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"New" Forest Service policy?

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"New" Forest Service policy?

Postby dave54 » Sat Mar 09, 2013 9:52 am

http://m.sacbee.com/sacramento/db_99761 ... d=8jjKaz14

This has been the de facto policy for decades.
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Re: "New" Forest Service policy?

Postby sparky » Sat Mar 09, 2013 4:25 pm

It's an "evolution of science" haha I find that amusing. DUH! How many scientists did it take to figure out to just leave things the way they are? That nature is just fine without us....within us and without us.

We have these areas preserved from human development, but humans just can't help but to poke it with a stick! All we have to do is quiet down, sit, and do nothing....tada! Its fixed.

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Re: "New" Forest Service policy?

Postby Strider » Sun Mar 10, 2013 9:22 am

sparky wrote:Science is for human society, science will never do mother earth any favors


Environmentalism is intrinsically about what is best for humans. The biosphere doesn't "care" if we destroy life down to a single blue-green alga; it will build itself back up in a few billion years. But with only 8 billion years left before the sun becomes a white dwarf, we'd better get it right next time.
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Re: "New" Forest Service policy?

Postby gdurkee » Sun Mar 10, 2013 10:22 am

Amazing, actually. It's hard to believe USFS has taken this long to arrive at this conclusion. It took money, of course.
Tidwell played down the change, saying it's simply an "evolution of the science and the expertise" that has led to more emphasis on pre-fire planning and managed burns

I was on my first prescribed burn in 1971 so we're not talking some some dramatic revelation here. Sequoia Kings and Yosemite had both started fairly aggressive burn programs, primarily to restore fire's role as a critical part of the forest (especially Giant Sequoia) ecology. This was followed by creating "Let Burn" zones -- areas where wildfires could burn under certain conditions. Some years ago (ca. 1980s), one of the USFS supervisors made the comment that a large fire on the west slope of the Sierra had the exact same burn pattern as one from the 20s. I thought he'd get religion and realize suppression efforts made little difference under certain conditions.

It'll be a real question of how USFS will or can apply their let burn/management fire policy. When a big fire starts, even if in remote areas, there will be huge pressure to put it out. One factor is the smoke which communities have zero tolerance for, especially in tourist season.

How many scientists did it take to figure out to just leave things the way they are? That nature is just fine without us....within us and without us.

We have these areas preserved from human development, but humans just can't help but to poke it with a stick! All we have to do is quiet down, sit, and do nothing....tada! Its fixed.

Well, no, not really. If we still had intact ecologies without human caused changes, that would work. But we have policies and lands set aside to preserve and, where possible, restore some of those ecologies. Case in point is the Giant Sequoia groves. The Sequoias and associated critters and understory requires fire. In an ideal world, we'd just let lightening fires burn through there at their natural cycle. But the problem is many of those groves are near buildings and resorts. In addition, 100 years of fire suppression allowed buildup of dangerous fuels and "ladder fuels" (e.g. white fir) so a true wildfire could be catastrophic. The point being that, yes, we do have to use purposeful management to maintain an important ecology rather than, say, "leave things the way they are."

Quite often to preserve many of these ecosystems, we have to actively -- arguably artificially -- recreate previous influences. As a result, the intensive restoration programs for the Giant Sequoias (and other ecosystems elsewhere) have been incredibly successful.

Environmentalism is intrinsically about what is best for humans.

Same point and not strictly true. It's often about preserving or restoring ecosystems independent of their direct value to humans. Stewardship and a moral responsibility to the land vs. more obvious and utilitarian reasons.

g.
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Re: "New" Forest Service policy?

Postby dave54 » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:13 pm

The aggressive suppression policy so often maligned here started fading away in the 1970's. The so-called '10 AM' policy was changed and replaced with suppression actions will be commensurate with resource values at risk. Ironically, the 1915 full suppression policy was fully supported by the scientific community at the time, had widespread political and public support, and was even supported by a relatively new and young organization called the Sierra Club.
This lead to more indirect attack strategies. Instead of throwing massive amounts of firefighters and aircraft at every fire to keep it as small as possible, the policy shift was to back off to strategic ridges and roads and let the fire spread to that point before stopping. I personally have seen 1/2 acre fires that could easily have been stopped by a small crew in a few hours allowed to spread to a nearby road before attacking, and reaching 50 acres, and a couple hundred acre fire in a Wilderness Area allowed to reach 60,000 acres before spread was stopped by suppression action. The largest fire in California history last summer (Rush fire) was one such fire – roads and ridges defined the final perimeter.
This works only where high value resources are not threatened. There is a misconception that only homes and communities are high value resources. Many other resource values exist far out in a Wilderness backcountry. Municipal watersheds, wildlife habitat, endangered species, fisheries, et al are often found in remote areas. These should not be casually disregarded as disposable.
I am reminded of a 1996 fire in Modoc National Forest where I was a member of the incident management team. The fire was on the Devils Garden plateau, and those familiar with the area will know there is not much natural resource value there. The timber value is not high, watershed value is low, and far from any communities. The only values are grazing and wildlife habitat, which would in this case would have been enhanced by burning. We spent $1 million in aircraft and retardant costs in one day protecting a powerline. The Washington Office went ballistic when they heard we spent so much money on a powerline! The Forest Supervisor calmly explained on the phone, after being excoriated and lectured on suppression costs, that it was not just a powerline. This was one of the main legs of the Pacific Intertie, bringing Pacific Northwest electric power to the rest of the western U.S. One of the other legs was de-energized because it was damaged in another fire, and another leg was under repair and it would be several days before it was fully back on line. Had the Modoc leg gone down the entire western quarter of the United States would have rolling blackouts during one of the hottest heat waves of the year. So yes, we spent in excess of $1 million on ‘protecting a powerline’. We would have willingly spent many times that.
Even where there is no high value threat we just cannot just walk away and let it burn. Fires in the remotest section of wilderness do not remain in the remote wilderness. They continue to spread for days, weeks and months until the Autumn rains start. Various models exist for estimating spread distance weeks and months out, all have an element of uncertainty in their projections (my grad project was determining the probabilities of a fire ending weather event) . This is why the final decision to suppress or not suppress backcountry fires is made by a line officer. One researcher noted that of the twenty-five costliest fires in California history (in terms of property destroyed), seventeen started more than three miles from the nearest building. The decision is not an easy one to make. The same pundits and armchair environmentalists that praise the line officer in July for ‘making a courageous decision’ to let the fire burn will be calling for his head two months later when the same fire is burning residential subdivisions.
In the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana, where a let burn policy has existed since 1972, a full one-half of all ignitions have been suppressed. Partly because some of the fires did threaten areas of value, partly because of the Wilderness Act. To remain faithful to the intent of the Wilderness Act (humans are a visitor and human activities must be minimized, and natural processes dominate) all human caused fires must be suppressed. A human caused fire allowed to burn is a violation of the Act – even though the ecological impact is identical with a natural ignition a human caused fire is a human caused change.
In many cases fires can be monitored and take minimal or no actions until a certain threshold is reached. This is done now. The notion that we can simply walk away and let all Wilderness fires burn is no longer feasible.
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Re: "New" Forest Service policy?

Postby gdurkee » Sun Mar 10, 2013 12:47 pm

Dave:

Excellent summary. I was not in any way advocating letting all wilderness fires burn, but that's the easiest example of where a large number of fires can be allowed to burn. I think, though, NPS is more comfortable doing so -- and a few parks have very good evaluation criteria in place -- to let fires burn. Sequoia also has a trailer they take to roadside pullouts near prescribed fires and educate the public about them.

I've not kept up as much with USFS policy, so I'm happy to hear it's more widespread than I thought. Still, they think it unusual enough to make an announcement. I was actually on my first big fire in the Modoc in '70. Even the suggestion of prescribed fire or "let burn" then was anathema. My impression was that continued well into the 80s.

As a minor side note, even human-caused fires in NPS wilderness can be allowed to burn. I'm less sure of the reasons -- it's not considered a violation of the wilderness act, but based more on achieving a certain amount of burned acreage each year based on estimates of the incidence of fire prior to settlement by Europeans (and still allowing for fire influence by Native Americans).
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Re: "New" Forest Service policy?

Postby sparky » Sun Mar 10, 2013 4:26 pm

Same point and not strictly true. It's often about preserving or restoring ecosystems independent of their direct value to humans. Stewardship and a moral responsibility to the land vs. more obvious and utilitarian reasons.


May I respectfully disagree, and play a bit of devil's advocate. We can not possibly know what is important outside of the direct value to humans. What ideas we do have is based on a "best guess" from an assortment of current scientific studies. That "best guess" changes, it ebbs and flows with scientific advancement.

I look at science as attempting to peel back all the layers of an infinite fractal onion....It is a subjective study of our objective world ](*,)
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