to ensure safe and effective risk management principles are followed to protect communities, keep our firefighters safe, and produce results that mitigate current and future risks from wildfire. Working closely with our partners to engage in robust dialogue before and during incidents and effective pre-planning has been shown time and again to be a best practice that yields better outcomes when wildfires happen. It is my expectation that all line officers and Fire leadership will fully utilize pre-season engagement planning with their state, county, and local governments, community leaders, and partners, leveraging the best science available, including the Potential Operational Delineation (PODS) program led by Research and Development. When PODS are in place, agency administrators should ensure that incident management teams use them to inform suppression strategies; when they are not, every effort should be made to develop them real-time as part of strategic operations.


I’ve been talking with people on both “sides” of the (now I can call it FRB, good-bye WFWB!) issue.  That is the “just stop it, this is not the time and it’s too dangerous with unprecedented fire behavior” school and the “trust us, we’ve got this” school. By implication (perhaps?) from this letter, prescribed fire is not included in this new acronymn, so we’re talking about managing wildfires for resource benefits.  Which seems enormously complex because there are other concerns, like safety and resource availability that also could look like FRB. I think that’s probably focused on making it clear what is FRB and the other reasons for choosing strategies and tactics.  So it seems like this approach of better communication and more clarity is an important step to building the necessary social license.

It also seems to me that if I were a person living in a fire-prone community (I am, but not surrounded by federal land), pre-season engagement would be vital. I also like the check that running it through the RF’s office provides.  Some people might worry that when a team is called in from say, Region 8, and the Ranger and FMO are new to the unit, line officers possibly less experienced with fire, or the current person is from somewhere else on detail, that something could slip through the cracks.  These are life and death worries, and raising them to a level where the RF can round up all the most knowledgeable people, at least would give me more confidence in the decision.

There is another more wonky concern, that I think Jon articulated, that if you are going to plan activities that will affect the environment, perhaps there should be NEPA involved.  Yes, there was in some cases with Forest Plans, and certainly with prescribed fire projects, but not necessarily talking about PODs or FRB. Since FRB covered 642K acres last year, and it pre-planned, it seems like some NEPA and public involvement couldn’t hurt.  It seems to me also that there is a narrow NEPA ridgeline of emergency and planning that the FS is navigating.  Which is not to say that 10 year EIS’s or plan revisions would be the solution.  There are lots of smart NEPA people within the agency who could figure out something useful and manageable, if left to their own devices. IMHO.

Anyway, the Fire People are great at formal lessons learned.. perhaps with the FS emphasis on pre-season engagement practices, next year there will be a report of interest on best practices.

I also thought this was interesting..

This year in fire camps you will see QR codes you can easily access on mobile phone to participate in a ThoughtExchange that will inquire into the lived experiences of wildland firefighters as it relates to harassment and discrimination in everyday work experiences. We need to hear from firefighters directly to learn and then correct harmful cultural norms. Together, we can create an environment where all are treated with dignity and respect.

13 thoughts on “Chief’s Letter of Intent (Wildfire) Letter 2022”

  1. Maybe we should go with Wildfire Habitat Accomplishment Treatments (or WHAT), where the acres within wildfire footprints that didn’t burn intensely are claimed as ‘accomplishments’ towards fire and fuels goals.


    It sure seems like the Forest Service is continuing to want to justify letting fires burn, for dubious ‘resource benefits’ (especially in the middle of fire season). It’s too risky, especially with IA resources still scarce. (BTW, how did the USFS hiring events go?)

  2. The elephant in the room, always, is that government employees and the US Government itself, have de facto full tort liability protection. Private “partners”, “cooperators”, “stakeholders”, “collaborators” have ZERO protection from litigation and no way to gain recompense for wildland fire damage to persons and property from Federal land fire trespass, or from absolute neglectful actions, behaviors, decisions by Federal agents and agencies.

    Factually, the US Justice Dept has teams of US Attorneys well versed in civil law in Federal courts seeking damages from land owners whose land was the source of fire that destroyed Federal resources and landscapes. There is no reciprocity. Having a Federal employee talking about “equality and equity” is disingenuous. There is none. USFS fire, lightning or a lost “under burn,” fire being managed for “resource purposes,” that burns private land, and worse, Federal fire fighters setting backfires on private land that never get to the fire front lines with no remuneration for lost graze, wildlife cover, wind breaks or timber. Then using legal task forces to send Hammonds to prison for setting a backfire on their own land that burns BLM noxious weeds is a trespass considered criminal behavior, arson and terrorism, is disgusting and a reason for really bad feelings towards arm chair fire policies from the confines of D.C.’s opulent offices and officers. Fortress Washington D.C. and the fenced off Capitol. My “partners” are cloistered and have a siege mentality based on preservation of power, not citizen safety and freedom.

    Set fire is now, with “fire for resource use” insanity, and the never compensated loss of private resources from arson from Federal lands and employees, a government gone amuck. As long as the decisions to fight fires or “let ’em burn,” remain wholly in the hands of Federal overhead teams and the Federal government, there are no ‘cooperators” or “partners” and only “stakeholders” who get nothing if their land is burned by fire from the Federal land, but will be sued by their “partner”, “cooperator” who will collaborate with the Justice Dept to take all that they have if fire from their land using fire to remove fine fuels seasonally burns Federal land. To see the very same land again be ignited by lightning and the fire “watched” until a weather event turns it into conflagration wiping out private lands, timber, homes, life savings, make Alice in Wonderland and Catch 22 prescient.

    The reality is that NGOs can sue and settle to affect changes in Federal operations that take private sector lives and livelihoods, customs and cultures, property, because no currency amount is involved. That is Federal land agency “collaboration” with the transgender NGO “partners” that are neither private nor public. Fire removes all of the above, and if fire from Federal land trespasses onto private land, there is no recourse in courts: citizens cannot sue the sovereign for damages that reasonably equal the loss. Only a pyrrhic victory at great cost to the damaged. That is why fire and public lands is so damned maddening. There is no there, there. Likely not even the cost for legal representation will be awarded under Federal tort liability limits. . Yet the NGOs bill Justice Dept for legal fees, and if a word in a regulation is changed, the Justice Department is billed full compensation and paid. When asked how much the Justice Dept pays out annually for EAJA claims, former A.G. Eric Holder replied “We don’t keep those numbers.” A private entity that fights a regulation and prevails likely will get no EAJA compensation.

    Now that USFS has a new Chief, one who was at Region 5 for more than a decade as Regional Forester until June 2021 when he was named Chief by Biden administration. His fuels and fire legacy at Region 5 (California) is that Region having its WORST fire season in history, with Dixie Fire the first million acre fire in CA history. Fuel burns, not weather nor climate. No fuels treatment results in hotter, larger fires. Lax responses, the three day process to establish a
    Type 1 overhead team and Incident Commander, don’t help.

    Oregon’s 2021 Labor Day events involved 5 or more Wilderness Areas. One with a “watched” fire with no suppression due to ruggedness. No helicopter water. Ever. Killed 8 people when it blew up, and left the Wilderness for a mix of private, state and Federal lands. I have driven weekly by 30 miles burned on both sides of the highway and no logging of dead timber except danger trees along the Federal highway. A few acres of private inholdings have been logged. BLM is removing timber from its parks and river access points, anywhere with established pit toilets. We now have miles and miles of the North Umpqua River, McKenzie River from McKenzie Bridge to Leaburg, and North Santiam River from Mehema to almost Marion Fork with dead trees lining the rivers. “Riparian protection”, “valuable shade”, and wild river laws prohibiting cutting of trees on any land, public or private, along all designated wild streams. “The complexity of the riverine habitat is enhanced by entry of coarse woody debris into the waters of the Nation.” I have heard that before. Falling from the rear end of a bovine.

    • John, I agree that that doesn’t seem just the way you describe it. Does it have to do with what is “negligence”? I don’t understand (and probably other TSW readers may not) about tort claims and what they mean and don’t mean.

      I remember the payout from the Moonlight Fire
      “In exchange for dismissal of the United States’ complaint, the defendants agreed to pay a total of $55 million in cash. Sierra Pacific’s share of the settlement was $47 million and a conveyance of 22,500 acres of undeveloped land for incorporation into the National Forest System.”

      • PG&E ? $32 BILION. And other payouts of millions, and soon, in Oregon, Pacific Power, EWEB, PGE and I don’t all the power providers who are now subject to lawsuits for damage. Yet the fires were not ignited by electric power providers. Lionshead fire, BIA, Warms Springs Reservation, 110,000 acres when the east winds arrived, was the ONLY family wage seasonal work on the Rez. My life experience is that “containing” Rez fires results in employment until winter snows make access impossible. The east winds blew it over the Cascade Crest into the Mt Jefferson Wilderness, it split to NW and SW in the Breitenbush River canyon, and burned out Detroit and over a mile of reservoir to burn further south, and SE up the North Santiam River almost to Marion Forks, and downstream to Gates, Mill City, and Mehema, where it merged with the fire coming out of the Opal Creek/Little North Fork Santiam, as the unsought Opal Creek Wilderness
        Beechie Fire had grown incrementally for a month to size and heat enough to attract the NW tongue of the Lionshead fire. That also split, and one fork of fire went NW to Mollala River watershed, and due south down the Little North Fork where persons perished, hundreds of homes destroyed. Most of the timberlands were in stages of regrowth and second growth logging, on private lands. Mt Jefferson Wilderness and roadless areas to and past Ollalie Lake along the Cascade Crest on the Mt Hood NF, the Mt Hood “Bull of the Woods Wilderness” burned, as did the Opal Creek Wilderness primarily on the far north side of the Detroit Ranger District, Willamette NF, plus State Trust forest lands, and Wild and Scenic River riparian zones, now looking ridiculous as they are rivers lined with dead left riparian trees as required by law, and the private lands on which some stand has been salvage logged, site prepared, and when site matched trees are available, will be replanted because the Oregon Forest Practices Act demands that. Not so on Federal USFS and BLM lands or on Wild and Scenic River riparian zones. Do as we say, not as we do.

        And I am only talking about one area of fire. Two ongoing fires were managed negligently, in MY opinion. There will NEVER be assigned responsibility because there is no process to that end. Zero helicopter water on the Beechie Fire as a less than acre lighting fire. No human effort to suppress or extinguish it. Too dangerous. No safe entry or exit strategy in roadless wilderness. Totally lax trail management which is dependent upon “volunteer” horse and hiking groups under USFS supervision to open trails after winter storms blow down trees, some very old and very large. No power equipment allowed, not even by USFS Hot Shot teams. All hand tools. Perhaps they should be only fed with hardtack and salted pork sidemeat, and coffee beans.

        We will never know because all investigations will be in house, not public, and no way to hold any irresponsible decisions and decision makers responsible. NO tort liability. Yet the fire was a result of ongoing fires, not new ignitions. Civil lawsuits against the power monopolies will try to show the wind from the fire blew trees across the energized power lines, thus exacerbating fire and igniting new. The power monopoly will also be sued if they do de-energize lines because that stops power for rural water pumping, lights, ruins frozen food, refrigerated food, water to livestock, a litany of life sustaining products of electrical power. All that is judgements and is going to be litigated. There will be changed corporate behaviors, likely a lot more de-energized power lines as those decisions are all interrelated with power sources into power grids, and second by second demand and load. Likely power cut offs will be on how the grids have been constructed and can be re-powered later. There will be unintended consequences and misunderstanding on the part of customers without power miles from fire fronts.

        Rural Electrification happened 90 years ago. IN the meantime, trees have grown next to those lines, and in many cases, trees have grown where subsistence farming fields once were bare of trees and lines located due to ease and paying precious cash money for easements and rights of way. A 20 foot wide R/W for a power line on poles 20 feet high off the ground through bare ground become overgrown by trees, with power provider restricted to the R/W for limb pruning and dead tree removal, or felling. Yet every tree that can hit the lines is the power provider’s responsibility in the “inverse condemnation” rulings by courts. So the power companies are the “deep pockets” and the fire decision makers at Interior, home of Bureau of Indian Affairs, are held harmless by “you cannot sue the sovereign” common law. The same is true of the USFS, R-6, Willamette NF, Detroit Ranger District entities and personnel. So the estates of those killed by fire from the Opal Creek Wilderness are now trying to blame their deaths on the roaring fire front blowing down trees that hit or downed power lines and transformers filled with oil that caught fire.

        One sided deal. Both utility companies and Federal Lands and land managers are working for the “people” by congressional intent and law, both regulated by Congress and congressional committees, and Executive branch agencies. Only the Federal agencies and personnel have total protection from damaged victims for recompense. All private entities are fully liable and can be sued. That the Justice Dept has three teams of civil law attorneys for the area of the 9th Circuit, headquartered in S.F., CA, with one team in SF, one in Sacramento, and one in Salt Lake City, to sue private entities from whose property fire trespassed on Federal land and destroyed property and force the US Govt to suppress and extinguish woodland fire.

        So the UPRR fire in the Feather River Canyon, in the Sierras, was started by a rail track crew making an emergency repair to a broken track. Sparks from a grinder set fire to right of way grass, the crew was not fire trained, and thus the resulting 56,OO0 acre fire in mostly roadless and wilderness designated land cause damage to the Federal lands. Justice sued for timber value in a wilderness (no logging allowed by Wilderness Act law) where in a lighting fire the USFS deigns them “fire for resource use”, as in it creates early seral stage forests, sunlight to earth, which grows feed for plant eating animals, who are prey for predators, and needed for habitat for the ungulates needed to feed pioneering wolves and someday, grizzly bears. UPRR paid for lost timber that has high value in the ecosystem dead in place and no value as timber at commercial stumpage value. UPRR paid. Best of all, the US Dept of Justice claimed and received compensation for “loss of the grandeur of the landscape.” Make that evaluation in the workplace, evaluate the grandeur of the landscape, and HR fires you. Can we now claim loss of grandeur of the landscape is our home is burned up? Only if you sue the deep pockets, with a commiserating jury on your side—only government can sue you for that, and not you for the same from them. The basic inequity of holding humans responsible is that mere peasants are not allowed to sue the sovereign..

        I will take this one step further. The atrocities claimed done by Russian employed soldiers to Ukraine citizens, non combatants, were done in the name of the sovereign. A disabled couple in their dotage loses power, turned off due to results of prior litigation, to protect all from potential fire from energized lines, all from a fire the USFS “watched” and did not a whit to suppress, control, or extinguish, are killed anyway by that fire because the electric lift to exit the house no longer was powered. The USFS is protected. Is the public utility following protocols protected, as well? or are they still being sue and must defend the company policy and actions as a result of prior decisions, in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” deal? When ONLY one side has tort liability, the private sector, and the public sector has zero tort liability, we get the situation we now have.

        There is no way to hold the Federal land managers, from the lowest GS jobs to the SES employees, and appointed patronage jobs at the executive’s will and decision if approved by the Senate, liable in any way. You can’t even challenge their decisions unless those responsible agree to talk to a congressional committee. Those are informational and no way anything more. From that, we have an arrogant public “service” corps who are secure in their jobs and the results from their machinations and dubious decisions. Worse, there is a cadre of parallel NGO advisors making policy for the Federal employees from the anti business and socialist side of the political spectrum, also benefitting from the protections allowed the sovereign as they hide behind the sovereign and his minions in according servility.

        In a word, the game is rigged, always has been, and as a result we will always have unacceptable levels of corruption in the dark side of Federal agencies and protected politicians getting money and help from NGOs that are in the majority, far left in political leanings.

        We will never have adjudicated reason in how governments operate as long as the government is totally tort liability protected. No discovery because no process. No overriding judicial decisions regarding legality of government actions and responsibilities. Can sue the sovereign for damages. You can litigate procedural actions with the result to obtain a change in how the agency makes it regulations to enforce or implement laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. You can get opinions on the legality of laws themselves inside the template of the Constitution. You can fight day in and day out to keep appointed and career Federal employees from straying from the legal path. But you can’t change the personnel who are doing the damage, not can you collect for the damages you suffer. All you can do is try to truncate further damage. For all the “Kumbaya” Kroud: there is NO “comity” in government today. It is entirely adversarial. Listen to Sen Liz Warren speak. Congresswomen Tlaib. Omar. Jackson Lee. Waters. Senators Collins, Manchin, Tim Scott, Murkowski do try to be “fair and equal” and not marionettes for party leaders.

        The adversarial USFS, Biden government, will bring no relief from fire. Drought does not mean trees and fine fuels don’t grow each year. Just less. I does mean plant deaths are accelerated. Necessary to ration water to the survivors. USFS policy is based on our post Ice Age indigenous peoples’ practice of burning forests to set the land back to early seral stage forests where there are openings, trees without shade making leaves or needles allowing sun to shine on soil. It puts human needed plants where they are accessible, fosters prey and predator populations.

        Those were set fires. I can’t imagine fire as totally a random event when set. My father was born ten miles from where the oldest human made objects, made from plants, were discovered. One discovery was a cache of sagebrush sandals. More than 80 pair. Different sizes. “Does madame like the fit?” 4 times as old or more, than all the stuff discovered is the Middle East, the biblical lands. Well over 10,000 years old. Now coprolites over 14,000 years old, found in the same area, are being deconstructed and examined. Actual DNA has been extracted from that “outhouse” cave. Carbon dated.
        All that said, Those people somehow got there from elsewhere, survived, and planned for tomorrow. Next week.

        Where is that plan today? My only hope is that the Siskiyou-RogueRiver Forest Supe is an indigenous guy from the Trinity River who is running his forests lightning fire response on the “out by ten the next morning” response. Where there have been two decades of annual fires from 50,000 to 500,000 acres, he has spectacular success in his short time on the forests. Merv George. Meanwhile, understand that if multibillion dollar stock holder owned corporations, with billions of pension money involved, are sued to keep them honestly working to do the best they can. The Federal government land managers? huh. impervious to any and all charges of doing anything more or less than fogging a mirror.

        • A long post, for sure, to which I offer a couple of corrections regarding the Beechie Creek Fire. First, “Zero helicopter water on the Beechie Creek Fire as a less than acre lighting fire. No human effort to suppress or extinguish it.” Not so says Inciweb: “The fire was aggressively attacked with helicopters dropping water.” I recall those helicopter drops. At the time, I thought they were a waste of money and an unjustified risk to pilots, i.e., aerial water drops alone had no chance of extinguishing this fire. Second, “No power equipment allowed, not even by USFS Hot Shot teams. All hand tools.” Not so. The Wilderness Act allows for power tool use during fire suppression operations. That no power tools were used at Beechie was because there were no ground personnel to use them.

        • I hope Merv George of the Rogue Siskiyou keeps putting the fires out when they start.
          We have lost and burned enough of our forests. I wish the Klamath, Umpqua and Willamette would do the same. Even if means the wildfire industry suffers.
          The FS does have a let burn policy even if they say the don’t. They just bury it all their rhetoric. It is fall rains that put their fires out. I believe they have even been disappointed when they didn’t get to burn as much as they planned.

  3. I thought you would get into the Tort Claims Act, Andy, such as here:

    I discussed how to sue the government for negligence here:

    But that post was about the government setting fires, and most of the comments here today seem to want to compare private liability for starting fires to government liability for not putting them out – that’s apples and kumquats.

    With regard to Wild and Scenic River corridors, there are no restrictions on private lands and logging is permitted on federal lands in most cases; here’s when the Planning Handbook (Ch. 80) says federal agencies can do it:
    a. Wild. Cutting of trees and other vegetation is not permitted except when needed in association with a primitive recreation experience such as to clear trails or to protect users or the environment, including wildfire suppression. Prescribed fire and wildfires managed to meet resource objectives may be used to restore or maintain habitat for threatened, endangered, or sensitive species and/or restore the historic range of variability.
    b. Scenic, Recreational. A range of vegetation management and timber harvest practices are allowed, if these practices are designed to protect users, or protect, restore, or enhance the river environment, including the long-term scenic character.

    A few examples of playing loose with the facts makes me tend to discount the rest of the arguments.

    • Jon, I’m not so sure that starting fires versus not putting them out is exactly apples and kumquats. It might be varieties of apple, or apples and crabapples.

      • In court, government actions are usually viewed quite differently than failure to act, and I believe that is also true for most negligence circumstances. There would have to be a legal duty to act before you even get to the question of whether you acted correctly (or not). I would be very surprised to see a court tell the government that it viewed its firefighting safety and cost considerations incorrectly, and/or should have fought a fire differently.


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