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Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

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Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby ERIC » Thu Jun 23, 2016 7:01 pm

Survey ups Sierra Nevada dead tree count to 66 million

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By Guy McCarthy / The Union Democrat / @GuyMcCarthy
Published Jun 22, 2016 at 10:18PM


Less than a week after Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said federal handling of the tree mortality crisis hinges on adequate funding, Forest Service officials say new surveys show the number has increased to 66 million in the Sierra Nevada.

Scientists have identified an estimated 26 million more dead trees across more than 1,100 square miles in six counties, including Tuolumne County, since October 2015, according to a Forest Service announcement distributed Wednesday.

The new findings underscore the need for Congress to take action on the federal fire budget, Vilsack’s staff said, repeating what the agriculture secretary said last week in response to questions from The Union Democrat before President Barack Obama came to visit Yosemite National Park.

Four consecutive years of severe drought in California, the dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation, and warmer temperatures are leading to historic levels of tree die-off, Vilsack’s staff said.

“The sheer number of dead trees is hard to imagine, but it’s real and what we have been anticipating for some time now,” Chief Ken Pimlott, Cal Fire’s director and state forester, said Wednesday. “We must continue our work to remove dead trees around roadways and critical infrastructure, while homeowners remove dead trees around their homes.”

From 2010 to late 2015, aerial detection surveys found 40 million trees dead in the Sierra Nevada, with nearly 75 percent of that total succumbing to drought and insect mortality between September 2014 and October 2015, Forest Service staff in Vallejo said.

More recent surveys identified the additional 26 million dead trees in Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.

“Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at...


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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby dave54 » Thu Jun 23, 2016 8:24 pm

Healthy forests can normally handle a beetle outbreak. Healthy forests can also handle a drought.

The two combined is more than the stressed trees can handle. Had we been logging properly all along the trees would be less stressed and the problem would be a lot less severe.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby ERIC » Thu Jun 23, 2016 9:41 pm

dave54 wrote:Healthy forests can normally handle a beetle outbreak. Healthy forests can also handle a drought.

The two combined is more than the stressed trees can handle. Had we been logging properly all along the trees would be less stressed and the problem would be a lot less severe.


True story.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby balance » Fri Jun 24, 2016 7:17 pm

The early Native American had a different view of the forest than most modern day Americans. Their forest is made of many varied, individual, living trees; a home for chattering squirrels and blue jays, deer and bear, the owl, fox and vole. The woods offer shelter from the rain; provide a warm, cozy fire; rest patiently under a blanket of snow, then explode each spring with lush gardens of glorious color. Nourishing fruits are there to be found; enthralling mysteries to be explored. The trees breathe out oxygen to keep us alive; sing a message of endurance, peace and repose for those who have ears to hear. What if this was our forest too?
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby zacjust32 » Fri Jun 24, 2016 7:37 pm

dave54 wrote:Healthy forests can normally handle a beetle outbreak. Healthy forests can also handle a drought.

The two combined is more than the stressed trees can handle. Had we been logging properly all along the trees would be less stressed and the problem would be a lot less severe.


I hear this argument quite frequently, and I don't quite understand how it works. If the forest has been alive for thousands of years, why does it need human logging to survive?

Also, 66 million sounds like a lot, but what percentage is that of the total amount of trees in CA, 5%? 15%?
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby ERIC » Fri Jun 24, 2016 9:11 pm

Forest fires start, modern humans put them out. Fuel load builds. Native Americans also employed controlled burns to manage meadow and forest health. More controlled burns or more logging. One or the other is needed unless we stop putting out fires and I really don't see that happening.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby dave54 » Fri Jun 24, 2016 9:16 pm

Forest structure and composition are quite different now.

Returning to pre settlement forest conditions sounds like a laudable goal, and is bandied about as a buzz phrase. Reality is different. Politically impossible. Extremely difficult if not impossible to accomplish in deed. And the public would not like it if we did.
Repeated surveys have demonstrated when shown representations of what pre settlement forest conditions were without being told what they were viewing public opinion is strongly negative.

A lot less old growth, a lot more brush fields and young stands. Lake Tahoe basin, for example, has more old growth now than ever existed historically.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby dave54 » Fri Jun 24, 2016 9:25 pm

ERIC wrote:Forest fires start, modern humans put them out. Fuel load builds. Native Americans used controlled burns. More controlled burns or more logging. One or the other is needed unless we stop putting out fires and I really don't see that happening.


Cannot significantly increase the amount of control burning under current air quality laws.
Fire suppression tactics have evolved. The only fires aggressively extinguished without question are ones immediately threatening homes or other high value resources. Fires starting in remote areas are evaluated for best way to manage. The default strategy now for remote fires is indirect attack, allowing it to burn to ridgetops or other convenient locations and stopping it there. The problem with remote back country fires is they do not stay there. If allowed to burn they will eventually reach homes.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby ERIC » Fri Jun 24, 2016 9:30 pm

Dave, have you seen the recent reports regarding log incinerators being used? While possibly less impact than traditional burn techniques, I still wonder how CARB views those. Also, the fact that most of this activity is being conducted on Federal land makes me wonder if CARB's authority is much authority at all. I know NPS/FS thumb their noses at many other state regs. As do the ACOE and BLM.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby dave54 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 8:23 am

You still have to get the slash to the incinerator. That requires heavy equipment. Not always practical or cost effective.

The FS is still bound to AQMD regs. One study in Lassen NF several years ago showed an average of 18 days per year when weather conditions suitable for control burning coincided with an allowable burn day by AQMD. You can partially mitigate that by piling logging slash into piles and burning during more inclement weather, but again, heavy equipment cost and operational limitations...

The FS is close to maxed out on the amount of control burning that can be accomplished. Now, if you want to grant waivers to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, ESA, NEPA, grant immunity to all civil liability for escapes, and exponentially increase the FS fire budget they could increase the amount of burning.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby rlown » Sat Jun 25, 2016 8:38 am

An interesting topic. I would gather that all the political rules go out the window when the inevitable wildfire starts, and all that dead fuel standing goes up in a massive burn. They seem to be OK with heavy equipment moving in after the fact. Idiots.

You'd think politicians would be smarter, but I guess that's a stretch.
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Re: Sierra Nevada dead tree count at 66 million

Postby dave54 » Sat Jun 25, 2016 4:33 pm

NEPA specifically exempts emergencies.
When a fire starts and turns major, a resource advisor(s) is assigned to the Incident Management Team. The resource advisor keeps the IMT informed of all the natural or cultural resources that could be affected by the fire or suppression tactics. Don't want to send dozers through a native American burial site or a patch of endangered plants. Aerial retardant (the red stuff falling out of aircraft the media love to film) does nasty stuff to fish and aquatic life -- basically toxic. So efforts are made to avoid dropping it into creeks if not absolutely necessary. OTOH some hillsides can burn and be a benefit. Tactics are adjusted accordingly. So it is not anything goes/no rules apply when fighting fires. Efforts are made to minimize resource impacts. Also pressure to minimize firefighting costs. Of course, human life and public safety will never be subordinate to resource values. Sometimes fire managers have to make some pretty hard gut twisting decisions and sacrifice some of one value to protect another. Then some armchair activist will complain about it.
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