Smokey Smack Down
Handy-Dandy Forest Service Links
Reddy Squirrel Gives Thumbs-Up to Cathedral Pines
I’m pleased to announce that the homeowners and community of Cathedral Pines are the first recipients of the Reddy Squirrel “Forest Fires Happen, Be Ready” Award for Fire Pragmatism. As reported in the Denver Post, “El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the Cathedral Pines area was a textbook example of fire prevention.”
Colorado’s Black Fire destroyed a record 511 homes, but although the fire swept through the Cathedral Pines development, “I think they lost one or two homes, but the fire stayed on the ground there,” Maketa said. “The reason the firefighters were able to take a stand was because these homeowners had mitigated their properties,” Maketa said.
EarthSky, with which NPR listeners are familiar, discusses this NASA Terra satellite image taken a few days after the Black Fire, which shows the lower fire severity within Cathedral Pines. And here’s a cool site of aerial photos from the Black Fire. Note the lack of damage in this photo compared to this.
Congratulations, Cathedral Pines!
Smokey Bear Censored!
Brooklyn artist and environmental activist Lopi LaRoe grew up believing in Smokey Bear. She learned to be a careful camper from the U.S. Forest Service mascot, and took comfort in the fact that Smokey and the rangers he represented were protectors of the environment. When she learned about hydrofracking on National Forest land, she couldn't imagine that forest rangers would stand by and let it happen.
LaRoe was concerned to learn that in many areas where hydrofracking is allowed, well water had become flammable, to the extent that it could catch on fire as it came out of kitchen faucets. One day, the words "Only YOU Can Prevent Faucet Fires" popped into her head. She painted a banner of Smokey with these words under his trustworthy face and brought it with her to an anti-fracking demo in Albany, NY. People loved it. Photos of her banner went viral. Soon she started silk-screening shirts with the No Fracking Bear on them, made them available online. She sent them to Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, states that had been hard hit by fracking. She pictured her little Smokeys as peaceful warriors going out to wage an information battle on the front lines. Her Smokey shirts cheered people up and started conversations about the dangers of fracking.
FSEEE agrees, and so we have joined forces with LaRoe's Smokey to say enough is enough. We will not stand idle while our natural heritage is destroyed by the very agency tasked with protecting it. Smokey has never looked so good as when he is not only protecting our national forests from careless campers, but also defending them from commercial exploitation.
Does One Size Fit All?
Too many years ago, I served on a timber industry committee charged, among other things, with figuring out whether it was better to advocate the calculation of “allowable sale quantities” in board or cubic feet. Board foot measure estimates how much lumber can be sawn from a log, with allowances for saw blade width (“kerf”), slabs (the left-overs after squaring off a round log), and sawing strategy. Cubic foot measure is the geometry-based volume of a log.
Ceteris paribus, the number of board feet equivalent to one cubic foot is proportional directly to log diameter. For example, a small-diameter log has a bf/cf ratio of about 4, while a large-diameter log’s ratio is about 6.
Today, almost all serious measures of timber are made in cubic feet, except for pulpwood and biomass, which are measured by weight. That’s because cubic foot measure is widely regarded as a more accurate representation of total wood volume, less subject to the vagaries of milling technology and scaling judgment.
Which measure one chooses makes a difference in how one sees the world of wood production and supply. “Everyone” knows that Oregon’s timber harvest has dropped precipitously since the early 1990s. And, so it has, measured in board feet (the blue-line curve).
But a funny thing happens when Oregon’s harvest is measured in cubic feet (the red-line curve). Not nearly so dramatic a decline. The reason is pretty simple. Oregon’s plantation forests grow a whole lot of wood, producing much more growth annually than the old forests the plantations replaced. Cubic foot measure, which is much less sensitive to tree diameter, more accurately captures that volume than does board foot measure.
The Natural Forest
Tragic and Needless Loss of Life
Aviation accidents account for more wildland firefighter deaths than any single other cause. From 1999 to 2009, 61 firefighters died as a result of air crashes. On Sunday, two more aviators’ names were added to that list when their airtanker crashed while dumping retardant on the White Rock fire. On that same day, tragedy was averted narrowly when another retardant airtanker was forced to make a belly landing because one of its gear failed to deploy.
In 2002, a government-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel concluded, “The safety record of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters used in wildland fire management is unacceptable.” The report also noted “if ground firefighters had the same fatality rate [as firefighting aviators], they would have suffered more than 200 on-the-job deaths per year.” Since the Blue Ribbon report’s publication, aviation-related fatalities have gone up 50 percent compared to the three-year period preceding the panel’s report—not including this past weekend’s tragic loss of life.
When a firefighter risks his life rescuing a child from a burning home, we applaud his heroism. If he dies in the effort, whether successful or not, we honor his sacrifice, knowing he gave everything to save that child’s life. While we mourn his loss, our society agrees that saving a child’s life is worth the risk and the ultimate price paid.
But, what are we to think when firefighters die trying to save sagebrush and juniper from burning? The White Rock fire does not threaten a single home. It poses no danger to any person, save the firefighters themselves. The fire is burning in one of the least populated corners of our nation—the Utah-Nevada border—on federally owned land inhabited by jack rabbits and coyotes.
Yet our government has thrown everything in its arsenal at this natural, lightning-caused fire. Over three hundred firefighters, including four helicopters, six engines, four bulldozers and three water tenders, continue to battle this fire before it . . . well, before it what? Before it burns itself out, just like an adjacent fire did a couple of years ago. The total financial tab will cost taxpayers upwards of a million dollars, while the cost in human life is immeasurable.
Our society’s aerial war against wildfire will continue to sacrifice lives and money in a fruitless campaign against Nature. Each year, we dump tens of millions of gallons of toxic retardant on fires, with no evidence that these bombings improve firefighting effectiveness. There is no correlation between the amount of aerial retardant used and success in keeping fires small.
Some in Congress, including Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden, think the solution is to give pilots new airplanes. Half-a-billion dollars of shiny new airplanes will not make aerial firefighting any more effective. Nor will new planes make the job substantially safer. Flying low through smoke on hot, windy days in the nation’s most rugged landscapes is a recipe for disaster no matter what aircraft is being piloted
Sensible wildland fire policy is less sexy and heroic than the war-like television footage of bombers raining red retardant on burning brush. We know that the best way to protect homes from wildland fire is to keep vegetation clear from around the house and build with fire-resistant roofing. Retardant doesn’t save homes; proper construction and landscaping save homes.
Ten years ago, the government’s Blue Ribbon panel said the aerial firefighters’ death rate was “unacceptable.” Today, the government’s fruitless and ineffective aerial war against wildland fire can only be called immoral. Congress should stop pandering to our innate fear of fire and promote sensible fire management policies that save lives and homes.
Is Anyone Minding the Store?
For three years I’ve been wondering whether anyone in USDA pays attention to what the Forest Service does or says. Left to its own devices, the Forest Service is capable of much mischief. Here’s today’s example, from the “National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy“:
Wildland fire management actions are guided by a suite of laws, implemented through regulations and adopted as agency policy after public review and comment. Regulations and policies, however, are often more limiting than the authorizing legislation itself, and sometimes may impede the accomplishment of management objectives and timelines. While legislation such as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) has been beneficial to active management of public lands, other legislation has been used to promote agendas and philosophies that are not necessarily in harmony with the legislation’s original intent. This is especially true of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which was meant to provide a means for underprivileged people to bring legal action against the federal government. Similarly, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are sometimes utilized by special interest groups to achieve objectives not considered by Congress when the bills were enacted. In addition to barriers presented by existing regulations and policies, the articulation of new or revised policies and changes in agency terminology and/or goals create challenges related to communication and implementation. It is important to seek out opportunities to streamline and coordinate procedures and to pursue broader use of authorities across jurisdictions to achieve common goals. Legislative barriers that are impeding project implementation must be examined and reformed to create incentives for resolving conflict through collaboration rather than litigation.
So, there we have it. The Forest Service now supports legislatively amending the Equal Access to Justice Act, the Endangered Species, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Is the Forest Service speaking for the Obama Administration? Does USDA know or care that its flagship agency has called upon Congress to amend three bedrock laws?
Is USFS World’s Most Expensive Wildland Firefighting Agency?
At least in the U.S., no one even comes close.
The Forest Service oversees 193 million acres with a wildland fire management budget of about $2 billion. That’s $10.36 an acre.
The Department of Interior manages 500 million acres with a wildland fire budget of $856 million. That’s $1.71 an acre.
By the way, DOI enjoys a 98 percent initial attack success rate (defined as the percent of fires kept smaller than 300 acres) — same as the Forest Service.
Fourmile Canyon Fire Report Confirms Firewise
The Rocky Mountain Research Station released its Fourmile Canyon Fire report, requested by Senator Udall of Colorado. The Report confirms that:
1) A home’s fate depends upon fuel in its immediate surroundings and construction materials;
2) Fuel treatments, especially those that leave fine fuels untreated, are ineffective protection against wildfires that threaten homes, i.e., windy, dry conditions; and,
3) Fire suppression resources are easily overwhelmed precisely when Fire-Unwise homes need them the most.
The report took a special look at aerial attack, finding that the great preponderance of retardant was dropped after the fire had already stopped advancing.
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Commentary from FSEEE's executive director.
Our public lands advocate and resident ecogeek.