Old-Growth Definitions: Loggers, Foresters, Scientists & Modelers


Gould and McClay family ranch in the heart of present-day Elliott State Forest, showing the effects of Indian burning, and wildfires of 1840s, 1868, and 1879.

The following editorial was published in today’s Roseburg News-Review: https://www.nrtoday.com/opinion/guest_col/guest-column-manage-our-forests-or-continue-a-losing-battle/article_071441fc-4525-11ef-8e8b-1fa173a2b1ad.html

In April 2022, the Biden Administration issued Executive Order (E.O.) 14072, “Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies.” This order instructed federal agencies to “scientifically define” old-growth trees and to take appropriate steps to protect them for future generations.

The last time the government attempted to achieve these tasks was in the 1980s, resulting in widespread rural business failures and ever-increasing losses of public forests — including old-growth — to catastrophic wildfires, bugs, and disease that continue to this time. This E.O. promises similar results, but on a national scale, rather than just regional.

Biden’s E.O. affects all 128 of the nation’s forestlands managed by the Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM); whereas the 1994 Clinton Plan for Northwest Forests (NWFP) only affected the highly productive Douglas fir forests of Oregon, Washington, and California.

And, whereas the NWFP developed a single “scientific” definition of “old-growth,” the E.O. computer modelers have come up with more than 200!

Different types of trees in different environments live different lengths of time. For most of the past century, Douglas fir — the most valuable timber tree in our public forests — were considered “old-growth” if they were at least 200-years-old.

This has not always been true. Jerry Phillips, Elliott State Forest manager and historian, always maintained old-growth was a “logger’s term” and referred to the deep furrowed bark and change in color from “red fir” — or mature second-growth — to “yellow fir,” or old-growth. On the Elliott, that would be a tree about 250-350-years-old.

In the 1940s, OSU forest scientists attempted to quantify the “logger’s term” and postulated old-growth were 350-450-years-old. In the meantime, field foresters in Coos County were doing the most detailed analysis of native Douglas fir forestland ever conducted — and they said old-growth might only be 191-years-old.

From 1945 to 1947, Weyerhaeuser foresters systematically bored 1466 trees on 1576 1/4-acre plots over 125,000 acres, lying immediately south of the 80,000-acre Elliott. Neither forest had ever been logged by that time, and 90% of both were covered with even-aged stands of native Douglas fir, corroborating observations by noted Douglas fir scientist Thornton Munger (1940):

“The paths of the great forest fires of the last century or two are plainly marked by even-aged stands, consisting to the extent of at least 90 per cent of Douglas fir (if within the preferred habitat of this tree).”

Weyerhaeuser documented 31,650 acres of old-growth, with the oldest tree being 380-years-old, and some were 300-feet tall; among the largest Douglas fir ever measured. These even-aged stands dated at least three “great fires” from 1565 to 1755, averaged 225-years-old [1720], and contained 40% defect from fire, bugs, and decay.

Half of the area (61,870 acres) was 166–190-year-old mature second-growth, averaging 180-years-old [1765] with only 6% defect and dating at least two major wildfires from 1755 to 1790.

In 1945, the Elliott’s 80,000 acres were mostly 60-year-old Douglas fir that had followed ca.1845, 1868, and 1879 catastrophic-scale wildfires.

The remaining 32,480 acres of Weyerhaeuser land was “very lightly timbered” with even-aged stands 10-40-years-old, dating from the 1902 fires through 1936.

These 200,000+ acres of virgin Douglas fir forestland during WW II reflected a minimum 10 — likely more — major wildfires from 1565 to 1936, or on average, a major wildfire every 35-40 years. These lands were subsequently actively managed, have supported more than  three generations of hundreds of local families, and haven’t had a major fire in more than 80 years.

In the 1980s forest ecologists developed the first “scientific definition” of old-growth for Douglas fir. It included big, old trees, large snags and dead wood throughout, and a multilayered canopy of ladder fuels. The scarcity of this unusual timber type was blamed on logging, rather than nature, and active management of our nations’ forests was mostly ended.

The current Biden E.O. report states for 25 years, since 2000, only 9,000 acres of public old-growth were logged, while insects and diseases killed 182,000 acres and wildfires killed 700,000 acres more.

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.

FEMAT, The Clinton Plan, AI & I

I’m still at the awkward “getting to know you” phase of my relationship with AI. A friend created an Oregon Small Woodland Owners Chat-GPT group and allowed me to become a member, so I have been tentatively trying it out.

During the past few months I have spent less than 10 hours doodling around with AI, but was actually able to put it to good use for several of those hours by having it summarize some lengthy legal documents and government reports for a paper I am working on. By checking the summaries with some speed reading and detailed spot checking, and by comparing with other written accounts, I was able to gain some confidence in the accuracy of these summaries, although I did spot a few minor errors of omission here and there.

Recent events have led me to consider the current effort to update the Northwest Forest Plan by committee. This plan is directly descended from the original 1993 FEMAT (Forest Ecosystem Management) report that produced the 1994 Clinton Plan for Northwest Forests.

As I have noted elsewhere, Norm Johnson — who helped spearhead the plan with his political knowledge and FORPLAN software — initially hired me to do historical research for the scientists that were developing the report. Clinton’s Plan was to use FEMAT and FORPLAN to create a formal strategy to finally resolve the conflict that had developed beyween old-growth activists and active forest managers during that time — the so-called “Timber Wars” characterized as being between loggers and environmentalists.

Norm and I parted ways fairly quickly due to conflicts between his computer print-outs and my historical documentation — and resulting differences in forest management philosophies — and I was hired by the forest industry instead, to do a critical analysis of FEMAT: http://nwmapsco.com/ZybachB/Reports/1994_Clinton_Plan/Zybach_19940329.pdf

This is where AI comes into the picture. I thought it would be good to compare my previous concerns and recommendations with current efforts, but I hadn’t read my analysis in more than 30 years, and it is more than 100 pages long. So I asked AI to do it for me. I asked it three questions from a third person perspective: What are Zybach’s five main concerns with FEMAT and the Clinton Plan? What evidence is there to support these concerns? What recommendations does he make for addressing these concerns?

Without any editing, punctuation, or any other alteration to font size or anything else, here’s what AI replied after a few seconds time — an accurate summary of my own work that would have taken me five or 10 hours to produce:


What are Zybach’s five major concerns regarding FEMAT and the Clinton Plan? 

Bob Zybach’s five major concerns regarding FEMAT and the Clinton Plan, as detailed in his critical review, are:

  1. Historical Inaccuracies: Zybach criticizes the historical assumptions in FEMAT, arguing that the baseline information on the history and current status of old-growth forests in the Douglas-fir region is inadequately and inaccurately presented. He contends that faulty information about fire and logging history leads to flawed predictive assumptions about “naturally functioning” ecosystems and native wildlife populations.
  2. Faulty Information and Lack of Interdisciplinary Review: He argues that the process used to develop the FEMAT alternatives relied on faulty information and lacked meaningful interdisciplinary review. This resulted in the use of flawed assumptions that underpin many of the planning goals, such as old-growth preservation and native wildlife diversity.
  3. Limited Management Alternatives: Zybach believes that the limited variety of management alternatives presented to President Clinton is a direct result of the flawed assumptions used in FEMAT. He suggests that a wider range of legal, economically, and ecologically sound management alternatives was not considered.
  4. The “Blanket of Old-Growth” Myth: He challenges the assumption that the Douglas-fir region was historically a continuous blanket of old-growth forest. He argues that historical evidence shows a more varied landscape with shifting patterns of even-aged stands of conifers, prairies, savannahs, and other vegetation types, influenced by human activities such as burning.
  5. Cultural Landscapes and Succession Theory: Zybach disputes the idea that American Indians lived in a “naturally functioning” environment described in terms of regional fire cycles and forest plant succession. He emphasizes the role of human activity in shaping the landscape and argues that this has been overlooked in the FEMAT assumptions.

These concerns highlight Zybach’s belief that the Clinton Plan and FEMAT are based on a number of fundamentally flawed assumptions that undermine the effectiveness of the proposed management strategies.

What evidence does Zybach use to support these concerns?

To identify the evidence Bob Zybach uses to support his concerns about FEMAT and the Clinton Plan, let’s refer to the specific content available in the provided document.

Key Evidence Used by Zybach

  1. Historical Records and Maps:
    • Zybach refers to historical maps and records to challenge the “Blanket of Old-Growth” myth. He cites maps from the 1800s showing varied vegetation patterns including prairies, savannahs, and young forests, which contradict the notion of a continuous old-growth forest at the time of European settlement.
    • He uses General Land Office survey notes and maps from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which document the presence of diverse vegetation types and the impact of historical fires and human activities on the landscape.
  2. Eyewitness Accounts and Scientific Studies:
    • Zybach cites the observations of early explorers and settlers, such as the descriptions of James Neall and other pioneers, who reported significant open areas and the use of fire by Native Americans to manage the landscape.
    • He references scientific studies and historical accounts that document the role of fire in shaping the forests and the presence of extensive open areas at the time of European settlement.
  3. Analysis of Fire History and Logging Practices:
    • Zybach presents evidence from fire history studies, including the work of Henderson and others, which show the occurrence of major fires over the past 1,000 years that created a mosaic of forest ages and types.
    • He discusses the historical use of fire by Native Americans for various purposes and how this influenced the vegetation patterns observed by early settlers.
  4. Critique of FEMAT Assumptions:
    • He critically analyzes the assumptions used in FEMAT, such as the idea of “naturally functioning” ecosystems and regional fire cycles, and provides alternative interpretations based on historical evidence and practical experience.
    • Zybach highlights discrepancies between FEMAT’s descriptions of historical conditions and the documented evidence from historical records, maps, and scientific studies.
  5. Comparative Analysis of Management Strategies:
    • He compares the management strategies proposed in FEMAT with those used historically, emphasizing the effectiveness of traditional practices such as controlled burning and selective logging in maintaining diverse and resilient ecosystems.

By using a combination of historical records, scientific studies, eyewitness accounts, and practical experience, Zybach builds a case against the assumptions and conclusions of FEMAT and the Clinton Plan. He advocates for a management approach that incorporates historical knowledge and adaptive strategies to address the complex dynamics of forest ecosystems.

What recommendations does Zybach make for addressing these deficiencies?

Bob Zybach makes several recommendations to address the deficiencies he identifies in FEMAT and the Clinton Plan. These recommendations focus on incorporating historical knowledge, improving data accuracy, and considering a wider range of management alternatives.

Key Recommendations by Zybach

  1. Incorporate Historical Knowledge:
    • Zybach emphasizes the importance of understanding the historical use of fire by Native Americans and the resulting landscape patterns. He recommends integrating this historical knowledge into current forest management practices to create more accurate and effective management strategies.
  2. Improve Data Accuracy:
    • He calls for the use of accurate historical data, including detailed maps and records from the General Land Office surveys, to provide a better understanding of past forest conditions. Zybach suggests that current assumptions about old-growth forests and natural ecosystems should be revised based on this accurate historical information.
  3. Expand Management Alternatives:
    • Zybach criticizes the limited variety of management alternatives presented in FEMAT and recommends considering a broader range of options. These alternatives should include practices such as controlled burning, selective logging, and the creation of wildlife habitats that reflect historical vegetation patterns.
  4. Adaptive Management Strategies:
    • He advocates for adaptive management strategies that are flexible and responsive to new information and changing conditions. This approach would involve continuous monitoring and adjustment of management practices based on scientific research and historical data.
  5. Public Involvement and Education:
    • Zybach stresses the need for public involvement in forest management decisions. He recommends increasing public awareness and education about the historical and ecological context of forest management. Engaging local communities and stakeholders in the management process is crucial for developing effective and sustainable strategies.
  6. Reconstruction of Historical Environments:
    • He suggests that efforts should be made to reconstruct historical environments using techniques such as controlled burning and selective logging. These practices can help restore the diversity and resilience of forest ecosystems.

By implementing these recommendations, Zybach believes that forest management practices can be improved to better reflect historical realities and achieve more effective conservation and restoration outcomes.

“Up-To-Date Science” Needed to Solve ESA/Fire/Jobs Issues: Chad Oliver

The essay that forms the second part of this post — which he terms “Notes” — was written by Chad Oliver after a recent field trip to Montana to document and discuss grizzly bear habitat management with Jim Petersen for Evergreen Magazine: https://evergreenmagazine.com/this-is-very-promising/

I have been a friend and occasional collaborator with Jim for more than 30 years, since the early 90s. At that time he was interviewing me for an article regarding the Clinton Plan and first introduced me to Oliver’s work — largely because we were both clearly predicting that catastrophic wildfires would certainly follow if the Plan were adopted. The Clinton scientists and their followers were promising something entirely different: a utopia in which people were not present, but giant trees, flocks of owls, and streams filled with fish were everywhere and people who lived in cities and towns were pleased with that knowledge.

People who have read or contributed to this blog for a while know that I have a strong bias against forest management acronyms, anonymous trolls, and the use of computer models for long-term planning. The Clinton Plan was built on Norm Johnson’s FOR-PLAN computer model and featured the “old-growth” promotions of Jerry Franklin. By combining the two men’s skills with ESA “critical habitat” definitions for a wide variety of species (mostly spotted owls and fish to begin with), some LSRs, WSOs, WTFs, FMPs, and the support of key politicians, the media, and skilled lawyers, they were able to transform the public forests of the western US in just a few years.

I knew Norm fairly well at the time, when he was a professor and I was a middle-aged student at OSU. We were both in the College of Forestry and had previously participated in constructing a management plan for OSU Research Forests, where I headed cultural resources management as a part-time employee. During the beginning “Gang of Four” FEMAT phase of the Clinton Plan, he even hired me to do research, but we soon parted ways when it became obvious that his computer printouts and my historical documentation didn’t match.

A forest ecology class I had taken featured a visiting scientist, a well-known Franklin acolyte, that lectured on old-growth “biodiversity” theories and spent time making us memorize the phrase: “non-declining, even-flow, naturally functioning ecosystem.” This was a wordy way to describe a “climax forest” or, as Franklin called it, a “healthy forest.” When I pointed out that such an environment had never existed on earth I was ignored. When I later presented research to prove my point, I was canceled from academia.

According to Jerry, a “healthy forest” had large, very old trees, a “multi-layered canopy” of various tree and shrub species, lots of every kind of animal that is going extinct because of logging, big, dead standing trees scattered everywhere, and large chunks of wood (CWD and/or LWD on printouts) on the forest floor, and everything in equilibrium: trees growing at the same rate they were dying and populations of all old-growth ecosystem-dependent animals high, and stable. Man was presented as a pathogen in such an environment and had to be removed and his tools and roads abandoned in order for “Nature” to become “healed.”

This is actually a fairly accurate description of what students were being told, and current public forest management policies are largely based on this vision. Why such a condition was, and still is, seen as desirable — much less attainable — is a matter of history and philosophy, where an ideal environment is one in which “man is a visitor who does not remain or leave a trace.” Why this perspective persists in the face of decades of documented failure, wildfires, dead animals, rural poverty, burned homes, and polluted air remains a mystery.

This condition of passively managed federal lands and the predictable wildfires and rural unemployment that follows is based on what Oliver terms “out-of-date” science. His research, first published in book form in 1990, had shown that forests were dynamic: that fires, wind, shade, bugs, diseases, floods, and landslides created constant disturbances that resulted in different combinations of plants, animals, and forest structures over time.

My research showed that people were one of the principal disturbances involved in this process. Where Jerry states that a “climax forest” is a desirable management objective, Chad shows that such a condition has never existed and never can; where Jerry claims a healthy forest is characterized by big, dead, and dying trees, my research shows that a healthy forest is characterized by the presence of healthy people. Chad’s and my research are in agreement, our predictions have proven accurate, and we used traditional scientific methods and not computer models to arrive at these conclusions.

For thousands of years people had gathered and used wood as their principal cooking and heating fuel, primary construction materials, and for tools, carvings, weapons, and other uses. Villages, campgrounds, and travel routes along ridgelines and waterways had little or no wood, and seasonal broadcast burning of oak savannahs, berry patches, and tarweed fields over millions of acres removed any fine fuels or dry wood in those areas. Until recent times, local people have always managed the forests they lived in or near and wildlife has always adapted, migrated, or evolved.

Which was another thing that has concerned both me and Oliver — and Petersen — the terrible effect such a plan would have on the rural families, communities, and industries that had been working and living in and near the public lands. The local people and actual experts who have always managed the environment they lived in and near, until now. At the end of his Notes he cites and links this source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-024-01411-y


Applying up-to-date Science to Solve the Forest Endangered Species/Fire/Forest Livelihoods Issues:  Notes from a field trip hosted by the Evergreen Foundation 

By Chad Oliver,

Pinchot Professor Emeritus, Yale University.

[email protected] May 20, 2024

The ongoing rural community issue, spotted owl issue of the 1990’s, the forest fire issue of the 2000’s, and the current grizzly bear issue are all the result of applying the same, out-of-date science.

A dramatic change in the world’s scientific understanding of forests occurred between 1980 and 2020.  A book, Forest Stand Dynamics  (1st edition 1990) synthesized these changes. This book has been cited in over 4,000 scientific articles worldwide, indicating the overall acceptance of the new understanding.

Change in understanding of Forests:

Old theory:  The out-of-date theory assumed forests grew to a stable, natural condition known as a “Climax.” With less communication and travel, natural disturbances were rarely noticed; and so all disturbances were considered unnatural and should be prevented.

If a disturbance occurred, it destroyed the “natural condition.”  The forest supposedly regrew as some plant species entered soon after the disturbance and “prepared the way” for later arriving species–which prepared for still later-arriving species in a relay-fashion until species that could replace themselves formed a “stable, climax, natural” condition (Figure below). Since this climax was natural, it was assumed to harbor all species.  So, all species could survive as long as the forest was not disturbed.

Consequences of early “pristine forest” scientific theory:

A vocal “environmentalist” public emerged that wished to protect the forests and species. They mistakenly followed the outdated “pristine forest” theory and promoted no manipulation of forests. The environmental movement was joined by opportunists who collected money to stridently lobby to “save the forests.”

Just as COVID could not be cured by drinking bleach, the forest issues were not resolved—and will not be resolved–as long as incorrect, out-of-date science is applied to forests.

Assuming that the “pristine” forest was harmed by human intervention, people adhering to the old understanding who wanted forest values tried to exclude people from forests and vilified those people who lived or worked in forests.

New Understanding:  Beginning about 30 years ago, scientists realized that forests were much more dynamic.  Natural disturbances were a natural part of forests and indigenous people had also manipulated them for thousands of years. Trees within a forest competed with each other for resources—sunlight, moisture, nutrients—rather than mutualistically “helping” each other. The resulting pattern of forest growth can be shown in the figure below.

Forests can generally be divided into “stands”—each stand is a contiguous area of similar species, soils, and disturbance history and so has a relatively uniform structure–distribution of vegetation sizes, spacings, ages, species, etc.

Forest stands pass through similar structural stages in many parts of the world :

1) Stand initiation stage (Open structure): Following a disturbance that destroys all trees in the previous stand, a dense diversity of woody and nonwoody herbs, shrubs, and trees invades. This structure supports many grazing and browsing species and their predators, since the green, edible vegetation is accessible near the ground.

2) Stem exclusion (Dense structure)After a few years or decades (depending on the soil and type of disturbance) the newly invaded plants occupy all of the soil, light, and moisture “growing space” within the stand.  Then, new plants are excluded for a few to many decades, after which the existing plants “lose their grip on the site’s growing space.”  (Some species can live in the shade and remain small as other trees grow, giving the impression that they are younger and continuously invading the stand (Figure below). This appearance helped give rise to the out-of-date theory described earlier.

Forests in this structure cast heavy shade and so contain few herbs and shrubs close to the forest floor.  Consequently, few animal and plant species live in it.  In addition, the young trees are often crowded and susceptible to insect outbreaks, falling over, and/or burning up.

3) Understory reinitiation (Understory structure):  New species that can live in shade invade the stand as the older trees age, “lose their grip on the site,” and sometimes die. The new species often do not grow much, but do supply some browse and hiding cover for more animals than in the “stem exclusion stage.”

4) “Complex stage” (Old growth structure):  Eventually, some overstory trees die through windthrow, diseases, etc. and younger trees grow into the upper canopy, producing a stand of a large diversity of tree heights, ages, species, and containing dead standing and fallen trees.  A variety of specialized animals such as owls and flying squirrels live in this structure.

This structure, too, can be fire-prone and so is often found in fire-protected topographies.

5) Unevenage stands:  Partial disturbances are not as common as once thought,but kill various amounts and sizes of trees.  A common Uneven aged structure is the “savannah,” where a few large trees are standing.  These favor woodpeckers, other birds, and some grazing animals; although the presence of large trees where predators can hide and attack grazers can hinder some animals.

The new scientific understanding means that not all of a forest provides habitat for all species.  Consequently, at least some amount of each structure is needed to provide all species–and so all values–from the forest; an excess of one structure can create problems (e.g., fires in the dense forests) and reduce the area and thus benefits of other structures. Also, some parts of an area will always change from one structure to another through growth or natural disturbances, so other parts of the forest need to replace the structures being lost if all structures—and species and other functions–are to be maintained.

The forest problems of threatened species and impoverished rural people have been caused or exacerbated by applying the outdated science to several issues even though more scientifically up-to-date solutions were known, available, and feasible.

1) Spotted owl issue: The spotted owl was recognized as an endangered species that lived in the Pacific Northwestern United States in the older structures of complex, late understory, and closed-canopy stands with a history of partial disturbances.  Many, but not all, stands of old growth structure had been harvested before its threat of extinction was recognized. These harvested stands were temporarily in the open structure, but most had grown to the more long-lasting, dense (stem exclusion) structure.

The major issues were;

a) keeping the spotted owl from becoming extinct (as well as other possibly endangered species that used its habitat); and,

b) ensuring wellbeing of the rural infrastructure—woods workers, loggers, millworkers, and the dependent infrastructure of teachers, shopkeepers, law enforcement, etc.

Two distinct alternative solutions were available to President Clinton:

  1. Stop logging in large forest areas.  The result would keep the current spotted owl habitat, except for that lost by windthrow; but would not increase the habitat nor sustain the rural people;
  2. Stop logging in complex and understory forest structures, but remove (a.k.a. thin) some trees in the dense (stem exclusion) structure both to accelerate growth toward future “complex” structures for spotted owls and associated species and to maintain timber supply and productive jobs to sustain rural communities.

The first alternative was chosen by President Clinton despite a U.S. court ruling that the choice was biased and therefore illegal. (President Clinton’s scientific team had excluded scientists knowledgeable about the new scientific paradigm.)  As predicted, the rural communities became impoverished with the associated social strife (suicides, families breaking up, children becoming delinquent, etc.).

2) Healthy forest/forest fire issue:  A report in the 1990’s to the U.S. Congress concerning “Forest Health” warned that the forest fires were likely to increase unless thinned because of the large areas of “dense” (stem exclusion) forests. Several alterative actions and their consequences were presented.

The report was prepared by a panel of University forestry professors and other professionals. It was delivered as a three-volume printed report and in oral hearings of the U.S.Congressional Agriculture Committee.

The committee suggested thinning the forests to reduce the stress on the densely growing trees, reduce the fire danger, provide primary employment to rural communities, provide wood, and make the forests safer for forest residents and visitors.

Environmental groups objected, with some advocating to let the forests burn because, “burning forests are natural.”

The lack of aggressively thinning the dense stands led to large forest fires with loss of homes in the subsequent decades (2000 to 2020).

3) Recent environmental guides on some Montana forests stipulate that grizzly bear populations need to be much higher.

Currently, these lands contain a large amount of dense (stem exclusion) structure and very little open (stand initiation) and savannah structures because of two actions:

  1. past logging and uncontrollable fires that created large openings that grew to dense stands;
  2. exclusion of low intensity fires that would have thinned the dense forests to create more savannah structures.  Bears live in openings and savannah structures where they can feed on vaccinium berries, clover, and other tuber species.

There is currently an effort to determine if thinning the dense forests can increase grizzly bears in these forests by allowing the greater sunlight to provide more herbs as food for the bears.

4) The recent beginning of a focus on the value of rural people.  During the past few decades, rural forestry people were discounted or vilified.  (See book:  Broken Land, Broken Trust;  see also movie “Fern Gully.”)

Recently, however, the issue may be starting to shift to respecting and appreciating these people’s value.  See:  Editorial in Nature, 15 May, 2024:  “Forestry social science is failing the needs of the people who need it most.”

Rich nations’ fixation on forests as climate offsets has resulted in the needs of those who live in or make a living from these resources being ignored. A broader view and more collaboration between disciplines is required.


Managing “Unplanned Fire”: Expert Advice and the Decimation of Our National Forests

Smog the Golden! Mythical Pyrodactyl aka “Smokey Dragon” (Frank Carroll, PFMc)

The following interview by Jim Petersen with Frank Carroll is nearly 2800 words long — which is kind of excessive for this forum but well worth the read for anyone who hasn’t done so already and is concerned with USFS wildfire history, politics, and economics over the past 35 years.

The interview is nearly four years old, but has just been republished in the current issue of Smokejumper magazine by editor Chuck Sheley and is a slightly abbreviated version of Petersen’s April 2020 publication in Evergreen Magazine: https://www.evergreenmagazine.com/blowtorch-forestry/

Despite the interview’s age, it remains directly relevant to current discussions regarding the great cost, visual and air pollution, wildlife mortality, and damaged rural economies resulting from continuing practices of the modern US Forest Service — what Carroll refers to as the “New Wildfire Economy.”

In 2020, then-USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen’s directive was: “Using unplanned fire in the right place at the right time.” Today, current-USFS Chief Randy Moore says he is “pleased to report that we have made significant progress in implementing this daring and critical strategy,” and talks about “using” fire on a “record 1.9 million acres as a method of reducing hazardous fuels.” If that is the objective, then much safer and cheaper methods of reducing such fuels — and even showing a taxable income while doing so — were demonstrated over hundreds of millions of acres in the 20th century and continue to be effectively used on private, state, and Indian lands to this time. 

According to Carroll, the “New Wildfire Economy” has become “big business” for the USFS, “effectively replacing traditional forestry practices with unfettered wildfire tending.” This is presented as the difference between producing tax revenues for the government while creating needed local jobs, safe and beautiful environments, and maintaining abundant and diverse wildlife populations vs. using taxpayer dollars to economically bankrupt our rural forest economies, killing our wildlife, and replacing the once beautiful landscapes with a sea of ugly and dangerous snags. Not in those words exactly, but documented factual outcomes.

Sheley, Petersen, and Carroll are all experts regarding the responsible treatment of “unplanned fires” and the consequences for mismanaging them. Petersen’s book on the topic and Carroll’s qualifications are described in the interview and Sheley’s introduction:
Chuck Sheley: I found Jim’s interview of Frank Carroll, a Colorado forester and wildfire expert, to be educational and informative and something the readers of “Smokejumper” magazine would find interesting. Jim’s book, “First Put Out the Fire,” leads off the discussion. This interview is from several years ago, and during COVID, but very relative to what is going on today. I’ve shortened the word count to make it fit in this issue. Reprinted with permission.

Jim Peterson: I’ve yet to hear from anyone who thought my book wasn’t “a good read,” but Frank Carroll, a colleague of 20 years, thought I stopped the wildfire discussion 20 years too soon.

Frank was Public Affairs Director for Potlatch Corporation’s Eastern Region when we met in 2000. Today, he is the Managing Partner in Professional Forest Management (PFM), a Pueblo, Colorado, firm that does trial work with clients whose private forests have been overrun by “managed fires” that began on adjacent Forest Service land.

Frank wrote: “I just finished your book and have to say I have high hopes for your book. I thought you would step above the old swamp and take on the biggest gorilla in the room, ‘using unplanned fire in the right time and the right place’ to ‘reintroduce fire to fire depleted ecosystems’ as Chief Christiansen put it in her directive to the troops last year.”

“Using unplanned fire in the right place at the right time” appears in a note Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen sent to her line officers last year. It is a thinly veiled reference to “managed fire,” or applying wildfire like prescribed fire, in a directive agency fire crews are expected to follow whenever the opportunity to let a wildfire run presents itself. There are few places outside of designated Wilderness areas where this can be done safely, but the practice is used widely across the Western National Forests as a matter of policy. Certainly, nowhere near communities, municipal watersheds, or fish or wildlife habitat critical to threatened or endangered species, and, yet, it is precisely these locations that are increasingly overrun by managed fire.

Some people rejected forestry long ago. State foresters, Interior agencies, and local governments have stayed the course where wildfires are concerned. Put them out as quickly as possible. Hence, the title of my book: First, Put Out the Fire. I write that if we don’t put these fires out, we won’t have anything else to talk about after the smoke clears. So, by all means, let’s talk about a proper role for wildfire in a post-industrial society that depends on its national forests for far more than timber.

Appropriately, timber production has become a by-product of federal policies that favor wildlife habitat conservation. In my opinion, “managed fire” is on a collision course with every forest value our society holds dear, which brings me to what’s bothering Frank Carroll.
I’ll let Frank speak for himself in the question-and-answer interview below, but his main complaint is one with which I am familiar— “managed fires” have a nasty habit of becoming unmanageable wildfires that overrun adjacent and well-managed private forest lands.
Petersen: Frank, tell us about your new business venture.

Carroll: Professional Forest Management, LLC, does wildfire impact analysis for law firms and private clients in federal tort claims and legal actions. From a forest perspective, this rather simple aspirational objective—using unplanned fire in the right place at the right time—is the absolute worst development in the history of forests and forest conservation.

Petersen: How so?

Carroll: We are burning our forests to ruin, and we’re doing it on purpose. We got out of the thinning and prescribed fire business on federal land, and now we are in the Age of Fire for Fire’s Sake. I call it “Fire-first” forestry. Federally-funded wildfire crews are burning big boxes around the West and are now responsible for 40 to 60 percent of the acreage burned by any given large fire.

Petersen: And this is managed fire?

Carroll: This is managed fire. National forest supervisors are expected to maximize the management role of wildfire, and they are doing it with a vengeance.

Petersen: This doesn’t sound like good forestry.

Carroll: It isn’t, but it is what’s happening. The 2018 Pole Creek and Bald Mountain Fires in Utah and the earlier Lolo Pass Fire are great examples of the madness of managed fire. We are working on $40 million in claims on Bald Mountain and Pole Creek alone, and there are many more that will go unchallenged because there is no internal or congressional oversight.

Petersen: What does that mean?

Carroll: It means the USFS is violating the National Environmental Policy Act. These fires are major federal actions with environmental consequences. Where are the Environmental Assessments or the Environmental Impact Statements? They don’t exist. There is no Record of Decision, no public process, no paper trail, no recourse for the public. The agency can operate in complete secrecy without disclosing specific or cumulative consequences. It’s all illegal. You cannot use Congressionally-appropriated fire suppression funds to do resource management except wildfire suppression. If you or I did this, we’d be in jail.

Petersen: Yet from what I’m hearing, “using unplanned fire in the right fire in the right place at the right time” is currently giving way to more timely and direct attack.

Carroll: Congressional delegations from the West forced Chief Christiansen’s hand because of concerns about the impact COVID-19 will have on firefighting this year. She is suddenly in full suppression mode because of the risks the virus poses to crews that work, eat, and sleep in close proximity.

Petersen: I understand that, but how does it undermine managed fire?

Carroll: The virus prevents the Forest Service from operating in complex strategic environments that feature big, intricate burnouts covering hundreds of thousands of acres because they can’t coalesce in one giant fire camp and coordinate all the moving parts. But you can be sure they’ll be back to “using unplanned fire” as soon as possible.

Petersen: Why?

Carroll: First, because they can. It’s a management prerogative they control completely and requires no public oversight or interference from cooperating agencies. Even when cooperators protest, as the State of Utah did in 2018, the Agency moves ahead anyway without consequences. Second, they are strongly pressed by environmental groups like FUSEE and the DiCaprio Foundation to let fires burn. And, finally, fighting forest fires has become big business for the USFS and their firefighting contractors—a hog’s paradise allowing them to spend money like drunken sailors. So, no one realizes what they are doing except the special interests who want them to do it, and an ignorant Congress is giving them limitless money to burn. So, they burn.

Petersen: How do you know all this?

Carroll: It’s our business nowadays. We do the intensive and comprehensive analysis of entire records from large fires. We spend years in deposition and preparing for court and trial. Our sources keep us abreast of new developments in policy and practice in real-time. In its reports to Congress, the USFS is counting wildfire acres burned as acres treated.

Petersen: We’ve heard that before and it has always seemed like a misappropriation of taxpayer dollars.

Carroll: It is. The USFS is using federally appropriated wildland fire management dollars to practice a new kind of wildfire-based resource management that holds that, since we can’t do real natural resource management projects on an ecologically significant scale, we’ll just use wildfire on everything everywhere and call it good enough. Managed fire is the only form of management no one questions. Environmentalists can’t stop them and don’t want to, they don’t need anyone’s permission, and there is no oversight.

Petersen: Real resource management being the thinning and prescribed fire regime that states, private landowners and Indian tribes use perennially?

Carroll: Correct

Petersen: This goes back to my belief that the fault here rests with Congress and its failure to allow the USFS to undertake forest restoration projects on physical scales that are environmentally significant.

Carroll: It’s worse than that. What we have here is a federal forest management agency that can spend whatever it wants in any way it wants with no public input or oversight.

Petersen: Aren’t there auditors who go through the firefighting bills?

Carroll: There are, but no fiscal officer in the USFS has firefighting experience. They won’t challenge or second guess fire commanders or forest supervisors because if things go to hell, they’ll be blamed. This is the new Wild West and Wildfire is the name of the game.

Petersen: Keep your head down and don’t mess up.

Carroll: Climate change, fuels equilibrium, growth, harvest and mortality, and reforestation are all yesterday’s news. What we have today is a rogue federal agency burning its way into a new bureaucratic empire that is publicly unaccountable.

Petersen: Reminds me of Eisenhower’s warning about the dangers posed by what he called the military-industrial complex.

Carroll: That’s a good analogy. What we have here is an Industrial Wildfire Complex that is answerable to no one. The Forest Service today is a much different agency than the one that all of us knew for decades. The transition from forestry to fire has rendered every forest plan objective effectively moot.

Petersen: That’s a big statement, especially when we consider that this transition occurred in plain view of anyone who was watching. And you worked for the Forest Service, didn’t you?

Carroll: In the National Park Service and the Forest Service from 1972 through 2012. I held primary fire, forest staff, and leadership roles in the USFS in Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, South Dakota and spent time in Washington, D.C. My time since my Forest Service years has been spent in wildland fire mitigation planning and implementation, remote sensing, wildfire impact, and suppression analysis.

Petersen: Based on all your experience, how do we reverse course?

Carroll: Not easily. The Forest Service today is a black box. It is immune to public scrutiny and led by fire officers who are not well-grounded in natural resource management. They have no interest in further fights with smoke regulators or anti-management environmentalists. Why would they when they can burn far and wide, accumulate political power, maintain their Smokey vibe, and enjoy vastly increased budgets in the New Wildfire Economy.

Petersen: New Wildfire Economy. I don’t even like the sound of those words.

Carroll: No one should, but it’s real and it’s here.

Petersen: Some of these big fires burn so hot that they cook the soil. It can take a century or more to rebuild the organic layer in which seeds germinate, so 200 to 300 years to grow a new forest where the old one stood.

Carroll: That’s true and the burners don’t care. They see big wildfires as a natural agent.

Petersen: Better than the thinning and prescribed fire combination I describe in my book.

Carroll: Yes, because the New Wildfire Economy makes it easy. No appeals or litigation. No nasty wild-eyed environmentalists. Just lumbermen who don’t seem to understand the problem or are under too much economic pressure to have any stomach for the fight.

Petersen: So, where is the good news?

Carroll: The good news is that the Forest Service will not go to public trial on these issues for fear of upending their new wildfire hegemony. They are doing their own version of stop, drop and roll so they can stay hidden in plain sight. They will settle every claim out of court, no matter how weak, rather than go to trial and have these issues openly reviewed. This is good for people harmed by these fires.

Petersen: The big issue is the transition from an agency that manages forests to one that favors applied wildfire to every natural resource management objective?

Carroll: That is precisely the biggest issue. It is the issue that has the USFS hiding behind things like 747s that dump fire retardant on fires. It makes great video on the evening news but does nothing to address the underlying causes of these enormous fires or the agency’s decision to favor fire over forestry.

Petersen: We’re told the public is very suspicious of thinning projects that are large enough to actually reduce the risk and size of these big wildfires.

Carroll: Some people don’t like logging of any kind. Others see its value. In our New Wildfire Economy, it doesn’t matter. Welcome to the world of blowtorch forestry.

Petersen: More than half the Forest Service’s annual budget is spent on wildfires. Most people think that’s what it takes to put these fires out. You’re saying the big expense occurs when the decision is made to “manage” the fire, meaning let the fire run rather than put it out quickly.

Carroll: That’s correct. I can show you one 1,600-acre managed fire that cost taxpayers $12.6 million. The whole idea of firefighting has been turned on its head. The USFS is using crews to light fires on an epic scale, not put fires out. They have no idea what they’re doing or what the implications of using unplanned fire are for the future.
Petersen: Maybe Congress needs to tell the USFS that for every blowtorched acre there will be an acre that is mechanically thinned in combination with prescribed fire. The way it was done for decades.

Carroll: Nice idea but it won’t happen.

Petersen: Why not?

Carroll: Two different worlds. In the blowtorch world, the USFS burns to its heart’s content with no oversight, no need to ask anyone for permission and no lawsuits. In the world of forest and range management, there are laws and regulations, there is oversight and there is litigation. Moreover, the Forest Service no longer has the skill sets needed to plan and execute large scale thinning projects.

Petersen: So, we’re stuck with blowtorch forestry?

Carroll: The Forest Service—and Congress by association—are rolling big dice. They are betting that blowtorch forestry will reset the biological clock in our forests and that they will be able to meaningfully manage the resulting brush fields for the greater good. That’s just a fantasy.

Petersen: Brush fields have overtaken much of the 500,000-acre Biscuit Fire that burned in 2002 on southern Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest.

Carroll: You haven’t seen anything yet. Blowtorch forestry is creating millions of acres of sorrel monocultures that will burn and reburn and revert to the lowest common denominator, cheat grass and wild oats, like we’re seeing in California. The only way they can manage these newly created brush ecosystems is to keep burning them and the only time they can burn them is in high fire season. So, the blowtorch will be applied relentlessly until the world changes.

Petersen: There are still some dedicated professionals working for the Forest Service. I’m surprised no one has blown the whistle on this racket.

Carroll: I know, but you must realize that the USFS has no intention of returning to its roots. It has embraced wildfire because it’s easier. My partner and I are doing very well in this environment, but it’s so sad to watch.

Petersen: So, if I have followed the bouncing ball to its destination, what you are telling me is that the Forest Service will work harder on initial attack this year because the virus and the western congressional delegation have forced their hand.

Carroll: That’s correct. And because of much better initial attack—and no managed fires—you will see smaller fires this year unless they just let them burn, which is likely because moving armies around will be harder in most cases. But as soon as the virus passes, the Forest Service will go right back to blowtorch forestry.

Petersen: Unless we can find a way to stop them from burning the nation’s federal forest legacy to the ground.

Carroll: I am not optimistic. The forces that gave us a five-fold increase in fire suppression spending will not abate. The current Forest Service Chief is deeply and personally invested in the ascendance of fire management in her agency. The Deputy Secretary of Agriculture over the Forest Service is likewise a fire-first leader and the current Chief’s mentor. There is a fire dragon walking the halls of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. and it will not be easily dislodged.

OSU “Science”: Climate Change Caused $6 Billion in Losses to West Coast Tree Farmers

OSU “scientists,” citing taxpayer-funded and peer-reviewed economic, forestry, and climate research, have determined that “climate change” has cost Northwest tree farmers a loss of $6 billion dollars over the past 20 years. This “finding” is being sensationalized in much of the press, but even the more sober and usually realistic Oregon Business is reporting that: “The increased prevalence of wildfires and droughts due to climate change did not account for all of the value depreciation, but it was a significant driver. The study suggests that recent climate change is responsible for lowering timberland values by $6.2 billion, or 55% of the total devaluation.”

Here is the link: https://oregonbusiness.com/osu-study-wildfires-drought-have-reduced-the-value-of-west-coast-timber-by-11-2-billion/

The assumption seems to be that increased wildfires are a direct result of drought caused by climate change, resulting in risks to landowners causing decreases in property values that are apt to reduce tax rolls if we don’t do something about it. Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope:

“Our research results indicate that any policy that can successfully reduce the spread of wildfire could reduce risks for timberland owners and provide economic benefits in the form of higher land values,” writes David J. Lewis, a natural resource economist at Oregon State, who coauthored the study, in an email to Oregon Business. “The key question (not answered in our research) is whether the administration’s new wildfire strategy will actually be successful in reducing wildfire risks,” referring to the White House’s plans to develop a national strategy to estimate the impacts of climate change on the value of the nation’s natural capital, including forests, minerals, oceans and rivers.

An underlying problem is that no one has demonstrated that the climate is actually changing in this region, that droughts have resulted, or that the increase in regional wildfires is a result of those speculations. On the other hand, the regional increases in wildfire severity and extent have been clearly predicted using traditional scientific research methodology for more than 30 years because of radical changes in federal forest management policies and practices.

And these fires are occurring almost exclusively on public lands, and not private — even though the climate is remarkably similar for both ownerships. But don’t let facts get in the way of a good sales pitch. University professors need to eat, too.

Guest Post: I knew the forests would burn when activists forced sawmills like mine to close

[Note: This editorial was published last week in azcentral.com, a “Part of the USA Today Network.” Bruce Whiting’s account takes place in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, but the story is much the same for all federal forestlands in the western US, including Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho. BZ]

Opinion: Four generations of my family helped responsibly thin the forests. Then came the lawsuits, and companies like mine simply could not survive.

Bruce Whiting
opinion contributor


For the past 25 years, I have watched with great sadness as beautiful forest has burned, destroying homes, decimating communities and negatively impacting lives.

Even after all these years, I ask myself what else I could have done to prevent this tragedy.
My family spent four generations operating sawmills and working in the forests of Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

Today, our family-owned sawmills are all gone, and I only wish that there would be some way for the next generation to turn the tide and save our forests before they all burn.

Groups began fighting timber sales

Sixty-five years ago, my father moved our family to Fredonia to help operate the sawmill owned by my grandfather and his brothers.

Over the generations, we worked with thousands of wonderful employees, civic leaders and federal officials to care for the Kaibab, Coconino and Tonto National Forests, along with forests in other states.

We prided ourselves in working as responsible stewards.

Then, in the early 1990s, I started losing the battle on forest thinning and was forced to close our sawmill in Payson.

Why Arizona simply cannot let its pine forests burn

Groups like the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and Center for Biological Diversity had made it their mission to block every timber sale offered by the U.S. Forest Service through the utilization of the legal process.

These groups openly admitted to me that they wanted to force the closure of all lumber companies and return the forest back to Mother Nature.

I had no other option but to close in Fredonia, and the results were that hundreds of hard-working men and women lost their jobs.

With little timber, we couldn’t survive

No matter how many times we tried to tell these groups, they persisted with their ill-conceived notion that we could revert back to letting Mother Nature thin the forest.

Regulations protecting the northern goshawk and the Mexican spotted owl, plus a string of environmentalist lawsuits, had ended government timber sales in our areas.

The national news heard about the plight of so many small lumber communities, and in 1995 I was interviewed by Tom Brokaw and his staff for a segment in a series about government red tape.

During our visit, we talked about Fredonia and how it — like many other small communities that were once thriving sawmill towns — were experiencing closure after closure, and that there would not be anyone left to work with the U.S. Forest Service.

I told them that we were starting the slippery slope toward massive fires that would destroy entire forests, homes and lives.

Then in 1997, I lost the final battle in Panguitch, Utah, to keep our last remaining sawmill open.
More than 25 years later, nearly all of the sawmills are gone and devastating fires, like the Dude Fire, are the norm.

Forests are being allowed to grow and grow, building up fuel loads, until disaster strikes.

The logging we need will never return

Where are the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and Southwest Forest Alliance when fires continue to break out all over the West?

Mother Nature has indeed taken vicious control over the forest, after we humans failed to care for it.
And even though it’s needed desperately, the forest product industry and sawmills will never return.

You would have to be crazy to invest that kind of money, not knowing if the Forest Service will be permitted to sell timber on land that needs thinning and cleanup, because extremists are there, waiting in the wings, to shut it down again.

They like to blame global warming so that they do not have to face the results of their actions, but let’s face it: the Forest Service’s options for wise forest management are extremely limited now that they no longer have the sawmill industry as a partner.

Bruce Whiting is the former president of Kaibab Industries and Kaibab Lumber Co.

Royal Burnett: “The Environmentalists Have Won”

I participate in a wildfire discussion group that averages around 130 members, a significant number of whom are retired professionals. The focus of the group has been Michael T. Rain’s “Call to Action” — a systematic and organic strategy for ending the mismanagement of wildfire on our public forests that has characterized much of the past 35 years. One of the occasional contributors to this discussion is Royal Burnett. Here is his current perspective. BZ 

My name is Royal Burnett. I am retired CDF Battalion Chief with 31 years experience on California wildfires. At the time of my retirement in 1993 I was an ICS rated Type 1 Incident Commander, Type 1 Ops Section Chief and FBAN.

Since my retirement I have kept active in fire and fuels modeling and have worked with various committees to solve the wildfire/conflagration crisis that exists in California.

I’ve been on the mailing list for “Call to Action” early on and have commented occasionally.

It should be obvious to all by now that we have not only lost this round, but perhaps the entire fight.

I’ve watched and commented as the USFS burned millions of acres near my home in Redding, California. This summer we had one lightning storm in August here we are in late September and several of those fires are still burning… this in spite of two wetting rains and several nights of 90 percent humidty recovery. These fires would have gone out if the USFS crews had not re lit them.

There is no public out cry. There is no voiced protest from the timber industry. There is no protest from the Society of American Foresters.

What is more alarming is there is not protest from the Indigenous people whose ancestral homelands are routinely torched… the same people who have to live under choking clouds of smoke for months in Happy Camp and Hoopa.

As we speak the Blue and Copper fire are burning near Orleans in prime timber and the quote from the Forest Service Information says there “no values currently threatened”.

No Values ??? The environmentalists have won. Since the Spotted Owl was used to successfully shut down logging in Northern California an entire industry and culture was destroyed. Not only were the obvious logging jobs lost… the fallers, the skid operators the choker setters… the second tier jobs were lost.. the mechanics, the saw shops closed… and the third tier jobs in the cafes and other support services that fed the loggers and truckers and went away.

Several towns closed the sawmills that had provided employment for generations. That resulted in the loss of gas stations and grocery stores…all for an owl that was probably not threatened from the start.

We are now in the second generation of the collapse of the North Coast economy and the citizens and Tribal Leaders realize the only way to make living and remain in their homes is to kowtow to USFS. They now accept the annual huge wildfires…they sign on as truck drivers and timber fallers, the stores make sack lunches, the fuel trucks and porta potties get rented.. and our forests burn.

The USFS has completely reversed course. Fire used to be bad, now its good. I’ve seen the try to brand and sell their insane policy in many different ways…Let Burn… MIST…Light Hand on the Land…Burning for Resource Benfits…its all attempt to convince the public that they have not bungled the stewardship of our National Lands. Anyone with eyes can see that the miles of snags standing alongside the Highways leading in and out of Redding are not productive forest…not even as a Carbon Sink.

USFS Chief Randy Moore announced huge fuel management goals… going to treat millions of acres annually. Little did anyone realize that Moore was going to count acres burned in wildfire as treated acres. And, to go one step further… if a Forest Supervisor met the Fuel Management goals the that would count toward that individual getting an annual performance bonus.

A couple of the nearby Forests give lip service to aggressive initial attack on all fires… to going direct where possible… to working night shifts… this is all in response to public out cry to mismanagement of various incidents. In truth, when fires on those forest escape Initial Attack and USFS Team is called in and the Big Box is drawn on the map . There is no effort to keep that fire small…the objective is to burn as many acres as possible and count them as fuel treated acres…part of the fire resistant landscape .

When fires start in August and the first team in says estimated control date is December you’ve got to realize that something is dreadfully wrong.

The damage that’s been done to the forests and watershed in Northern California will take generations to recover…and there is no rehabilitation plan.

In the last 10 years I’ve watched on TV and live reports as thousands of Northern California homes and millions of acres burned. Many of those acres burned deliberately by the USFS under the guise of firefighter safety or creating fire resistant mosaics…that’s another lie. All they’ve done is create snag patches with and understory of mixed brush. They have increased, not decreased the fire hazard. I’ve watched while entire communities burned due to USFS Tactical and strategic mistakes and there was no review. I watched as hundreds of Giant Sequoias were killed in a backfire…and no one spoke up…not even Save the Redwoods League.

Recently the 10th Circuit Court supported USFS Sovereignty…granting them immunity from lawsuits and repercussions for damages caused to public and private property when allowing a fire to burn for yet to be determined resource benefits. Citizens can file tort claims, but have no say if the USFS deliberately burns their property ?

The USFS has become a leader in the Fire/Industrial complex that has a vested interest in burning our forest land. Its a sad , sad day when this once proud Agency has degenerated into a gang of the most prolific, the most persistent serial arsonists ever to plague our wildlands.

Conversations with Lars: Opinions & Predictions

For the past 11+ years I have been writing a series of article/editorials for Oregon Fish and Wildlife Journal, which has a circulation of 10,000 mostly rural Oregon businesses and residents and all Oregon elected officials. Several times I have used this forum to “peer review” the facts, analyses, and opinions that have comprised an occasional entry in the series. This is another one of those instances, and mostly focuses on two radio interviews I did with Lars Larson on his radio show this past summer.

The article draft is more than 3800 words and has six illustrations with captions, so I have only included a few of the illustrations and excerpted the mostly informative and provocative text in this post, angling for discussion. For those interested, I have posted the entire draft here — publication will probably be in a month or sooner: http://nwmapsco.com/ZybachB/Articles/Magazines/Oregon_Fish_&_Wildlife_Journal/20230923_Lars_Larson/Zybach_DRAFT_20230917.pdf


[October 12, 2023 UPDATE: The article has now been published in the current issue of Oregon Fish & Wildlife Journal. Publisher and editor Cristy Rein has noted that the magazine’s 10,000 circulation includes: “free magazines to every US Senator, all of the US Congress, the entire Executive Cabinet and committees, every elected state rep in: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.” Here is a link to the article, and including one-page editorials by Cristy and by Jim Petersen of Evergreen Magazine: http://nwmapsco.com/ZybachB/Articles/Magazines/Oregon_Fish_&_Wildlife_Journal/20230923_Lars_Larson/Zybach-Larson_20231010.pdf]


Conversations with Lars: Summer of ’23 Smoke & Fire

I’ve never met Lars Larson in person, but my first radio interview with him was about 20 years ago as I was finishing my graduate degree at Oregon State University. The questions likely had something to do with the Biscuit Fire at that time, or the Donato Study, which was in the news.

Since then we have had many more conversations on air, with discussions mostly focused on spotted owls, wildfires, forestry, or the Elliott State Forest. These are subjects of particular interest to me, and it’s always a pleasure talking to Lars — usually in nine-minute increments between commercials — given his own knowledge of these topics.

Because of Lars’ close familiarity with forestry, Northwest history, wildfires, and wildlife, his interviews are more like discussions or conversations than typical interviews. For that reason I decided to use the transcript from our recorded July 28, 2014 talk as the basis for an article/editorial in this series. The topic was the ever-increasing severity, frequency, and extent of Oregon catastrophic wildfires — as I had been clearly predicting for many years — and “climate change” as a possible cause. The article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of this magazine, titled “Global Warming and Oregon Wildfire History,” and was generally well received.

This summer I had wildfire-related conversations with Lars on two of his shows. In July we discussed the smoke from Canadian wildfires polluting US air, and in August the topic was the deadly fire in Hawaii. Audio recordings of both interviews were critically well received by several national and regional experts in wildfire management and mitigation, and I decided to resurrect the 2014 format for this article.


July 7, 2023: SMOKE

Lars: Welcome back to the Lars Larson Show, it’s a pleasure to be with you, and I’m always glad to get to your phone calls and your emails. On this First Amendment Friday, we celebrate your first amendment rights of free speech, free expression, and the right to associate with anyone you want to associate with.

Now, I want to ask you about this. You’ve seen what happened when wildfire smoke got into New York City and all of a sudden, the elites were breathing that orange air, and you’ve seen the same kind of thing happen this year in Seattle, they’re breathing smoky air as well. And in recent history in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve seen plenty of occasions where the smoke went on for weeks and weeks and weeks.

Lars: I’m glad to have you here because I want you to prepare my audience. I know this summer we’re likely to get even more smoke in the Pacific Northwest. We’re going to have fires. We’ve gone from the 30-year period you talk about frequently from I think the mid-fifties to the mid-eighties where we had essentially no large fires in the forest. Thirty years of no large fires at all, and now routinely half a million acres burn in Oregon. Half a million acres I think, on an average year burn in Washington, and we’ll expect to have fires this year as well. And I know to a fair certainty, the people in charge are going to say, “Yep, it’s all evidence of global warming.” Help prepare them with some answers for those people who say those things to them.

Bob: Well, it’s all due to fuels and weather. Global warming hasn’t happened here, so it can’t be global warming. We’ve got the same weather we’ve had for centuries. Fire season is the problem. East winds are the danger. So with the Labor Day Fires three years ago, we had east winds in early September, so we had massive fires.

The real problem is managing the fuels. From ’52 to ’87 we had one major fire, on the Smith River in 1966. It was 40,000 acres. So that’s 30 some years with one major fire. It doesn’t even compare to the Labor Day Fires — on one day, where close to a million acres burned. The Coast Range doesn’t get lightning; Southwest Oregon gets lightning but doesn’t have a lot of people; and the Western Cascades gets lightning and has a lot of people. So once we get a heavy east wind, assuming we do, ignition can come from lightning or people and large fires are the result. And largely because of the massive fuel buildups on federal lands over the last 35 years.

Lars: Dr. Zybach, there’s one thing I hear the media do constantly and they say, “Wildfires get worse during hot times.” Is there anything about a day being either 80-degrees or 105-degrees that makes a difference in terms of fire?

Bob: It’s the east wind. You can have an 80-degree or 105-degree fire; maybe at 105 degrees, depending on fuel moisture, you could have a cleaner burn and easier to control by that measure, but it depends. The fire will create its own wind, will create its own weather. They can even create thunderstorms, the big fires. But an east wind is the constant element that goes with all the major fires in Western Oregon over the last few hundred years.

Lars: So when you see these fires, you’ve studied this subject, you studied 500 years of it, 1491 to 1951. Are there ways to get on top of this problem where we could prevent these fires instead of merely trying to put them out every year and usually succeeding only to the extent that we contain them to half a million acres; instead of maybe 10 or 20,000 acres a year on an average year in that period you documented from the fifties to the eighties?

Bob: Yes, and it would be the same thing. It would be active management. Right now, the Forest Service and BLM are planning to leave all the snags and large woody debris. Jerry Franklin says a sign of a healthy forest is a lot of dead trees. That’d be like saying a sign of a healthy city is a lot of dead people. It doesn’t make sense. That’s not healthy. It’s a fuel and it’s dangerous.

So we used to harvest snags, dead trees, focus on it. We used to maintain the roads and trails and keep them open. We used to have local employment where local people that knew the roads and the land and the animals were the ones that were doing the logging and the tree planting and so on. And so we didn’t have fires. So we know how to mitigate these fires and that’s why they’re so predictable.

Like myself and others in the early nineties said, “If we create these LSRs and other government acronyms, we’re going to have massive wildfires and they’re going to kill wildlife and some people, destroy homes, and it’s going to be at a cost to rural communities that lose the work associated with forest management.” So we know how to fix the problem. We just don’t.

Lars: I’m just curious, do you have any insights as to why the people who followed you in forest science, I mean you’ve been in forest science for decades, why the people who are now coming into it seem to think that forests that burn on a regular basis or forests with lots of dead fuel on the forest floor are a healthy forest? Why the change?

Bob: Well, indoctrination. Eisenhower warned us that the government will get big computers and put independent scientists out of business. And essentially, if you cut to the chase, it’s anti-logging activists. A lot of people in the eighties and nineties thought that clearcutting was an evil. And so they picked spotted owls and marbled murrelets and coho as animals that they claimed — erroneously, still erroneously — were harmed directly by clearcutting, and got the lawyers in Washington DC and the lawyers on the ground to pursue that. And they’ve been very, very successful. And wildfires are the predictable result.

August 14, 2023: FIRE

Lars:  Welcome back to the Lars Larson Show. It’s a Tuesday. It’s the Radio Northwest Network, and it’s my pleasure to be with you. And now we have the deadliest fire in US history in Maui and northwest communities under evacuation orders from wildfires. What has put us in this spot and how do we get out of it?

Lars:  I want to get your take initially about what happened in Maui because we’re now starting to see not just where the blame may go to power lines or other conditions like that, but almost everybody on the left politically says, oh, this is all about climate change. This is something that’s come on us because human beings use too many fossil fuels. Any truth to that?

Bob: None. It has got nothing to do with climate change. Everything to do with housing, exotic weeds, in the case of Hawaii; which is similar to Paradise and similar to the Almeda Drive fire in that weeds and housing that were very close together formed the primary fuels and in all three cases were deadly. People died because of the speed in which the fire moved.

Lars:  Well, and weeds in the case — I know when people hear weeds, they say well, everybody has weeds, but is it worse in places like Maui? Because as I understand, that used to be a big area for growing sugar cane and then sugar cane has gone away to a large extent, and as a result, there’s a bunch of land that’s not very well tended but it could be, couldn’t it?

Bob: Yeah, and it’s the same thing. Almeda Drive was weeds. They created a “Greenway” and it grew up in blackberries, and those blackberries are real volatile when they die and form a canopy, and that’s what happened there; that and a lot of trailer houses and a lot of weeds. In Hawaii it was weeds that grew up in the agricultural areas that had been abandoned or converted to housing and then the housing is essentially dead trees. It’s dried lumber that’s built the houses, and if they’re close together, there’s no way to make them “Fire Safe.” Each house is fuel for the adjacent house.

Lars:  And is part of the problem that in Lahaina especially, they called the place historic. It had a lot of buildings that went back before modern building codes. If they had said, well, even without building codes, we have to do something to keep these houses if one catches fire from spreading to the next one. This was all foreseeable and preventable. Am I wrong?

Bob: No, that’s exactly right. When we find — a wind will whip up in different directions. Here in Western Oregon, it’s from the east, and in Hawaii, I’m guessing it might be from any direction — but when weeds and fuels, volatile fuels, are adjacent to flammable buildings where people live, it’s a risk and we’re seeing the results of that risk.

Lars: Now, what about the Northwest communities? We’ve got a bunch of communities that they’ve gone to evacuation, mandatory evacuation. Are those also evidence that we’re not managing the forest and the wildlands very well and we could be?

Bob: We’re doing a terrible job there. These fires were predictable for the last 30 years. If we look at the Flat Fire right now, the heat isn’t a real problem. It means fuels burn cleaner and faster. But if a wind comes up, if a Chetco Wind comes up, an east wind comes up, we’re asking for another Silver Complex or Chetco Bar Fire, just a real disaster. And the way we can tell that is the Flat Fire. It’s well contained at about 33,000 acres that used to be called a major fire 20 years ago. Now it’s got to be a hundred thousand acres to be a major fire, but you look at the photos and it’s completely surrounded by snags from earlier fires. So these fires are just fueling future fires just like the Tillamook Fires in the 1930s and ’40s did. And it wasn’t until we removed the snags, took out the fuels and actively managed that land that we were able to create Tillamook Forest, and we’ve got the same problem in Curry County. They’re just allowing the snags to remain in place and fuel the next fire, and it’s been going on since 1987.

Lars: I’m talking to Dr. Bob Zybach, who’s a forest scientist and the president of Northwest Maps. The other thing is they don’t just allow the snags to stay there. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the “Greeny Groups” say, “No, you will not go in and salvage log. No, you will not take down those snags. That’s part of Mother Nature. We have to leave it there.” And they insist on leaving it there and not clearing the fuel and not replanting. I’ve seen that demand a number of times. And they could actually do that, and maybe even make the money to pay the cost of doing the replanting, couldn’t they?

Bob: Sure. We did that for 30 or 40 years. When we studied the Tillamook, we figured out if we salvage this material, we’re making money, we’re paying taxes, we’re training people, we’re keeping access roads open. And so from ’52 until ’87, we had one major fire, one fire in excess of 10,000 acres in Western Oregon. Now we have a fire that big right now that we’re holding and calling contained, or 56% contained. So it’s a problem that’s become exacerbated through mismanagement of our federal lands specifically, but now that’s being transferred over to our private and state lands as well. The Elliott State Forest, they have no plan to harvest any snags, so it’s just asking for a disaster at some future point.


2023 Oregon Flat Fire: National Learning Opportunity?

Earlier today (July 18) Oregon Representative Court Boice asked for insight regarding the current management actions taking place on the State’s largest active wildfire, the Flat Fire. It is now more than 8,000 acres in size in an area famed for its east winds and known for the past 35 years for some of the largest forest fires in Oregon history.

My fields are forest (and fire) history and reforestation, not wildfire management, and his request was for distribution to a 100+ email discussion group of actual wildfire management experts; which task was just completed. It will be interesting to see what the response will be, and that might largely depend on weather patterns over the next several days and weeks — and particularly the east wind.

Below I have copied this evening’s official report on the fire, and following that I have included the text of Rep. Boice’s letter of emergency to 30+ fellow politicians and USFS reps, including Supervisor Merv George. This fire has great potential for being an important learning experience for all involved, depending on how things develop. Here is the current report:

July 18, 2023 Evening Update

Size: 8,204
Start Date: July 15, 2023
Point of origin: 2 miles south east Agness, OR
Cause: Under Investigation
Total personnel: 378
Resources: 16 Engines
13 crews
2 bulldozers
2 water tenders
7 helicopters

Current Situation: Today the fire spread on the western flank. An infrared flight will be flown this evening to map accurate acreage. Firefighters have been successful in keeping the fire within control lines on the northwest section of the fire. They were also successful in completing small, targeted 10-15 acre burn outs reducing vegetation on the north flank, protecting communities in the Agness area.

Fire managers continued making use of aviation resources today, including helicopters and airtankers dropping water and retardant over the fire. Using water and retardant temporarily slows fire activity assisting crews on the ground.

Tonight’s activities: Nightshift firefighters will continue progress from the day shift, building fireline and laying hoseline.

Evacuations: Please monitor the Curry and Josephine County Sheriff’s Offices for official evacuation notices. https://www.co.curry.or.us/government/county sheriff/index.php

Weather: Clear with low humidity on ridges.
Closures: The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest has issued a closure order for the fire area including trails, roads, and a portion of the Illinois River. Please be careful when driving in the area due to increased fire traffic.
Restrictions: Fire Restrictions are in place https://www.fs.usda.gov/rogue-siskiyou

Information Line: 541-216-4579 8am-8pm
Media inquires: 541-237-6369 8am-8pm
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/flatfireoregon2023

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FlatFireOR2023
Inciweb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident-information/ xx1002-flat fire

Email: [email protected]
The Subject Line in Rep. Boice’s Email of Emergency was entirely in caps, as were several key words in the text:


Please give our Hero Fire Fighters Historically Proven Plans to Win – Stop another Curry Monster Wind Driven Fire!

Lessons Learned: The Afternoon Winds are upstream… generally towards the east on the Rogue and Illinois river drainages. As the sun sets offshore, the atmosphere becomes kinetic per the temperature change. The Chetco River has a weather anomaly. In the afternoons – the winds are toward the ocean, pushing west; This effect is why the town of Brookings has such nice warmer winter weather.

As and If the Flat Fire likely continues burning generally Southwest… upstream on the Illinois; it tops out into the Chetco drainage which is commonly known as the “Chetco Effect”… It will take the fire in the exact opposite direction… about due west to the town of Brookings. Already happened once – almost twice. This time it undoubtedly will happen faster. Communities of Pistol River and Gold Beach of course are also at risk and potentially even Smith River California.

The 2017 Chetco Bar took 191,000 and the 2018 Klondike likewise destroyed 176,000 acres. EACH cost a staggering $80 plus million dollars to fight! (Yes – Fact: combined $ 170 million in 18 months!) The fuels now are quicker and more volatile per brush regrowth due to multiple previous Mega Fires; Biscuit, (Still the largest Fire in Oregon History), the Collier, Chetco Bar, and repeatedly prove this.

ACTION NOW: Declare wise and legitimate emergency – Override Congressional Laws stopping designated wilderness areas – No Equipment Allowed. This mis-guided approach is brutally dangerous to our communities. Also we know without debate – millions and millions of our wildlife are incinerated – their instincts help them normally escape healthy fires, but they cannot survive our tragic Curry Nuclear Fires. History proves what follows will work and Save Lives, Property, Wilderness, Watersheds, Fish and Wildlife. ACTION NOW!

Immediately open and improve all relevant and advantageous roads

Seasoned Loggers and Fire Fighters (now in their 60’s and 70’s) – men on D-7 dozers…cutting lines on critical ridge tops

Hand crew ‘Back Burns’ can help off the ridges, but are very risky. That work must have unanimous consent between USFS, ODF and CFPA prior

Aviation work to cool both sides down

Hand crews catch the spots

Our Curry Fire History is invaluable. Our outlined steps either happen OR we know the fire will not be stopped… We cannot again wait for late October Rains – futile and unacceptable !

The risk of loss of property and life is immense. We could lose towns or worse.

Court Boice
State Representative – Oregon District 1
[email protected]
Phone (503) 986-1401