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House votes to speed logging in burned forests

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House votes to speed logging in burned forests

Postby ERIC » Fri May 19, 2006 9:54 am

House votes to speed logging in burned forests

By MATTHEW DALY
ASSOCIATED PRESS
May 17, 2006



WASHINGTON (AP) - The House on Wednesday approved a bill to speed up the logging of burned forests and planting of new trees after storms and wildfires.

The bill, approved 243-182, would order that federal land hit by disasters over more than 1,000 acres be restored within months, rather than years - before insects and rot sets in, diminishing the commercial value of fire-killed timber.

"As Americans, we like our wood products," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the bill's chief sponsor. "We build homes and furniture from wood. So if you're going to use wood, doesn't it make sense to first use burned, dead trees, rather than cut down rain forests" in South America or other places.

The measure's co-sponsor, Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., called it a common-sense plan "that will be good for the environment and the economy as well."

But most Democrats opposed the bill, arguing that cutting large old trees and planting new ones makes forests more vulnerable to new fires and less valuable as habitat for fish and wildlife. They say it is better to allow forests to come back on their own.

Forty-one Democrats joined 202 Republicans in supporting the bill. Reps. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Jon Porter, R-Nev., backed the bill while Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., opposed it.

"Nevada is no stranger to the devastation that can follow wildfires," Gibbons said, citing the 2004 "Waterfall Fire" that burned 8,700 acres and destroyed 17 homes in the Carson City area.

"This bill addresses many complex issues concerning post-fire forest health through environmentally and scientifically sound recovery efforts," he said.

Porter said the bill will "go a long way toward protecting our environment by removing the red tape and giving federal land managers the tools they need to stabilize and restore forests damaged by catastrophic events."

Opponents criticized the bill's name, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act.

"Here we go again," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. "We have a clear skies bill, and we get more pollution, a deficit reduction bill and get more deficits. Now we have a forest recovery bill with less science and less common sense."

Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project in the Sierra Nevada said the bill is "a direct attack on science."

"It's an attempt to apply 19th century policies to 21st century forest management issues," he said.

Inslee and other critics said the bill could result in young, densely stocked "timber plantations" that are prone to sudden "blowups" of extreme fire and in which treetop fires can spread to nearby old-growth forests.

They also said the measure would help large timber companies log in areas where they are now barred, such as roadless areas in remote forests.

Walden and Baird disputed that, saying the bill specifically bars planting trees in evenly spaced rows, commonly called plantations, and would require that temporary roads built to accommodate logging be destroyed as soon as the harvest is completed.

Environmentalists remained skeptical, saying it was unlikely that a road would be destroyed once it is in place. They cited a backlog of road maintenance projects in national totaling tens of thousands of miles.

Walden and Baird proposed the bill last fall, after the Forest Service took two years to start selling timber killed by the 500,000-acre Biscuit fire in southern Oregon. The agency still has not sold all the wood that officials projected, nearly four years after the July 2002 fire.

The bill would give public land agencies 30 days after a catastrophe to come up with a plan, with a 90-day public comment period after that. Court action would be allowed thereafter.

Currently, environmental analyses can take a year or more, followed by lengthy appeals or court battles. During that time, the commercial value of fire-killed timber steadily declines.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., has proposed a similar measure.

The House bill generated national controversy this spring, after some Oregon State University faculty who favor so-called salvage logging tried to delay publication of a study that questioned the value of the practice.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management briefly withheld university funding while the Bush administration sorted out whether the study by graduate student Daniel Donato violated a prohibition against lobbying Congress. The funding was restored after criticism by Democratic lawmakers.

Many environmental groups denounced the House action as a windfall for timber companies that have supported Walden and other lawmakers. But the Society of American Foresters praised the House vote.

"The key is quick recovery," said Michael Goergen, chief executive of the forestry group, which represents more than 15,000 forestry professionals.

"It's not only cost effective to restore forests immediately after a catastrophic event, but it also makes sense for the environment," Goergen said.

---

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Information on the bill, H.R. 4200, is at http://thomas.loc.gov
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Postby dave54 » Tue May 23, 2006 8:05 pm

A much needed reform. Unfortunately, I doubt the bill will pass in this election year.

The science and the centuries of on-the-ground experience of tens of thousands of professional land managers support rapid rehabilitation of burned forests.

If one looks hard enough you can always find a few contrarians that will issue some pet 'research' contradicting established sound science. And a special interest group will always hold up the pseudoscience as 'proof' of their views.
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Postby krudler » Thu May 25, 2006 8:42 pm

Fire on the Mountain
Misguided environmentalists may be the greatest threat to America's forests.
by James Thayer
05/25/2006 12:00:00 AM



The Imperial Japanese Navy tried to burn down Oregon. It failed. Sixty years later, radical environmentalists almost succeeded.

The Los Angeles Times' banner headline read "REPORT OREGON BOMBING. Jap Aircraft Carrier Believed Sunk." It was September 15, 1942. A seaplane had been spotted near Mt. Emily, Oregon, nine miles north of Brookings. A forest fire had been started near the mountain. Harold Gardner, a forest service lookout, rushed to the area and quickly extinguished the flames.

Then a forest service patrol found a foot-deep crater. Nearby were forty pounds of spongy pellets and metal fragments, some of which were stamped with Japanese ideograms. A metal nosecone was also found.

That same day a Japanese submarine was sited in the Pacific thirty miles off the Oregon coast due west of Mt. Emily. An Army patrol plane bombed the sub, but results of the bombing were unknown.

Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had set out to strike a blow against the American mainland, but they failed to cause a massive fire in the dry Oregon forest.

Fast forward sixty years to July 13, 2002. An Oregon Department of Forestry pilot spotted a rising column of black smoke near Chetco Peak, not far from where the Japanese bomb had landed. The pilot immediately reported it to the dispatcher at Grants Pass. This fire would be named Biscuit 1.

Thirty minutes later a California Department of Forestry pilot, who was directing fire fighting efforts at Six Rivers National Forest, saw a new column of smoke to the north, up in Oregon. He called in the fire to the Fortuna dispatch center. This blaze would be named the Carter Fire. A lightening storm was passing over southwest Oregon. Within thirty minutes the pilot would spot three more fires. Over the next two days, lightening would ignite hundreds more fires in the Siskiyou forest.

The fires merged and spread into a vast conflagration that became known as the Biscuit Fire. It burned for the next five and a half months, destroying half a million acres of forest--60 miles north-to-south at its longest, and 35 miles east-to-west--causing $150 million in damage. The fire was not extinguished until New Year's Eve.

The Biscuit Fire was only one of many that season, such as the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in east-central Arizona (467,000 acres), and the Hayman Fire southwest of Denver (135,000 acres, 133 homes destroyed, 5,300 people evacuated). During the summer and fall of 2002, 88,000 wildfires charred seven million acres, an area the size of Massachusetts. More than 800 structures were destroyed. Fire fighting efforts cost $1.7 billion in addition to the lives of twenty-three firefighters.

The calamity prompted the Bush administration and Congress to act about as quickly as Washington ever does. In August, while the fires were still burning, the president proposed his Healthy Forests Initiative, which Congress soon passed as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. The president signed it into law on December 3, 2003.

Agitation by extremists within the environmental movement had produced decades of misguided attempts at forest management. The new law will make our forests less susceptible to catastrophic fires. But because the remedy involves a concept that is anathema to extreme enviros--logging--they oppose it, and are actively working to maintain our forests as tinderboxes.

A hundred years ago, each acre of a ponderosa pine forest contained about 25 mature trees. A horse-drawn wagon could be driven through the forest without the aid of a road. Ponderosa pine is intolerant of shade, and the trees grow aggressively toward the sun, throwing shadows that discourage growth below. Today that same forest might have 1,000 trees per acre. Usually these are Douglas firs, which prosper in shade, and which grow in thick stands, often so dense that a hiker cannot pass between the trunks.

As a result of this fuel load (Forest Service terminology), forest fires today are entirely unlike those of a century ago. They are hotter, faster, and more destructive. Today, 190 million acres of public forests are at an elevated risk of fires, and twenty-four million acres are at the highest risk of catastrophic fire.

What happened to the forests? Why did they degrade? Two main reasons: the suppression of small fires that destroy weak trees and underbrush and that create fire breaks, and a lack of thinning. Which is to say, logging. The failure to cull the forests has left them little more than kindling.

And why haven't the forests been thinned over the years? A vast maze of laws and regulations promoted by environmentalists had made it virtually impossible to enter the forest with a chain saw or a feller buncher. Laws and regulations effecting thinning of the national forests ran to the thousands of pages.

Prior to the 2003 law, preparing environmental documents for even a modest thinning of a patch of national forest took anywhere from six months to ten years. Then a review of plans to sell the removed timber would take another two to four years. Eight hundred requirements had to be reviewed for each forest thinning decision and a proposal to thin a few acres might be eight hundred pages long. This paperwork added up to forty percent of the Forest Service's total workload and cost $250 million each year.

In a June 2002 report, the Forest Service concluded that it "operated within a statutory, regulatory, and administrative framework that has kept the agency from effectively addressing rapid declines in forest health." The Service termed it "excessive analysis."

Even this standard of care wasn't sufficient for the extreme environmentalists. They routinely appealed any decision to thin national forests. A glimpse of the enviros at work: between January 2001 and July 2002 they appealed every single decision to thin by logging in northern Idaho and Montana. For example, the Forest Service determined that the Payette National Forest, near Hell's Canyon in Idaho, needed to be culled. Seven law suites were filed against the plan. Only one in ten of the Forest Service's decisions to thin a forest is reversed by a court on appeal.

The delays imposed by these environmentalists can be costly, and not just in Forest Service paperwork. Mark Flatten and Dan Nowicki of Mesa's East Valley Tribune give an example. In 1999, the Forest Service approved a plan to thin 7,000 acres in the Baca Ecosystem Management Area in Arizona. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a law suit in May 2000 alleging that the Forest Service didn't adequately analyze the effects of its plan on the pygmy nuthatch, among other claims. A court agreed with the environmentalists. Thinning was allowed on only 306 acres, and only trees with less than six-inch trunk diameters could be removed. In 2002 a fire swept through the Baca project area, destroying 90 percent of it.

Not too long ago, the typical environmental lawsuit raised three or four issues. Today, they may bring up twenty or more. Five thousand actions are pending against the Forest Service. Flatten and Nowicki quoted Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who blamed "radical environmental groups" for creating a paralysis in the Forest Service's decision-making. "They [the Forest Service] end up doing so much paperwork that is redundant and unnecessary that they don't want to even put these things out because it just takes too much of their time and effort and all they do is get sued."

How does the new law work? The amount of required paperwork is reduced, but its most powerful provisions streamline the decision process. The law specifically directs courts "to expedite, to the maximum extent practicable, the proceedings. . . ." Suits can only be brought in the district court where the land is located, which prevents judge shopping. Preliminary injunctions are limited to 60 days and the court must now take into consideration the effects of doing nothing, and must specifically consider the risk of future fires. The law also puts a strict timeline to the appeals process. New regulations allow the Forest Service to take immediate action when public lands are at substantial risk of fire due to drought or fuel buildup.

Faced with a law that has made the courts less useful, the enviros have squealed like hogs caught in a gate. The Heritage Forests Campaign decried the law as "exploiting the fear of wildfires in order to . . . boost commercial logging." Matthew Koehler of the Native Forest Network said the Bush administration and some in Congress were "cynically using the wildfires in their never-ending quest to cut more trees . . ." The Alabama Environmental Council accused President Bush of trying to "'greenwash' his logging agenda." Wilderness Society president William H. Meadows called it "cynical politicking," and said the forest "is too valuable to be handed over to the logging industry." Gazing steadily into Alice's looking glass, the Sierra Club argued that logging can increase the risk of fires.

Does thinning work? In early May 2004, 35 acres of the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge were given a "fuels treatment," as the Department of Interior calls thinning the stands of trees and removing dry brush. On May 11--a week later--lightening started a fire which the wind drove toward Ortonville, Minnesota. But the thinned forest provided the fire fighters with staging areas and fire breaks, and allowed them to quickly suppress the fire. Only 350 acres were burned.

Even reliable friends are deserting the extreme environmentalists on this issue. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle said that "leaving forests alone equates to watching them burn," and lamented that the enviros "still cling to no-action ideologies."

But facts don't mean much to ideologues. In Montana, the first major plan under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act is to remove the fuel load from the Middle East Fork drainage area in the Bitterroot National Forest. The Missoulian reports that the plan calls for logging 6,400 acres out of the area's 26,000 acres. In April, the Missoulian cautioned, "Some people view commercial logging the way others might regard loan-sharking in a cathedral."

Sure enough, earlier this month, Friends of the Bitterroot, the Ecology Center, and the Native Forest Network filed a suit against the Forest Service seeking an injunction.
-----
James Thayer is a frequent contributor to The Daily Standard. His twelfth novel, The Gold Swan, has been published by Simon & Schuster.
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Postby dave54 » Fri May 26, 2006 8:50 am

"...Gazing steadily into Alice's looking glass, the Sierra Club argued that logging can increase the risk of fires.

Does thinning work?..."

In 2003 the Black's Fire on Lassen NF burned part of the Black's Mtn Experimental Forest. The Experimental Forest is an area set aside for research on various harvesting treatments and their effects on the forest ecology. The fire proved to be a Godsend. Researchers had living proof on the ground that thinning reduces fire spread and intensity.

The fire burned through several different treatments units and untreated areas. The effects on each were documented and the resulting report, complete with photos, was presented in Congressional testimony.

There is no dispute among firefighters (firefighters do not need proof or scientific testimony. They all know from first hand experience).



In some contrived scenarios you can make the Fire Spread Model slightly increase rate of spread of fire in a thinned forest (an increase of a 20-40 meters per hour of fire spread). This is tweaking the model by inputting unrealistic variables. In my 30 years of experience I never observed it in real world conditions.
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Postby hikerduane » Fri May 26, 2006 7:54 pm

Thanks Dave, I forgot about that fire and the results.
Piece of cake.
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Postby dave54 » Wed May 31, 2006 7:08 pm

hikerduane wrote:Thanks Dave, I forgot about that fire and the results.


There are literally dozens if not hundreds of other real world examples. That one just came to mind first.
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