31 Mar 2010, 12:08am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

USFS Chief Tom Tidwell on the Increasing Forest Fire Hazard

USFS Chief Tom Tidwell spoke today at the 2010 Wildland Urban Interface Conference [here] being held this year in Reno. The WUI Conference is produced by the International Association of Fire Chiefs [here].

I did not attend and do not have a transcript of Chief Tidwell’s speech. All I have to go by is a journalist’s report. There is always some risk of mistakes and wrong emphasis inherent in a journalist’s interpretation. It would be better to have Chief Tidwell’s exact words, and perhaps we can obtain those sometime in the future. But for now, this is what we have:

Wildfire danger increasing across U.S., federal official tells Reno audience

By Jeff DeLong, RGJ.com, March 30, 2010 [here]

A combination of forest restoration projects, creation of communities that can survive fire and aggressive fire fighting will be needed as wildfire danger increases across the country, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday.

Wildfires are getting larger and burning more fiercely, Tom Tidwell told a Reno conference of wildfire experts.

Warming climate and increasing development near forested terrain will result in increasingly dangerous fire behavior, Tidwell, chief of the Forest Service since June 2009, said.

“The fire behavior that we’re seeing, that people say surprises them, that is what we should expect,” Tidwell said. “I think we should no longer be surprised.”

Climate change, Tidwell said, is “one of the major drivers” in drying overgrown forests drying and make them susceptible to insect attack, with 17 million acres of pine forest across the interior West dead or dying due to bark beetles.

“In terms of fire fuel, we’re in a whole new era,” Tidwell said.

Serious wildfire years such as 2007, when more than 9 million acres burned nationwide, could soon be surpassed by seasons consuming 12 to 15 million acres, Tidwell said.

The danger is increased as more people move closer to fire-prone public land. Between 1990 and 2000, 28 million housing units were built within 30 miles of national forests, he said. Now nearly 70,000 communities across the country are deemed at risk from wildfire, Tidwell said.

Tidwell says forest restoration projects are crucial to thin overgrown forests and treat the landscape with prescribed fire.

Between 2001 — when Congress adopted the National Fire Plan — and 2008, nearly 30 million acres of federal land were treated to prevent fire. Tidwell said at that pace, it will take 35 years to treat the amount of terrain needed.

“It is essential we build support for the type of treatment that has to occur,” Tidwell said. …

As near as I can judge given the journalistic filter, Chief Tidwell mentioned restoration, fuels, preparedness, and the threat of increasingly severe fire seasons.

By restoration, he meant thinning overgrown forests and using prescribed fire (according to the journalist). Of course, restoration is much more complex than that, but it is good that Tidwell is on the right course. Restoration does involve active management. The word does not mean abandoning forests to the vagaries of nature.

Although there was the obligate genuflection to global warming now required of all bureaucrats, the real cause of our forest fire crisis is fuel build up. Forest fires burn in forests from the Amazon to Alaska, across every climate zone. Temperature is not the driver; fuel is. A one or two degree difference in temperature makes little difference, whereas the accumulated fuels of decades of untouched growth make a huge difference in the likelihood, intensity, and severity of fires.

This was the annual WUI Conference, so there had to be another genuflection to the imaginary wildland-urban interface (WUI). Again, the fire problem in all areas is driven by fuels. The presence of homes on non-government owned lands is nothing new.

Los Angeles has suffered very destructive fires in the past few years, but that is nothing new, either. The Los Angeles Basin has been inhabited by sedentary (in permanent villages) human beings for 3,000+ years and there has always been a fire problem. Ancient residency and ancient fire problems have been the conditions across much of the West. The homes are not the fuels — the biomass is. New homes do not add to the hazard; biomass growth and accumulation does. Previous cultures dealt with the biomass by using prescribed fire, what is termed “historical anthropogenic fire” based on “traditional ecological knowledge”. The modern culture (post 1880 or so) has failed to deal with the fuels in any similar or comprehensive manner.

There is no cultural/social mechanism whereby homes can (or should) be eliminated from private land. That’s a pipe dream of central planners who live on Mars. There is no chance that Los Angeles will be depopulated in order to relieve the fire hazard, which wouldn’t work anyway. Nor will it relieve the fire hazard to depopulate Idaho, Montana, or any other Western state. Bulldozing homes and driving people into the sea might the goal of some central planners, but that’s why we make those folks live on Mars.

My point is that homes are not the fire hazard in the WUI — fuel is. Banning residency on private land is not an option, but fuel management is. Absent fuel management, fires will burn intensely and severely, regardless of the number of homes. There are no homes on USFS land, but that has not prevented any fires. That’s because fuel is the driver, not homes.

The private land “within 30 miles of the USFS” is 99% of the private land in the West. It’s kind of silly to cite that statistic. Downtown LA is within 30 miles of the USFS. Where are people supposed to live, on Mars with the central planners? I suppose Chief Tidwell flung that statement out there, since the journalist reported that he did, but it is really is kind of a stupid thing to say. Maybe he could not say it in the future, so we don’t have to correct him on it anymore.

I am sure that Chief Tidwell personally has NEVER lived 30 miles or more away from Federal land in his entire life. If he would think about it for five minutes, I am sure he would realize that.

Back to the sensible points. Chief Tidwell noted that from 2001 to 2008 30 million acres were treated for fuels. That includes prescribed burning because less than 1 million acres per year have been treated with mechanical thinning. Prescribed burning without mechanical thinning is pretty destructive. It is not the ideal treatment.

It is better to prepare forests to receive fire than to torch off dense stands and see what happens. Generally what happens in untreated stands set on fire is total tree mortality and poor fuel consumption, so that often there is more dead, dry fuels after the fire than before. What is needed is mechanical thinning and fuel manipulation or disposal prior to the prescribed fires.

Chief Tidwell noted that over 100 million acres need such treatments (do the math). If 2 or 3 million acres a year are all that get treated, it will take 35 to 40 years to treat just those acres that need it today. And considering that he predicted 12 to 15 million acres a year are going to burn in wildfires, the 100+ million acres needing treatment will be all burned up in 10 years, long before most of those acres can be saved.

It’s a real problem, one we have been been blogging about for many years now. Blogging hasn’t been much help so far. During the just last five years wildfires have consumed 40 million acres.

Chief Tidwell is correct that a much more significant effort is needed. We need to treat 10 million acres a year just to break even with the wildfires — to save half of what is left of our forests.

He said, “It is essential we build support for the type of treatment that has to occur.”

I hear you on that, Chief. I am all over that. Building support for the kind of treatments that are necessary is exactly what we have been trying to do for the last five years. While others have been promoting Let It Burn, we have been dedicated and unwavering in our support for restoration forestry on a landscape scale.

Welcome to our movement, Chief Tidwell. We are very, very glad to have you aboard!

31 Mar 2010, 9:31am
by Mike

For some supplemental reading we suggest:

General Holocaust, Part 2: Whooie Kablooey, December 7th, 2006 [here]

We have encountered the 30-mile Death Zone propaganda before. It’s hard to fathom why the the USFS wants everyone to believe that their management so bad, so inept, so incompetent that everybody who lives within 30 miles of USFS is at risk from their holocausts.

“We will kill anybody who comes within 30 miles of a National Forest!”

“Our management is akin to the atom bomb that landed on Hiroshima.”

“We spread death and destruction for 30 miles into the community, so be prepared for our disasters. catastrophes, and destruction, coming to your neighborhood next summer!”

To my way of thinking, this is a very poor PR message to send out. Does the USFS really want the local population to fear them? Are we really at risk from their firestorms? Do they wish to kill me and my family out of malice, or is just that they have lost control utterly and completely?

“Run for your lives. It’s the Forest Service!”

“Bulldoze your town today, because the Forest Service is going to burn it to the ground like Nazi storm troopers on a blitzkrieg!”

Maybe that message resonates with the International Fire Chiefs. I can imagine them leaping to their feet and cheering wildly when they heard speakers pounding the podium and shouting “We vill burn you!! We vill burn you!!” and then weeping for joy at the prospect. But maybe that didn’t happen.

Thirty miles. Anybody within 30 miles of Federal land is now at risk. We are also despised second-class citizens for daring to live within 30 miles of the USFS. The Feds might as well nuke Portland, Seattle, Boise, Salt Lake, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and every other major city in the West, because they are ALL WITHIN 30 MILES OF USFS LAND. Napalm the cities today for their unpatriotic habit of existing within 30 miles of the Federal estate.

Or, here’s a thought, privatize the National Forests and get them under some kind of rational, responsible management so that they do not constitute a danger to all living things within 30 miles. Throw the crazy Feds out. They have gone bonkers, pounding podiums and weeping for joy at the prospect of killing millions in holocausts. We can’t have that!

Please hand over the car keys. We can’t let you drive anymore. You are a danger to all when you’re behind the wheel.

Privatize the Federal Estate immediately. They are crying for help. They can’t stop themselves from mass murder. Your life depends on it, if you live within 30 miles of the USFS.

31 Mar 2010, 10:07am
by bear bait

But you forget to mention the other part of this insanity, and that is the never ending, constant “plant a tree” mantra of climate change troops. Plant a tree and mediate climate change. More trees means more carbon sequestered. Plant a tree!! ” We plant a tree for everyone who starts an account with us.” Better they have a toaster. Too many trees is the problem, not the solution, and yet we have a daily ad from Oregon Forest Resources folks extolling their virtues, and how many trees they plant for every one harvested. Oregon law requires over planting by statute, post harvest.

My point: no central planning. There is no unified goal or approach. All land management agencies, local, state and federal, vie for the same dollar to bolster their bureaucracy. It just so happens the USFS budget is 60% fire and 40% all other. They have a budget direction to fight fire. We will have fire just to justify the budget and expenses.

31 Mar 2010, 10:58am
by Larry H.

To be truthful, some National Forests, like the San Bernardino, proudly display the fact that they don’t have a Let-Burn program. Of course, the Forest Service doesn’t call them that but, I’d bet that all Forests have some sort of “Appropriate Management Response” policy in some areas. While most eco-groups think that a 2 mile buffer for human habitation is good enough, we’ve all seen fires travel that far in just a few hours. Others prefer a 6 mile buffer, and that has proven to be grossly inadequate, as well. The Biscuit Fire started WAY out there and eventually burned into the private lands in the Illinois Valley, where eco’s whined about backfires set in the big timber.

Public safety is an important issue and you can’t blame all homeowners for living on their land. I’m betting that when expensive homes in Tahoe, Aspen and Sun Valley burn, we might see a change in fire policy. Alas, we haven’t seen any changes from the Jesusita Fire, which burned a great many pricey homes. Ditto for the Station Fire, whose inevitability was grossly ignored.

31 Mar 2010, 5:46pm
by Mike

Speaking of the Jesusita fire, are you aware of the associated lawsuit to ban fire retardant?

Fire Retardant Air Drops Under Fire

by Curt Varone, Fire Law, 12/22/2009 [here]

An interesting case is brewing in California over the use of aircraft deployed fire retardant. It seems some steelhead trout were killed in the Jesusita Fire in May, 2009, and the culprit is alleged to be the fire retardant.

What is unusual about the story isn’t that some fringe environmental group is upset about something that seems pretty reasonable to most people. That’s not news. What is unusual is who is complaining: an environmental group of Forest Service employees, known as Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE).

The Forest Service is one of the largest firefighting forces in the world, with a hard-nosed tradition that can match that of any structure fire department. So it’s rather shocking to learn that FSEEE filed notice on December 16, 2009 to sue the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA, codified in 7 U.S.C. § 136 and 16 U.S.C. § 1531). Apparently steelhead trout are endangered.

The Jesusita Fire burned 8700 acres and destroyed 80 homes in Santa Barbara County. Not too surprisingly, there’s some pretty nasty comments being made about the suit in the Santa Barbara press. Take a look at a few of the citizen’s posts at the end of this story in the Santa Barbara Independent [here]. … [more]

2 Apr 2010, 11:18am
by Ned P.

Chief Tidwell has a terrible problem. Even if he should decide to manage the fuel loads that have built up from over 50 years of effective fire control and over 20 years of lost active forest management, the Chief would not have the expertise, funds, industry, and ability to do so. It would take at least twenty years to restore the expertise, industry and ability the agency started to lose about 1985. And the environmental industry that controls the agency now considers wildfire the main “restoration” tool.

2 Apr 2010, 12:13pm
by Mike


Let me add the Chief Tidwell also needs Congress and the President to provide leadership and support to address all the problems you listed. Right now there is not only a vacuum of leadership there, but Congress and the Prez are pushing in the wrong direction.

3 Jun 2010, 9:46pm
by Scott

Apparently the parents of Tom Tidwell never told him it wasn’t nice to play with fire or he’d burn the whole house down. Didn’t they watch Smokey the Bear somewhere in their “how to be a government beauracrat” training? You know, the poor bear who “bear-ly” survived a fire, and became an icon for putting out forest fires? I loved Smokey, I wish he was still around for putting out some fires! Maybe we should make all the heads of the USFS sit down and watch every Smokey Bear video ever made!!

3 Jun 2010, 10:26pm
by Mike

The USFS has a love-hate relationship with Smokey Bear (no “the”). The sophisticates want to kill Smokey, shoot him dead, and replace him with Hooty Owl. The pragmatics point out that Smokey has been their link with the mass consciousness for generations.

So Smokey gets funded. He’s on TV all the time in ads that somebody is paying for. Guess who?

I saw another ad on TV the other day touting the Arbor Foundation. They were begging for donations to replant the Federal forests incinerated in Federal megafires. As if children should dip into their allowances and send their pennies to the Arbor Foundation to fix the damages inflicted by Federal policy on public lands!

We all know whose responsibility that ought to be — the government’s! Here’s a news flash: they don’t replant! The USFS burns the public forests on purpose and leaves the snags to rot and hillsides to grow brush. They are “reintroducing” fire, “recycling” America’s forests, converting forests to tick brush. Deliberately. It is their new mission. No Touch, Let It Burn, Watch It Rot. Purposefully, intentionally, with malice aforethought. The Arbor Foundation doesn’t reforest the millions of acres incinerated every year, either. Who are they kidding?

The disconnect between the imagery in the ads and the reality on the ground is vast. Worlds apart. The public is being fed a mendacious, cynical line of bull sh*t by a government agency and their NGO “partners”. But what’s new about that?



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