28 Jun 2010, 9:40am
Monkeywrenching forests The 2010 Fire Season
by admin

Sabotaging Flagstaff’s Forests

The Schultz Fire [here] is winding down. Today the Southwest Type 1 Incident Management Team will be transferring fire management to the Coconino National Forest. To date 15,075 acres have burned north of Flagstaff, AZ. No homes were destroyed. The fire is trailed on 65 percent of the perimeter and is no longer growing. To date $7 million has been spent on fire suppression.

We have discussed the Schultz Fire previously [here, here]. We noted:

The Schultz Fire outside of Flagstaff has been predicted for 30 years. Dr. Wally Covington, his Ecological Restoration Institute at NAU, the City of Flagstaff, and community groups like the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership have all pushed and pushed for fuel treatments and restoration. Everyone with half a brain recognized that a-historical fuel loadings have accumulated in a wind tunnel/venturi between the mountain peaks, and the accelerated winds are aimed directly at Flagstaff. The ongoing efforts and pleadings by ERI, GFFP, foresters and others to reduce the hazards through restoration have been thwarted again and again by radical anti-stewardship groups…

The Flagstaff paper, the Arizona Daily Sun, published an interesting article yesterday that lays the blame at the feet of the Center for Biological Diversity [here], the multi-million dollar, super-litigious, anti-forest, pro-holocaust “activist” group headquartered in Tucson.

Why wasn’t Schultz Pass thinned?

by CYNDY COLE, AZ Daily Sun, June 27, 2010 [here]

… The same area where the Schultz fire ignited and began burning heavily was due to be thinned three years ago, from Schultz Pass to the forest west of Timberline.

But after an appeal from an environmental group delayed the project, the economy went into a tailspin, closing the window on starting the project.

A similar project on the west side of the Peaks on Hart Prairie also has been appealed and will be delayed.

The idea at Schultz Pass was to protect residents living near the Coconino National Forest from wildfires by thinning and starting low-intensity prescribed burns across a total of 9,660 acres.

The Center for Biological Diversity appealed the project planned for Schultz Pass in 2007.

“It would have left fewer large trees and less canopy for wildlife than is called for in the forest plan,” wrote Taylor McKinnon, who works on public lands for the Center for Biological Diversity. …

This past week, the Coconino National Forest proposed another thinning and logging project on 9,800 acres of Hart Prairie to reduce fire danger, among a couple others to come.

More complex than any other project on the forest so far, the Hart Prairie project is also aimed at keeping dying aspen alive by a variety of sometimes experimental activities, including falling logs crosswise, fencing off ponds that elk drink from, and reducing the number of aspen-munching elk by asking Game and Fish to allow more hunting.

The Center for Biological Diversity appealed the project…

28 Jun 2010, 2:31pm
by Larry H.

Additional costs for the Schultz Fire include reimbursements for evacuation costs and home smoke damage, amongst others.


28 Jun 2010, 5:02pm
by Derek W.

This is great, actually. It is an omen of a future filled with radical enviro groups “getting the blame”. No one is blaming the USFS, no one is blaming the Logger. The CBD is the establishment now. They’ve become the “man”. They have become the “controlling authority” on our national forests. They are the new status quo and responsible party.

It’s also a great example of moderate enviros being thwarted by the radicals. These episodes will only strip away the support and intensify the frustration of the moderate enviros. So called “green senators” are elected by moderates and not wingnut radicals. Soon the moderates will be calling for reform of NEPA.

The Greater Flagstaff Partnership bills itself as a “group of environmentalists and business people” (they don’t even mention loggers, since there are none left). Last year the Coconino NF thinned a measly 1,500 acres [out of 1,821,495 acres total] — my forest thinned 25,000 acres. It’s pretty sad when the only infrastructure they have left is a pallet mill.

Thirdly, it will probably be a good example for the local public to see the efficacy of fuels treatments. I do believe some of the burn had recent thinnings. The trouble is the “media” has a hard time “seeing the fuels treatment for the green trees”. I’ve seen reporters erroneously report the “green islands” of unburned regenerated clearcuts as a “natural mosaic”.

Fourthly, I could have swore the CBD signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” not to oppose thinning 25,000 acres per year in support of a proposed OSB mill. I guess that’s not worth the paper it’s printed on. The moderates can look towards a future of more fires, followed by more public demand to log to mitigate fire hazard, followed by more public frustration because there’s no infrastructure to do it. Ther’s not a banker in the world who will loan money to a sawmill dependent on USFS timber. Only exempting NEPA will do that. Some day Sen. Bingaman will be leading that charge-along with Udall, Tester, and Feinstein. It’s inevitable.

28 Jun 2010, 10:07pm
by Jonas H

It’s interesting that the original post didn’t include a link to the whole AZ Daily Sun article, which made very clear that the thinning project ultimately was delayed by the economic downturn, not by the appeal.

The Forest Service funds thinning projects-which tend to require removal of small-diameter, non-merchantable logs-by selling off big, live trees. If there’s no market for that timber, there’s no thinning project. Of course, the “no government” types would probably scream bloody murder if the government tried to pay for fuel treatments with plain old tax dollars.

Here’s some of what the original post left out (quoting from that same AZ Daily Sun article):

Timber from the thinning project “was not offered for sale last year because when we contacted timber purchasers they all stated that they were not interested in bidding on any sales due to depressed timber value,” Peaks District Ranger Mike Elson wrote in an e-mail.

All but one of the local timber projects offered for sale have not sold.


A local logger, Allen Ribelin of High Desert Investments, agrees with Elson’s assessment.

He said prices are low, the timber market is difficult, and there are only so many loggers left in this area.

A maker of shipping pallets, which can use local small-diameter trees, also recently closed its Ash Fork mill.

The only other option, intertwined with some legal difficulties and much higher costs, would be for the Forest Service to pay someone to do thinning on the Coconino National Forest.

That hasn’t been a viable option financially, but it is thought that the Schultz project will sell when prices rebound.

29 Jun 2010, 12:29am
by Mike

The economic argument does not hold water, in that the Appeal in question occurred in 2007 before the Great Recession. Moreover, the calls for restoration of the forests around Flagstaff date back to the 1970’s. The GFFP was formed in 1998 in response to what by then was a well-recognized problem, the existing fire hazard, and a well-recognized solution, forest restoration.

While the utilization question has dogged all along, it has also been long recognized that the costs of not treating forests, i.e. catastrophic fires, far outweigh the costs of treatment, even when product markets are non-existent. That is, it is cheaper to pile and burn the thinnings without marketing them at all than to bear the costs of the pending (now actualized) disaster.

But all along, from the 1970’s until today, a persistent class of self-described “environmental activists” have obstructed. The CBD is not the first, although they might be the most recent and the best funded, primarily through EAJA handouts.

In the 1990’s, before the GFFP was even formed, the so-called timber industry in Northern Arizona had already all but disappeared. But the litigation industry was healthy and has grown in leaps and bounds since then.

The article notes:

The only other option, intertwined with some legal difficulties and much higher costs, would be for the Forest Service to pay someone to do thinning on the Coconino National Forest.

That has been true since the 1990’s. There is no way scrub pine at 1,500 stems per acre, not a single one of sawlog size, could possibly recover the costs of removal. That is not really the problem, however, since the funding has been available to pay for the treatments. The problem has been incessant whining about “below-cost” sales, “profiteering” off public lands, and various other complaints produced by the obstructionists. The “legal difficulties” mentioned are the appeals and lawsuits brought by anti-treatment groups.

The cries of “it’s not our fault” fall on deaf ears around here, because we know the real history. So do the GFFP and the community leaders of Flagstaff.

29 Jun 2010, 10:31am
by Bob Zybach

Another problem with the “no bid” timber sales is that they are often put together by people with little or no practical experience in doing such things.

The lack of mills and loggers is joined with a lack of experienced foresters. Even in tines of economic downturns it is usually possible to make viable sales, if they are put together in a reasonable way.

The so-called “eastside screens” here in Oregon are an excellent example of poorly designed sales which find few or no purchasers. They are not much more than what we used to call “precommercial thinning” (because they cost money to do them), and they are/were more in line with producing future timber crops than anything else.

If we are going to design profitable sales that can truly reduce wildfire risk, preserve old-growth trees, and enhance wildlife habitat and populations, then we need to have professional foresters put them together — and perhaps with the advice and assistance of skilled loggers and sawmill managers.

Enviros have no more business being involved in thinning sales than they do in brain surgery discussions, airplane maintenance scheduling, or highway engineering projects. They simply do not have the experience, training, or ability to perform these types of tasks and should not be involved as a result. Otherwise, as we keep finding out, failure follows.

30 Jun 2010, 8:19am
by bear bait

Dr. Zybach: The USFS COLLECTED money from prior timber sales to pre-commercial thin. When purchasers bought a timber sale, they paid for the stumpage. Based on the USFS volume estimate, purchasers paid to a price per thousand board feet to prepare the site and plant it (known as the Knutson-Vandenberg dedicated fund), and paid to maintain the roads and replace the rock.

The monies collected from purchasers were paid into a “slash fund” to cover slash burning and pre-commercial thinning, and those payments were a set amount based on the acres logged by the contract. When those per acre fees grew to a number that was more than total price per acre for comparable land with 20 year old timber was selling for on the private side, I questioned why we had to buy the land again as a part of the timber sale. I was told they had to have the money to pre-commercial thin and defend the land against bugs and fire by proactive means, all of which needed funding.

In other words, the timber purchasers paid in advance for management that was never done. The timber purchasers paid for a lie. And, to make matters worse, in the cost/share deal with the counties, all of those extra costs to the purchaser came off their appraisal for the stumpage. The purchaser reduced their bid amounts by those added costs in the contract. In so doing, the revenue decreased for the county in which the timber was logged.

The USFS used the process to bypass the county share and keep the funds in the USFS coffers, and then never spent the money to do what they said they were collecting if for. That’s called bait-and-switch. That money just got pissed away over time by Congressional inattention and Federal budget shorting of the USFS to do its designated job. A non-caring Congress screwed its constituents, who in this campaign season ought to realize that, ought to be reminded that some of us citizens do keep track of congressional actions and the shorting of local needs. Voters need to hold Congress’ Gucci clad feet to the fire.

And while I am at it, I will again remind folks connected to Flagstaff and the fire that W.I.S.E. has the downloadable “one pager” format fire economic loss reporting form [here], which when filed becomes a part of the record. Any individual’s or group’s claim for loss recorded on that short form will become a part of the record for that fire. When the Feds publish their estimate of damage, you will be able to compare what your experience was, your neighbor’s experience, or your community’s experience and estimate of damage was with what the Feds claim. Then and only then will the people be represented in the estimates of societal damage from the fire, beyond the cost of fighting the fire. All the expenses of moving in and out of homes, living elsewhere for a time, the cost to home budgets and use of fuels, the diversion of work time to safety time, all that can be reported. Health issues from smoke, from stress. A loss of opportunity and a favorite place. The “one pager” WISE short form is a way to record those damages for posterity and to create a record to show a congressman or a state representative. If you don’t protect yourself, fight to have the record correct, then who will? The USFS sure as hell won’t.

1 Jul 2010, 6:25am
by Just Another



Until there is a change in the Forest Plan or industry finds an efficient way to utilize small wood, the Coconino is going to have a tough time paying for any of these treatments. Any treatment that does shake out economically probably has a bunch of hidden costs that aren’t being reported or are tucked into other projects. Take a look at some of the White Mountain Stewardship costs on a per acre basis. Some of those treatments included all the associated work such necessary road improvements, precommercial thinning, …

Since I would doubt that their Forest Plan is going to start allowing for overstory removals and high-grading I’d guess we’re going to have to rely on utilization of small wood. Until R&D can figure a way to efficiently turn large quantities of small wood into value added product, it’s not going to pay for itself.

Fire in the interior west just is, even if they had thinned it, it still burns, and if we go back to 1910 and the fire crusade mentality again, it seems like we are attempting to repeat history. Isn’t there a quote about trying the same thing over again and expecting different results can be defined as insanity?


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