14 Jul 2009, 2:02pm
Forestry education
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Cost-Plus-Loss Is the Correct Way to Evaluate the Economics of Fire

The standard way the government accounts for fire costs is to look at direct suppression costs only. That is overly simplistic to the point of fiduciary incompetence.

Fires cause lasting damages to a variety of natural and human-built resources. Those damages, also called losses, are vital elements that must be considered when accounting for the total costs of fire. The econometric term is cost-plus-loss, and we have discussed the concept many times before [here, here, here, here, here, for a small sampling].

We have estimated that cost-plus-loss can range from 10 to 40 times the suppression expenses. Now a study from San Diego State University of the Cedar Complex Fires of 2003 finds the cost-plus-loss of those fires to be 50 times suppression expenses, at least. From the LaLa Times:

San Diego County’s 2003 wildfire losses top $2 billion

by Bettina Boxall, LA Times, July 13, 2023 [here]

How much did the Southern California fire storms of 2003 really cost?

Matt Rahn, a research director at San Diego State University, delved into the losses and concluded that the final bill in San Diego County alone was $2.4 billion.

“What astounded us most was the total economic loss,” Rahn said.

The expense of fighting the wildfires turned out to be less than 2% of the total. Restoring burned watersheds cost more than the firefight, according to Rahn’s tally.

San Diego Gas and Electric spent $71 million replacing thousands of charred power poles, transformers and hundreds of miles of wire. The state reimbursed the utility for more than half that.

Businesses shut down for days during the fire siege.

The fire blackened 375,917 acres, destroyed 3,241 homes and killed 16 people in the county. (All told, the 14 wildfires that raged across Southern California in late October charred 750,000 acres, burned down 3,710 homes and killed 24 people.)

Airline flights were canceled because the skies were thick with smoke. A high-tech manufacturer had to replace all the air filters in its plant. The insurance industry paid an estimated $1.1 billion in property claims.

It cost Caltrans $15 million to fix fire-damaged highways in the county.

Rahn said the figures underscore the importance of maintaining firefighting forces to control blazes in their early stages, before they become an unstoppable force of nature.

“Pay now or pay a whole lot later,” he said. “We’re in an economic crisis in California, and we’re talking about reducing firefighting levels. Cutting them in the short term may actually wind up with a longer-term impact.” …

Dr. Rahn’s findings reinforce earlier findings (see the links above). The subject is not particularly new to forestry — cost-plus-loss studies have been undertaken since the 1920’s — but the findings of the last 90 years or so have not been well-understood by the public at large.

Cost-plus-loss is the logical way to account for fire costs and to evaluate the economic utility of fire suppression. We invest in fire suppression to prevent losses and damages. That is, the “utility” of firefighting is a function of the losses prevented.

A new and comprehensive study of cost-plus-loss accounting methodology is due to be published soon. Modesty and propriety prevent me from discussing the particulars now, but very soon we will be allowed to trumpet those findings here at SOS Forests.

Return Fire

A 5-part essay by Mike Dubrasich

No Forest Worries, Mate, Says the JSFP

The Joint Fire Science Program (JSFP) is a government bureaucracy dedicated to wildfire [here]. Fire is the be-all and end-all of their existence.

Now, I’m not saying that the JSFP is made up of bug-eyed arsonists, but fire is their bread and butter, the source and inspiration of their funding, their primary focus, and their conceit.

Forests are not their focus, although wildfires often burn forests. Fire is the consuming concern of the JSFP; forests are merely the backdrop — in their eyes piles of fuels ready to burn –- and in some ways justification for the existence of the JSFP and buttering their bread.

Because forests sometimes erupt into forest fires, which enflame the passion and conceit of the JSFP, and because the JSFP styles itself as a scientific institution, they occasionally foray into forest science. Sadly, those forays betray a profound ignorance of the subject. The JSFP knows next to nothing about forests, and indeed, next to nothing about why and how forests burn.

That ignorance is on display their web publication, Fire Science Brief, Issue 49, May 2009 [here]. In that issue the JSFP resurrects a two-year-old paper and badly fumbles the context and the findings.

The resurrected paper discussed in Fire Science Brief is from an actual forest science study, (Shatford J., D.E. Hibbs and K Puettmann. 2007. Conifer Regeneration Following Forest Fire in the Klamath-Siskiyous: How much, how soon? Journal of Forestry 105:139-146), but the JSFP discussion does not reprint the report. Instead, they misinterpret it out of context.

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10 Jul 2009, 9:34pm
2007 Fire Season
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Lasting Bitterness Over the Poe Cabin Fire

In 2007 the Poe Cabin Fire burned 59,686 acres in Western Idaho, mostly on the Nez Perce National Forest. Both forest and grazing land burned, including grazing allotments.

Map courtesy USFS Rapid Assessment of Vegetation Condition after Wildfire (RAVG) [here].

The Capital Press reported on the immediate aftermath in August of 2007:

Poe Cabin: The postmortem begins

Rancher questions Poe Cabin fire management

Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press, 8/31/2007 [here]

LUCILE, Idaho - Heartbreak is too weak to describe it.

There’s nothing to see for miles but blackened trees, shrubs, and acres of ashes.

Someone brave enough to walk or ride back into the wrecked landscape away from the road can find dead or dying cattle and wildlife - their hooves and feet so badly burned there’s no hope of healing. The most merciful thing to do is shoot them.

Rancher Melvin Gill, his daughter Shelley and her husband, Garrett Neal, put eight calves out of their misery by Aug. 20. They know they must look for more, but it’s dangerous. They must constantly be watching over their heads as well as under their feet. Burned, dying tree trunks and branches can snap off at any moment, crashing down on whoever is underneath.

The old-time loggers called such falling snags widow makers, with good reason.

Plenty of animals are already dead, Gill and Neal said. They’re easy to find on the Cow Creek Allotment leased by the Gill family. Crows and other carrion eaters are readily spotted. They’re feasting in the wake of the Poe Cabin fire in the Seven Devils Mountains, on lands managed mainly by the U.S. Forest Service as the Wallowa-Whitman and Nez Perce National Forest, and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Loss goes beyond individual animals or numbers. There’s the ranch breeding program, bloodlines built up and improved over the years, and the future calves those heifers will never produce, the rancher said.

It’s the third time in 11 years Gill has been burned out. This time he seriously wonders if his operation can recover. The Neal’s love the lifestyle and hope to one day run the ranch themselves. They’re uncertain of their future. …

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8 Jul 2009, 8:12pm
Saving Forests
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Montana State Forester: We need an integrated response to mountain pine beetle

Beetle epidemic requires us to move past timber wars of the past

From the Clark Fork Chronicle, June 30 2009 [here]

by Bob Harrington, Montana State Forester

We are in the midst of a dramatic transformation of the forested landscape in many parts of Montana. Thousands of acres of pine forests –- which had been a continuous sea of green –- are now mottled with an ever-increasing number of bright red trees. If you live or have traveled near Helena, Butte, Bozeman, Deer Lodge, or Seeley Lake, you’ve seen the effects.

Since 2000, the mountain pine beetle has killed an estimated 3 million acres of Montana forests. Foresters and fire managers have been concerned about potential effects of these insects for several years, and have tried to help prepare for the epidemic we knew was coming. This task has been difficult, for several reasons.

Montana has been in a prolonged drought for the past decade, and this has dramatically reduced tree vigor – trees that are water-stressed cannot effectively fend off insect pests. Normally, cold temperatures during the winter would help keep the bark beetle population in check, but Montana hasn’t had a prolonged cold snap during any winters in recent memory. A lack of wildfires or forest management has led to densely stocked stands –- another cause for stressed trees.

As a result, conditions are ripe for an epidemic: we have an increasing beetle population, an abundance of available food in the form of stressed trees, and a mild climate that enables beetles to survive over the winter. Seeing the dramatic changes across the landscape in just the past few years causes me to be concerned about what other forests will die, and what additional Montana communities will be at risk of wildfire in the coming years.

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Forest Fires and Biomass Skipped Over at Boxer Cap-and-Trade Hearing

by Randy Shipman, W.I.S.E. Correspondent

Yesterday the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, questioned heads of departments regarding the Climate Change and Energy (Cap-and-Trade) Bill now before them.

The opening statement provided by Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did not mention public forest lands. He did not mention the US Forest Service by name during the hearing (even when asked about wood pellet utilization in Vermont schools) until Senator Udall of New Mexico questioned the water capability provided by the Colorado River Compact, alluding to early snowpack melt, drought, and assumptions held in the Compact from “100 years ago” of river capacity. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley posed the last question of that session pertaining to federal forested lands, thinning fuels, and using USFS forests in the equation of carbon offsets while gearing something up resembling the Secure Rural Schools Act.

Although vague at best, Secretary Vilsack said USDA was looking into how all of its agencies will be involved in biomass and renewable energy (mentioning NRCS, farmers, ranching and private forest land often) and most hesitantly mentioned that he personally thought USFS might also have a role.

I doubt his answer reflects this administration’s position however, and that is the reason Vilsack was reluctant to bring USFS into the mix in his opening statement.

But Vilsack did say that presently the USFS was going through a new 5-year strategic plan for water and forests based on human-caused climate change. Human-caused global warming is considered by Energy Secretary Steven Chu (reflecting the Obama Administration) to be a fact of science.

Senator Merkley was very specific on two occasions in his limited 3 minutes of questioning, voicing concerns about managing “locked-up” lands to assist local communities while at the same time figuring federal lands into carbon offsets. Vilsack was at a loss to respond directly to those questions which apparently arose out of the 2007 and 2008 energy bills locking those lands out. He seemed to base his stance on waiting for the USFS strategic plan. Roadless areas were never specifically mentioned by anyone and smoke from wildfires was never mentioned during pollution talks (regarding asthmatic children) when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was asked about global warming conspiracies by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Secretary Salazar did mention biomass on 500 million acres of DOI lands and indicated they were under consideration for carbon offsets, but overall both federal land management agencies are attempting to convince the “rural” farmers, ranchers and private forest land owners what a great deal they are about to receive.

Secretary Salazar was big into wind energy off the Atlantic coast and other areas, and also hit hard on his department’s assertion that 29% of America’s electrical energy needs can be produced by solar thermal energy generation in the Southwest. Those projects should be under construction by end of 2010, and are projected to create some 50,000 jobs.

Secretary Salazar maintained that wildfires, bark beetles, fishery problems, and Midwest agricultural shifts are all due to climate change. His three main goals are to reduce dependence of foreign oil, head off climate change, and save our children. He said his department consists of some 6,000 scientists and 14,000 land managers who will accomplish this feat, but he also mentioned that DOI produces over 50% of the coal and 25% of the nation’s domestic oil and gas.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said something to the effect that climate change technology will amount to about a cost of one USPS letter stamp per day for the average American family, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson thought any parent would go that amount to protect their children.

Jackson and Chu disagreed, however, about whether the Cap-and-Trade Bill (if enacted) would actually have any effect of climate. EPA Administrator Jackson confirmed an EPA analysis showing that unilateral U.S. action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have no effect on climate.  When presented with an EPA chart depicting that outcome, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he disagreed with EPA’s analysis.

Some of the questioning regarded the alleged failure of Congress to remove personal vehicles and trucks off the highways. The Administration desires more mass public transportation and moving freight by train. Lisa Jackson stated that union workers were behind them 100 percent, but I am not certain she meant auto industry workers or teamsters.

Nuclear and other issues were discussed as well. The hearing can be viewed on C-Span.

Two Forest Restoration Letters

Restoration forestry is the art and science of returning forests to heritage conditions of fire resilient, open and park-like structures [here]. Restoration forestry protects, maintains, and perpetuates forests, wildlife, water and air, public health and safety, heritage, and our economy.

Restoring forests is active management that takes place before forests burn. After a forest is destroyed by catastrophic fire, there may be attempts to rehabilitate it, but rehab is after-the-fact. Restoration is before-the-fact, preparing forests to receive fire and to be resilient to fire before they burn.

The term “restoration” has been injected into at least two important laws: The Healthy Forests Restoration Act (2003) and Title IV of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act Of 2009, aka the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009 (FLRA).

In both cases “restoration” is used as I noted above, to describe (in general) forest treatments applied prior to catastrophic forest fires in order to make forests resilient to fire, i.e. to avoid the catastrophes of forest destruction by fire (and insect infestations).

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) has adopted a pro-active position regarding restoration forestry. They recognize that restoration is the best and possibly only way to protect, maintain, and perpetuate our public forests.

Last May the SAF promulgated two letters to Congress that expressed (in part) their support for real restoration forestry (and their opposition to ersatz restoration).

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An Open Letter to the Editorial Board of Ecological Applications

To:

J. David Baldwin, Managing Editor of ESA (Ecological Society of America) journals
David Schimel, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Editor-in-Chief
Jayne Belnap, USGS, Assigning Editor
Timothy E. Essington, University of Washington, Assigning Editor
Mark Friedl, Boston University, Assigning Editor
Nancy B. Grimm, Arizona State University, Assigning Editor

From:

Mike Dubrasich, Executive Director, Western Institute for Study of the Environment (W.I.S.E.)

July 6, 2023

Dear Sirs and Madams,

Recently I posted at one of the W.I.S.E. websites a critical analysis [here] of a research paper published in Ecological Applications.

I also included a link to the paper itself, which had been provided to me by the lead author.

My analysis was critical, so I felt it was only fair, as well as educational, to supply W.I.S.E. website readers with the document being critiqued.

However, your Managing Editor, J. David Baldwin, took umbrage and demanded that I remove said document from the Web, citing copyright violation and protection of your “subscription revenue.”

I have complied by removing the link (not the critique) under veiled threat of lawsuit, but wish to explain to you some cogent facts that pertain to Ecological Applications and other ESA publications.

1. EA is an expensive item. Annual subscription is $115 per year. Purchase of a single article is $20 for 30 days. Redistribution of the purchased journal and/or article is forbidden.

The price hurdles serve to inhibit “technology transfer” to the interested public. Only a select few have access to your journals, which impedes your stated mission to:

… raise the public’s level of awareness of the importance of ecological science… through educational and outreach activities… [and] by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers at all levels of government and the private sector.

2. The article in question was researched and written by scientists in the public employ. Taxpayer dollars paid for their salaries, the research, the research overhead, the write-up, and the printing in your journal, which is also taxpayer funded. Yet most taxpayers do not have access because of your price hurdles and limited distribution.

All of the above calls into question the legal merits of your copyright infringement complaint against me. If I chose to do so, we could explore that issue in a court of law. In this particular case I choose not to do so, but that should not be interpreted as any form of legal forfeiture of my rights as a taxpayer and citizen.

I exercised my legal rights by posting a link to the article. That was for your benefit (fulfilling your mission) as well as for the benefit of the taxpaying public.

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3 Jul 2009, 10:47pm
Climate and Weather
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Thermageddon Postponed Indefinitely

The latest global temperature reading (June ‘09) has been released by by the Global Hydrology and Climate Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The estimate is based on sensor readings from the Microwave Sounding Unit aboard NASA’s AQUA satellite. AQUA is a spacecraft with on-board propulsion and thus has stable station-keeping (it is not subject to diurnal temperature drifts).

Here is a graph of the 1979 to 2009 troposphere temperature anomalies (variations from the average of 1979 to 1997):

UAH global temperature anomaly 1979 to June 2009. Graph courtesy Watts Up With That [here].

Note that the total global temperature change over the last 30 years is 0.15 degrees C (fifteen one hundredths of a degree Centigrade).

Over the last 30 years the globe has warmed an insignificant amount according to the most exacting and accurate global temperature measurement system known to man.

There has been no significant global warming for the last 30 years.

The Pacific Ocean experienced a strong El Nino in 1998. That oceanic oscillation caused a spike in global temperatures. However, the excess heat was radiated into outer space within a year. The Earth’s atmosphere will only hold so much heat. There is no ceiling on the Earth’s atmosphere. Excess heat is dissipated into the interplanetary void.

The atmospheric addition of a few parts per million of carbon dioxide over the last 30 years has had no appreciable effect on global temperatures. The global is not heating up. There is no looming Thermageddon.

Actions taken by Congress, and indeed by all the governments of the world combined, to limit CO2 are useless. They will not “solve” a non-problem. There is no anthropogenic global warming because there is no warming (and in any case, if there was warming it would be a boon to Life, not a detriment). Those government actions may, however, cripple the world economy and needlessly cause tremendous human suffering worldwide.

If there ever was a time when the human inhabitants of this planet needed to cast off the chains of authoritarian governments gone mad, this is it.

1 Jul 2009, 9:32pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
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Active Forest Management Is the Solution to Bark Beetles

Dr. Peter Kolb, Montana State University Extension Forestry Specialist and an Associate Professor of Forest Ecology and Management at the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation, testified last month  before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power Hearing on Mountain Pine Beetle: Strategies For Protecting The West.

His testimony is now posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

It is a very interesting and powerful testimony. Dr. Kolb correctly described bark beetles as:

… a chronic population within pine forests, colonizing and killing trees that are unable or incapable of defending themselves due to a variety of physiological, genetic or environmental factors.

He further described bark beetle ecology and some of the factors that lead to large outbreaks, including mild winters, long summers, and forest conditions that provide ample susceptible trees.

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Climate Realist Numbers Growing

The proper term for those who reject Al Gore’s paranoid fantasy about global warming is “climate realists”. It’s not “skeptics,” its not “deniers,” and it’s not “traitors.”

Climate realists already outnumber Chicken Little Alarmists, and our percentages are growing. From the WSJ:

The Climate Change Climate Change

The number of skeptics is swelling everywhere.

By Kimberley A. Strassel, Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2023 [here]

Steve Fielding recently asked the Obama administration to reassure him on the science of man-made global warming. When the administration proved unhelpful, Mr. Fielding decided to vote against climate-change legislation.

If you haven’t heard of this politician, it’s because he’s a member of the Australian Senate. As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to pass a climate-change bill, the Australian Parliament is preparing to kill its own country’s carbon-emissions scheme. Why? A growing number of Australian politicians, scientists and citizens once again doubt the science of human-caused global warming.

Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country’s new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country’s weeks-old cap-and-trade program.

The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. — 13 times the number who authored the U.N.’s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world’s first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak “frankly” of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming “the worst scientific scandal in history.” Norway’s Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the “new religion.” A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton’s Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists’ open letter.)

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