1 Oct 2009, 11:15am
Federal forest policy The 2009 Fire Season
by admin

The Eightmile Fire — USFS Arson?

The Eightmile Fire on the Boise NF this summer was portrayed by the US Forest Service as a “natural” fire ignited by lightning, but in fact two-thirds of the total acreage was burned in USFS-set “back fires” that never merged with the original lightning fire.

The Eightmile Fire [here] was a controversial Let It Burn fire that incinerated 1,264 acres of the Lowman Ranger District on the Boise NF this summer. Despite complaints by residents inundated by smoke, the USFS not only refused to contain and control the fire, they deliberately expanded the fire with drip torches, doubling the fire area and inflicting further harms on natural and human built environments.

The Boise NF was declared a “Let It Burn Laboratory” by the USFS in 2007. That summer over 2 million acres in Idaho were burned deliberately by the USFS, including 1,250 square miles [here] of the erosion-sensitive Idaho Batholith [here] in the Payette, Boise, and Nez Perce National Forests.

The objective of the Boise NF leadership is to burn as much of the Boise NF as possible, whether by lightning or by purposeful arson on the part of USFS employees. Such was the case with the Eightmile Fire, ignited by lightning July 12, 2009.

The fire was immediately declared a foofurb (a “fire used for resource benefit”) even though no “benefits” were projected, measured, or documented, no EIS was created, and no NEPA process was undertaken or even envisioned.

Boise NF officials, led by Boise Forest Supervisor Cecilia Seesholtz, initially reported that the Eightmile Foofurb Fire was within the Lowman Burn (1989). That falsely painted story was a fabrication – the lightning strike was well east of the old Lowman Burn and the Boise officials knew it. But it seemed more palatable for their public image to present the new fire (a Let It Burn fire) as safely within the old burn.

SOS Forests disabused the USFS and informed the public of that lie, forcing the Boise NF and InciWeb to withdraw the falsehood and post the truth [here].

That episode did not sit well with Boise NF officials. Their goal, as stated above, is to burn as much of the Public Estate under their oversight as possible. In anger at being discovered in their lies, they proceeded to expand the Eightmile Fire deliberately.

When the fire stalled at 400 acres, fire crews were sent in to rekindle it. Using drip torches, those crews ignited a new wall of flame ahead (downwind and upslope) of the now smoldering ashes. The new fire torched another 840 acres and precipitated a call to Hotshots, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

Although the official accounting has not been released (and may never be, unless extracted by judicial order), an estimated $1.2 million was spent suppressing the USFS-set portion of the fire.

The set fire never made contact or merged with the lightning fire, which had subdued itself.

Google image of the two sections of the Eightmile Fire (click for larger image). Photo courtesy SOS Forests.

The riparian zone of Eightmile Creek burned by USFS set fire (click for larger image). No “resource benefits” are discernible, although significant resource damages are quite evident. Photo courtesy SOS Forests.

The unburned strip between the two fires (click for larger image). Photo courtesy SOS Forests. Does this forest look like it needs incineration to you?

The Boise NF has declared another Let It Burn fire, the Abby Foofurb Fire [here], on the Idaho City Ranger District. That fire was allegedly ignited by lightning on Aug 28. Currently it is reported to be 930 acres and growing rapidly, although private observers peg it at 7 full sections or roughly 4,500 acres.

It is evident that Boise NF pronouncements regarding fires there cannot be trusted. Not only are acreage and cost figures withheld or inaccurate, the incendiary machinations of Boise NF personnel are covered up. They are deliberately lighting forest fires and declaring such to be “natural.” That is arson.

The Boise NF fears full disclosure of their fire management activities via the NEPA process. That noncompliance with Federal law is legally actionable.

But the deliberate incineration of public forests by drip-torch-wielding employees in the height of summer fire season is criminal behavior of the first order. It is no surprise that the Boise NF is obfuscating and prevaricating to hide the truth about their criminal arson activities from the public.

1 Oct 2009, 7:41pm
by scott


Thanks again for a wonderful article. One major question is WHY? Why would they burn it? Is it to increase funding from the public? I knew these guys like to burn historic buildings on public and private land, but why burn perfectly good timber needlessly?

1 Oct 2009, 10:41pm
by Mike


That’s a great question!!!!

2 Oct 2009, 11:42am
by Ned


The Boise National Forest was fortunate with the Eight Mile Wildland Fire Use (WFU) because there was a wet early August storm that extinguished the fire.

Understanding the rational for WFU requires study of the 2003 Forest Plans for the Sawtooth, Boise, and Payette National Forests. These national forests revised their Forest Plans together to implement the philosophy of Ecosystem Management. The philosophy intends to “integrate ecological capabilities and restore or sustain ecosystem integrity”. The ecosystem management philosophy was developed by the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP). ICBEMP was never completed through NEPA and implementation was left to the forest planning process.

The “scientific findings” of ICBEMP explain that fire exclusion has resulted in a large increase in mid-level serial communities that are more dense and have higher mortality, and higher susceptibility to crown fires than historical communities. Fire exclusion has resulted in substantial changes in succession/disturbance regimes and associated vegetation composition, structure, and pattern. Fire disturbances are less frequent but more severe and have greater cumulative effects. The ICBEMP science team left the identification of goals and methods to the forest planning process.

These 2003 forest plans attempt to identify the goals and methods for Ecosystem Management. Mechanical methods are often rejected in favor of more “natural” methods such as Wildland Fire Use (WFU). The plans detail complicated goals for vegetation, soil, water, riparian, and watershed resources. Goals for soil and watersheds are the driving force behind the ecosystem management philosophy.

Is the policy of letting “natural fires” starting in July and August burn through the fire season meeting the Forest Plan goals? One only needs to look at the results to understand that the intensity of these fires burning through the fire season are returning vegetation to the most primary ecological stage and the soil and watersheds are Functioning at Unacceptable Risk. The Forest Plan goals are not being met. The Forest Service needs to understand that these WFU fires are burning with an intensity that is not natural due to the unnatural fuel loads. The result will require decades to return to something acceptable if it is even possible.

2 Oct 2009, 12:53pm
by Mike


Thank you, Ned, and well said. I might add that the USFS has no hope of restoring ecological integrity if they do not understand the ecological history of our forests.

They are beginning to grasp that current biomass densities are a-historical — fuel loadings are beyond any ever experienced before in the Holocene. Fires in a-historical fuels are also a-historical and burn with unprecedented severity, often with total mortality and conversion of forests to brush. Modern fires are catastrophic to ecosystems and ecosystem services.

The study of history yields strong evidence that our forest ecosystems have been previously sustained for thousands of years by anthropogenic fire. The old-growth trees of today are relics of the open, park-like forests of the frequent fire era. Human landscape burning favored savanna-like conditions with forest development pathways that allowed a few trees per acre to attain great ages.

It is the elimination of human-tending fires (a traditional practice so ingrained and ancient that it predates humanity’s move out of Africa) not “suppression” that has altered ecosystems by allowing catastrophic levels of fuels to build-up.

Let It Burn will not restore historical conditions. Instead, it leads to ecological devastation.

A thorough study of history, including human influences on the environment, is required before rational and restorative treatments can be planned and implemented. As long as the USFS remains ignorant and hardheaded about the real history of our forests, they will continue down a path of wholesale destruction.

7 Oct 2009, 10:19pm
by Zeke


Howdy,
Good discussion here on the need to better understand history of fire on the land in steering how we’ll deal with it now.

One comment:
I was on the ground on the Boise NF for most of 2007 fire season mapping the spread of the Cascade and Landmark Complexes, and I’d have to politely disagree with the assertion that “over 2 million acres in Idaho were burned deliberately by the USFS”.

For many reasons (widespread lightning ignitions, a gigantic fire in Southern Idaho that diverted resources across the region, and heavy IA in eastern Oregon in early July), the fires in Central Idaho were well established before there was a chance to catch them.

Through most of early August, the Cascade and Landmark Complexes were regularly running 5-8 miles a day, and spotting miles ahead of themselves. We were at a camp near Yellowpine, and had a skateboard-sized chunk of Lodgepole bark fall lazily into our briefing from a blowup 10 air miles away. These fires were way beyond our ability to control them from very early on.

For what I saw, the powers that be finally recognized (after getting their asses kicked around the woods for over a month) that they were barely holding onto the heels of these fires, and backed off and started to focus on protecting things like pack bridges, cabins, and the town of Yellowpine.

Just my two cents from being there.

7 Oct 2009, 10:40pm
by Mike


Thank you, Zeke, for your insights. Some observers have noted also that huge and destructive “backfires” were lit. In any case…

The fires were predicted. They were preventable. The decision to incinerate vast acreages was made years ago. The fires of 2007 were not a surprise to anyone, nor was their ferocity, nor final size.

Some desired them to be bigger. In fact, many times 2 million acres have been slated for WFU, or FURB, or “partial containment,” or “monitoring,” or whatever they call Let It Burn this week.

The “powers that be” did exactly what they said they were going to do, burn the Public Estate and much more in catastrophic fires with all the attendant damages, and they are still doing that when the opportunity arises.

I don’t discount your first-person experience, but I do ask you to take a closer look at the documented history of USFS forest and fire management in Region 1 and across the System in the two decades that preceded the fires.

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