6 Feb 2009, 10:42am
Federal forest policy
by admin

Pence Responds to Forsgren

Harv Forsgren, Regional Forester of the Intermountain Region, responded [here] to ret. Forest Supervisor Glenn Bradley’s letter about Wildland Fire Use [here]. Now F. Carl Pence has responded to Mr. Forsgren.

Carl Pence is retired USFS, former Forest Supervisor of the Malheur NF, and team leader of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan (ICBEMP). He is also co-author (with his brother Ned) of Lost in the Forest: A Story About the Forest Service “Four Decades of Change”.

Harv,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to Glenn’s expressions of concern. Although, in doing so you may have only stirred the hornet’s nest, as the frustration level within many retirees seems very high when considering current vegetative management strategies within the NFS. Certainly, everything you said in your first few paragraphs are true, e.g., “..the simplest thing is to aggressively attack and extinguish every start…” and,  “..ecosystems are dynamic and our success in (past) initial attack has interrupted the natural diversity of age classes…..”  These are known facts to most of us.  During our careers many of us were intimately involved in trying to point out these effects and to make plans to correct them. Most Forest Plans have addressed these needs.  In the latter part of my career I was involved in Basin and Range Level Plans, like the Northwest Forest Plan and ICBEMP, both of which expressed this overwhelming need.  And, as you know, little if any of the vegetation treatments proposed and planned in those documents ever became realized.  Thus, we have a serious problem. That is, the “worst case fuels scenario” many of us predicted now exists, e.g., huge beetle infestation, overcrowded, old, diseased stands, etc., etc…

While, as you say, “…efforts to increase acres treated from planned management activities have accelerated dramatically.”  The facts are these treatments are too narrow in range, too small in size, and it appears that the over-dependency upon “natural ignitions”, i.e.,  “Unplanned Ignitions”, more often than not results in more undesirable results, that is, full watersheds being burned out, high fiscal costs, significant negative environmental effects.  Your statement that, “It is my expectation that we will be using unplanned ignitions to meet management objectives more, not less.”, scares most of us.

You are addressing a group with a significant background in ecosystems and fire management.   We understand the fuel problem that is faced, many of us raised red flags about it decades ago.  We simply think it is not generally professional to depend upon unplanned ignitions and expect planned or “natural” results given the unnatural level and continuity of fuel loading.  Sometime in the near future, I predict some politician will question the use of unplanned ignitions as a primary vegetative treatment tool of the FS.  Questions that need addressed include:

1) If we are going to use unplanned ignitions as a “planned” management tool, are the fires involved “emergencies” and thus should be managed by “emergency funds”?  Some of us are beginning to wonder if funding may in fact be a major factor in the Outfit’s desire to use unplanned ignitions as a primary tool to address the fuel loading issue.

2) Is the use of unplanned ignitions as a primary vegetation management tool adequately addressed in Forest Plans, and are the implications of NEPA, ESA, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, etc, etc.. considered?

3) Are the public adequately informed in the effects in all of this, and are they aware of alternatives to it?

Harv, the implications of this all dwarf the ecological consequences folks had about the Outfit’s past timber harvest program.   Wildfire in areas with unnatural fuel loading and continuity are NOT NATURAL FIRES! They often don’t create the desired natural fire intensity or age class distribution. They deserve to be aware of that.  They also deserve to know there are alternatives to “unplanned ignition” within the use of fire.  For example, the South Barker area could have been very professionally treated with a planned ignition, started a week or so before the “season ending weather event”.  If this alternative had been chosen, most, if not all of the negative items associated with the fire could have been avoided and the cost would have been significantly less. Of course though, “emergency funding” would not have been available in this case.  The public and politicians must be made aware of these implications so this alternative could be feasibly implemented with appropriated funding.  That, of course would take a lot of professional, forward thinking and planning.

Well, I got that off my chest!  Harv, have a good day, retirement is good!  Carl Pence

6 Feb 2009, 1:24pm
by bear bait


When the Chief tells the RF what the program will be, it is the duty of the RF to act accordingly. That is what we just read from Forsgren, and Pence’s reply is one of frustration with that sort of top down management. Pence knows Forsgren, and knows he does not really believe that which is his official duty to spew to the ignorant masses. Pence is diplomatically saying you can’t bullshit me, and you know it. To that, Forsgren will have no reply.

And you can’t bullshit me, either. Allowing fire to have its head at the heat of the burning season, in unnaturally high fuels, is insane and not good public policy. It might be financially the only way the USFS might see that they can reduce fuels and meet goals from on high, but it is still wrongheaded, stupid, and a break in the trust the MAJORITY of Americans have in government.

There is not a thing wrong with continuing to put out fires, right now, until there can be worked out a more feasible policy to right the wrongs of fuel buildups. There are many tools not allowed by litigation, budget constraints, undue influence by the NGOs in their Edenic view of the world, and by the very political nature of Green support for Democrats and Democrats only in a government that is supposed to make scientific decisions based on science. We have seen accusations of meddling in science by political operatives of the Right, and cannot expect that will not and has not happened with the Left. You only have to look at Clinton era science to see that is not true.

With budget constraints that do not allow for conflagration responses, Regional Foresters ought to be very much not wanting to have them happen in their Regions. If they feel that Let It Burn is a way to upgrade fire caches, and bring money to the Region and to Forests to catch up on road grading, fuels removals far in front of the fire front, and that sort of use of emergency funds, then we have a cabal of deceit and poor public performance. A good committee hearing can at times ferret out such actions.

When the Old Timers from the Outfit are unhappy, you do know they do come by those opinions and views honestly. Honest work for an honest salary was how they were raised. That slickery and parsing, ala Clintonesque policy with former NGO leaders in USDA-USFS administrative positions, is a preponderance of woo-woo green shibboleths posing as science. Forsgren and Pence both know that.

So what’s a guy to do? The right thing, buddy. You do the right thing, and take a stand. Wimp USFS is not Old School. That’s the metrosexual new school USFS. And it has not worked. It is a joke. And all the old timers are sitting in retirement not comfortable with the Outfit becoming a joke, a disorganized collection of Yuppies trying to brown-nose a Chief or Congressman, and doing a poor job of managing a resource. A piss poor job.

WFU is piss poor management policy, and no apologies or definitions of it can put lipstick on that pig and make it pretty. Heritage forests, for which a lot of effort was put forth to save and secure for all time, have been needlessly incinerated on a left handed budget deal?

Don’t Regional Foresters understand that some forests, once incinerated, won’t regrow or even be replaced, because they were left over from a different time and climate, and they are only here because the forests themselves were able to create the micro climate that kept them alive? Some forests exist today because the tree heights and species, the thermal cover of the understory germination sites, the fog to foliar water uptake, all happened only because the stand was established long ago. Incinerate it today and it is lost for all time. I don’t want to lose another acre of those forests. Ones like the few acres of white fir on Steens Mountain or in the Jarbidge wilderness.

Burn those and they are gone. Forever gone. Did I make myself understandable? Can anyone make the USFS understand that they have a huge responsibility to eternity? You don’t let some GS-9 recreation specialist make WFU decisions. You have lots of areas that you have to protect with all you have immediately if fire gets in them. The issue of fuel removal can be solved, someday, down the road. But it is moot, and not worth a pint of piss if the resource is burned to greenhouse gas, the soils chemically changed, the subsoil fried of life, top soil flown to the atmosphere, the wildlife and special plants gone.

It is NOT YOURS to burn, buddy. NOT YOURS TO BURN. You hold it in trust for the American people.

6 Feb 2009, 11:37pm
by Bruce H.


I have followed with interest and concern the western fire fighting policy and fiscal issues. I note that aggressively fighting wildfire and spending funds in Southern California is never questioned. I suspect this is because of adjacent private land values. I don’t believe the general public understands what values are being lost under the present policy throughout the National Forest System and other federal lands. The loss of watershed, fiber, fisheries, and scenic values is massive.

Forest Service retirees and others have done an excellent job bringing their concerns to the attention of the land managers. While some news coverage appears on local television and newspaper there seems to be a lack of interest in the national press and media. Why is there no “expose” to respond the publics’ contemporary desire for sensational news?

I note that two Midwest eco-terrorists have recently been sentenced to 9 and 20 years in prison respectively . They burned university biology labs, housing developments, road construction and logging equipment. The estimated cost of their terrorism acts was approximately 10 million dollars. In my opinion they received light sentences; however, their sentences beg the question of damage done through fire management policy. I am fully aware that fire management policy is a discretionary function of government, not subject to litigation. If the East Slide Rock Ridge, South Barker, and other “managed” fires had been caused by terrorist, there would be no question as to the public outcry that would have occurred.

The silence regarding fire policy from the environmental community has been deafening and that speaks for itself.

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