Environmental Lawsuits, Wildfire Smoke & Death

Hello everyone:

Here is the editorial I just wrote for SW Oregon Rogue Valley Times based on recent email discussions with many of you:
This post was made possible by support of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities and I have also shared with the wider “Call to Action” and “National Wildfire Institute” email groups and will also post to social media for wider consideration. Some of you also participate in one or more of these other organizations, so you will be getting duplicates that you can ignore.
I originally titled this “Environmental Lawsuits Are Killing People,” but the editor thought that was a little harsh, and also might open them to lawsuits, so the official title is a little more user-friendly now. Here’s the text (650 words):
Oregon is now beginning this year’s fire season, and southwest Oregon will likely be inundated with days and weeks of deadly smoke. It’s been happening most summers sometime from June until October since 1987.

For the first 40 years of my life, we didn’t have a fire season. We had wood heat, field burns, wigwam burners, bonfires, and clearcuts; but from 1952 until the Silver Complex Fire in 1987 there was only one wildfire bigger than 10,000 acres in all of western Oregon: the 1966 Oxbow Fire in Lane County.

The 2002 Biscuit Fire was nearly 500,000 acres in size, the largest wildfire in Oregon history, and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness has now burned four times. Anyone who has lived here a few years has likely experienced the catastrophic Chetco Bar, Taylor Creek, Klondike, South Obenchain, Almeda Drive, Slater, and/or Flat fires — and breathed their smoke.

Anybody less than 40 years of age, or that moved here in the last 35 years, probably thinks major fire seasons are “normal,” or even “natural,” and that breathing wildfire smoke part of the year is mostly unavoidable. But we didn’t used to have fire seasons, and wildfire smoke can be deadly.

The 2020 Labor Day Fires killed 11 people in southwest Oregon and burned more than 4,000 homes. During these fires, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality recorded the worst air quality in the world, including record-setting “Air Quality Index” (AQI) numbers for Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls communities.

AQI numbers for these communities varied from 332 to more than 500. A “Good” AQI number is from 0 to 50; “Unhealthy” numbers are 101 to 200; 200-300 is considered “Very Unhealthy,” and anything 300 and above is considered “Hazardous” — 500 is the highest number that can be measured, and Bend even exceeded that rating.

According to recent National Library of Medicine research, short-term health effects of “wildland smoke,” such as asthma attacks, are well known and recognized, but a study from 2007 to 2020 indicated more than 11,000 US deaths per year from long- term effects of wildfire smoke. Lung cancer and cardiopulmonary diseases were identified as major causes.

A University of California study of smoke-related mortality from 2008 to 2018 estimated 52,000 to 56,000 Californians suffered “premature death” due to wildfire smoke inhalation during those years, or about 5,000 deaths per year.

If major wildfires and their smoke were mostly uncommon during the 35 years from 1952 to 1987, and they have now become an almost annual concern, what changed? And can it be fixed?

According to the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), West Coast governors and environmentalists, the principal culprits in this deadly development are “climate change” and “wildfire suppression.”

Those are misleading excuses and not supported by facts. First, the climate in western Oregon has been pretty much the same for centuries; and second, the build- up of fuels is almost entirely due to changed federal forest management policies, as documented, and has little to do with fire suppression history of the past 120 years.

What did change, and dramatically, was the reaction of the federal government to anti-logging lawsuits first brought by environmental organizations when spotted owls became an “endangered species” in 1990. Active forest management was mostly stopped as a direct result, fuels built up rather than being harvested or treated, and they subsequently burned, as clearly predicted.

The recent litigation on local BLM projects initiated by Oregon Wild and Cascadia Wildlands is the most current example. BLM wanted to manage hazardous forest fuels and the environmentalists wanted to stop logging and get attention.

Our ancestors on the land showed us how to fix this problem. Stopping these costly lawsuits is key. Restoring active management of our public roads, trails, and forests will mostly end these deadly events, and also provide jobs and income needed to restore our rural schools, industries, communities, and clean, healthy air.

35 thoughts on “Environmental Lawsuits, Wildfire Smoke & Death”

  1. Interesting article, Bob. Just to confirm, is your premise that if environmental lawsuits were eliminated tomorrow, this would greatly reduce wildfires and resulting smoke? How long would this take? Is there sufficient timber industry infrastructure remaining in Oregon/Washington to make this dramatic change? Willing logging alone accomplish this turnaround or will prescribed burning be required as well (as most research has identified)? Won’t prescribed burning at a large scale also create smoke (albeit under a more controlled situation)?

    So, the lack of logging (resulting from lawsuits) is the sole reason why there are now bigger and more frequent wildfires? How did things get along in Washington/Oregon prior to industrial logging? Why were these fires not occurring in the 1700/1800’s? It is true that man caused fire back then was much different from today but is that the only explanation?

    Correct me if I am wrong here, but I did work on the North Bend Ranger District in the early 90’s. Most of the mills in Western Washington at that time, were still set up for milling large diameter logs. A lot of the logging occurring up to the 80’s in Western Washington/Oregon was logging large diameter trees. These trees are typically are the most fire resistant (old Doug Fir are pretty tough) and were pretty prepared to withstand wildfire. When these stands were cut and there was a flush of new, younger growth, did that not create a situation where the forest was more susceptible to wildfire down the road? Could this have been part of the problem you describe?

    You seem to imply that lawsuits only create bad, that nothing good comes out of them. Do you believe that the Federal agencies (FS and BLM) always come up with really good decisions and that they never develop projects that may not be the best for the greater good? They should never be challenged? With the Forest Service now using lots of Categorical Exclusions that are not subject to objection, and actually now even some EA’s and EIS’s have exceptions to objections, lawsuits are the only remaining way for citizens to challenge these agencies. But you are saying they should not be able to do that? Citizens should not be allowed to challenge their government? Do you have that much faith in the Forest Service and BLM? I worked for the Forest Service for 32 years and while I still love the agency and its mission, I do not have that level of faith, for good reason I believe.

    • Hi Dave: You have a lot of questions, and I will try my best to answer with some facts and related opinions — this is a topic I have been concerned about for many years and have been documenting and commenting on since the beginning.

      First, yes I believe that if the environmental lawsuits were ended tomorrow — and active management returned to our public forests in response — that most of the wildfire issues and related smoke would be greatly reduced over time. But significant damage has been done over the past 35 years because of these policies and the millions of acres of flammable snags and exotic weeds are still present from past actions that need to be corrected. With the right actions and policies in place — which I personally doubt will happen anytime soon — we could have everything beginning to return to safer, more productive conditions in a decade or two. We know how, and our predecessors demonstrated how to do it.

      Sufficient infrastructure doesn’t exist at this time to undertake these tasks, but it could be fairly quickly installed and made operational in a few years’ time with the right contracts, funding, and job training programs — which could all be done at a profit rather than at taxpayer expense, as has been taking place with the current failed approach for far too many years, in my opinion. Active management would include logging, prescribed fire, better reforestation planning and implementation, road and trail maintenance, weed control, etc.

      We used to do prescribed burning at an appropriate scale until government bureaucrats took over in the 1980s, and there is far less smoke to control and it has far less health impacts because of ignition timing and great reductions in fuel loads before burning.

      We’ve had major problems in the past, such as the 1860s and 1930s, with forest wildfires, but following WW II, with better technologies, trained workforces, new roads, and different policies, these problems were mostly well addressed. Then, spotted owls and opportunistic lawsuits. And yes, fires used by people for the past several thousand years were far different than the wildfires we are experiencing today. Significantly fewer fuels and the maintenance of major strategic fuel breaks along ridgelines and riparian areas were two reasons.

      The big, old trees are definitely more “fire resistant” — until competing vegetation provides ladder fuels and contiguous crown fuels, resulting in the near 100% mortality of old-growth we have been witnessing the past few decades. And yes, industrial plantations creating contiguous pitchy fuels are definitely part of the problem. Same with poor site prep preceding these plantations.

      I think the talent is largely gone from the USFS. California policies regarding DEI forestry hiring practices in the 1980s that became national resulted in the loss of significant federal talent in the 1990s — personal opinion shared with many others — and their replacement by a lot of bureaucrats, ologists, and modelers predictably resulted in the Forest Service we know today. Not so much a “shadow of its former self” as a completely different animal with an entirely different set of survival skills. Not good for taxpayers, rural communities, wildlife, aesthetics, or physical and economical health.

      • Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Bob, and giving me your perspective. I personally think that if the FS did not have any checks and balances from lawsuits, they likely would bow to the whims of the politicians and the timber industry. I am watching this play out in real-time on the Black Hills NF. The timber industry is comprised of businesses with the goal of making a profit. Nothing wrong with that but they do not always have our National Forest’s best interests in mind. They naturally have their businesses at the top of their mind.

        A lot of things would have to fall into place for your vision to come to fruition. I actually think that the most likely possibility is that Congress could make it extremely difficult to file a lawsuit against vegetation management projects. They have taken some steps towards this and have proposed numerous pieces of legislation that would do exactly that. There is a possibility that you may get your wish.

        Creating an infrastructure that could achieve effective vegetation management at the scale required to address the problem would, in my mind, be much more difficult. But who knows, maybe it could happen. The Forest Service has said for quite some time, that if they only got the money, they could address the wildfire problem. Suddenly, they got dumped with unbelievable amounts of money over the last 2-3 years. So far, it is not really evident that this funding has been put to effective use.

        Will we be able to get back to the good old days? When the FS was selling 10 billion board feet and was actually turning in dollars to the US Treasury rather than being a drain on the budget? Probably not, but once again, who knows? Is climate change just a hoax being played on us? I don’t think so, I see too much evidence for it, but I guess time will tell. Will everything fall into place, well I’m reminded of the old saying “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”

        • Dave: We are on the same page. One of my personally most influential friends and associates, Bill Hagenstein, had a saying that I was just reminded of in an email earlier today. Bill lived to 99 and remained mentally active, politically involved, and foul-mouthed to the end. He headed several organizations and testified to Congress more than 100 times during his career advocating for scientific and sustainable forestry. He had a famously photographic memory and some favored aphorisms, including: “We are just like a young steer — all that we can do is try!” So there’s that.

        • Kamala Harris, Karin Jean Pierre, Rachel Levine, Walt Disney, and Tractor Supply are in the news on the topic. Lots of discussion and analysis there. Mostly a matter of promoting folks based on sex, race, and other variables — “under-represented populations” — over more experienced and/or skilled individuals according to the news. Lots of USFS early retirees and departures in the 90s were making this claim, and lots of documentary evidence to support them.

          • Interesting Bob. I was fresh out of grad school, well trained outside of it in field work and forestry, and then well educated, in late 2016, when Trump was elected and every contact I had with the USFS told me that they were under a hard no-hire type instruction from Trump’s admin. I wanted to go in and make a difference with all my knowledge and experience and then education I worked very hard for, but I was shot down.
            Now I work for the state of California for a lot more $$$ with plenty of very talented people, who also make a lot of $$$, and get things done. Including people who came over from BLM and the USFS. Plenty of diversity too. Maybe it is not a political/social war thing….but hey, you’re older so you know better.

            I am a straight white male too, BTW, so don’t even go down that path.

            • ? I’m sure you’re making a point by claiming your sex and race, but since you’re hiding behind a phony name, there is no way to verify anything you are saying. No idea why you’d think I might go down a racist, sexist, or agist path — my argument is directly opposed to such considerations. That does seems to be your problem, but again there is no way to know when a person is in hiding and refusing to reveal themselves.

              • Okay, Bob.
                I’m just telling you the truth. The USFS and other missed out on a lot of good hires due to the impacts of the Trump admin election in late 2016, and everyone else is reaping the benefits of that exodus/denial.

                “California policies regarding DEI forestry hiring practices in the 1980s that became national resulted in the loss of significant federal talent in the 1990s — personal opinion shared with many others — and their replacement by a lot of bureaucrats, ologists, and modelers predictably resulted in the Forest Service we know today. Not so much a “shadow of its former self” as a completely different animal with an entirely different set of survival skills. Not good for taxpayers, rural communities, wildlife, aesthetics, or physical and economical health.”

                I guess the best and brightest and hardest working decided to look elsewhere than the federal government, since the Feds decided via an election to stop hiring the best and brightest and hardest working young employees, and not pay them what they are worth. Nothing to do with DEI, everything to do with politics.

                But keep on with your complaints about someone being anonymous, because you don’t want to have a legit argument with someone who has a lot more to lose than you in their young career, as not all of us got to make $$$ off of the feds and industry during the clearcutting bonanza of the 80s and 90s and early 2000s.
                I pointed out sex and race because I figured I would head you off at your next argument, that I was just another DEI hire.

                By the way, all those fires last summer in So Oregon – how did your dire predictions for catastrophe and winds and bedlam and scorched earth turn out?

                • Anon: You likely have a good reason for being anonymous, and maybe some good things to offer in a discussion using that persona, but that shouldn’t give you the right to publicly attack others or belittle people with actual names and reputations. Trying to get me to publicly defend my opinions or to infer that I am a racist is not a good look for someone who is too cowardly to reveal their own identity. And very difficult to take such a person too seriously. In my opinion.

          • Bob, I think it’s complicated. For one thing, there was definitely a good old boy network who didn’t like (some) diverse people. The pressure pushed them over the edge to hire them and many but not all worked out.
            Second, some bench strength in diverse people in certain fields was very low. My boss ( a wonderful person) recruited a trainee for me interested in a topic and we supported her but perhaps too much as she seemed to not expect to actually work or move or whatever. So we had interested people, committed to the topic, getting masters degrees on their own dime, and we spent a lot of effort on this individual from the diversity perspective. That’s one thing I feel bad about.. mostly that I was asking the person training this individual to do her own job, plus what the new individual wasn’t qualified to do, plus training the new individual who never actually got to the point where she could do work.
            Then there was the time (Obama Admin?) where one of our Deputy Regional Foresters and the Civil Rights person had to independently evaluate all temporary hires for the Region during a time period. So I understand both sides, diversity was a great goal, the FS was given a lot of time and didn’t make much progress, and something needed to change. Some of the interventions were.. less than optimal. Another problem was that the schools that produced natural resources grads weren’t churning them out for a long time. We all needed to be on the same page, and that didn’t happen right away.

            • Thanks Sharon: This is the same story that I heard from others, and also observed. While doing my time at OSU I was actively involved in AISES (American Indian Students in Engineering and Science) and continue to strongly support the idea that more diversity is needed in both government and industry — but family economics, politics, and religion should be part of the equation. Especially economics. And the people need to be qualified, beginning with education and work experience.

              Ice hockey and the NBA show that certain professions favor certain races and sexes, and the same used to also be true for grade school teachers. I have a good friend, a retired top-level forester and Berkeley graduate who is also a member of the Colville Tribe and was partly raised on the reservation. One of the worst insults he has ever received was the idea that he was hired because of his race. That’s another down-side of DEI policies — everyone becomes suspect because too many were promoted to fail.

  2. Right-on, Dr. Zybach; I left Oregon in 1983, having an intensive “education” in timber and fire in that beautiful State. I haven’t worked but in five Regions of the US Forest Service, but have seen what you have conveyed in every one of them! And, the timing was right in my career to see the changes you have identified. To add onto that, my family started with the forest service in 1929, when my grandpa was appointed a “fire warden”, I still have the letter! My dad also had 40 years in service; the stories he could tell….

  3. I’m somewhat skeptical about the conclusion that’s being presented here that minimizes climate change as a major culprit. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the precipitation data over the past century clearly shows a decrease, accompanied by an increase in temperature. The “success” in fire suppression that we had for most of the 20 century may well be largely due to more moisture – remember when we used refer to some of our forests as “asbestos forests”?

    Note that recent conflagrations, notably the Paradise Fire, occurred on highly managed forests.

    Due to the vastness of our forested acres, data shows that the odds of a fire actually occurring on a managed landscape is very low; we simply don’t have the resources to manage every acre. And what about the massive shrubby regrowth that follows treatment?

    As a western US resident who remembers the good old days of clear summer skies, and limitless viewscapes, sure I’m bummed out at the new normal. I don’t enjoy sitting inside on a summer day with the windows closed, and my box fan air filter, to protect my lungs. And I don’t have a solution, especially with the lackluster pace of real climate change strategies. I don’t think widespread fuel reduction is an affordable or logistically possible goal, although it’s a good strategy to implement on a local level to protect communities.

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    • Hi Glenn: The reason I “minimize climate change” in this analysis is because it’s not a factor. The climate has been about the same for hundreds of years. Florida is still above water, the glaciers have returned to northern Washington, and “fire season” here in western Oregon is about the same as it has always been. The “climate change” excuse just developed because the university and agency modelers have been so wrong about their projections of “old-growth” and “critical habitat” they were claiming in the 1980s and 90s until it became obvious that politicians and computers can’t forecast the future.

      Thanks for this feedback. I also long for the days of clear summer skies, no one living on sidewalks, and thriving rural communities and wildlife populations. It was all based on hard work and common sense, not politics and computer print-outs. In my experience and opinion.

      • It was interesting to learn about the “Gish Gallop” after the presidential debate: “a rapid series of specious arguments, half-truths, misrepresentations, and outright lies.”

        • Hi Jon: I learned about the “Gish Gallop” from your note, but I also watched the debate without hearing that term at that time. Care to explain why you posted this in response to my post? Are you claiming an “outright lie” or other insult you’ve listed? Or was this just an inadvertent and unrelated statement on your part? If not, would you like to cite a few particulars? Name-calling is never attractive and usually the last resort of individuals that can’t make a good argument.

            • Jon: So your cherry-picked refutations are “the truth” and my opinions — based on significant personal research and experience — are “outright lies?” Or just “specious” “half-truths,” based on your own factual data and final, irrefutable judgments? I can see why you don’t use specific examples and prefer to slander instead. It’s much easier that way. Just not very compelling or attractive.

              • If you would support your opinions with facts it would be possible to use specific examples in reply. And talk to Mr. Fulks – “correlation is not causation.”

                • Okay, Jon, now you are claiming that I don’t use “facts” when forming my opinions. More mud-slinging with no mud. How about an example of what you are talking about so I’m not just responding to your dumb name-calling and pointless accusations?

                  • My Gish Gallop comment referred to these opinions from you: “The climate has been about the same for hundreds of years. Florida is still above water, the glaciers have returned to northern Washington, and “fire season” here in western Oregon is about the same as it has always been.”
                    Instead of your accusations, give me the facts that you used here to support any of these. (By the way, Mt. Rainier has lost 41.6% of its area and, “The Stevens Glacier, an offshoot of the Paradise Glacier on the Park’s south face, was removed due to its lack of features indicating flow, and therefore is no longer a glacier but instead a perennial snowfield. Two other south facing glaciers – the Pyramid and Van Trump glaciers – are in serious peril. In the six-year period between 2015 and 2021, these two glaciers lost 32.9% and 33.6% of their area and 42.0% and 42.9% of their volume, respectively.” )

  4. Mr. Zybach and Healthy Forests and Healthy Communities are doing us all a great disservice by writing such a trash take. I can expect this from Mr. Zybach who is affiliated with the climate-change denying ‘think tank’ – the Heartland Institute. I guess I should be grateful that someone associated with Heartland is finally acknowledging the health effects of smoke, because they sure seemed to love tobacco companies and smoke back in the 80s. But HFHC should do better if they want to be taken seriously about their balanced approach to forest management.

    Six years ago this week, a young man by the name of John Colin Eagle Skoda lit a burn pile with accelerant just south of the town of Hornbook in far Northern California. That burn pile was picked up by a fierce wind and blew north into the town, where a long time elderly volunteer of our organization was killed by the flames and smoke while trying to escape his home. The area that burned first and through Hornbook was all private land, and I’m not aware of a single lawsuit by environmentalists that led to the death of our beloved volunteer, John Bermel.

    In September 2020, just five blocks from my house in Ashland, OR, an errant spark landed on the ground near our dog park (from a source unknown to this day) and the Almeda Fire was born. Two other arsons occurred that same day within 5 miles. A transient was killed while sleeping nearby and three others perished trying to escape their homes in the neighboring towns of Phoenix and Talent. Not a single acre of federal timberland burned in the Almeda Fire, but 2,800 houses burned down. What environmental lawsuit led to those fatalities and tragedy?

    These two instances close to me pale in comparison to the death and destruction that came from larger fires like Paradise in 2018 where 80 perished, and the recent Maui Fire of 2023 where 102 perished. What environmental lawsuits led to causing those disasters and death?

    As a litigation advocate that recently won against the BLM, I can see the nuance in our argument that certain types of active management can actually make fire hazard worse, and things like plantation thinning and prescribed fire are things we can get behind. What is the author of this terrible op-ed really trying to say?

    • You’ve already classified “us” vs “them”; I don’t think the concept of climate change can be denied, but the rate associated with anthropogenic stresses make for an outstanding excuse to blame our shortcomings.

      One issue not mentioned is the business of fire. Back before 1990, and even after that, fire was aggressively fought to extinguish. Every employee of the FS was either fire qualified or support. True firefighters (position descriptions) were few and far between. IMT’s were comprised of fire folks and PUFF’s for grunts, on large fires. We worked all day and all night; more direct attack occurred at night – chainsaws included.

      Fires were swarmed with firefighters with the only goal in mind to extinguish the flame. Nowadays, fire is a 2 – 3 billion dollar annual industry, not much incentive to contain as small as possible. Too many times, “Fire for beneficial use”, or “managed fire” is the norm, adding time and more smoke to the event. And, ya can’t forget the WFSA, or a WFIT for wasting time on the front end of a start.

      • I also remember putting out ABC fires with whomever (FS) happened to be in the vicinity. I would think this still happens.

        • Ha! I don’t think so, in most cases in the West anyway. I’ve seen FMO’s absolutely go ballistic for someone (FS employee) coming along and putting out a small fire! It’s funny though, if they still say this, wood permits have a list of conditions a permittee agrees to, including taking action on a fire. Timber sale contracts and timber permits also had them the last I heard.

          I and many other timber beasts have put out many an ABC fire, with a pine top…. The fire organization, unfortunately, is so stove piped it is hardly recognizable to us old fogey’s….

          • Jim, IMHO that would be really weird if the FS required firewood permittees of unknown training to put out fires (I would have more confidence, correctly or incorrectly in timber contractors), but not allow trained FS employees to put out fires? Everyone still has to attend Guard School, right?

    • Hi Michael: When you say that Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities are doing “us all great disservice,” who –exactly — are you talking about? Environmental lawyers? Political activists? Agency modelers? “All” of who, exactly? FYI, the last time I had any contact with the Heartland Institute was several years ago, so I guess you can use Google, and must also know I have a PhD in the topic I’m discussing. I’m curious what your credentials might be, in exchange.

      Please test your reading skills and try again. I haven’t smoked tobacco in more than 30 years and I definitely didn’t say “All” forest fires were caused by lawsuits — that’s just you putting words in my mouth so you can make a point of some sort.

      I’ve written extensively about the Almeda Fire — which was largely fueled by exotic weeks in the Bear Creek “Greenway” (created by environmentalists) and by trailer houses. What I’m “really trying to say” is actually what I wrote, in simple declarative sentences. You obviously have a belief system that dominates your thinking, so this work wasn’t intended for you. If you’re curious, here’s the videotaped documentation I did of the Almeda Drive Fire (62 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8KKDqAgoaY

  5. BZ opinion: “First, yes I believe that if the environmental lawsuits were ended tomorrow — and active management returned to our public forests in response — that most of the wildfire issues and related smoke would be greatly reduced over time.”
    My opinion: hogwash.
    The “active mgmt” BZ notes largely consisted of clearcutting mature/OG forests, converting to young plantations, which research has shown to set up for very high mortality.
    Is OR weather really unchanged? If so, it is a microcosm. I just read a report of AK glaciers; 100% of which have retreated significantly or disappeared in 100 yrs. Why are so many (except BZ?) concerned about “longer fire seasons, higher temps and winds, and greater aridity”?
    I’ve seen no research addressing correlation and causality with env lawsuits and fire frequency/severity.
    Are we to just trust BZ wisdom? Not I.

  6. Hi Jim: I guess if you just make crap up, accuse other people of promoting your crap, then it truly is “hogwash.,” as you say. To claim that I am promoting a process that “largely consisted of clearcutting mature/OG forests, converting to young plantations, which research has shown to set up for very high mortality,” is just a flat lie, or else morbid fantasy.

    I won’t return the favor with my own fabricated insults, but I will say that my actual definition of “active management” has been stated many times and it is not at all what you are claiming. Also, typical survival of the plantations my crews and I created over 20+ years and 80,000+ acres was well over 90%.

    Are we to trust JF statements? Not I. Too easy to disprove.

  7. Maybe I misunderstand you, Bob? You seem to say (me paraphrasing) weather hasn’t really changed, fires not a big deal before owls tipped the apple cart (lawsuit vector), smoke is now really bad (I agree), success or fear of lawsuits led to reduced logging (of the clearcut kind, again – unless you have a new era proxy to detail). Thus… the culprit is, by elimination, lawsuits. Again, I disagree with this “logic”.

    As to climate, all the graphics I looked at, show steady warming in OR since 1950 and predicted to rise pretty dramatically. And…

    BZ – “typical survival of the plantations my crews and I created over 20+ years and 80,000+ acres was well over 90%” This seems to demand further explanation. Are you suggesting that all these survived nearby fires and left them unburned BECAUSE they were plantations. I find that hard to believe. IMHO

  8. Hi Jim: Not sure if you misunderstood me or simply misrepresented what I was saying. My research on weather extended several centuries for western Oregon and was under the direction of one of my favorite committee members, George Taylor, who wrote the book on the topic and was Oregon State Meteorologist during that time. Naturally, we used written records for historical time and used tree ring and pollen proxies for earlier centuries — the latter discipline with which I worked with Henry Hansen. All of the evidence is that the weather hasn’t really changed in western Oregon on a seasonal basis, or on the basis of extreme events, such as floods (1861), extended droughts (1930s), wind (1962), or landslides (1996) during our lifetimes, and no real indication that’s going to change any time soon. And so what if it does? People are really adaptable to such changes.

    Fires WERE a big deal in the 1860s and 1930s until technology, national concern, and an experienced work force pretty much had them under control from WW II until the late 1980s, when federal passive management policies — including designated Wildernesses, roadless areas, and riparian reserves — began resulting in massive fuel build-ups that eventually resulted in massive wildfires. As clearly predicted.

    ESA-based and EAJA-funded lawsuits beginning in the early 1990s greatly exacerbated the problem, as documented in subsequent wildfires. Also clearly predicted. Douglas fir requires full sunlight to grow to maturity and begin reproducing. Most of the Douglas Fir Region that is forested has been covered with even-aged stands of Douglas fir of various age groups. Before clearcuts, nature used fire, windstorms, volcanic eruptions, and landslides to clear the land so that Douglas fir could grow. Stopping clearcutting is the same result as stopping mowing your lawn or weeding your garden — late summer and a flame and you have an unplanned fire to deal with.

    That being said, I think all of our remaining old-growth and older second-growth — say 150+ years — should be located and actively managed in order to extend the life of these trees as much as possible. So it’s always a judgment call, based on personal values and current circumstances. And clearcuts, like mowed lawns, can be an important part of the environment biologically, aesthetically, and economically.

    So far as I know, none of the units my crews planted — many of which have been precommercially thinned and/or clearcut since — have ever burned in a wildfire. I have seen burned plantations, but mostly to the west of federal lands following a major fire. I’ve also photographed locations in the B&B Complex in which crown fires on government land resulting in nearly 100% mortality, were stopped dead within a few feet when reaching a private plantation.

    Our high survival rate, in addition to doing site prep with scarification or broadcast burns to remove surface fuels, was due to the quality of the seedlings we used and using protective devices or trapping to reduce or eliminate animal damage. Toward the end of my career in that occupation, we were using “micro-site densities” and Phil Hahn’s plug-1 seedlings to routinely exceed 95% survival.

    • “So it’s always a judgment call, based on personal values…” We’re talking about federal lands, so if “it” is the desirability of clearcuts, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s based on the law (and forest plans), and the best available science.

      • So the “truth” is that these wildfires and damaged communities are a direct result of “the law” and the “best available science?” I think we are in full agreement, Jon.


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