18 Jun 2009, 10:30am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

An Open Letter to Tom Tidwell

Dear Tom,

SOS Forests welcomes you as the next Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. We salute your prior accomplishments, share in the excitement of your appointment, and wish you every possible success.

And we really mean that. We really do wish your tenure as Chief to be successful. It is going to be a difficult road, though. The deck is stacked against you, but we will help you all we can.

You need our help because the USFS has lost more than half of its staffing over the last 20 years. Many District, Forest, and Regional offices have closed, and those that remain open have skeleton crews. Active management has ground nearly to a standstill.

As a result, megafires are exploding out of control every summer. 2008 saw the California fire bust, with over a million acres burned in that state alone, and more than a dozen firefighter fatalities. 2007 was the worst fire season in five decades, with nearly 10 million acres burned by wildfires and 20 firefighter lives lost. Over 800,000 acres burned in Central Idaho alone, and the aftermath brought catastrophic erosion and degradation of soils and waterways. 2006 was another record-breaking fire season. This year promises to be even worse, if national USFS fire policies do not change.

Halting our current crisis of megafires is a very tall order. You can, however, take a few initial actions that will start your administration off on the right foot.

First, please use the word “forests” in speeches and writings. You are going to be Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. The ground you will oversee is neither “timberlands” nor “wildlands.” It is forests, or forestland. Please refer to it as such.

This is easy to do, costs you nothing, and will demonstrate your core values. (Not to mention that failing to do so will handicap you right away, and come back to haunt you later, too, as it did your predecessor.)

Second, cancel the Whoofoo program. Whoofoo’s (wildland fire use fires) are accidental fires in accidental locations started by lightning during the height of the fire season. Such fires should be suppressed with rapid initial attack, not left to burn. Whoofoo’s led to enormous and expensive tragedies like the Warm Fire, the Tripod Fire, the Tatoosh Fire, the Middle Fork Fire, the South Barker Fire, the East Slide Rock Ridge Fire, the Cedar Fire, and many others.

Whoofoo’s are the renamed equivalents of “prescribed natural fires” which caused catastrophes such as the 1988 incineration of Yellowstone National Park. The lack of rapid initial response with adequate firefighting forces was directly responsible for the 500,000 acre Biscuit Fire of 2003 and dozens of other megafires in the last two decades. Inadequate initial response has been ultimately responsible for every modern megafire, as a matter of fact.

You should also reconsider Appropriate Management Response, a euphemism for Let It Burn. AMR has led to over 1,000 square miles of unnecessary forest destruction in each of the last two years, including the Payette fires of 2007 and the Northern California fires of 2008. Decision made under AMR have huge ecological consequences but never go through normal NEPA processes. It does not serve our national forests, the Agency, or the mission to avoid proper legal and public involvement procedures.

Third, please initiate a national program to develop natural histories for every National Forest in the System. The histories should reach back at least 10,000 years, and should document the actual, historic, forest development pathways that occurred, in reality, location by location.

We cannot care for our forests, or restore them, or prevent megafires, if we don’t have a good handle on how our forests got here in the first place. Emphasis in the histories should be on ancient anthropogenic fire and the actual human/forest relationships that have had so much impact on the conditions, indeed the very existence, of our forests today.

Fourth, it is time to reconsider and restate the mission of the USFS. In the absence of a clear mission the Agency is rudderless. All resource values are threatened. I encourage you to engage in a national dialog in that regard.

Fifth, please look to forest experts outside of government for advice on forest stewardship. We have much to offer. Ignoring our expertise and deep concern for our public forests is a grievous mistake made by prior Chiefs, much to the detriment of our forests and the Agency. We are ready, willing, and able to assist you. Do not dismiss or discount outside expertise.

We extend our best wishes to you, and to your family and friends, as you embark on this important voyage. We wish you every success. We really do. Because the survival of our priceless, heritage, American forests depends on it.


Mike Dubrasich
SOS Forests

18 Jun 2009, 7:13pm
by bear bait

Chief Tidwell: Your ultimate boss, President Obama, is committed to stimulating our economy with public works. Why don’t you suggest hiring an additional ten thousand firefighters on the Federal Payroll. That would necessitate trucks, crummies, radios, a lot of equipment, all which is readily available in these United States, produced here, and sold here. Just like the workers. They would come from the young unemployed. Concept!!! Sort of like the CCC of old. They can sleep in tents because it is summer work, and be fed through a kitchen and mess hall which can be built in weeks, while they are in training.

And then set them to work putting out every fire at the one tree lightning strike. In teams. Lots of walking, and tough exercise, which young people crave. Have a mountain bike attack squad. Listen to the kids, and innovate and further the science of killing fire the first day.

Some would say that is how we got to where we are. That is half right. Ending logging perhaps is another reason, if only partial. But the issue is to buy time, so our forests can be prepared to withstand anthropogenic fire, the type of fire that created them. We cannot forget the First Peoples came here during the Ice Age, and evolved on this land with forests, and used fire to create an environment that allowed them to survive and prosper.

Few are surviving on forests today, and far fewer if any are prospering. Rural communities are a wreck throughout the West, and we only wish we could have the sustained timber programs the USFS has working for them east of the Mississippi River, where the bulk of USFS timber is sold today, at least in value.

Oregon, where I live, lost a million truck loads of logs a year when the USFS quit selling timber. And each of those truck loads generated another truck load of products, from bark, to sawdust, chips, veneer, and lumber hauled away from the mills. All employed people. Sawmills modernized and used fewer people, but it still takes a choker dog to set that choker, and a chaser to unhook it and run the landing, and a loader operator to load the logs, and a truck driver to haul them to the mill. Highways have weight limits, so that part of the equation never lost a soul. Until the timber supply was taken away. Now we are burning more than we logged before.

Which brings me to this: last year California fires produced more smoke, greenhouse gases, and dangerous small particles by a factor of FOUR, than were produced by man-made or -caused sources in the entire state of Oregon, including our wildland fires for last year. Cut those fires and the acres burned in half, and you would have reduced greenhouse gases to global climate change by the amount produced in Oregon in TWO YEARS!!! In total.

The country is looking for working answers to our forest health problems, and many figure burning them to dirt is not the answer we are looking for. Many of those forest acres burned in California will never, ever be forest again because the time frame is hundreds of years to recreate the one that burned. We cannot waste our heritage forests that have been preserved from logging by allowing them by intent, by policy, to burn unchallenged. It is the wrong action for a government agency that was created to SAVE forests, not destroy them.

Thank you for your time. I wish you all the success possible.

21 Jun 2009, 1:05am
by Bob Z.

Mike and bear bait:

These are excellent letters full of good ideas and common sense. It is important that Tom Tidwell personally reads them and considers their content.

I hope copies have been mailed to Mr. Tidwell, members of his staff, to our Congressional leaders and members of their staffs, and to appropriate County officials and local media.

These are important issues, and Mr. Tidwell is in an excellent position to consider them and to take appropriate actions.

Good work, and good luck to us all — our forests and rural jobs are important and need attention!



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