12 Oct 2009, 11:25am
Forestry education
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Professor Honored for Outstanding Contributions to California Forestry

Press Release, California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, October 2, 2009 [here]

The California State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection presented the Francis H. Raymond Award for Outstanding Contributions to California Forestry to Dr. William Libby on October 7, 2009.

Dr. Libby is Professor Emeritus of Forest Genetics, having taught forestry at the College of Natural Resources in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management between 1962 and 1994. His pioneering work in the field of forest tree genetics is internationally recognized and respected. Dr. Libby has practiced forestry on several continents and is well known for his work with California’s coast redwood and Monterey pine trees.

Though he officially retired in 1994, Dr. Libby has continued to educate and enlighten across the borders of country and perspective. He currently sits on the Board of the Save the Redwoods League with a focus on promoting research on redwood forest disturbance effects and the impacts of climate change on California’s coast redwood and giant sequoia forests. Dr. Libby’s observations on state and national forest policy are reflective of his insight and intellectual curiosity. His dedication in service to the forests of California and elsewhere is inspirational.

“Dr. Libby’s contributions to decades of forestry students and fellow researchers cannot be
measured,” said George Gentry, executive officer for the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The award is named for Francis H. Raymond who was the Director of the California Department
of Forestry and Fire Protection from 1953 to 1970. Mr. Raymond was one of the primary
advocates for the passage of the Professional Foresters Law in 1973. Since 1987 it has been
awarded to a group or individual who has achieved excellence in forestry in California.

Bureaucratic Job Security

Note: this brief comment from an anonymous correspondent (let’s call him Foo Furb) pertains to the “proposed goals” of a useless Oregon bureaucracy, but it could apply to almost any government program or agency.

by Foo Furb

I have read the 5 “Plan Goals” on the website and the instructions for responding, but could not bring myself to spend any more time on this document. The tip of the iceberg was warning enough.

Here are my comments:

Goal 1: To “restore” a “resilient ecosystem” is a political statement, not a scientific statement. Who measured the “resiliency” in the first place? Who decided it wasn’t good enough? How did they do it? My concern is that “plans” need measurable objectives, and this is such a vague phrase as to be meaningless. Money will be spent on political posturing and favoritism, rather than actual meaningful employment. Same with “ecosystem functions.” Everybody acts like they know what that means, but biologically it is meaningless. At best, this phrase smacks of pseudo science. To assign “functions” to an ecosystem is to give it human meaning, but it is not a human or a human construct. What is there to measure? Who decides what it’s “functions” are supposed to be, whether they’ve actually been degraded, and when “restoration” has been achieved? Politicians. No one else is qualified or has the time.

Goal 1 is full of meaningless phrases which may may not be achievable, depending upon who decides to fund what programs catering to these phrases.

Goal 2. What the heck is a “high capacity local infrastructure?” I don’t know, either. Watershed “restoration” is probably talking about some kind of “functions,” rather than restoration to an actual condition that can be documented and measured, and “conservation” is probably not talking about the wise use of resources. Who knows? These terms have been misused and abused by politicians and ivory tower theorists so much in the past 15 years as to lose virtually all meaning. How to make a “plan” to achieve vague theoretical terms? And why? “Job security” is the only answer that readily comes to mind. Can’t be done, so will never be finished.

Goal 3: Would have been good to stop after “providing information to Oregonians.” Maybe if we had more information, we wouldn’t see a “need.” And what the heck is a “healthy” watershed, and why could it possible need my “support?” These are political calls for consensus and action, needing a community organizer, not a scientist or a results-oriented worker.

Goal 4: Would have been good to stop after “build strong partnerships.” The phrase “for watershed health” sounds like a lot of meaningless meetings and memos and workshops just trying to figure out what “health” means. One more excuse for bureaucrats to get together to “conduct business” that goes nowhere, but costs money.

Goal 5: Yes. With the hope that any “investments” into the first 4 goals would be looked at with extreme caution.

The “goal” of the original GWEB was to “restore” fish runs. Fish can be counted. The runs have apparently increased since then; whether through changed ocean conditions, altered fishing quotas, OWEB activities, or some combination thereof is not known. OWEB is now openly fishing for a rationale to continue its existence. The bait looks a lot more like artificial plastic than actual substance. This document is almost entirely politics, full of meaningless phrases, “outreach” and consensus building. It is the design for a bureaucracy with an unlimited budgetary need, a perpetually unfinished “mission,” and no possible way to be held accountable.

I won’t bother to comment on the “spirit” of the “core purpose,” because the goals make it clear that the primary purpose of OWEB at this point is to create and maintain a perpetual bureaucracy that postures as representing the public “good” and is “working” toward a more “healthy” environment, but will (and can) do nothing of the sort because those are political goals, and not goals that can be achieved in an environmental setting.

The objective seems to be justification for future meetings that maintain the jobs of the current employees of OWEB. If that is truly the “core purpose” of OWEB at this time in its existence, then that “spirit” is reflected in these goals. Politics and bureaucrats.

The Roots of Our Forest Health Crisis

The latest addition to the W.I.S.E. Colloquium Forest and Fires Sciences is The Forest Health Crisis: How Did We Get In This Mess? by Charles E. Kay. 2009. Mule Deer Foundation Magazine No.26:14-21 [here].

Dr. Charles E. Kay, Ph.D. Wildlife Ecology, Utah State University, is the author/editor of Wilderness and Political Ecology: Aboriginal Influences and the Original State of Nature [here], author of Are Lightning Fires Unnatural? A Comparison of Aboriginal and Lightning Ignition Rates in the United States [here], co-author of Native American influences on the development of forest ecosystems [here], and numerous other scientific papers.

In this essay, written for a general audience, Dr. Kay recognizes that our forests are in crisis from fire, insects, and disease. He explains that the common cause is too many trees! — which may be surprising to some but is well-known to most forest experts.

Today’s overstocked forests are a-historical; in the past* forests were open and park-like, maintained in that condition by frequent, seasonal, light-burning ground fires. Dr. Kay explains that most of those fires were anthropogenic (human-set).

* By the “past” I mean the entire Holocene and the tail end of the Pleistocene, before which there were very few forests in North America. Instead there was mostly ice or tundra, going back 100,000 years or so.

(Extra: Between 110,000 and 100,000 years ago there was another interglacial, the Eemian. Little is known about the forests of that warm interlude in the Ice Ages. The Ice Ages go back 2.5 million years. For roughly 90 percent of that time, North American forests have been mostly non-existent.)

(Extra Extra: the Ice Ages aren’t over. We passed the peak temperatures about 10,000 years ago. The Earth is headed, inexorably, for another glaciation.)

Human beings arrived in North America at least 13,000 years ago, before the climate had completely shifted and before the great migration northward of plants and animals. Hence humanity preceded most North American forests. Humanity brought fire with them, as well as 150,000 years of practice in how to make and use it. Holocene forests developed under the influence of landscape-scale, human-set fire. Dr. Kay explains that human-set fires, whether intentional of accidental, outnumbered lighting fires by many orders of magnitude.

The forests that arose under the influence of anthropogenic fire were open and park-like, with few trees per acre. Individual trees grew to phenomenal ages; old-growth development pathways were human-induced via frequent burning.

In the absence (over the last 150 years) of frequent, seasonal, anthropogenic fire, rapid “in-growth” has occurred. Thickets of new trees have seeded into the formerly open stands. The increase in tree density has fueled the crisis in forest health. Forests in the past (see * above) were healthier. By healthier I mean less prone to catastrophic fire, insect infestations, and disease epidemics. Today old-growth as well as young-growth trees are rapidly dying from all three factors. Forests are being converted to brushfields.

Restoration forestry does not seek to replicate the past but to learn from it. One lesson of history is that open and park-like forests are healthier. Another is that human stewardship via serious thinning, fuel removal, and subsequent frequent, seasonal, prescribed fire is required to abate our forest health crisis.

The first few paragraphs and some excellent forest photos (click for larger images) from Dr. Kay’s essay are appended below. W.I.S.E. invites you read the entire essay [here]. It is all that and much more.

From The Forest Health Crisis: How Did We Get In This Mess? by Charles E. Kay. 2009. Mule Deer Foundation Magazine No.26:14-21.

THE WEST is ablaze! Every summer large-scale, high-intensity crown fires tear through our public lands at ever increasing and unheard of rates. Our forests are also under attack by insects and disease. According to the national media and environmental groups, climate change is the villain in the present Forest Health Crisis and increasing temperatures, lack of moisture, and abnormally high winds are to blame. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Sahara Desert, for instance, is hot, dry, and the wind blows, but the Sahara does not burn. Why? Because there are no fuels. Without fuel there is no fire. Period, end of story, and without thick forests there are no high-intensity crown fires. Might not the real problem then be that we have too many trees and too much fuel in our forests? The Canadians, for instance, have forest problems similar to ours but they do not call it a “Forest Health Crisis,” instead they call it a Forest Ingrowth Problem. The Canadians have correctly identified the issue, while we in the States have not. That is to say, the problem is too many trees and gross mismanagement by land management agencies, as well as outdated views of what is natural.

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6 Oct 2009, 9:10pm
Saving Forests
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Tending Fires

By Roger Underwood

(First published in The Forester Volume 52(2) 2009. The Forester is the newsletter of the Institute of Foresters of Australia.)

IN THE WAKE of the 2009 Victorian fires there have been the usual claims by the Canberra intelligentsia that fuel reduction by prescribed burning is valueless as a bushfire mitigation measure. The assertion is that bushfires result from high temperatures and drought, and that heavy fuels are not a factor.

I am nonplussed by these views, because they fly in the face of simple physics, of fire behaviour research and of the personal observations of firefighters. These all confirm that when a bushfire burns out of an area of heavy fuel into one of light fuel (for example an area burned only two years previously) the fire intensity drops, the crown fire becomes a ground fire, flame height and flame length decrease and heat output falls.

There are qualifications. Although the benefits of fuel reduction can last for 15 years, the most effective areas are those where fuels are 2-3 years old or less. Fuel reduced areas need to be of sufficient size and depth, or a fire will go over the top, or burn around them. And in a situation where a fire has developed such intensity as to generate its own wind, it will throw spotfires miles ahead, resulting in a situation where many fires coalesce into one fire. Nevertheless, the general rule always applies: fires burn less intensely and spread more slowly in bushland with light fuels compared to those with heavy fuels, other things being equal.

Why is this principle denied, or so misunderstood or seriously misrepresented? How is it possible for educated and intelligent people to believe, and keep saying, that fuel reduction makes no difference, denying both science and real-world observation?

One explanation is that they argue from a false premise. This is the oft-heard assertion that “there is no evidence that fuel reduction burning prevents bushfires”. Of course it does not, and no-one claims that it does. Forests subjected to fuel reduction programs will burn again, a fact recognised by the necessity for burning cycles, quite apart from simple observation. The proposition that “fuel reduction does not prevent bushfires and is therefore useless” is classical crooked thinking, and cannot be debated since it is true. What fuel reduction does is to make fires easier and safer to control, and ensures they do less damage – both to the environment and to human values.

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6 Oct 2009, 5:15pm
Forestry education
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What Is the Proper Place of Fire Science?

In a new essay proudly posted with permission at W.I.S.E, Dr. Stephen J. Pyne of ASU, World’s Foremost Authority on Fire, asks this question: What is the proper place of fire science, and other sciences, in dealing with real world problems with cultural origins and implications?

The essay is The Wildland/Science Interface by Stephen J. Pyne (full text [here] or selected excerpts at the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here]).

The real world problems under scrutiny in Dr. Pyne’s essay are the hazards imposed by Sky Island forests (chiefly wildfire) on the astronomical observatories located there, or conversely, the hazards (multiple biological impairments including fires) imposed by the observatories on the forests.

Four Sky Island peaks host observatory complexes as well as isolated forests with endangered species. The political battles over scopes vs. squirrels have been surfeit with favor as special interests have engaged in decades of funding frenzy. In the end, however, the big dog hogged most of the gravy:

One science, astronomy, and a nominally science-supporting institution, the UofA, turned to politics to overturn the claims of another science and its non-governmental auxiliary. The winner was the more powerful: Astronomy meant Big Science. Conservation biology only acquired a name in 1978. Deep sky met deep biology, and sky won. …

But nothing has been done about the wildfire hazard, and wildfires have threatened all the observatory complexes, and continue to do so year after year.

Pyne’s observation is that neither Branch of Science, astronomy or fire science (pyrology?), despite the $billions spent on those sciences, has been able to ameliorate the problem, and in fact have arguably made the wildfire problem worse.

The critics of fire suppression often point to graphs of increasing expenditures and swelling acres burned to make a case that more money fighting fire doesn’t reduce either costs or burned area (Figure 1). … [T]he rising expenditures are just as likely to be the cause of increased burning. The more we spend, the less control we get. A fire suppression-industrial complex is pushing up costs without regard to results on the ground.

This same logic can be applied to fire science. … An objective measure of applied fire science – analyzing science as science would natural phenomena – would probably show mixed results much like that from fire suppression. The more we spend, the fewer practical outcomes we get. A fire research-industrial complex is pushing up costs without regard to results on the ground. …

For all practical purposes, both astronomy and fire science (and Science in general) have failed.

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Eightmile Creek Fire Indictments?

The revelation that the Boise NF is deliberately lighting unauthorized, unplanned, illegal, essentially arson fires [here] in the middle of summer is more than troubling.

In their urgency to “reintroduce” fire, agency functionaries capriciously broke the law, endangered the public as well as agency firefighters, destroyed forests, polluted water and air, killed wildlife, and left behind a wasteland where once stood a forest.

The alleged “backfire” set on the Eightmile Creek Fire was nowhere near the lightning-ignited fire. The “backfire” was deliberately set to burn additional acreage that the original fire was never going to burn (it had already settled down and stopped growing).

The “backfire” tripled the size of the Eightmile Creek Fire, a so-called “fire used for resource benefit.” The only benefit the Boise NF came up with was “diversify forest continuity,” ecobabble nonsense for fragmenting the forest with moonscape burns.

“Our objective with natural ignited fires in designated forest areas is to evaluate them for the benefits we hope to achieve, which in this case is to diversify forest continuity, modify heavy fuel conditions, and provide different wildlife habitats,” said Cecilia Seesholtz, Boise Forest Supervisor. “About 23 percent of the Forest is approved for resource benefit fire management, and with each new lightning caused wildfire we evaluate social, economic and resource factors.” … [here]

The “objectives” of the Boise NF notwithstanding, the Laws of the Nation must be obeyed. A slew of federal laws require environmental impact statements, studies, consultations, public involvement, public comment, reviews, official decisions, appeals, and other procedures BEFORE any government agency undertakes actions that will significantly affect the environment.

USFS statements to the effect that wildfires are let burn without suppression expressly and categorically “for resource benefit” are frank admissions that those fires will have significant impact and effects on resources, in the estimation of the USFS as well as others. NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) is clear and concise about it: significant effects require an EIS, whether or not those effects are characterized as detrimental or beneficial:

“Significantly” as used in NEPA requires considerations of both context and intensity:

(a) Context. This means that the significance of an action must be analyzed in several contexts such as society as a whole (human, national), the affected region, the affected interests, and the locality. Significance varies with the setting of the proposed action. For instance, in the case of a site-specific action, significance would usually depend upon the effects in the locale rather than in the world as a whole. Both short- and long-term effects are relevant.

(b) Intensity. This refers to the severity of impact. Responsible officials must bear in mind that more than one agency may make decisions about partial aspects of a major action. The following should be considered in evaluating intensity:

Impacts that may be both beneficial and adverse. A significant effect may exist even if the Federal agency believes that on balance the effect will be beneficial.

From Sec. 1508.27, the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), sec. 309 of the Clean Air Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 7609), and E.O. 11514 (Mar. 5, 1970, as amended by E.O. 11991, May 24, 1977). Source: 43 FR 56003, Nov. 29, 1978, unless otherwise noted.

The abrogation of NEPA by allowing lightning-ignited fires to burn unchecked is one thing, but without a doubt the matter is pushed over the line into deliberate criminality when USFS personnel set the Let It Burn fires without notice, due procedure, or even disclosure.

The deliberate incineration of Eightmile Creek was a USFS secret. The individuals involved knew they were breaking the law and kept the truth under wraps — until revealed by SOS Forests [here].

The Boise NF undertook a major Federal action that

* negatively affected public health and safety;

* impacted the unique characteristics of the geographic area including natural, historic, and cultural resources and ecologically critical areas, including but not limited to threatened and endangered flora and fauna, historical/cultural values, water quality, air quality, climate change, public recreation, public scenery, and local, state, and national economies;

* resulting in highly controversial effects on the quality of the human environment;

* involving highly uncertain, unique, and unknown risks to the human environment;

* was an attempt to establish a precedent for future actions with significant effects and represents a decision in principle about a future consideration;

* was related to other actions with cumulatively significant impacts;

* adversely affected districts, sites, highways, structures, and objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and caused loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural, and historical resources;

* adversely affected endangered and threatened species and their habitats that have been determined to be critical under the Endangered Species Act of 1973; and

* violated Federal, State, and local law and requirements imposed for the protection of the environment.

Institutional arson is still arson.

This matter is serious and has national import. We request that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho, or if they are unwilling, the State of Idaho Office of Attorney General, or both, mount a full investigation of the Eightmile Fire and actions taken on that fire by the US Forest Service. We further request that all findings be presented to the public in an open and transparent manner, and if criminality has occurred, that the alleged perpetrators be indicted and prosecuted.

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.

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Let It Burn Fires Blow Up All Over

Across the West wildfires that have been deliberately left uncontained have blow up out of control, drawing angry criticism of the US Forest Service from residents impacted by months of smoke and now onrushing flames.

The USFS designated over 100 fires ignited last summer as Let It Burn fires, allowed to flame and smolder for months until perennial fall winds whipped them into firestorms.

Let It Burn fires that have blown up in recent days include the Kootenai Creek Fire [here], Lily Lake Fire [here], Abby Fire [here], Lawrence Mountain Fire [here], Bielenburg Fire [here], Ninko Creek Fire [here], Table Mountain Fire [here], Arnica Fire [here], Bearpaw Bay Fire [here], and the Gunsight Fire [here].

The Kootenai Creek Fire [here] was ignited by lightning July 12 on the Bitterroot National Forest, 7 miles northwest of Stevensville, Ravalli County, Montana. The fire grew to 780 acres by July 25. A small crew of firefighters were withdrawn on that date after “temporarily securing the SE/SW corners of the fire by utilizing natural barriers and aircraft.”

A series of windstorms in September reactivated the Kootenai Creek Fire and it has grown to 6,300 acres as of yesterday. Private property miles to the east is now threatened by the fire, and 121 firefighting personnel have been recalled to fight it, along with helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Over $2.5 million have been spent on suppression, many times the amount that it would have cost to contain and control the fire in July.

The same windstorms have reactivated many wildfires that the USFS allowed to burn unchecked for weeks and months. Communities miles away from the ignition points are now threatened.

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Fire Fund Grab by DC Parks Averted

The Washington Times reported last week [here] on the backroom switcheroo diversion of dedicated firefighting monies to racially exclusive “festivals” in DC parks. The Obamaloids hoped to steal $2.7 million from firefighting, allegedly to be funneled through a “non-governmental community organizer” group named Washington Parks & People.

Unfortunately for the remoras attached to the underbelly of the Obama Admin, the U.S. Senate put the kibosh on the fire funds diversion yesterday:

Senate rejects wildfire funds for D.C. parks

By Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 09/24/2009 [here]

The Senate this week told the Obama administration to stop spending stimulus bill wildland firefighting money on urban parks in the nation’s capital — the first time either chamber has voted to reject one of the administration’s stimulus spending decisions.

With fires raging out West, lawmakers said, it was ridiculous to spend firefighting money in Washington, which has no national forests and isn’t considered a forest fire danger spot. In a voice vote Tuesday, senators voted unanimously to prohibit the U.S. Forest Service to spend any of its $500 million in wildland fire money in the city.

“This is ridiculous, it is outrageous, and we should not stand for it,” said Sen. John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican who sponsored the amendment to the Interior Department spending bill.

The money, part of the $787 billion stimulus bill, came from a $500 million fund the Forest Service was given for “wildland fire mitigation.” …

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21 Sep 2009, 11:04am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Station Fire Damage Assessment in Progress

Do wildfires provide benefits? Or do wildfires inflict short- and long-term deficits and damages to landscapes: vegetation, wildlife, habitat, air, soils, watersheds as well as homes destroyed, other property losses, suppression costs, public health and safety emergency expenditures, etc.

Setting aside for the moment the $100 million suppression costs, as yet untallied emergency services costs, and the value loss of private homes and property, did the Station Fire provide “resource benefits”?

No, as a matter of fact, the environmental crisis is ongoing and long-lasting. The steep and now denuded slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains are expected to undergo massive erosion, mud-debris flows, and flash floods when the expected winter rain storms occur. More homes and roads will be destroyed by mudslides. Vegetation, wildlife, and people will be damaged again.

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports that a bevy of environmental experts will be documenting and assessing the damages, and suggesting and implementing mitigation actions (more costs) where they might do some good (prevent more damages).

Station Fire studied by experts looking at the forest’s future

By Thomas Himes, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 09/19/2009 [here]

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - A team of 45 scientists, economists and engineers have been commissioned by the US Forest Service to document Station Fire losses, predict the future impact of those losses and make recommendations to minimize risks in the future.

The Station Fire charred plant life and seared soil as it burned across 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest.

Before the fire, healthy shrubs and soil diffused and absorbed rainfall as it made its way down mountainsides to rivers and reservoirs, according to US Forest Service soil scientist Eric Nicita.

“If it rains on unburned areas, little plants act like pumps” and soil absorbs water into roots and the water table Nicita said.

But the Station Fire has made healthy shrubs and soil a scarce commodity in the Angeles National Forest, according to Nicita.

In burned areas, “hydrophobic compounds turn into gases and puts a wax like coating on the soil,” Nicita said. “The longer water has to accumulate, the greater the chance it has to cause erosion.” …

Note: for a recent excellent study on soil sealing, see Causes of Post-Fire Runoff and Erosion: Water Repellency, Cover, or Soil Sealing? by Isaac J. Larsen et. al. [here].

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21 Sep 2009, 10:58am
The 2009 Fire Season
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Smoky summer stokes demands for firefighting changes by Interior Alaskans

By Jeff Richardson, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner September 18, 2009 [here]

FAIRBANKS — Following yet another smoky, inferno-filled summer, fire officials acknowledged on Thursday that it’s probably time to update the strategy for battling Interior Alaska blazes.

The state might begin considering a “smoke response plan” when air quality in the Interior becomes hazardous, said Chris Maisch, state forester with the Alaska Division of Forestry. He said more areas near Fairbanks also could be made a higher priority in the state’s fire management plan.

Maisch made the comments at a public meeting at the Alaska Division of Forestry warehouse, where officials gathered to discuss the controversial 2009 fire season. Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, said he called the meeting after receiving numerous complaints about the “let it burn” status that most fires in Alaska are given.

About 40 people attended the meeting, which came after a summer that saw nearly 3 million acres of land burn in Alaska. The past six years have been the worst period for fires in recorded state history, with more than 16 million acres blackened.

The current fire protection plan, which was adopted in 1998, gives areas across the state one of four fire-protection designations. The vast majority of Alaska is given “limited” protection status, which calls for virtually no response.

Tom Irwin, the Commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said it’s usually a sensible approach. Fires are a natural part of a changing ecosystem, and the state doesn’t have the personnel or money to battle every blaze that emerges during a busy season.

“The fact is, Alaska is going to burn no matter what resources we throw at it,” Irwin said.

But a frustratingly smoky season in Fairbanks has some residents clamoring for changes. While lives and personal property are taken into account when prioritizing fires, the effect of thick smoke on a region isn’t currently taken into consideration.

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Firefighting Funds Diverted to DC Park Fests

Here’s a novel way to spend federal firefighting dollars: on festivals in Washington DC urban parks. From the The Washington Times:

EXCLUSIVE: Forest fire funds aid D.C. festivals

By Stephen Dinan, The Washington Times, September 11, 2009 [here]

Even with forest fires raging out West, the U.S. Forest Service this week announced it will spend nearly $2.8 million in forest-fire-fighting money in Washington — a city with no national forests and where the last major fire was probably lit by British troops in 1814.

The D.C. aid is going to two programs: $90,000 is slated for a green summer job corps, but the vast majority of the money — $2.7 million — is going to Washington Parks & People, which sponsors park festivals and refurbishes urban parks in the Washington area.

Forest Service officials didn’t return messages left seeking comment on why they spent money from their “wildland fire mitigation” stimulus fund in Washington, but members of Congress said city parks don’t deserve the money while fires are scorching millions of acres of land and owners are losing homes.

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14 Sep 2009, 4:41pm
In Memorium
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Norman Borlaug, Father of the Green Revolution, Passes

One of the greatest Americans ever, indeed one of the greatest humanitarians of all time, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Father of the Green Revolution, passed away Sept. 12. at the age of 95.

Norman Borlaug is credited with saving perhaps a billion lives. Few have come close to that achievement; Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk are the only names in that pantheon that spring to mind.

Some clippings from the Web:

Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug dies at 95

By Janet DiGiacomo, CNN, 09/13/2009 [here]

(CNN) — Nobel laureate Norman E. Borlaug, an agricultural scientist who helped develop disease-resistant wheat used to fight famine in poor countries, died Saturday. He was 95.

Borlaug died from cancer complications in Dallas, Texas, a spokeswoman for Texas A&M University said.

A 1970 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug was a distinguished professor of international agriculture at the university.

Borlaug started at Texas A&M in 1984, after working as a scientist in a program that introduced scientific techniques for preventing famine in Mexico, according to the university.

Until recently, he traveled worldwide working for improvements in agricultural science and food policy, said Kathleen Phillips, a university spokeswoman.

Borlaug was known as a champion of high-yield crop varieties, and other science and agricultural innovations to help fight hunger in developing nations.

“We all eat at least three times a day in privileged nations, and yet we take food for granted,” Borlaug said recently in an interview posted on the university’s Web site.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2006, according to the university’s Web site.

The agriculture institute at the university was named after him in 2006.

Borlaug also created the World Food Prize, which recognized the work of scientists and humanitarians who have helped fight world hunger through advanced agriculture, the university said.

A memorial service will be held at the university at a later date.

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The real cost of wildfires

by Bob Zybach, guest opinion, the Oregonian, 09/14/2009, [here]

The tab for U.S. wildfires as commonly reported by the news media is only a fraction of the full costs experienced by the public.

Darrel Kenops’ recent commentary in The Oregonian (”Balancing protection with beneficial use,” Aug. 25) makes the point that we export our environmental impacts to international destinations when we cannot find ways to locally meet our nation’s needs for forest products. Excellent point. But lost in this discussion are the year-in-and-year-out costs that citizens must bear each time a wildfire scorches mile after square mile of Oregon’s forests.

Real costs for wildfires are stupendous and insidiously invisible. It isn’t just the billion dollars or more diverted each year from other useful programs in federal and state budgets to stamp out fires as typically reported by the media. Most expenses are never assigned to the bottom-line costs of wildfire.

For example, less tangible values such as damaged wildlife habitat, degraded soil and lost recreational opportunities are difficult to value monetarily; yet, these are greatly valued by the public, as are clean air, clean water and beautiful scenery.

With co-authors Michael Dubrasich, Gregory Benner and John Marker, we have published a one-page checklist of real costs [here] that also should be tallied when the news media covers wildfire.

On this list are property costs, including damage to federal, state, private, utility and municipal facilities; public health, including asthma, emphysema and coronary disease; indirect firefighting costs, including crew training, equipment and inventories of supplies; and post-fire costs, including timber, agriculture and home losses. The checklist goes on to detail air and atmospheric, soil-related, recreation, aesthetic and energy effects, plus the loss of cultural and historic resources.

We estimate that, nationwide, the true costs of wildfire, over and above seasonal fire-fighting expenses, range between $20 billion and $100 billion a year — or between ten to fifty times what is typically reported to simply put out fires.

So what can be done? There are those who think that passive management of our publicly-owned forests is the correct path: those that espouse the “naturally functioning ecosystem” and “let-it-burn” school of forest management.

I doubt the public has much appetite for the kind of fires that occurred in the past, as described by Kenops, before we began excluding fire from the landscape. The massive fires of the past - extinguished only when winter weather arrived - are not acceptable today. Also not acceptable is the status quo. In effect, public policy for the past 20 years has been to fight nearly every fire that ignites, yet do nothing to manage the consequences of insect-infested, diseased, wind-thrown and overstocked forestlands.

There are successfully tested alternatives to passive management. Actively removing excess woody biomass, thinning stands of trees for beneficial use, and selectively employing prescribed fire are among them. These activities all have costs but some can be done profitably: creating long-term jobs, reducing risks for severe fire, beautifying our forests, protecting our resources, and offsetting our international dependence on energy and forest products.

These activities will have their own environmental impacts. But then, so does doing nothing. And, in the long haul, doing nothing is proving to be much, much more expensive.

Bob Zybach is the program manager for Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project Inc. [here]. Also see the U.S. Wildfire Cost-Plus-Loss Economics Project website [here].

13 Sep 2009, 10:59am
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin
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Who Needs Science When the Gods Are Managing Your Forests?

Fire Gods and Federal Policy, an essay by Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, Ph.D. published in American Forests in 1989, was controversial then and remains so. It is also an honest and accurate assessment of the a-scientific, mythology-based management philosophy of the National Park Service, and is as true today as it was in 1989.

The full text of Thomas M. Bonnicksen. 1989. Fire Gods and Federal Policy. American Forests 95(7 & 8): 14-16, 66-68 is now posted in the W.I.S.E. Colloquium: Forest and Fire Sciences [here].

Some excerpts:

… The wildfires that swept through Yellowstone and surrounding wilderness areas during the summer of 1988 were not a natural event. Unlike the eruption of Mount St. Helens (which could not be controlled) the number, size and destructiveness of the Yellowstone wildfires could have been substantially reduced. The changes that took place in the vegetation mosaic and fuels in Yellowstone during nearly a century of fire suppression were preventable and reversible. The Park Service was aware of the risks of letting lightning fires burn, especially during a drought. … Thus the Yellowstone wildfires were caused by a combination of decades of neglect and incredibly poor judgment. …

[I]t is likely that the wildfires would not have reached the mammoth size of 1.4 million acres if only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars used to fight the Yellowstone wildfires had been spent on scientific management that utilized prescribed burning, especially if vigorous suppression efforts had been undertaken by the Park Service when each fire began.

The Yellowstone wildfires were only the symptom of a far more serious problem. That problem is the profound deterioration in vegetation and wildlife that is taking place throughout the national park and wilderness systems because of the lack of scientific management. The widespread damage caused by the Yellowstone wildfires, especially the destruction of the historic vegetation mosaic and its replacement with a monoculture of lodgepole pine, is a conspicuous example of deterioration. …

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Crater Lake National Park, no effort is being made by the Park Service to adjust burning prescriptions even though the fires are killing hundreds of ancient ponderosa and sugar pine trees. Dr. Edward C. Stone, from the University of California-Berkeley, and I warned the Park Service twelve years ago that these fires were killing unusually large numbers of large trees. We recommended that action be taken to reduce the mortality, but the warning was ignored. A study conducted by the Forest Service last summer proved that we were correct. The study showed that burning heavy litter that accumulated during the past century due to fire suppression is producing lethal temperatures deep within the soil that are cooking the tree roots. Numerous other examples could be cited, but the main point is that irreplaceable resources are deteriorating over millions of acres of land because the Park Service rejects scientific management. …

The deterioration of precious park and wilderness resources can be traced to an anti-scientific management philosophy in the Park Service, and to a lesser extent in the Forest Service, that is known as “letting nature take its course.” This philosophy embodies the view that national park and wilderness areas are quasi-religious sanctuaries where “Mother Nature” resides and rules. People may enter these sanctuaries to see the forces of nature at work but they must not interfere with those forces. Adherents to this philosophy naively assume, without a shred of scientific evidence, that “Mother Nature” (i.e., lightning fires) will restore an undefined state of “naturalness” to park and wilderness areas. …

The philosophy of “letting nature take its course” has turned the clock back thousands of years to a time when people placed their fate in the hands of mythical gods. You may think that this is silly, and it is, but it is also true. Decades of research have brought us to the point where scientific management is feasible, yet today the Park Service is relying instead on “Mother Nature” or God. Park and wilderness mangers no longer need a degree in science to manage resources, they need a degree in mythology. In the future, managing a park or wilderness will only require that rangers stand on mountaintops making incantations to the Greek god Zeus asking him to send thunderbolts to earth and fashion a new forest with fire. Who needs science when you believe that the gods are managing your forest?

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