Shout Out to Blue Mountain Eagle for Burn Boss Arrest Coverage

A firefighter uses a drip torch as part of the Starr 6 prescribed burn in Bear Valley on October 22, 2022. Tony Chiotti/Blue Mountain Eagle.


Thanks to the Hotshot Wakeup Person (HWP), I ran across what appeared to be excellent reporting on the Arrested Burn Boss incident in Oregon from the Blue Mountain Eagle. In the spirit of “catching people doing something right”,  check out their story.

A Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations officer had been requested for the Oct. 19 burn. This was not a standard arrangement, according to current and retired Forest Service officials. The request was made directly in response to verbal harassment and perceived threats the crews had reported on the previous day of burn operations on Oct. 13. That law enforcement officer was not able to be on the scene due to an injury, but the burn went ahead.

Because that officer was not on scene, there was no law enforcement authority on the federal side when the sheriff arrived.

Ludwig describes a scenario in which federal and local law enforcement authorities could have “concurrent jurisdiction,” meaning both could arrest individuals if they had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. She sees nothing that could prevent a sheriff from arresting a federal employee, which is exactly what happened. But given that the confrontation between McKinley and Snodgrass happened while both were in the process of carrying out their lawful duties, it could have gone the other way, with the sheriff being placed under arrest.

“If somebody interferes or obstructs (a federal officer), in general, that could lead to a federal charge,” Ludwig said.

HWP wondered how the situation might have changed had the FS been able to fill the requested FS LEO slot.  Some people think perhaps both sides would have arrested each other; I think the two law enforcement folks would have communicated in their own shared verbal and nonverbal language, from their shared understandings of their work, and worked it out with no arrests.   Who knows?

Also I wonder how necessary it is to do prescribed fire in those specific locations (where it is felt necessary to have LEO support),  Maybe people with a wildfire background can add their perspective.


10 thoughts on “Shout Out to Blue Mountain Eagle for Burn Boss Arrest Coverage”

  1. I’ll bet my uncle has some interesting new stories. He’s a well-known man around town, from his decades of residence there. He also works for the Forest Service, as a retiree, in the roads shop. He is also unabashedly liberal, and the townsfolk know it. I had the fascination of joining in on one of his almost-daily “Main Street Lounge” front porch things, after work. Some make a habit of stopping in, sharing a beer and talking about ‘stuff’. Many honk as they drive by, too. Sometimes they have to talk about work items, since they don’t cross paths at work. They try to avoid “talking shop”, but politics and work go together so much in the Forest Service. I had an interesting time seeing these people (not all liberals) ‘letting their hair down’, a little bit.

  2. “Also I wonder how necessary it is to do prescribed fire in those specific locations (where it is felt necessary to have LEO support),”

    Maybe as necessary as it is to mechanically thin in specific locations where the public has objected? (Possibly not really necessary?)

    • I think it’s all about “which members of the public objected”. If (any person objecting) or (more than 50% of people with some kind of standing) or (neighbors specifically) or ???

      • I was thinking of “objections” in the formal sense. But it could save a lot of work by considering objections to locations at the beginning of the scoping process. (I think a lot of the problem is not having a public process for considering alternative locations. Maybe that’s even a legal problem.)

        • The underlying project was/is called “Starr,” and analysis and comment were completed in 2012. The project website is here: I believe the project was objected to by some conservation organizations, although the objections webpage doesn’t go back that far so I can’t validate that (this was right about the time the agency switched from post-decisional appeals to pre-decisional objections). I don’t believe the objections/appeals were about project *location* but rather about whether management should be occurring at all.

          Interesting that it took a decade to get the final work on the ground (burning) done…

          Larry, as a semi-local myself, I’d be interested in know who your kin there are and whether we’ve met.

          • My uncle Doug used to work for a local mill. When that closed, he went to work at the National Park. Then he found himself working for the Forest Service as a temp, and being past retirement age. While he is not an activist, he does oppose the local MAGA Republicans. If you would like, I can ask him if I can invite you to his front porch ‘sharing of the beer’. I think he might enjoy your point of view.

          • Opposing the chosen location is what objectors are forced into when they are not offered a choice to begin with. What if the purpose and need was something like “reduce fire risk to the community of x” (or maybe within one of those nationally mapped high priority areas) in instead of “reduce fuels in this predetermined specific location?” Maybe the debate would be “here” vs “there” instead of “do it here or don’t do it.”

            • That was part of Starr’s purpose and need re: Bear Valley and the scattered residents located there, as well as to restore forest function more generally in the watershed.

              • Interesting – thanks. The range of alternatives didn’t seem to address locations. Notably, the one that did was not fully developed: “The location of some of the units not included for treatment would leave an area between the project boundary and private property not treated… The purpose and need will be addressed at a much reduced level by not treating mixed conifer stands because fuels would not be reduced and forest resiliency would not be improved on these acres. The reduced area proposed to be treated and the location of some of the area creates an alternative that does not meet the purpose and need to reduce fuels to protect life and property so was dropped from detailed analysis.” I think it’s sketchy to drop an alternative because of meeting the purpose and need at a “reduced” level because that will always be the case for all but one alternative. It also looks like the location issue was about private property, and the dynamics might be different around unique public resources like wildlife habitat. (If the people whose life and property are at risk, object to measures to do that, should they do it any way?)


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