.... a forester's blog
June 10, 2011

Responding to renewed ‘Blame Game’ as Wallow Fire Rages

Filed under: It's ALL Nature — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 17:36

I posted this comment on Today.com: “Massive Arizona wildfire now 5 percent contained” (6/10/2011)
(Read article Huge_Arizona_wildfire_rekindles_forest_debate_AssocPress ) In part the article states that the Wallow fire has reignited the blame game on why fires such as these are occurring.

Yes, man interrupted and changed nature’s cycle and intensity of fire in many ecosystems. And in many areas and ecosystems we continue to alter how fire can be brought back closer to what the ecosystem craves for a healthy landscape because man wants to live in the woods. If man lives in the woods, fire, even in the proper context, can rarely be allowed to burn on landscape scales, so man must mechanically manipulate the vegetation to mimic what a fire would do. That means logging or other labor intensive processes to remove the unhealthy, stressed and overabundant trees. Logging in a scientific and sustainable manner following best management practices (BMPs) not only mimics what fire did in the ecosystem, it provides jobs and products that man needs (or wants). Once the mechanical process has been completed, there are certain areas that fire can be re-introduced to maintain the desired ecosystem functionality. And if the mechanical treatments are completed in a ‘checkerboard’ across the landscape, then a fire in an area that cannot be ‘treated’ would become manageable for suppression when it came to a ‘treated’ area – however if the conditions are right, the ‘treated’ area then receives a maintenance burn and firefighters are more of guidance force to keep it from entering another ‘untreated’ area and becoming a catastrophic wildfire, such as the Wallow or Rodeo-Chediski fires.

Dr Covington was one of my professors when I earned my Forestry degree at Northern Arizona University and I have sat at the table with Bryan Bird for two years on the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) advisory committee which annually awards grant money “to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes”. I am a Society of American Foresters – Certified Forester. I also have 18 years experience in wildland fire, 13 as a ground ‘pounder’ and engine operator/boss for a state agency responsible for fire suppression on non-federal, non-tribal, non-municipal lands. In recent years I’ve not been on the line, but an interpreter for the infrared flights conducted by the Forest Service on large fires at night. When on the engine, first on the scene, I made fire ‘suppression’ decisions based on fuels, weather, topography and geographic proximity to homes or infrastructure, and the if the landowner had an agreement to allow it, the fire could be monitored and let burn.

Man altered the natural landscape in many ways – introducing cattle and suppressing fires are just two. Managing for a single species to the detriment of others is another, which is exactly what has happened in shutting down logging on forests through law suits. I’ve always wondered if anyone wanting to ‘save’, for example, the Mexican spotted owl ever realized that the owl was present in in the ecosystem in the 1800′s and it survived the change as the ecosystem became over grown, dense and unhealthy, why won’t it also be okay when we direct the forest back to what nature craves (what it was before we changed it).

We can’t change the past, but we can impact the future by sustainably harvesting wood products to mimic fire where fire cannot be used and reducing fuel in areas with selective harvests of wood products until fire can be used.

September 7, 2010

Fire – The Good and the Bad

Filed under: It's ALL Nature — Tags: , , — admin @ 15:11

A friend was in Colorado this weekend (visiting from the Plains) and saw the flames and smoke from the Four-Mile Canyon fire above Boulder.  Facebook comments followed her post on it was bad/sad because people were loosing their homes. One person did say ‘ its good in a way’.  I said I’d like to chat on why it is good, so here’s the scoop.  I should preface my comments with a disclaimer – while my facts and reasoning are science based, nature is not black and white, literally and figuratively. You can ask 5 foresters how to manage a specific landscape and you’ll likely get 5 different approaches based on their perspective.

God’s nature was designed with many intricate processes that work together in balance. Like spider Webs of interrelated actions and reactions that keep it connected and balanced. A landscape was designed to have a mosaic of meadows, forests, brush, water for wildlife to have all their needs met. A forest has many stages of growth and decline to keep the balance of cover and feeding areas for various wildlife. Nature’s design kept the forest in check. Lower elevation pine forests have frequent low-intensity fires to keep the number of trees at an optimum growing level for the trees to be healthy and the wildlife’s needs. Higher elevation pine and spruce-fir forests have infrequent high intensity stand-replacing fires. Insects and diseases work as one of the balances taking a handful of trees here and there naturally creating a mosaic within the forest.

Spruce-fir after thinning

Spruce-fir after thinning

Man has interrupted nature’s cycles in many ways. We stopped all wildfire for a long time. We could mimic what fire did by managing the forest with thinnings and harvests, utilizing the wood for buildings, furniture and paper and such. But then ‘environmentalists’ stopped nearly all the logging on public lands. So forests grew unchecked and got out of balance. Insects and diseases went from maintenance levels to epidemic levels in many areas. A beetle as small as a grain of rice reached such proportions that 800,000 acres of pinon pine trees died in New Mexico and its cousin killed even more acres than that of ponderosa pine in Arizona.  Another cousin bark beetle has been killing millions of acres of trees in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and some in Nebraska. The epidemic of beetles in all these places were working to get nature back in balance.

While man was suppressing wildfire, they were also moving further into the forests, higher into the mountains to live amongst the trees. So even when foresters and wildfire specialists wanted to let the wildfires burn for natures’ sake, they couldn’t because of the homes, cities and infrastructure that support them. Where man and forests meet, the wildland urban interface, can be made less risky by reducing the trees and other vegetaion around the homes. Sometimes it is enough to save the home, sometimes not, depending on the fire’s intensity and the wind behind it.

Los Alamos, New Mexico had a fire sweep through northern areas of the town on May 10, 2000, selectively taking 200 homes. I accompanied the National Guard Commander a few days later through town and tried to answer his questions on fire behavior.  Of course, wildfire is by definition a fire that burns in wildland fuels (forests, woodlands and brush). Streets, homes and other buildings can effect a fire’s course like topography can, funneling wind and flames like a saddle between mountains.  When wind fanned flames reach an opening wider than the flame, the fire typically drops to the ground and lessens in intensity. So thinning around the home and having fire-resistant plants/landscaping and keeping the fire wood pile away from the house are things that reduce the risk to that home during a wildfire.

But many people don’t thin or landscape in a fire-safe manner. They think the fire fighters will save their house no matter what.  Given enough time in front of an approaching wildfire, homes or entire neighborhoods in the woods will be assessed (if they haven’t already been assessed). If it is not safe for personnel to be in the neighborhood, no one will be stationed there to fight the fire. Planes or helicopters may be able to drop slurry or water to ‘retard’ the fire around the homes, but there is no guarantee that a home can be saved, even ones that have had preventative measures taken.

I fear I’m rambling, so more later…..I’ll dig out some photos.

September 1, 2009

Flash 1

Filed under: It's ALL Nature — Tags: , , — admin @ 22:29

Fireflies may have stopped blinking for the summer, but the flashing has just begun.  Since moving to Nebraska last year I have felt somewhat removed from forestry and the science I know, and stand now in corn and soybean fields, plant winter wheat and itch when hauling milo.  So maybe by posting my thoughts and perceptions on the natural resource news I hear about will help me and provide some food for thought …..  like Project Learning Tree shows students how to think for themselves, not what to think. Maybe these will show another side of the story.

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