Counteracting wildfire misinformation

“Counteracting wildfire misinformation,” a paper by 13 authors in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment (open access), is worth a look. The authors do not mention Chad Hanson by name, but this seems to fit, IMHO: “Some scientists use their credentials to advocate for specific policy outcomes that they support personally, which may or may not be driven by robust frameworks of evidence.”

One of the supporting documents is an excellent resource: WebTable 1. “Prebunking prominent examples of wildfire misinformation related to in western North American forests.” For example:

Misinformation: Fuels reduction is a Trojan horse for commercial logging.

Description: Pre-fire fuels reduction is motivated by timber outputs, not fire hazard reduction; the result is serious harm to the land from practices similar to commodity-driven logging.

Consequence of misinformation: Distrust in land management agencies. [As well as collaborative groups and other stakeholders who support fuels reduction.]

Information from more robust knowledge frameworks: Mechanical fuels reduction focuses on retaining medium and large-sized fire-tolerant trees, to foster their survival of the next fire. Fuels reduction treatments restructure and remove woody material and fuel ladders that built up during fire exclusion, and are often of limited economic value. In other cases, removal of medium-, or large-sized fire-intolerant trees that recruited during fire exclusion is essential to improve fire-tolerant tree survival. The catchphrase “fuels reduction logging” deceptively conflates two very different types of forest management.

Key evidence: Agee and Skinner 2005; Schwilk et al. 2009; Stephens et al. 2009, 2020, 2021; Collins et al. 2014; Prichard et al. 2021; Hessburg et al. 2022.





11 thoughts on “Counteracting wildfire misinformation”

  1. eQAnon? *smirk*

    Now, BOTH sides are using the same tactics?!?!? Extremists always seem to want to re-write history, to support their extreme views. Should we be expecting some form of ‘political violence’? I think we should. That is what desperation does to people.

  2. My wife had a conversation with an award winning journalist with two small newspapers. One in remote Oregon, and the other in blue state Oregon urban government headquarters city. The rural paper thrives, does investigative journalism, is interesting and useful. The urban, government city and his paper is pap and press releases. Yuck. And so she told him. They were on a high school debate team years ago.

    His answer: The super majority one party urban far left progressive governments, the city, county and State union dominated apparatus, will not give journalists access to data or records without litigation, and then they will try to charge dollars per page of released data and information if they lose. There is not money enough to buy the data compiled by your tax dollars, and financially survive as a digital news media outlet.

    Conversely, the lightly populated rural area paper has the trust of the local governments, and that facilitates more access to the State and Federal presence and offices, and journalists have much more access to records and files.

    That the rural paper in Oregon’s only Republican held congressional seat and statewide Republican office holder, and the progressive blue state city located urban paper with little access to data and information is in a Democrat stronghold of public employee union support by over 95% of their political spending going to Democrats, and the three congressional districts are also far left liberal and pugnacious politically. To me, the contrast is dramatic and telling.

    Kids missed more than a year of school in urban environments and almost none in the rural areas. Day and night. And the real diversity is the coverage of events and happenings in the rural paper, of all things county, city, state, and federal, where ag, government, a state corrections facility, Bur Rec irrigation water, transportation issues impact all citizens, no matter their race, religion, gender and sexual preferences. All the social, school, non profit, church and civic organization happenings. Old timers are either Japanese or European, many Hispanic immigrants, and an area where English, Japanese, Basque and Spanish are spoken in the home.

    In Western Oregon, you get the “woke” anti White rhetoric daily along with the forest fire smoke all summer. Now urban areas have mindless gunfire and shootings almost daily, with no end in sight. Extraordinary numbers and primarily by a small minority population of young gangster males from “our communities of color.” Digital or paper media cannot tell you who, because police retain all the information. A microcosm of the state of US governance today. And why newspapers are few and far between, and why I sent money to this effort, Smokey Wire.

    My point: We will never know what we know we don’t know, with a union, politicized civil service and Federal administrative class. Thus, little trust in the present system to be open and available to journalists. “CYA” is always in play the higher up the ladder of compensation and responsibility, government or private side, and the effort is greater the greater the height up the ladder. Journalism for the insufficiently financed is tenuous and ineffective. Carlos Slim and Jeff Bezos have the dough to selectively gain access to information because Billions Talks and Poverty is a state of ignorance by design. The design is “If you don’t vote for me, you ain’t Black.” I get it. Likely the real policy is to burn the public forests to lower fuel accumulation, lower legal costs of interminable litigation, deny access to the public (how many roads and trails are open in burned areas post fire?) and passively punish the ENGOs for trying to manage and do the USFS, et al, job by court decision and default positions, all because Congress is incapable of Change. None are risking individual careers by proposing to change poorly constructed and layered statutes in constant tension with, and counter active to, other similar statutes. In a few words, doing the same thing over and over, expecting a better result is where the interface of private and public lands has landed.

  3. I am no Chad Hanson supporter, but I have to say that, sometime fuel treatments are a trojan horse for commercial logging, if not, what’s the justification for so many logging projects getting the logs out and moving on without dealing with the fuels? Sure, medium and large trees are left, the forest plans often require this and lots of managers would love to get rid of these requirements. Also, pre-commercial thinning is not just done for hazard reduction, it’s also done for volume production and I’ve seen PCT with terrible fuels results.

    These issues are not black or white and there’s a reason for lack of trust.

    • On the other hand, selling logs from fuels projects can help pay for the fuels projects. That’s commercial logging, which may folks oppose.

      • I know Gavin, and this article was not something I was stoked to see from him. My lack of trust of the agency is not just some conspiracy crazy enviro. If I were retired, I would go into some of the irrefutable and numerous examples. There are legitimate reasons the agency is not trusted or trustworthy. Suggesting otherwise is disingenuous or ignorant.

        Sure, selling logs can help pay for fuels projects, but that works once, maybe twice if the site is really productive and the managers were not able to push too hard the first time. After that, the surplus timber is gone and the unit will need another treatment before enough commercial has grown back to pay for it. Also, a lot of the commercial products coming off are not necessary to affect landscape resilience. The agency should be honest about that, rather than pretending otherwise.

        As long as the agency continues to be dishonest, Chad and others will be able influence public opinion on wildfire and the agency will struggle to get the work done needed to affect landscape fire resilience.

    • A. (1) some projects are about getting logs out. It’s in the purpose and need. Some people don’t feel that that’s a legitimate reason to cut trees. They are certainly entitled to their opinion, but the FS is a unit of government, and the Sierra Club and others have so far not changed legislation and budgets.
      (2) some projects take big trees to protect bigger ones, as part of fuels reduction. Some leave piles hoping to burn, but burn windows and folks’ availability haven’t happened yet. Not sure that managers really care about “getting rid of the M and L tree retention requirements”. Most I have known just want to do their job that is, follow whatever plans are out there.
      (3) Yes PCT can be done for volume production. Back to 1) It seems to me that it would be a good thing for you to ask about fuel impacts when you see those environmental documents, or see what they have to day about fuels impacts.

      As Steve says (4) sometimes they might take out extra big trees to pay for the sale.
      If you think that commercial logging is a bad thing.. then no timber practices are OK.

      • I gotta say, Sharon, it’s hard not to feel patronized.

        I wish I could open up about a lot of things, but that’s not possible at the moment. Maybe in a couple of years when I retire.

        Yes, commercial is in the purpose and need, but it’s almost always couched as a byproduct of the restoration and fuels work, not the driver and needed to get the fuel work done. Hence the lack of honesty.

        I could discuss big tree logging all day, but it’s almost always most productive in the field where the trees proposed for logging can be discussed.

        Did I say I was against commercial logging or imply I was? I did not, so why did you go there and imply I was? My point was about how the lack of honesty and how it empowers Chad et al., allowing them to more effectively sway public opinion.

        “Not sure that managers really care about “getting rid of the M and L tree retention requirements”.” That’s your opinion, based on what, I do not know. My experience would suggest otherwise. Again, I’d love to provide concrete examples, but cannot at this time. Sorry you are unwilling to take my word for it, but I get that. I do not take your word for things that you do not provided evidence of either.

        “Yes PCT can be done for volume production. Back to 1) It seems to me that it would be a good thing for you to ask about fuel impacts when you see those environmental documents, or see what they have to day about fuels impacts.” Of course I ask about fuels in PCT. I am not against PCT (again, it seems you are implying I am against something I am not?). I have personally planned and implemented PCT projects. Also, I thought I was clear I am concerned about fuels in PCT. None of my PCT projects were left a mess, but I have seen many that have been.

        • It’s hard to always have the appearance of having “green shorts”, especially when you work in timber. I’m happy that you are willing to show us parts of the Forest Service that might not be real palatable to the ‘get the cut out’ people. Luckily, the ‘dinosaurs’ might soon be extinct in the Forest Service hierarchy. I think it is better to tell the truth and follow the rules. It doesn’t always win the court cases, but I’d like to think that the USFS has closed many of Hanson’s old loopholes.

          Maybe soon, I’ll find a way to wander through the Caldor Fire, with my camera, to see all the many places where I worked, over six seasons. Did I make a difference with my paintgun? We’ll see.

        • I apologize if I sounded patronizing. I believe that we are a little like the blind man and the elephant about the FS .. I experience a toe and you experience a tail. With so many Regions, cultural differences within Regions, ecosystems and so (plus what happened in the past) I don’t think there’s one story.

          I think what you said here is very interesting..
          “Yes, commercial is in the purpose and need, but it’s almost always couched as a byproduct of the restoration and fuels work, not the driver and needed to get the fuel work done. Hence the lack of honesty.” What exactly do you not think is honest.. the prioritization (if they were really interested in fuels they would have picked this area instead) or which trees are taken?

          In the case of “which trees are taken” would it be something like “this fuels prescription says to take out x.. but we are going to take out x plus y because it will help meet our timber targets”? I’m just trying to get at what would be honest in this case.

  4. The citations for the “more robust knowledge frameworks” seem to be scientists talking about their normative perception of what fuel treatments should be rather than what they have observed to happen. It would be interesting to see how true this statement is: “some projects are about getting logs out. It’s in the purpose and need.” If the Forest Service is planning timber sales and calling them fuel treatments, that would be “misinformation.”

    “Most I have known just want to do their job that is, follow whatever plans are out there.”
    Actually, most of what their job is is meeting targets. Maybe those are based on forest plans. And keep in mind that the mandatory parts of forest plans are the “do nots” (which I perceive as mostly working against achieving targets).

  5. Meanwhile, as the Mosquito Fire rages, it is yet another example of a major wildfire not really much affected by strong outside winds. In fact, the column was so tall and straight, it could be seen from downtown San Francisco! A buddy of mine lives in Georgetown, and he has chosen to stay home, for now. He has three excellent highway escapes available, and the rest of the town has been evacuated.

    The fire is following a pattern of using the steep canyons as conduits for the spread of fire. The mornings have cold air flowing down the canyons. The afternoons have hot and dry air going up the canyons. The terrain in those canyons is just too steep to put people into.

    Also affecting the fire is a large amount of newly downed vegetation, from a ‘low-snow event’, last winter. There might also be some blocked roads, as well.


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