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Do Nothing, We Lose Our Forests »

The fires of last summer have long since  been extinguished. Whether in southern Oregon, where the devastating Douglas Complex Fire burned nearly 50,000 acres of federal and private timberland, or in California where the largest fires in California history raged last summer or anywhere else where unnaturally large fires destroyed forestland, the story is essentially the same. Most of us have put those fires out of mind and are looking forward to the lazy, hazy days of summer. Not so for those who live near these burned landscapes or who make their living as stewards of forestland. At risk are the millions of dollars that have been reinvested on private lands in an effort to recoup the jobs and resources that we depend on in my neck of the woods. We are also concerned for the future of our  remaining federal timber, a resource that belongs to all of us. Further, we’re putting at risk our clean air and water and the remaining habitat for mammals, birds, fish and others; both threatened and otherwise. 

Doing nothing to restore the burned landscape is a formula for increasingly greater catastrophe.  But the sense of urgency we all feel while the flames are leaping into the sky during the hot summer newscast, subside, like smoke after the fires are out. We need to reconnect with that sense of urgency if we are ever going to change the gloomy trajectory that our forests are on today. When a forest burns and the fire is out, the problem is just beginning. 

While the burned, dead and down timber lies in wait of the next summer lightning strikes, it is quickly being overwhelmed by brush that grows rampantly in the barren black landscape adding even more combustable fire material. The brush halts natural reforestation and shades out the most stubborn new seedlings before they have any chance to replace the stands that once covered these hillsides. All of those dead black trees will eventually fall, adding to the jumble of dry, dead woody biomass that litters these hills, in some places, 8 to 10 feet deep. Most of us have no understanding or appreciation for the fact that the carbon stored in these trees while they were young and robust absorbers of deadly carbon in the atmosphere, is slowly being released into our air as they lay rotting.  If we want to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint by enormous steps, we really should remove the burned trees before they rot. 

In addition, and posing an even more immediate threat, the countless tons of dead timber are piling up as fuel to feed the next big fire. The fire that will burn in these mountainous piles of dead wood, will burn so hot, so long, and so close to the ground, that it will physically change the soil composition (Switzer, Hope, Grayston, Prescott, et al) destroying the chemical, physical and biological elements that forest soils must have in order to restore themselves and thrive. 

To top it off, current misguided strategies for responding (or not) to these hazardous forest conditions, include “leave tree snags” for the benefit of some forest creatures, primarily woodpeckers, that need access to dead trees for nesting, insect farming and other legitimate needs. Common sense will tell you that a woodpecker will peck wood if a woodpecker can peck wood. And he’ll peck wood where he finds wood. If we think that leaving tall dead trees in lightning prone dead stands will serve the woodpecker population better than random snags that woodpeckers are adept at discovering without our help, we’re barking up the wrong tree. Consider that nothing is more destructive to habitat than stand-clearing, crown fires. And these dead standing snags serve to attract lightning strikes, igniting the next fire. Beyond their effectiveness as lightning rods, they also act as efficient dispersers of fire, accelerating the next conflagration after it has begun. 

We all need to “get in the game” and add our voices to the debate. The problem is worsening by the hour. We have little time to waste doing nothing, at the risk of losing our National Forests… our legacy and our grandchildren’s inheritance. 

 

DETRIMENTAL EDITORIALS AND LETTERS TO EDITORS »

Editorials and letters to the editors make it obvious that there are a number of groups that communicate with language designed to polarize public opinion using supposed economic and scientific information selectively to further their efforts to gridlock actions on forest management.  Unfortunately these actions are very divisive and have severe negative effects on federal agency management efforts.  Such actions have resulted in diminished effective management of our public lands and are very detrimental to the long term viability of our forests.

A recent example is the editorial entitled “Non-timber products good for forests, economy” printed in the January 15, 2014 News Review.  The writers have an obvious bias against the forest industry and used selected data in a manner that suits their agenda.   Such editorials do little to further the economic well being of rural communities in Oregon, and the legal actions taken by groups such as Oregon Wild are a prime example of how our federal land managers are basically hamstrung in their management efforts.

Forests are active plant communities, where trees and other green plants grow every day through the process of photosynthesis.  For tens of thousands of years natural lightning-caused fire was a normal part of forest ecology, cleansing the forest of the perpetual accumulation of fire prone fuels with low burning fire that reduced the “fuel load” that today frequently contributes to catastrophic wildfires.  North American forests became “fire adapted” over time, the trees and plants that survived these low burning fires became the rather open forests found by Native Americans and early European settlers.

When humans suppress natural fire, we are artificially “managing” the lands that would normally be cleansed by fire, and this includes lands set aside as “wilderness.”   Over the past century, human intervention to this natural process through intensive fire suppression, and in the past 30 or so years drastically reduced harvesting, has allowed forest fuels to accumulate unchecked.  Trees and plants normally not capable of surviving even low burning fire have been allowed to regenerate and are now a dominant part of forest ecology.  Today when fires do start in the forest (regardless of the source of ignition), the enormous fuel load creates fires so intense that they often completely destroy much of the plant life, and sometimes the soils, that makes up our forests.  The cleansing effect of fire, which in the past was beneficial to forests, now fuels unnatural and intense fires which we certainly saw this past summer with the Douglas Complex fires.

Most foresters recognize the serious problem we have created by the constant suppression of natural fire, and they understand that we need to a fresh approach to reduce the fuel load and make our forests more fire resilient.  With the financial problems facing local, state and federal government, there is little if any money available to address the fuel problem without the generation of cash through the sale of forest assets.  Trees are a marketable commodity and when harvested and sold, can provide our federal agencies with funds to more effectively manage public lands. At the same time with effective forestry practices, foresters can reduce tree density and overgrown forest vegetation that often results in intense forest fires.

In order to provide for the generation of cash, we need an industry capable of converting raw materials into finished products that can be sold in the marketplace.  Such economic activity generates jobs in our communities, provides financing for forest management activities, and provides funding for schools and local governmental agencies.   A successful industry also provides a multitude of secondary employment opportunities in communities, providing for more vibrant local economic opportunities.

We need to be very cognizant of the danger of losing our forest products infrastructure.   A number of forested locations in the United States including areas in Arizona, New Mexico, California, and eastern Oregon have serious problems in attempting forest management activities because the companies that provided forest related work and/or manufacturing/marketing of forest products are no longer available to do the necessary work.  The loss of this infrastructure is a direct result of the actions taken by groups using the court system in opposition to most forest management activity.

According to a report prepared by the Oregon Department of Forestry, the State of Oregon spent approximately $122 million dollars fighting forest fires in 2013.  I have not seen reports on 2013 spending by the Forest Service, BLM, DFPA or private companies, but I believe the amount Oregon spent may be only a small percentage of the total wildfire firefighting costs in Oregon last year. Unfortunately, in the past 10-15 years there has been a trend of increased expenses each year as the fuel load problem worsens.

It is time to stop the madness and allow professional foresters to manage our public lands properly.

Author:  Wes Melo is a 1966 Forestry graduate from the University of California at Berkeley.   He is retired after spending 16 years as Vice President of Operations at Ingram Book Company. He spent much of his life working for forest products companies in various locations in the U.S.   Most of his life was also spent as a firefighter dealing with both structural and wild land fires.   He is the Vice Chair of Communities for Healthy Forests.

WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON THAT IS CONTRIBUTING TO CATASTROPHIC WILDFIRE IN OUR FORESTS? »

HEAT + DROUGHT +EXCESSIVE FUEL LOADING +EXCESSIVE LADDER FUELS +DENSE TREE STANDS = CONFLAGRATIONS LIKE NEVER SEEN BEFORE BY HUMANS SINCE HUMANS CREATED THIS FUEL CONDITION STARTING BACK IN THE 1890’S.

For tens of thousands of years, natural lightning-caused fire was a normal part of our forest ecology, cleansing the forest of the perpetual accumulation of fire prone fuels with low burning fire that reduced the “fuel load” that today enables catastrophic wildfire.  As such, most North American forests became “fire adapted” meaning the trees and plants that survived these low burning fires were more fire resistant and became the forest vegetation that Native Americans and early European settlers inhabited.

Over the past century, human intervention to this natural process through fire suppression and reduced harvesting has allowed forest fuels to accumulate unchecked.  Green plant life continually grows through the process of photosynthesis, and without the cleansing effect of natural fire, fuels accumulate to the point that once a fire starts, the accumulated fuel load creates an intense fire that in many cases is unnaturally destructive.  Trees and plants normally not capable of surviving even low burning fire have been allowed to regenerate and become a substantial part of current forest vegetation.  When fires do start in the forest, that enormous fuel load creates fires so hot and intense that they completely destroy much of the living plant life that makes up our woodlands.  

After catastrophic fires, forests are left with soils depleted of many naturally occurring nutrients and are stripped bare of the vegetation that normally filters precipitation as it makes its way into the watersheds, our sources of clean water. Barren soils exposed to precipitation allow sediments and mudslides that contaminate streams, suffocating and destroying salmon spawning gravel beds.  Unchecked rainwater washes downed trees, boulders and other debris into streams, clogging and choking out aquatic life.   

Dying and dead trees remaining after fires become targets and fuel for subsequent lightning strikes usually occurring every summer, and become ignition sources for the next series of fires.  Subsequent fires burn even hotter and closer to the soils, as most re-growth after wildfire are flashy fuels such as grasses and extremely flammable brush species. And snags weakened by fire are a serious hazard to humans working or being in the vicinity of those dead trees.

The elimination of natural fire in our forest ecology can no longer be ignored.   Human intervention has substantially altered our forests, and fuel loads have become so potentially devastating to our wildlands that we must become more effective in managing our forests to mitigate the potential for devastating wildfire.  For the past 20 years there is a consistent trend, we burn more acres in wildfires, we spend more money fighting fires, we put more firefighters in harm’s way, and we spend LESS money on managing the forests.  In 2012 alone, our federal government spent almost $2 BILLION to fight fires, yet spent less than $500 million on fuels reduction projects, with approximately half of that spent on planning, not “boots on the ground” work.   And with the wildfires we have experienced so far in 2013, those costs for fighting fire, loss of life and property is going to be much higher than 2012, continuing the trend.

Our governmental agencies hire trained foresters, biologists, and other knowledgeable professionals to oversee the management of our forests with goals that are in the best long term interests of our society.   Under current practices and regulations, federal forest managers are unable to carry out many proposals on forest management given the conflicting regulations and litigation that seems to always inhibit efforts toward effective management.  Governmental regulations and requirements to manage for single species in forest ecologies also limits effective practices in the diverse ecologies of our forests.   It is time to get beyond the current gridlock that blocks effective management of our forests and allow our forest managers to do the work they know needs to be done to protect the long term interests of our forests, our fish and wildlife, and the watersheds that provide us with clean water.

Our legislators need to understand the devastating effect of the current quagmire of regulation and litigation and the impacts those have on the long term management of our natural resources, and pass legislation that frees up managers to do their jobs effectively.  The problem is not with local forest managers, it is our Congress and Administration that fails to recognize the problem and focus on solutions to provide active management to mimic the effects natural fire had in maintaining fuel loads at reasonable levels.  The health of our forests for future generations must be the primary objective, we must get control of our forest fuels.

Author:   Wes Melo is a 1966 Forestry graduate from the University of California at Berkeley.   He is retired after spending 16 years as Vice President of Operations at Ingram Book Company. He spent much of his life working for forest products companies in various locations in the U.S.   Most of his life was also spent as a firefighter dealing with both structural and wild land fires.   He is the Vice Chair of Communities for Healthy Forests.

 

WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON THAT IS CONTRIBUTING TO CATASTROPHIC WILDFIRE IN

OUR FORESTS?

HEAT + DROUGHT +EXCESSIVE FUEL LOADING +EXCESSIVE LADDER FUELS +DENSE

TREE STANDS = CONFLAGRATIONS LIKE NEVER SEEN BEFORE BY HUMANS SINCE

HUMANS CREATED THIS FUEL CONDITION STARTING BACK IN THE 1890’S.

For tens of thousands of years, natural lightning-caused fire was a normal part of our forest

ecology, cleansing the forest of the perpetual accumulation of fire prone fuels with low burning

fire that reduced the “fuel load” that today enables catastrophic wildfire. As such, most North

American forests became “fire adapted” meaning the trees and plants that survived these low

burning fires were more fire resistant and became the forest vegetation that Native Americans

and early European settlers inhabited.

Over the past century, human intervention to this natural process through fire suppression

and reduced harvesting has allowed forest fuels to accumulate unchecked. Green plant life

continually grows through the process of photosynthesis, and without the cleansing effect of

natural fire, fuels accumulate to the point that once a fire starts, the accumulated fuel load

creates an intense fire that in many cases is unnaturally destructive. Trees and plants normally

not capable of surviving even low burning fire have been allowed to regenerate and become a

substantial part of current forest vegetation. When fires do start in the forest, that enormous fuel

load creates fires so hot and intense that they completely destroy much of the living plant life

that makes up our woodlands.

After catastrophic fires, forests are left with soils depleted of many naturally occurring nutrients

and are stripped bare of the vegetation that normally filters precipitation as it makes its way

into the watersheds, our sources of clean water. Barren soils exposed to precipitation allow

sediments and mudslides that contaminate streams, suffocating and destroying salmon

spawning gravel beds. Unchecked rainwater washes downed trees, boulders and other debris

into streams, clogging and choking out aquatic life.

Dying and dead trees remaining after fires become targets and fuel for subsequent lightning

strikes usually occurring every summer, and become ignition sources for the next series of fires.

Subsequent fires burn even hotter and closer to the soils, as most re-growth after wildfire are

flashy fuels such as grasses and extremely flammable brush species. And snags weakened by

fire are a serious hazard to humans working or being in the vicinity of those dead trees.

The elimination of natural fire in our forest ecology can no longer be ignored. Human

intervention has substantially altered our forests, and fuel loads have become so potentially

devastating to our wildlands that we must become more effective in managing our forests to

mitigate the potential for devastating wildfire. For the past 20 years there is a consistent trend,

we burn more acres in wildfires, we spend more money fighting fires, we put more firefighters in

harm’s way, and we spend LESS money on managing the forests. In 2012 alone, our federal

government spent almost $2 BILLION to fight fires, yet spent less than $500 million on fuels

reduction projects, with approximately half of that spent on planning, not “boots on the ground”

work. And with the wildfires we have experienced so far in 2013, those costs for fighting fire,

loss of life and property is going to be much higher than 2012, continuing the trend.

Our governmental agencies hire trained foresters, biologists, and other knowledgeable

professionals to oversee the management of our forests with goals that are in the best long

term interests of our society. Under current practices and regulations, federal forest managers

are unable to carry out many proposals on forest management given the conflicting regulations

and litigation that seems to always inhibit efforts toward effective management. Governmental

regulations and requirements to manage for single species in forest ecologies also limits

effective practices in the diverse ecologies of our forests. It is time to get beyond the current

gridlock that blocks effective management of our forests and allow our forest managers to do

the work they know needs to be done to protect the long term interests of our forests, our fish

and wildlife, and the watersheds that provide us with clean water.

Our legislators need to understand the devastating effect of the current quagmire of regulation

and litigation and the impacts those have on the long term management of our natural

resources, and pass legislation that frees up managers to do their jobs effectively. The problem

is not with local forest managers, it is our Congress and Administration that fails to recognize

the problem and focus on solutions to provide active management to mimic the effects natural

fire had in maintaining fuel loads at reasonable levels. The health of our forests for future

generations must be the primary objective, we must get control of our forest fuels.

Climate and Wildfires »

The startling facts of the real impact of catastrophic wildfires on greenhouse gas emissions should get the attention of lawmakers and leaders.  In 2007 Dr. Thomas Bonnickson developed the Forest Carbon Emissions Model to quantify the emissions from the Angora Fire in California.  The equation is simple. You calculate the volume of wood burned and the greenhouse gas (CO2, Nitrous Oxide and Methane emissions) during combustion in the event.  After the fire is out and the blackened soil and trees are cold, you calculate the annual emissions of greenhouse gasses from the black trees, animals, and soils.  Dr. Bonnickson calculates that the emissions from the cold black aftermath are three times the emissions from the event itself.  Thus for the 2013, 50,000 acre Douglas Complex Fire in Douglas, Jackson and Josephine counties, the emissions of CO2, Nitrous oxide and methane would amount to  2.3 million tons of greenhouse gasses.  According to Dr. Bonnickson, for every 21,000 acres burned it is the equivalent to putting one million cars on the road for a year.  According to this formula, the Douglas Complex Fire put out GHG emissions equivalent to emissions from 2.3 million cars on the road for a year.  That is during the combustion event.  After the event, if it is true that the release of GHG is three times the combustion levels, then the emissions from the Douglas Complex Fire were 6.9 say 7 million tons of GHG over the next 50 years.  This should concern scientists and legislators who have a concern about the effects of climate change.  

We know how to reduce the GHG emissions dramatically.  The Jackson County study done over several years looked at vegetation levels in Jackson County Oregon.  Modeling was developed to determine how to reduce the severity of fires so that is reducing flame lengths and numbers of trees killed.  The study found that forests had 1500 to 2500 trees per acre, whereas in the dry forests of Jackson County the soils and moisture could only sustain about 150 to 250 trees per acre.  About 40 different levels of thinning were modeled to show the contrast between heavy and light thinning on the fire burned forest.  Very light thinning made almost no difference in the intensity of the fire.  It took very heavy thinning, to reduce density down to 250 trees per acre, thus reduce intensity.  When a fire burned through a thinned area, the theory was proven.  The fire stayed low, big trees were scorched but only underbrush was killed.  The emissions from a fire in a forest with the sustainable number of trees per acre would be greatly reduced. 

Another way to reduce emissions after a fire is to harvest burned dead trees and manufacture them into furniture and houses.  The manufactured wood stores the carbons and no longer releases them.  Rapid action after a fire can significantly reduce GHG emissions. 

At some point our leaders, legislators and media must understand the damage done by catastrophic fires as they contribute significantly to emissions that contribute to climate change.  While the move to switch to alternative fuels is one part of the equation, the other part is to manage our federal forests to reduce emissions significantly. 

Author:  Sue Kupillas, former Jackson County Commissioner, currently Executive Director for Communities for Healthy Forests.

Has Smokey the Bear Failed? »

When you think of preventing forest fires, chances are Smokey the Bear comes to mind. Smokey Bear has been the face of America’s forest fire policies, policies that haven’t changed in nearly a century. But has the Smokey the Bear campaign failed us?

In recent years rising temperatures and drought combined with a buildup of forest tender and overgrowth has led to massive wildfires that are on average more than five times larger than the fires we saw throughout the 1970s. For the better part of a century America’s fire policies have focused on fire suppression, which combined with drought and little active management have led to more megafires.

Our dependence on outdated fire policies have had multiple unintended consequences. Not only are wildfires burning bigger and hotter than ever, but they’re costing more than ever to fight. In August the U.S. Forest Service ran out of money to fight forest fires (for the seventh time since 2002). The shortfall forced administrators to remove money from other programs including wildfire prevention.

This creates a vicious cycle. Money dedicated to thinning and land management gets reallocated to fire fighting efforts. In turn, with less effort concentrated on reducing the risk of wildfires, more severe wildfires break out across the United States, once again overburdening suppression efforts and requiring administrators to tap related budgets and divert funds to suppression efforts. Season after season the cycle repeats itself. As soon as the coffers are replenished the money goes right back out the door.

To combat wildfires in the next century we need to shift our views on wildfire management policy. We need to change how we look at wildfires from a basic level. Some experts suggest that wildfires be treated like other natural disasters and that an emergency fund be created to help fund fire suppression efforts. Budgets can then be allocated and maintained for the purpose of preventing fires in the first place. Management practices like thinning and removing overburden and dead and decaying material can help make our forest floors more fire resistant. Controlled burns can help promote all around healthier forests.

Second stewardship contracts are another area that can help improve forest health and ease the financial burden of land management. According to the government Forests and Rangelands website, “Stewardship contracting can produce desirable results including improving forest health and providing benefits to rural communities. Among other things, stewardship contracting allows forest products to be exchanged for ecological restoration services, which may include thinning and removing brush.” Stewardship contracting allows private organizations or businesses to do the necessary thinning and remove small trees and undergrowth and as partial payment, stewardship contractors are able to keep part of what they remove.

These are examples of long term strategies for combating wildfire. It’s time we look past our current policies and focus on efforts to help improve the health and financial viability of our forests for the future. Current policies no longer cut it. It’s time we take a proactive approach to fighting wildfires.

Government Shutdown Stops Logging Operations »

Starting next week the US Government is shutting down timber operations across the country. The agency plans to notify 450 timber purchasers across the country early next week that timber sales and stewardship contracts will be suspended as part of the federal government shutdown, Forest Service spokesman Leo Kay told the Associated Press.

This is devastating news to rural communities closely tied to neighboring forests. “What this means is another economic hit to rural areas in tough economic shape during the government shutdown,” stated Sen. Ron Wyden.

The logging season is coming to a close and loggers in the Pacific Northwest had hoped to have a few weeks to finish up contracts and generate some revenue before the winter season shut them down. The government shutdown will likely force logging companies to close for the season almost a month ahead of schedule, increasing the hardship on families in areas that are already pinching every last penny to get by.

Depending on how long the federal shutdown lasts, sawmills and other industries dependent on logging operations could also suffer, significantly raising the amount of people out of work and putting at risk communities even deeper into recession.

Rep. Greg Walden made a keep observation when he said the shutdown was another reason the Senate should join the House in passing legislation to increase logging on national forests, in part by putting them under local control.

But it’s not just the economic impact that worries land managers and forest experts. The government shutdown could leave national forest lands extremely vulnerable to fire. Logging efforts on federal lands are already limited and a complete stoppage of work simply adds to the level of growth and overburden on the forest floor.

The fire season is winding down, and with any luck the impact might not be felt this season. But next year as temperatures start to climb and our forest floors dry out, the danger will be all too real. The lack of land management during the furlough could very well lead to record fire seasons across the United States, putting rural communities at even more risk.

It’s time the federal government heeds the warnings of forest and fire experts, and puts control of our nation’s forest lands back into the hands of local experts more adapt at facing the challenges and keeping our wilderness treasures healthy and safe.

Wildfires are Hotter and Bigger Than Ever »

Wildfires are burning hotter and bigger than ever before. It’s not a sentiment that’s exactly new, we’ve heard it several times before. But analysis of recent fires across the Western United States is showing scientists that this year’s forest fires raised the stakes yet again.

But why are wildfires increasing in size and temperature? And what makes scientists so sure that the trend is poised to continue?

The article Hotter & Bigger, by Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, does an excellent job in explaining the causes and effects of more intense fire seasons. Here are a few of the issues Barker discusses in his exposé:

Climate change is a contributing factor to more intense fire seasons. Warmer winters mean less snow, which melts sooner and decreases runoff.  As a result the forests dry out earlier prompting fire seasons that start earlier and last much longer.

After fires, forests are not getting the chance to recover. Forest fires are becoming so frequent and repeated burns are so hot that the many trees aren’t getting the opportunity to grow big enough to produce seeds. Even in forests with mature tree populations, the dry conditions, invasive brush and damaged soil caused by previous fires discourages their new seeds from germinating on the forest floor.

Hotter and bigger fires burning through dry forests create heat levels that can exceed 1,000 degrees, literally turning the soils to ash and rocks. Ordinarily fallen trees and logs lying on the ground take a very long time to dry out. But seeing ghost trees completely destroyed to the point that nothing but ash remains indicates new realities about wildfire behavior. Fires have adapted with warmer, drier conditions. As a result, we need to adapt our understanding about how wildfires work and our forest practices to manage and fight them.

At Communities for Healthy Forests, we believe this means taking steps to help reduce the risk of wildfire and limit the amounts of excess fuels. Proper land management techniques, backed by revised government policies is the best way to assure that as nature evolves, so does our approach to combating the increased risk of wildfire.

Read Action Alert below and see what we are up against. »

Action Alert: Anti-Forestry Activists Rally Tomorrow

Anti-forestry groups plan to rally tomorrow, October 1 in Portland to protest solutions to restore jobs and forest health to Western Oregon’s O&C timber lands.

These groups are singling-out the bipartisan O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs legislation that has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and now awaiting action in the U.S. Senate.  But the truth is they oppose any permanent and comprehensive solution that puts people back to work in the woods while making our forests less vulnerable to wildfire, insects and disease. 

The management of BLM O&C and Forest Service lands in Oregon is completely broken, which has resulted in chronic levels of rural unemployment, poverty and crime. 

The anti-forestry groups plan to march from a public park to Sen. Ron Wyden’s Portland office – far away from the rural communities and forests whose future hinges on a meaningful legislative solution.  As Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Wyden is developing his own plan to reform management of these forests.  They are protesting Sen. Wyden’s office because he has acknowledged the grave situation in O&C forests and nearby rural communities, and has pledged to resolve the crisis.

These extreme groups will do anything to stop solutions to help our rural, forested communities. Make sure your voice is heard.

You can counter tomorrow’s anti-forestry protest by calling Sen. Wyden’s Washington, D.C. office: 202-224-5244; Portland office: 503-326-7525; or Eugene office: 541-431-0229.  Please tell Sen. Wyden’s office that you support a permanent solution that assures rural job creation and active forest management on O&C lands.

Talking Points

  • Currently, there’s very little active management of O&C lands to provide both economic and environmental benefits.
  • Our overgrown forests across Oregon have become more vulnerable to insects, disease and catastrophic wildfire, while our friends and neighbors are continuing to lose family-wage jobs.
  • Rural communities throughout Oregon continue to suffer from chronic unemployment and high poverty rates, and the situation is only getting worse.
  • By law, the O&C forests are required to be managed for sustained yield timber production, and are capable of sustaining up to 1.2 billion board feet of timber harvest per year. With an average harvest of 137 million board feet over the past two decades, these levels are far below what is legally required under the O&C Act and even under President Bill Clinton’s failed Northwest Forest Plan.
  • For too long, our rural communities have suffered from conflicting federal laws and regulations that have led to endless red tape and environmental litigation. It’s time for the federal government to honor the O&C Act while passing legislation that assures these timber harvests will occur.

If you prefer to email, click here to send your federal representatives a personalized message asking them to take action on this important issue – it takes less than 2 minutes.

Don’t let extreme anti-forestry groups stop our momentum for a solution. Stand up for Western Oregon’s rural communities.

Thank you!

Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities · United States

Wildfire Fuel Types Part II: Why Current Policies Are Creating Excess Wildfire Fuel »

A popular opinion in recent years has been the “let it burn” approach to fighting fires. Central to the let it burn theory is that fires are naturally valuable to the ecosystem. By leaving the land untouched and letting fires burn without interference we’re actually creating a healthier forest ecosystem. The intentions behind the theory are good, but the reality is that it’s a misguided approach to fire management born from a lack of understanding about fuel types and fire behavior.

It’s true that some surface fires are actually beneficial to the ecosystem. Surface fires naturally burn off overburden, remove dead and decayed materials, create space for new saplings to grow, and provide nitrates and other important minerals to the soil. Native American’s practiced controlled surface burns as part of their farming rituals centuries before European settlers came to the area. Applying the let it burn approach to surface fires isn’t altogether a bad idea. In fact, controlled surface burns can be intentionally incorporated into land management policies for the benefit of the ecosystem.

Sounds good, so what’s the problem with “let it burn”? The problem occurs when you consider how current policies and ladder fuels influence surface fires.

Lawsuits, lobbying, and erroneous policies have prevented us from maintaining healthy natural forests. Current laws prevent land managers from caring for and thinning forests where they need it most. Not only are we intentionally overgrowing the forests, creating areas that are too dense and prone to catastrophic fire, when those fires do occur we don’t tend to stick to our original “let it burn” philosophy. As soon as the fires (we’ve helped to create and fuel) start encroaching human civilization we rush to stop them in their tracks. Twenty years ago only 13 percent of the Forest Service’s total budget went towards fighting fires. Today, more than 40 percent is dedicated to the same cause. Meanwhile the budget towards wildfire prevention has been axed by 25 percent annually. It’s not much different than an ostrich burying its head in the sand, as long as we don’t have to admit we’re creating conditions that are literally burning us out, we’re happy pretending we’re doing the right thing. Instead we’re implementing policies that are literally creating millions of acres of ladder fuel, fuel that helps turn healthy and productive surface fires into raging crown fires that chew through hundreds of thousands of acres of forest annually.

 At its core, a fire is a simple thing. It’s going to go where there is the most fuel to burn. Surface fuels are like appetizers to wildfires, they’re not enough. Large trees on the other hand make healthy meals. But the only way for a fire to effectively reach the top of the tree line (called the crown) is to go vertical. In order to do that, the fire needs fuel that connects the crown to the surface. Ladder fuels are called such because they effectively create a ladder for the wildfire to climb. Once a fire reaches the tree line it becomes a crown fire, a fast burning fire that advances on top of the trees and independent of the surface. Crown fires are impossible to fight from the surface, they burn hot and fast and spread quickly. As a result they are much more dangerous and require an incredible amount of effort to combat. Most of the massive fires we encounter today are crown fires.

A better understanding of the types of wildland fuel is important to understanding why some of our current policies don’t work. Policies designed to promote the benefit of low lying surface fires simply don’t apply to all types of fires. Additionally these types of policies tie the hands of land managers tasked with maintaining our forests health. Bad policies prevent forest managers from thinning and removing ladder fuels, contributing to an already dangerous climate. But why should it matter to you and I? By remaining educated about the kinds of wildfire fuel and how they affect a fire we are better suited to engage in an open and honest discussion about protecting our forests and communities and better prepared to hold those tasked with representing our positions in government accountable for current policies, good or bad.

Wildfire Fuel Types Part I: Understanding Wildfire Fuel Types »

Over the past decade we’ve seen a large percentage of wildfires burn out of control. Recent trends show that wildfires are burning hotter and faster than ever and consuming more acreage annually. It’s a trend experts fear is poised to continue in 2013 and beyond. In other words, fires are becoming increasingly bigger and more dangerous. But in order to understand why today’s fires are bigger and stronger than ever before, we need to understand the differences in the types of fuels sustaining them.

According to the Society of American Foresters there are eight distinct fuel types related to wildfires. Each fuel type plays a crucial role in the size, shape, and behavior of a fire. The types of fuel the fire burns has a direct impact on not only the makeup of the fire itself, but on how we can prepare for and fight actively burning wildfires. For example, large trees do not catch fire as quickly as grass or shrubs do, but they burn longer and hotter than grass. Grasslands fires are easier to put out using water while large forest fires require creating fire lines and often times using helicopters and airplanes with water and retardant to control. The types of fuels present are extremely important when determining how likely and dangerous a fire will be.

Of eight types of fuel, two are important for the average layperson (and policy maker) to understand; surface fuel and ladder fuel.

Surface fuel (sometimes also called ground fuel) is made up all the things found on the forest floor such as leaves and pine needles, grasses, roots, and small plants and shrubs. Usually surface fuel plays an important role in starting and growing wildfires. Highly combustible materials like leaves and dead branches can catch fire easily and in turn ignite the surface fuel around them causing a surface fire. A surface fire is described as a fire that burns on or close to the ground.

Ladder fuel is defined as combustible material that provides vertical continuity between vegetation strata and allows fire to climb into the crowns of trees or shrubs with relative ease. In other words, ladder fuel includes things like trees, tall shrubs, and low hanging branches that can help a fire spread not only horizontally but vertically.

Understanding these two types of fuels is important because it helps us to understand the best ways to go about preventing and combating forest fires. There have been plenty of misunderstandings surrounding how fuels encourage and shape fires. Many of these misunderstandings have even caused lobbyists and politicians to draft policies that not only harm fire protection efforts, but downright oppose them.

Continued in Part II: Why Current Policies Are Creating Excess Wildfire Fuel

A popular opinion in recent years has been the “let it burn” approach to fighting fires. Central to the let it burn theory is that fires are naturally valuable to the ecosystem. By leaving the land untouched and letting fires burn without interference we’re actually creating a healthier forest ecosystem. The intentions behind the theory are good, but the reality is that it’s a misguided approach to fire management born from a lack of understanding about fuel types and fire behavior.

It’s true that some surface fires are actually beneficial to the ecosystem. Surface fires naturally burn off overburden, remove dead and decayed materials, create space for new saplings to grow, and provide nitrates and other important minerals to the soil. Native American’s practiced controlled surface burns as part of their farming rituals centuries before European settlers came to the area. Applying the let it burn approach to surface fires isn’t altogether a bad idea. In fact, controlled surface burns can be intentionally incorporated into land management policies for the benefit of the ecosystem.

Sounds good, so what’s the problem with “let it burn”? The problem occurs when you consider how current policies and ladder fuels influence surface fires.

Lawsuits, lobbying, and erroneous policies have prevented us from maintaining healthy natural forests. Current laws prevent land managers from caring for and thinning forests where they need it most. Not only are we intentionally overgrowing the forests, creating areas that are too dense and prone to catastrophic fire, when those fires do occur we don’t tend to stick to our original “let it burn” philosophy. As soon as the fires (we’ve helped to create and fuel) start encroaching human civilization we rush to stop them in their tracks. Twenty years ago only 13 percent of the Forest Service’s total budget went towards fighting fires. Today, more than 40 percent is dedicated to the same cause. Meanwhile the budget towards wildfire prevention has been axed by 25 percent annually. It’s not much different than an ostrich burying its head in the sand, as long as we don’t have to admit we’re creating conditions that are literally burning us out, we’re happy pretending we’re doing the right thing. Instead we’re implementing policies that are literally creating millions of acres of ladder fuel, fuel that helps turn healthy and productive surface fires into raging crown fires that chew through hundreds of thousands of acres of forest annually.

At its core, a fire is a simple thing. It’s going to go where there is the most fuel to burn. Surface fuels are like appetizers to wildfires, they’re not enough. Large trees on the other hand make healthy meals. But the only way for a fire to effectively reach the top of the tree line (called the crown) is to go vertical. In order to do that, the fire needs fuel that connects the crown to the surface. Ladder fuels are called such because they effectively create a ladder for the wildfire to climb. Once a fire reaches the tree line it becomes a crown fire, a fast burning fire that advances on top of the trees and independent of the surface. Crown fires are impossible to fight from the surface, they burn hot and fast and spread quickly. As a result they are much more dangerous and require an incredible amount of effort to combat. Most of the massive fires we encounter today are crown fires.

A better understanding of the types of wildland fuel is important to understanding why some of our current policies don’t work. Policies designed to promote the benefit of low lying surface fires simply don’t apply to all types of fires. Additionally these types of policies tie the hands of land managers tasked with maintaining our forests health. Bad policies prevent forest managers from thinning and removing ladder fuels, contributing to an already dangerous climate. But why should it matter to you and I? By remaining educated about the kinds of wildfire fuel and how they affect a fire we are better suited to engage in an open and honest discussion about protecting our forests and communities and better prepared to hold those tasked with representing our positions in government accountable for current policies, good or bad.

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