March 30, 2009

Rancher's editorial about controlled burns right on target

by Rich Fairbanks

Bill Burrows makes some excellent points about controlled burning in the editorial he wrote in this weekend's Redding Record Searchlight.  The coalition he is working with includes a number of former fire management workers.  I personally worked on Forest Service fire crews and overhead teams for 20 years.  I came away from that experience firmly convinced that for certain forest types, low severity fire prevents high severity fire. 

One of the forest types that benefits most from low severity fire is the mixed conifer forest that is so common in the mountains of Northern California.  The Mendocino National Forest contains 337,000 acres of mixed conifer.  That is one of the reasons our coalition is trying to persuade Congress to ramp up the budget for controlled burning in the Mendocino National Forest.  For all the folks in Northern California and Southern Oregon who sat in the haze for a couple of months last summer, controlled burning is part of the solution. 

We don't have to tolerate months-long smoke inversions, massive stand replacing fires and escalating suppression costs.  Part of the answer to these problems is the ancient practice of under burning.  We can reduce wildfire rate of spread, resistance to control and fire severity by controlled burning in winter and spring.

March 06, 2009

They're doing it in Oregon

by Rich Fairbanks

Nearly 4,000 acres of controlled burns are scheduled for this spring on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon. Some 2,450 acres will be burned on the Medford District while about 1,376 acres will be burned on the national forest.

The agencies largely will employ understory burning intended to mimic a low-intensity wildfire by burning the ground fuels without harming most mature trees. The burning improves forest health by reducing crowding of trees and therefore the risk of insect and disease outbreaks. It also reduces the severity and sometimes the spread rate of wildfires near the urban-wildland interface.

"We are actively committed to reducing fuels across the landscape to protect lives, property and resources," Tom Murphy, fire management officer for the BLM's Medford District, told the Mail Tribune. "It is essential that we manage our forests to reduce the potential for a large uncontrolled wildfire."

The controlled burns are allowed only on days when conditions will let the fire burn safely while blowing smoke away from populated areas. The land resource agencies work with the Oregon Smoke Management Office, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the National Weather Service.

It is especially gratifying to see underburning in the Siskiyous. In parts of these  mountains the dry mixed conifer forests have responded to logging and fire control by producing the infamous "doghair" stand conditions where thousands of small trees slowly choke the mature conifers.  "Too many straws in the coconut", as one silviculturist put it.

February 18, 2009

Thinning is nice, but follow-up burning makes it much more effective

by Rich Fairbanks

Thinning is nice but follow-up burning makes it much more effective as a fuels treatment, according to the University of Washington's Crystal Raymond in her Master's thesis: "The Effects of Fuel Treatments on Fire Severity in a Mixed-Evergreen Forest of Southwestern Oregon". (Download Masters raymond.) 

Fuel treatments are now mandated by federal policy to reduce hazardous fuels on federal forest lands. More information is needed on the effectiveness of fuel treatments, especially in mixed-severity fire regimes. In this study, Raymond had the rare opportunity to quantify the relationship between fuel structure and fire severity using pre-fire surface and canopy fuels data and fire severity data after an intense wildfire: A study on thinning treatments was burned over by the Biscuit fire of 2002.
 
The study area is in a mixed-severity fire regime, the mixed-evergreen forest (think Douglas-fir, tanoak, madrone, knobcome pine, sugar pine, and chinkapin ) of southwestern Oregon. Thinning from below reduced canopy fuels, decreasing the potential for crown fire spread, but the presence of thinning slash increased potential surface fire intensity, so increases in height to live crown did not decrease the potential for crown fire initiation.

Thinning followed by under-burning reduced canopy fuels and surface fuels, thereby decreasing both crown fire spread potential and the potential for crown fire initiation. However, crown fire is not a prerequisite for high fire severity; damage and mortality of overstory trees in the wildfire was extensive despite the absence of crown fire, and the low predicted crown fire potential before and after the fuel treatment.

Damage to and mortality of overstory trees were most severe in thinned treatments (80 – 100% mortality), least severe in the thinned and under-burned treatment (5% mortality), and moderate in untreated stands (53-54% mortality) following a wildfire in 2002. Fine fuel loading was the only fuel structure variable significantly correlated with crown scorch of overstory trees. Percentage crown scorch was the best predictor of mortality two years post-fire.

Efforts to reduce canopy fuels through thinning treatments may be rendered ineffective if not accompanied by adequate reduction in surface fuels.  In most case, the cheapest and most 'natural' way to reduce surface fuels is an underburn.

January 12, 2009

Should CA keep eye on Montana wildfire initiatives?

The Montana legislature is about to address the subject of wildfire, and the dialog it's about to embrace might be one that California and federal legislators ought to monitor. According to a guest editorial by The Wilderness Society senior scientist Thomas DeLuca in the Great Falls Tribune, Montana should consider a number of ideas to help reduce the risk wildfires pose to communities. One of them, naturally, is the use of controlled burns:

"That said, targeted thinning and prescribed fire use in specific forest types can reduce the risk of catastrophic fire and restore the natural resilience of some forest types to fire," DeLuca wrote in the Jan. 12 editorial. "However, restoration efforts cannot be done under emergency conditions and should be performed only with long-term objectives."

Read more about other ideas for tackling wildfire issues by clicking on the link above.


January 06, 2009

LA Times gets it right

LA Times

by Rich Fairbanks
Once again, veteran LA Times reporter Bettina Boxall nails an aspect of the fire issue.

The subhead to this Dec. 31, 2008 story kind of tells it all:  "About 1.4 million acres burned in 2008 in one of the worst fire seasons in the state's history. But no meaningful reforms are enacted at the state or federal level."

In fiscal 2008, half of the $1.4 billion that the U.S. Forest Service spent nationally on wildfire suppression was spent in California alone. State fire expenditures topped $1 billion.  So we spent 1.7 billion on fire suppression in California.  Remember, due to fire borrowing, much of the money the feds spent on suppression came out of their regular project budget, thus halting the very fuels reduction work (such as controlled burning) that would eventually reduce the number and extent of wildfires.  Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face!

A number of excellent bills were introduced at the state level but only one passed -- and it was vetoed.

 
A bill written by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) would have required that new subdivisions in high fire-risk areas have two access roads to ensure that residents could get out and fire engines could get in during an emergency. Developers also would have had to show that they had adequate water pressure and fire protection.

The proposal, supported by firefighter associations, was listed as a "job killer" by the state chamber of commerce, which argued that it could virtually shut down suburban development in certain parts of the state. (Actually I think George Bush already did that with his economic policies, but that is another blog altogether.) The bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The feds fared no better. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) helped push through an appropriations bill that provided $910 million in emergency funds for federal firefighting and fuel-reduction efforts.
But her proposal to give incentives to communities around the country to adopt a model fire-safe ordinance dealing with building codes and defensible space fizzled. So, we continue to spend megabucks for suppression, but give short shrift to any fire management solution that might inconvenience the developers, the chamber of commerce, etc.

December 29, 2008

Red Bluff Daily News

Red Bluff Daily News reporter Ashley Gebb published a story on the Restore the Mendo campaign's effort to increase the use of controlled burns in the Mendocino National Forest. She took note of both the values of conducting such burns and the challenges that have been limiting their use.

She reports early in her article that: "Among other benefits, controlled burns reduce threats by removing debris that can cause larger fires, restore forest ecosystems and allow for greater control of smoke irritation said Rich Fairbanks, fire program associate for the California-Nevada region of The Wilderness Society."

She then rightly relays the Restore the Mendo coalition's contention that Congress needs to appropriate more funding for controlled burns and that Congressman Mike Thompson and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein could be instrumental in making that happen.

Again quoting Fairbanks, this time to put the picture of controlled burns into perspective: "The public needs to recognize that this is something that is part of nature," he said. "Humans have deliberately burned for thousands of years in the West."
 

December 16, 2008

Check us out on YouTube!

by Rachel Gurney

We’ve just added the TV spot rancher Bill Burrows did for us to The Wilderness Society’s YouTube channel and encourage you to check it out.  Better yet, comment on the video and subscribe to TWS's video channel for free so that you get the news about other short videos you might like. It’s a fun way to stay involved and informed.

Click here to see our YouTube video and tell people what you think. While you're in the neighborhood, don't forget to Digg the video, place it on your Facebook or MySpace pages if you have one, and share the 30-second clip with friends who care about protecting communities and making forests healthier.



 

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December 11, 2008

California Fire News, Firefighter Blog, turn eyes to Mendocino

California Fire News logo Several more bloggers turned their attention to the Restore the Mendo campaign this week. California Fire News posted a piece on its site dedicated to providing insight on all things California wildfire.

Meanwhile, Firefighter Blog posted an article on its site that serves the brave men and women who are on the front lines of firefighting. The US Firefighters  blog did the same with a post today. We're actively reaching out to firefighting audiences because the controlled burns play a vital role in reducing the threat of uncontrolled fires that can put fire crews in danger.

The coalition organizing the Restore the Mendo campaign is looking for more blogs that might be interested in what we're trying to do. We could use your help.

Though we are reaching out to the mainstream press and blogs that cover wildfire issues, we would like to find more community-oriented bloggers who live in the cities surrounding the Mendocino National Forest. Do you know any grassroots bloggers who write about any of the following communities?:

Anderson, Arcata, Bayside, Bella Vista, Blue Lake, Carlotta, Corning, Cottonwood, Eureka, Ferndale, Fortuna, Hydesville, Loleta, Redding, Rio Dell, Samoa, Scotia, Shasta Lake, Trinidad, and Weott.

Drop us a lineif you know of blogs, bloggers or other organizations that we should contact. The more people who find out how important controlled burns are in protecting communities and restoring forests, the better job we can do gaining support to increase their use.


December 10, 2008

Wildfire Today features Restore the Mendo campaign

WildfireTodayBanner_w-text

A comprehensive blog covering wildfire news, Wildfire Today, has posted a piece that explores the need to increase the use of controlled burns on the Mendocino National Forest. 

Publisher Bill Gabbert's conclusion?

"Forests are going to burn eventually. It is not a question of IF, but WHEN. We can control that burning in prescribed fires and do it on our own terms, or we can elect to do nothing and let nature (and careless fire-starting humans) do it for us with unplanned ignitions ... sometimes with catastrophic consequences and/or massive amounts of smoke."