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About the trees: Part 1

By imrdkl in Science
Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:14:27 PM EST
Tags: Focus On... (all tags)
Focus On...

Officials announced recently that the Biscuit wildfire had finally been contained, after fifty-five days of backbreaking and dangerous work in the middle of the worst fire season ever in the US. By the time it is completely mopped up, the Biscuit fire will have burned well over 1/2 million acres of the Siskiyou National Forest, including most of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness along the Northwest coast of the US.

Late last month, while the Biscuit fire was still raging, President Bush visited the site along with several states Governors from other states which have seen the terrible destruction of large fires this season, including Arizona. Addressing them, along with an assembled group of firefighters, while looking out over the destruction, the President remarked :

"We need to thin, we need to make our forests healthy by using some common sense."
Is the solution to the devastating fires which have rampaged across millions of acres of US forests this year really that simple?

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Throughout his visit to the Biscuit fire site, the President also lauded the Administration's new initiative which deals with the problem, called Healthy Forests. Their claim is that this initiative will help to prevent wildfires and build more durable communities by attacking the problem on two primary fronts:
  • First, reduce unnecessary regulatory obstacles that hinder active forest management - via disallowing lawsuits and appeals in cases where the risk is deemed sufficient, so that a defensible boundary may be created around severely threatened populated areas .
  • Second, work with Congress to expedite procedures for forest thinning and restoration projects - via a more aggressive "mechanical thinning" policy.
During his visit, the President commented on the recent legislation to limit appeals against fuel reduction projects in the Black Hills Forest of South Dakota, saying:
"My view is, if it's good enough for that part of South Dakota, it's good enough for Oregon"
This type of generalization may actually serve to hinder the administration's efforts more than help them. We've seen this administration's environmental proposals defeated before, after all. It's certainly clear even to the casual observer that actions must be taken to deal with wildfires, and that nature is not waiting around for us to come up with the ultimate solution. It's also a fact that the forests and wilderness areas of the western US are one of it's finest resources; much beloved, and worthy of a good fight to protect them. Common sense, as advocated by the President, is fine - even when studying complex systems - but it's no substitute for meticulous science, careful analysis, and solid technology.

But, we need solutions now.

Many people around the world are asking how and why wildfires have become so bad of late. The situation has progressively worsened during the last few years, and every year brings new debate and blame passing. While both sides acknowledge that the problems are varied and complex, the real monster is drought. Drought which has descended upon the US like a great, red blight and doesn't appear to be leaving anytime soon. This problem has much less to do with mismanagement and contentious legal maneuvering than it has to do with global warming and climate change.

The National Climactic and Data Center recently published their Climate of 2002 - Wildfire Season Summary, which provides rich data and graphs clearly demonstrating the scope and severity of this years fire season, along with comparisons to other recent years, and the 10-year average. There's little doubt that severe drought is causing fires, not just in the US, but all over the world.

Nevertheless, if we are to believe the Bush Administration, and the people who own homes and property in threatened areas, U.S. fire policy isn't cutting it, and the fault lies with bad management and too much litigation and navel-contemplation, which prevent protection plans from being implemented. The environmentalists, on the other hand, assert that the Forest Service is cooking the books, and in fact there are very few protests against reasonable and careful plans to reduce undergrowth and protect the natural forest.

Considering what to do about the forest should imply a long-term plan, and this has typically been the aim and effort of forest management agencies. Today's forests, however, must also be considered from the current perspective. This is because of the many other factors which currently affect their environment besides dry weather and overgrowth, such as livestock management, and public access.

Who pays?

Historically, the situation was not always so dire. Records from the 1800's and early 20th century describe US forests with tall, thick trees. These "old-growth" forests of yesteryear could tolerate, and even thrived upon fire to hold down undergrowth. The trees were tall and thick enough to withstand the heat, and offered few low-hanging branches to carry the flames of a groundfire into the tree crowns.

The growth and needs of the early to mid 20th century caused most of these ancient and very stable environments to be harvested, and replanted. It has therefore been the custodial policy of the Forest Service during the last century to extinguish all fires, in the long-term effort to restore the forests of old, and preserve the resources both for posterity and profit. However admirable this policy has been, the implementation did not have the funding or research required to make it work. The big question, then, is how to pay for the inevitable increased costs associated with the protection of America's wilderness and national parks. Today the Forest Service receives, essentially, a "blank check" from Congress for suppression of wildfire, but the total cost of suppression, even during the worst year ever for wildfire, does not compare with the cost of a careful thinning and protection plan which encompasses all of the lands in need of it. A study in Oregon calculates the cost of proper thinning to be some $1685 per acre, amounting to nearly 3 billion dollars just to take care of a single large wilderness area there. Such sums do not grow on trees. Furthermore, these costs are perennial, until such a time as the trees are mature enough to tolerate controlled burning, which is less expensive than annual weedings.

The Administration's plan, therefore, proposes to sell the lumber which is extracted in a thinning effort, in order to supplement the cost of the thinning. In this way the forest protects itself, they argue, and the American taxpayer needn't pony up so much, to protect our heritage for our children and grandchildren. At first glance, such a plan seems reasonable - especially at a time when our taxes are clearly earmarked for other purposes. However, the established techniques for logging and timber sales will surely need to be improved if we are to preserve and conserve these resources in best possible form. Today's practice, wherein only the largest and most valuable trees are taken, leaving thousands of slash piles must be improved. The lumber companies must be made to "take the good with the bad", and properly dispose of slash, if the thinning process is to succeed.

What's the right answer, then?

Wildfires have been with us since the beginning of time. While it was clearly a mistake to suppress them completely, one doesn't need to be The Lorax or Smokey the Bear to understand the delicate balance between destructive fires which consume all life and destroy the soil, and careful, consistent thinning, along with controlled burning where appropriate, to reduce the hazards and protect property. Wildfires are at an all-time high around the world right now, but dealing with them, and preventing them, remains a complex and localized problem.

In light of these opposing contentions, we might ask what comprises a reasonable and careful plan for wildfire prevention. In the next article, I'll start to explore some of problems and solutions which are perceived and proposed in the fight against wildfires, including those which will surely be found among the intelligent commentary to this article. Despite all of the rhetoric, good science has been applied to the problem, and there are good working solutions to be found. These solutions balance the urgency of the threat with the meticulousness of careful study, and apply the appropriate control methods to each individual environment.


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Forest fires
o dont concern me 4%
o are nothing new 18%
o are not preventable 8%
o should usually be prevented 10%
o should never be prevented 22%
o are destroying our greatest natural resource 10%
o are a necessary part of the coming apocalypse 25%

Votes: 48
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o announced
o Biscuit wildfire
o Kalmiopsis Wilderness
o the President remarked
o Healthy Forests
o disallowin g lawsuits and appeals
o Black Hills Forest
o saying
o progressiv ely worsened
o real monster is drought
o great, red blight
o global warming and climate change
o Climate of 2002 - Wildfire Season Summary
o U.S. fire policy isn't cutting it
o cooking the books
o tall, thick trees
o study in Oregon
o slash piles
o The Lorax
o Smokey the Bear
o around the world
o Also by imrdkl

Display: Sort:
About the trees: Part 1 | 98 comments (92 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
solutions (4.00 / 7) (#3)
by dr k on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 08:01:28 AM EST

You claim that wildfires have somehow increased or worsened in recent years. I'd like to see some actual evidence. Sure, maybe it seems like a growing problem, but I doubt it is any worse than it was twenty years ago, or two hundred years ago.

Please make sure your figures are adjusted for inflation.

Destroy all trusted users!

A fair question (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by imrdkl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 08:24:47 AM EST

And the answer is that the Biscuit and the Rodeo fire of Northern Az were, respectively, the largest wildfires which either state has on record.

Since you pose this topical question while the article is still in edit-mode, I'm going to take the opportunity to incorporate the 2002 Season Summary from the NOAA, which should provide you with some additional proof.

[ Parent ]

Data (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by naomi385 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:27:15 PM EST

The data on this page still doesn't comprise more than a few years, and further, the data for this year doesn't seem to be statistically worse than previous years, nor does there seem to be a pattern that indicates that the problem is getting worse. I'm not trying to be facetious, just saying that I don't think you can say with any certainty that forest fires are getting worse. From the tables on this page, I could (incorrectly) say that even years are more likely to have more and worse fires than odd years. The truth is, there is no data on forest fires in the thousands of years before we kept records.

You made some good points in saying that the real problem is drought, but like forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and just about every other natural disaster, people are always saying that the conditions are getting worse while there isn't enough data to prove it.

Propaganda. Questionable Intelligence. The Visitations.

[ Parent ]
There's a problem with that (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:04:28 PM EST

in that we don't have solid weather data going back all that far. Certainly not more than a century or so. After that your dealing with written or oral records that say things like "Damn was it hot this summer!"

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

give that man a cigar (none / 0) (#63)
by dr k on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 05:04:31 PM EST

Yes, we truly lack a meaningful perspective on the issue. Bush is able to drum up support for whatever "new" policies he has in mind because no one has enough information to dispute those policies.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

On the other hand (none / 0) (#67)
by godix on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:26:38 PM EST

Enviromentalists are able to claim the earth is going to overheat by faking their numbers (look up the infamous 'hockey stick' for proof of this) and hoping that there isn't enough information to dispute them.

Don't mind the plummeting noise, mojo always makes that sound after I post.

[ Parent ]
and on the other hand (none / 0) (#72)
by dr k on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:18:59 PM EST

mankind isn't particularly well prepared to deal with either global cooling or warming. We're sure to muck it up no matter what we do, but being able to breathe clean air is not really an offensive option.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

On yet another hand (what an odd looking guy) (none / 0) (#86)
by godix on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 06:13:48 PM EST

There is no real proof that there is global warming or cooling going on, at least not enough to matter. There's even less proof that whatever global warming/cooling is happening is caused by mankind. Most indications point towards the cause being cycles in nature, like the sunspot cycle which has recently hit one of it's extreme points. Why should we oppose Bushs ideas when we have little proof his ideas will cause any harm?

Don't mind the plummeting noise, mojo always makes that sound after I post.

[ Parent ]
it is highly unlikely (none / 0) (#89)
by dr k on Mon Sep 23, 2002 at 06:51:11 PM EST

that man's actions have no effect on the environment. We should at least make an effort to choose the best course of action based on the information at hand. Better wrong than foolish.

Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

See here. (none / 0) (#96)
by vectro on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 02:02:14 AM EST

this graph in this article in The Economist demonstrates how dramatic the change in forest fires has been over the last 30 or so years.

It's not obvious to me, however, how inflation applies to figures about forest fires.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

Drought (4.25 / 4) (#4)
by wiredog on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 08:23:17 AM EST

This problem has much less to do with mismanagement and contentious legal maneuvering than it has to do with global warming and climate change.

The drought of the 1930's was worse. There were droughts in the 1800's that were worse. Were those caused by global warming and climate change? Or were they caused by normal climatic variation? Is the current drought a normal variation?

Earth first! We can strip mine the rest later.

Excellent book on the subject, slightly OT (none / 0) (#7)
by crcerror on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:07:29 AM EST

A book titled The Skeptical Environmentalist covers this and a ton of other stuff. I haven't gotten around to buying it yet but I read a few chapters at a friends house. The guy just rips apart the global warming theory (among others) by using examples like you just cited, as well as pointing out that a lot of the numbers cited in current "warnings" about the environment are often wrong or misconstrued.

Your comment just reminded me of it so I thought I'd mention it. If I ever get around to buying it and reading it, I might write a review. It's a little heavy on the statistics so I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to read it from cover to cover.

[ Parent ]
Debunking the "skeptical environmentalist&quo (none / 0) (#97)
by mozmozmoz on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 03:04:55 AM EST

Grist magazine is a useful overview, with the Anti-Lomborg site as the mainstay of critique. Basically the guy is media friendly and not very hot on the science. Sorry.

There's lots of comedy on TV too. Does that make children funnier?
[ Parent ]

Not exactly true (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by imrdkl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:25:22 AM EST

As I've pointed out in at least one other article, when measuring mean temperaturess, the current climate is the hottest ever recorded. Additionally, the current administration has at least acknowledged that climate change is a problem, albeit they claim (as you do) that the droughts which are causing these fires are "periodic", in their Healthy Forests proposal linked above.

However, I invite you to demonstrate your claims with something more than just hot air (if you'll pardon the pun).

[ Parent ]

The other article... (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by wiredog on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:35:10 AM EST

You are citing projections about the drought that the drought didn't live up to. At least not everywhere. Some localities are having more severe drought than others. In the DC area it's not as bad as on the Eastern Shore, or in southwest Virginia. The current drought hasn't lasted as long as the drought of the 1930's did.

Earth first! We can strip mine the rest later.
[ Parent ]
This article (5.00 / 2) (#14)
by imrdkl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:42:48 AM EST

is about the West. And, if you take a look at the map I've linked above as "great, red blight", you'll see that it (drought) is indeed far worse than ever before. Outliers and exceptions that you mention are perhaps notable, but certainly not contrary to the fact that it's been a real scorcher this year.

[ Parent ]
extreme events (4.50 / 2) (#17)
by fhotg on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:54:16 AM EST

A particular event cannot be said to be caused (or not be caused) by 'climate change'.

a), 'climate change' is a statistical phenomenon, which theoretically can be linked to probabilities, but not to single events.

b) Most of those events occur on a scale so small that we know shit about how they depend on the global climatic changes we can measure. We just can't model this.

c) Currently observed climatic trends theoretically can increase the probability of extreme events (of some kind, somewhere ...). Our records are not sufficient make statements about if this is actually happening.

d) The whole 'climate change' and natural hazards debate is crap. Hazards are hazards because they damage humans and what they like. If climate change actually makes more extreme events, we can't change the fact anyways anymore. We need to adapt, and that simply means not to settle in high-risk zones. Hazards increases in frequency and severity without doubt, because short-term thinking makes people ignore long-term dangers and settle/invest in high risk zones, be it fire-hazards or on floodplains or landslides.

e) Another reason for natural hazards is the degradation of the landscape which often destroys natural mechanisms which mediate the impact of extreme events. If you rely on an engineered dam on an engineered stream, you're dead, Mr. Idiot in the floodplain. Same goes for clearcutting slopes or excessive fire-protection of forests. Decisionmakers need to apply ecological knowledge.

[ Parent ]

Cite please (none / 0) (#58)
by chigaze on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:11:38 PM EST

I'm curious to your data on the current drought not being as severe as past ones in 30's and in the 1800's. Here in Alberta the local weather offices have said this the current drought is more severe than the 30's. I believe they say it has lasted longer (several years now) and there has been lower moisture levels than the drought of the 30's. The impact on farmers has been lessoned since that time by the growing of trees along field edges as wind breaks, better soil management, and the presence of irrigation systems in the south of the province.
-- Stop Global Whining
[ Parent ]
Drought... (none / 0) (#93)
by vectro on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 01:57:00 AM EST

Really fails to explain <A HREF="http://www.economist.com/images/20020817/CUS506.gif">this graph</A> in <A HREF="http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=1282578">this article</A>. It shows how the number of fires has been decreasing while the number of acres burned has been increasing, pretty much consistantly over the last 30 years. And the change is really too dramatic to blame on global warming.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Apologies for the double-post. (none / 0) (#95)
by vectro on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 01:59:12 AM EST

Please feel free to moderate parent to zero.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Drought... (none / 0) (#94)
by vectro on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 01:58:27 AM EST

Really fails to explain this graph in this article. It shows how the number of fires has been decreasing while the number of acres burned has been increasing, pretty much consistantly over the last 30 years. And the change is really too dramatic to blame on global warming.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
Huh (2.60 / 5) (#8)
by ubu on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:07:56 AM EST

One solution is to return control over their own forest land to the states which encompass it. End the federal monopoly on forest management, which has failed, utterly, to accomplish any good whatsoever. It makes no sense that the federal forestry service is allowed to continue to mismanage forestland when the states are far more capable -- and are the ones with the vested interest in preventing forest fires in the first place.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
Bad Idea (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by wiredog on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:37:25 AM EST

I lived in Utah for several years. Their (well, the legislature's) incentive would be to sell all of it to the lumber companies, or otherwise allow clear cutting, and then replant it in a monoculture.

Earth first! We can strip mine the rest later.
[ Parent ]
So? (3.00 / 3) (#15)
by ubu on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:43:23 AM EST

I'm sure some of the private owners would do that, others wouldn't. In any case, I've seen the replanting efforts after clear cutting, and in many cases the result is far superior to what was cut in the first place. Responsible forestry is not a matter of leaving existing growth in place, and never has been.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Spoken like a true Liberterian (none / 0) (#48)
by Genady on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:19:17 PM EST

Kudos! (BTW I agree)

Turtles all the way down.
[ Parent ]
uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh............ (2.50 / 6) (#13)
by FuriousXGeorge on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:40:56 AM EST

is this about weed?


How about.... (3.66 / 3) (#16)
by lb008d on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 09:46:05 AM EST

thin forests until they are mature enough to withstand regular fires, and during that time find replacement raw materials for products made from wood.

Perhaps with hemp?.

"Kuro5hin: politics and pretension, from the $3,000 leather recliners on the hill overlooking the trenches."DarkZero

I have a hemp shirt (none / 0) (#53)
by Fon2d2 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:23:18 PM EST

It's nice. I like it.
But how much of the demand for timbre comes from uses that can replaced with hemp, and how much demand comes from furniture, new houses, etc?

[ Parent ]
The thing with wood (none / 0) (#59)
by lb008d on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:33:29 PM EST

is that replacements can always be found, if people try hard enough.

For example I'm putting in bamboo floors in my house - it is easily renewed and in my opinion looks better.

Building materials would be toughest, for sure.

"Kuro5hin: politics and pretension, from the $3,000 leather recliners on the hill overlooking the trenches."DarkZero
[ Parent ]

Pah. (3.20 / 5) (#18)
by SanSeveroPrince on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 10:19:09 AM EST

It's complete, throughtful and researched. PLAIN UNACCEPTABLE!

I want more half-cocked crap about Iraq, NOW!



Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

Apples and oranges (4.00 / 3) (#19)
by sage on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:24:59 AM EST

These "old-growth" forests of yesteryear could tolerate, and even thrived upon fire to hold down undergrowth.

Comments about the nature of the forests in the 1800s are generally not relevant when discussing fire control policy today. The aim is not protection of the forests--as you note, the forests don't need it. It's protection of human developments in and around the forests, protection of human recreational areas in and around the forests, and protection of commercial interests in the products created from the forests.

When people talk about "saving the trees", do not think about "saving them from something". It's all about "saving them for something".

In fact, they are relevant (4.00 / 3) (#26)
by imrdkl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:13:04 PM EST

the question is how relevant they are. Understanding about, and aiming restorative efforts at, the "normal" growth patterns for the species in question is important when making a plan that works.

I'll have more to say about this in the next installment, especially in relation to estimation and sampling for growth patterns and spatial density of existing species.

[ Parent ]

Nothing new (3.75 / 4) (#21)
by rayab on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:40:58 AM EST

Forsests have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, they fires, drought and other natural events. Obviously the forest is able to restore itself after a fire. We've been to places that burned only a few years a go, and the land was blooming and a new forest was growing. I think that forests need to be left to burn naturally, especially those forests that are not near any settlements.
I find it redicilous that so much money is thrown into putting our wilderness fires in remote areas. I'm sure nature is capable of handling itself just fine.
When people decide to cut into the forest and live there they should be aware of the risks involved and realize that nature is the ruler and not them. So they should'nt whine about how the fires destroy their homes and ask the government to intervene.

Y popa bila sobaka on yeyo lyubil, ona syela kusok myasa on yeyo ubil, v zemlyu zakopal, i na mogile napisal...
The problem is that by preventing fires (4.00 / 4) (#22)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:46:24 AM EST

for so many years, we've created a situation where the fires we have now burn hotter and more destructively than they would have otherwise.

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

Two points (4.50 / 8) (#23)
by PullNoPunches on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:01:01 PM EST

First, though it might seem that leaving the forests completely alone to fend for themselves is a viable option, the problem is that it cannot be done. I agree that a purely virgin forest should not need management.

However, some management is always being done, if only in the form of supressing fires. Once you start doing that, you have to then compensate by artificially doing for the forests what fires do naturally, which is periodically clearing highly flammable undergrowth and detritus.

When you supress small fires, which is necessary when you have human habitation amidst the trees, you will eventually produce mega fires that eliminate the forest altogether in large swaths, as we have seen in Arizona, and other places.

The measure diallowing lawsuits is the only rational response to the environmentalists tactics of using nuisance lawsuits to effectively ban all forest management by tying up the resources of the forest service and endlessly delaying action.

Second, the South Dakota comment was actually a political jab at Tom Daschle. Daschle, while arguing that thinning measures were unacceptable, pushed through an exemption that allowed thinning in his state only. Obviously, even he, one of bush's most stringent opponents, sees thinning as a valuable and necessary practise. His opposition to it for everywhere else but his own state is just a way of sacrificing everyone else's forest for his political agenda.


Although generally safe, turmeric in large doses may cause gastrointestinal problems or even ulcers. -- Reader's Digest (UK)

I'm not convinced (none / 0) (#83)
by imrdkl on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 05:44:11 PM EST

that Bush's statement about Daschle's "success" was a jab. I think he's under more pressure to solve the problem than to play politics here. Wildfires that big have a way of cutting through the party line. You might also consider that the Rodeo fire burned 2% of it's total area on government land. Nearly all of it belonged to the BIA and the Apache Tribe.

[ Parent ]
Virgin forests require active management (none / 0) (#98)
by goonie on Tue Oct 29, 2002 at 08:07:04 PM EST

I agree that a purely virgin forest should not need management.

I don't know whether even that claim can be made in many cases. Here in Australia, much "virgin" forest has in fact been altered by many thousands of years of occupation by the Australian Aborigines. Keeping these areas in their present state therefore requires active intervention.

Aside from this, there is a constant battle to keep introduced pests out.

[ Parent ]

Why fires? (4.00 / 6) (#25)
by awgsilyari on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:06:48 PM EST

I'll post this topical in case this gets to the section/FP...

Last year, just around this time, I visited Paulina Lake in Newberry Crater in Oregon. We took a 7 mile hike around the crater rim. Let me tell you, there was literally at least 5 feet of dead, down wood piled up all over the forest floor. This area has been "fire-managed" for so long that now, when it actually does go up, it will burn so viciously that the entire area will probably be burned to ashes.

Normally the forest can tolerate ground fires that race quickly through underbrush. In fact, these fires serve to clear out the debris that would otherwise pile up. Smaller fires actually help to prevent enormous fires in the future.

Maybe, just maybe, we should stop fucking with nature and let naturally-originating fires burn themselves out naturally?

Of course none of what I have just said applies to the disturbingly common man-made fires. Lately, these fires have even been set by disgruntled forest and fire workers...

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com

Correct, to a point. (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:10:49 PM EST

the problem is that we've created a situation where the fires will burn so hotly they will kill all the trees, not just scorch them.

So, basically, we have to undo a hundred years worth of "environmentalism".

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

what? (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:26:16 PM EST

you lost me on the "undo a hundred years of environmentalism" thing.. care to explain?

[ Parent ]
We've spent a century preventing fires (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:39:36 PM EST

because fires are "bad" and we've prevented logging too.

How else do you think we got into this situation?

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

I see your point now, I think we got (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:47:36 PM EST

into this situation by massive logging in the 30's though. Sure, putting out fires might have had some impact on it, but minor compared to logging.....

[ Parent ]
I'm sorry? (3.00 / 1) (#43)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:52:39 PM EST

How did logging create this problem? The problem exists through out the west and is worst in places where logging has always been prohibited - like the national parks.

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

depends on what you think the "probelm" (3.00 / 1) (#45)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:55:59 PM EST

I think the problem is we need forests, and won't have any left at the rate we are going. I am not saying that logging causes fires, but they both destroy trees. http://www.ran.org/info_center/factsheets/04b.html

[ Parent ]
I don't understand (5.00 / 1) (#49)
by awgsilyari on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:20:31 PM EST

I live in a forested state, and everywhere I look there are trees. Sure, there are patches of clear-cut. Sure, it's ugly as hell. In fact, I hate it. It's been policy for a while now that clear-cut is not to be done, mostly because it looks terrible.

Believe me, at least in Oregon we are NOT running out of trees... I think you are confusing the loss of Old Growth with the loss of forest. There's barely any old growth left in Oregon, but despite this the state is still covered in trees.

So the problem is NOT that we are running out of forest, but that we are eliminating what little is left of the old growth ecosystems. That's definitely something to care about, but it isn't the same thing as having no forests.

If you are concerned about the disappearence of forests, I think you should start with South America, not the US... The ancient ecosystems in the tropical rainforests are even vaster and more complex than those in the Northwest.

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

there is rainforest in alaska. (3.00 / 1) (#51)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:31:48 PM EST

Old growth is an is an issue as well, but deforestation is still a very serious issue, sure the scale is much larger in south america, but it is happening here too. http://www.unep-wcmc.org/forest/nam_region.htm http://www.rcfa-cfan.org/english/issues.12-3.html

[ Parent ]
Right. (3.00 / 2) (#54)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:24:39 PM EST

Yet another example of changing the subject. WTF do alaskan forests have to do with fires in Montana and Colorado?

And by the way - just because it's become popular to call the NA forest "temperate rain forests" doesn't actually change anything. If the forests of Alaska are "rain forests" then there is no such thing as a "plain old forest".

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[ Parent ]

forests are lost in both incidents (none / 0) (#62)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:57:52 PM EST

either way, it classifies as deforestation no?

[ Parent ]
Err... dude (none / 0) (#70)
by coryking on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 07:55:10 PM EST

I think you've completly changed the subject. The guy is talking about forest fires, and you are talking about deforestation. It's kind of funny actually. You are talking right past him.

[ Parent ]
Well, if I am talking past him (none / 0) (#77)
by gr00vey on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 07:00:25 AM EST

I certainly apologize, my point however is this. No discussion about forest fires is complete without SOME understanding of how it relates to deforestation. It certainly effects the total amount of deforestation by a certain percentage, which I don't know but would like to. Global deforestation impacts everyone, even if they choose not to belive so. These fires were quite large. There were fires in canada this summer that caused smoke/fog here in central PA. PA was extensivly clearcut in the 30s and 40s and that allows for a more volatile (as far as fires go) environment. Now what part of what I am saying is unrelated?

[ Parent ]
I refer you to THIS (none / 0) (#78)
by gr00vey on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 07:01:51 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Why are you putting spelling errors in my mouth? (none / 0) (#55)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:30:49 PM EST

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

Undoing Environmentalism (3.33 / 3) (#37)
by DigitalRover on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:40:26 PM EST

By preventing the small fires from burning over the years, we have created a situation where the forests are littered with fuel.

As previous posters have mentioned, this creates burns that are hot enough to kill the largest trees, not just scorch the bark. This is what ultimately destroys the forest. A policy of active management is now neccesary to undo this and bring the forests back to the point where small fires can be allowed to sweep through unhindered. That means we need to
  • Step up the pace and the scope of smaller controlled burns to bring the fuel problem under control
  • Allow more primitive roadways into the forests so that they are available for fire fighting use in the event of large burn
  • Create fire breaks between the forests and "civilization." This doesn't mean that every hunting cabin needs a firebreak, but large developed areas do.
I'm by no means an expert, but I think if we act decisively now, we can be back to state of "un-management" within a couple of decades.

[ Parent ]
Bush has a bad agenda (1.66 / 3) (#27)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:18:02 PM EST

http://www.sierraclub.org/logging/alert.asp "Last week the Bush Administration proposed legislation that would increase destructive commercial logging, gut important environmental protections under the guise of forest fire prevention, and fail to adequately protect communities from fires. Earlier today Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) introduced an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill based largely on the President's proposal. We are expecting a vote on the Craig amendment to occur on Tuesday, September 17th. " He does *NOT* give a crap about the environment, and as he has no scruples, he is more than willing to lie about it. The solution to our lessening forests - cut down more. It amazes me that people can actually belive that garbage... http://www.ran.org/

Right (5.00 / 1) (#33)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:09:09 PM EST

After all, he's a republican and therefore the spawn of evil.

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[ Parent ]

Since when... (4.00 / 2) (#39)
by awgsilyari on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:45:50 PM EST

is making a compromise equivalent to "not giving a crap?"

We can:

A) Cut down the fucking forest. We don't need it.
B) Artificially prevent all fires, allowing dead wood to pile up to insane levels, until it catches fire and the whole state of Oregon (my state) burns to a cinder
C) Come to some viable middle ground.

Are you actually convinced that Bush wants to see the forest eliminated? That's paranoid psychosis. I disagree with Bush on a huge number of issues, but for God's sake, the man is trying to make compromises!

Or shall we continue talking right past each other without ever trying to agree on anything at all? Kind of like the Israelis and Palestinians, right?

Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

I think Bush does not give a crap (none / 0) (#41)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:49:03 PM EST

I didn't say he would like to see the forests eliminated. But I satnd by my statement that he does not give a crap about the environment.

[ Parent ]
and we do need the forest (none / 0) (#42)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:50:28 PM EST

if that is what you are trying to say. I have no problem with allowing some fires to burn. I do have a problem with clearcutting.

[ Parent ]
Only vaguely related (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by rusty on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:27:43 PM EST

Sort of related, but interesting nonetheless, National Geographic had an article a month or two ago about smokejumpers in Russia and how they go about fighting their forest fires. The whole article isn't online, but there's some video and pictures. If you can get your hands on the paper magazine, it's worth a read.

Not the real rusty
Heh, where do I sign up? (none / 0) (#52)
by imrdkl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:40:42 PM EST

Now that's a hot-shot.

[ Parent ]
Ecology versus economy. (4.00 / 2) (#31)
by Apuleius on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 12:30:19 PM EST

As you said, it costs $1600 to clear an acre. For a logging company, that means they have to clear out that many dollars' worth of timber, per acre, and firewood and mulch just won't add up to that kind of money. So some tall timber will have to go too, or else the effort will have to be subsidized. And, in New Mexico, at least, the problem is getting urgent. If the Santa Fe National Forest is hit by wildfire, the resulting washouts and ashfalls will clog the Santa Fe waterworks and deprive the city of clean water.

There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
Good article. (5.00 / 7) (#32)
by bobaloo on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:06:37 PM EST

As a person who lives in the middle of this, (my home is surrounded by timber land in Oregon), I thought you did a good job of summarizing things.

The key point as I see it is the section comparing old forests to the current tree-farm forests. When you go into a mature forest, there are large trees, fairly widely separated. When a fire gets started in that forest, it typically crawls through the undergrowth, but does not reach the canopy and create the huge fires we see today.

On the other hand, land that was logged in the last 75 years typically was replanted at a much (perhaps 10-20X) denser rate. These lands have trees every 10 feet or so, with dense canopies merging to form a solid mass of branches and near-darkness at ground level. When a fire gets going in these, it's like a bomb going off.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little in the way of middle-of-the-road, or common sense solutions. On the one hand, I've actually seen timber industry reps say "there's an endless supply of old growth forests, it's impossible to cut them all." On the other hand, some environmental groups want to end all logging.

It seems to me that a position along the lines of "we've logged 98 percent of the orignal forest, let's protect the remaining 2 percent for future generations and manage the other 98 percent in a long-term sustainable manner to provide lumber and wood resources" is completely missing from the debate, as neither side wants to give an inch of ground. Of course, part of the problem is dealing with a forest which requires 75-100 years (at least in this area) to really mature, while businesses deal with quarterly statements and maximizing this quarter's revenue.

I know I wandered far from fire protection, but the bottom line is that the fire debate is not really about fire, it's about removing environmental and legal restrictions on logging. Environmental groups have been having success in court in making the Forest Service go through the required procedures and analysis prior to making a sale, so there is a big move to allow the sales to bypass those reviews and appeals without actually having to change the law, which might be politically damaging.

Interesting. (4.00 / 2) (#38)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:44:22 PM EST

On the other hand, land that was logged in the last 75 years typically was replanted at a much (perhaps 10-20X) denser rate. These lands have trees every 10 feet or so, with dense canopies merging to form a solid mass of branches and near-darkness at ground level.

I find that very interesting, because the typical natural "woods" in PA sounds like your tree farms. Completely different species of trees, of course - oaks, maples and sycamores, not pines.

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[ Parent ]

PA was extensivly clear cut in the 30's (3.50 / 2) (#44)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:53:24 PM EST

There is little old growth left in the state.

[ Parent ]
Ummm... Have you actually lived in PA? (none / 0) (#56)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:32:34 PM EST

There are stands of woods all over the place, including some of the oldest stands in the country.

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[ Parent ]

I live in PA now. (none / 0) (#61)
by gr00vey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:55:30 PM EST

http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/wrcf/keynotes/summer99/growth.htm been living here for about 15 years... . The Hemlocks Natural Area: [Tuscarora State Forest] Perry County, southwest of Blain near Big Spring State Park. Three miles of trails loop among 330- to 500-year-old hemlocks and large birch on 131 acres along Patterson Run. 2. Alan Seeger Natural Area: [Rothrock State Forest] Centre County, 4 miles south of Boalsburg. A 390-acre tract supports virgin hemlock, white pine and yellow birch with rhododendron understory along Standing Stone Creek. 3. Detweiler Run Natural Area: [Rothrock State Forest] Huntingdon County, southeast of Boalsburg. A 463-acre portion of Detweiler hollow supports old growth white pine and hemlock with a dense rhododendron understory. 4. Joyce Kilmer Natural Area: [Bald Eagle State Forest] Union County, west of Hartleton. The Joyce Kilmer trail climbing Paddy Mountain through the 77-acre tract, passes virgin white pine and eastern hemlock. 5. Mt. Logan Natural Area: [Bald Eagle State Forest] Clinton County, east of Lock Haven. A 512-acre tract features an old growth eastern hemlock stand and an outcrop of Tuscarora sandstone, both near the summit. 6. Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area: [Bald Eagle State Forest] Snyder County, northwest of Troxelville. Virgin white pine and eastern hemlock on a 500-acre tract along Swift Run, is accessed from the picnic area located on Swift Run Road. 7. Jakey Hollow Natural Area: [Wyoming State Forest] Columbia County, north of Bloomsburg. A scenic 58-acre hollow supports old growth white pine, eastern hemlock and northern hardwoods along a small stream. 8. Bark Cabin Natural Area: [Tiadaghton State Forest] Lycoming County, northwest of Little Pine State Park along the Mid-State Trail. A remote grove of old growth eastern hemlock in 73 acres is found along a tributary of Bark Cabin Run. 9. Lebo Red Pine Natural Area: [Tiadaghton State Forest] Lycoming County, southeast of Lucullus. A 124-acre tract supports old growth red pine, white birch and oaks along the First Big Fork of Trout Run. 10. East Branch Swamp Natural Area: [Sproul State Forest] Clinton County, south of Renova. Old growth eastern hemlocks shade the headwaters of the East Branch of Big Run in a 186-acre mix of plant communities resulting from turn-of-the-century logging, fires and recent tornadoes. 11. Johnson Run Natural Area: [Elk State Forest] Cameron Country, 1.9 miles north of Driftwood on PA Route 120. A 216-acre tract along the east side of Johnson Run, supports old growth eastern hemlock and hardwoods. 12. Lower Jerry Run Natural Area: [Elk State Forest] Cameron & Clinton counties west of Dutchman Road. An 892-acre area contains old growth eastern hemlock and white pine. 13. Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area: [Tioga State Forest] Tioga County between Ansonia and Blackwell. 12,163 acres along a scenic gorge feature second growth red pine, white pine, eastern hemlock, oaks and northern hardwoods and a small tract of old growth eastern hemlock. 14. Anders Run Natural Areas: [Cornplanter State Forest] Warren County, 6 miles west of Warren. The 96 acres feature old growth white pine and eastern hemlock and diverse wildflowers visible from a loop trail system. 15. Heart's Content [Allegheny National Forest] Warren County, 15 miles southwest of Warren. Next to the picnic area is an old growth, remnant timber stand of 300-400-year-old white pine, hemlock and beech. Hearts Content Scenic Interpretive Trail winds about one mile through this stand and returns to picnic area. 16. Tionesta Scenic Area: McKean County, seven miles south of Ludlow, eight miles west of Kane. A 2,000-acre tract is a remnant of the original forest that once covered 6 million acres on the Allegheny Plateau of New York and Pennsylvania. It consists of 300- to 400-year-old beech, hemlock and sugar maple. 17. Bear Run Nature Reserve: Fayette County, adjoins Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Ohiopyle State Park. The 5,000-acre reserve offers more than 20 miles of marked trails for hiking, backpacking and ski touring. Bear Run itself is an exceptional mountain stream that has been designated a Pennsylvania Scenic River. Offers visitors to southwestern Pennsylvania a chance to see an old growth forest. 18. Dingman Falls: [Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area] Pike County, 1.5 miles east of Route 290 at Dingman's Ferry. Eastern hemlock are found in the narrow gorge near the falls. The recreation area features a prime canoeing stream. There is also a quarter-mile sensory trail over mostly flat terrain for those with physical handicaps. Source: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

[ Parent ]
So you agree with me then. (none / 0) (#65)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:10:22 PM EST

Glad to hear it.

Greetings, new user. Please replace this text with a witty or insightful saying before using this software.

[ Parent ]

with what? I don't think so (none / 0) (#76)
by gr00vey on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 06:54:00 AM EST

Once again, I am not following your point?

[ Parent ]
Not pines here either... (3.00 / 1) (#64)
by bobaloo on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 05:11:08 PM EST

in much of the state. What a lot of people who haven't spent time here is that Oregon is geographically (and culturally) two states. From the crest of the Cascades west it is rain forest, from the crest of the Cascades east it is high desert.

The west side is primarily Douglas Fir / Western Cedar forest, originally consisting of HUGE trees, 200-300 feet tall and up to 15 feet across at the base, some over 20' in diameter. The first set of branches is often well over 100' above the ground. The remnant low-elevation old-growth forests here consist of big trees, separated by 100-300 feet, with smaller trees growing in the gaps and underbrush of rhododendrons and "vine maple" and ferns below that.

The eastern part of the state is primarily sagebrush, with Junipers and, when you get to higher elevations, pines.

The western part of the state is what people think of generally, i.e. Portland and the coast, the eastern part of the state is incredibly unpopulated. There's a drive we take in the summers that's 100 miles of gravel road between towns, and we pass one ranch along the way!

[ Parent ]

I did not know that. (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:11:57 PM EST

I wonder if the lower density is caused directly by the frequency of fires, or if there's some other factor.

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[ Parent ]

'High Desert' means dry (none / 0) (#68)
by rhino1302 on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 06:37:09 PM EST

Low density of both people and trees is because there's very little water.

[ Parent ]
lower density where? (3.00 / 1) (#69)
by aphrael on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 07:24:53 PM EST

On the oregon coast? Almost certainly not. There's low density along the entire pacific coast between the suburbs of San Francisco and the Olympic peninsula, for historic reasons: there's very little good farming land (it's moist, and tree-covered, and cold and foggy --- not good conditions for most staple crops), and the terrain is rough --- and the Indians were subdued very very late. Historically most communities along the coast have been based on fishing and canning (with logging more recently). The same dynamic applies in Canada; the pacific coast of Vancouver Island is more or less deserted, as is the inside passage.

Note too that fires are more likely in the heavily wooded portions of central and eastern Oregon than they are in the heavily wooded portions of the west --- the eastern forests are *dry* and brushy, while the western forests are extremely wet.

[ Parent ]

Ummmm.... (none / 0) (#71)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 08:04:07 PM EST

We were discussing the density of the trees, not the density of the people.

Of course, I'm a programmer so the odds are good I couldn't tell tree density if it landed on me.

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[ Parent ]

Thank you (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by imrdkl on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 04:41:30 PM EST

I share the concerns you express about the eventual policy as implemented by the Congress. My sincere hope is that cooler heads will prevail, when the legislation is finally ratified, and that the law will continue to place heavy emphasis on reasonable arguments against heavy logging, no matter where it is proposed.

I don't like the fact that the tide of support for limiting legal recourse is growing, either. Doing nothing is out of the question, but as we have seen so often of late, turning over liberties can also be a mistake.

I wish there were an easy solution as much as anyone else, of course, but I also value the remaining two percent that you mention, very highly. Where it concerns the legacy forests, no cost is too much to pay to hang on to them, and protect and nurture them through this terrible drought.

[ Parent ]

Hemp (none / 0) (#87)
by dennis on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 12:40:08 AM EST

A bit OT, but thought I'd mention that we wouldn't have to log so much if we legalized industrial hemp, which can provide four times the paper fiber per acre that timber provides, without the long maturation period.

Unfortunately, timber is considered to be about the next most conservative investment to T-Bills, partly because everyone figures the demand will always be there. Most of the timber funds have very high minimum investments...a change in law that dramatically reduces demand for the commodity that rich people and institutions use as a low-risk investment would not be too easy to push through...

[ Parent ]

Paper and old-growth. (4.00 / 1) (#92)
by vectro on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 01:51:30 AM EST

The fact of the matter, though, is that forests are logged for lumber, not paper. Paper requires small, fibrous trees - not big old growth. Not to mention that old growth trees are vastly more valuable for lubmer. Most paper is made from trees grown expressly for the purpose, so paper use isn't really relevant to any discussion of forest management.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
I can no longer sleep (3.57 / 7) (#46)
by RyoCokey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 01:59:04 PM EST

To paraphrase Thelizman "Amazing what crap will get through in the 8 hours I'm not here to vote in the edit queue."

Seriously, did the 95 positive votes even read this thing? My favorite assertion is here:

This problem has much less to do with mismanagement and contentious legal maneuvering than it has to do with global warming and climate change.

He then posts a poorly written and scarcely substantiated article which focuses more on temperature when trying to justify a periodic drought in the West. What a wonderful non sequiter.

As for the forest service cooking the books, I worked on a project near the Carson Forest (NM). Let me assure you that environmental groups will sue you for trying to do anything regarding the forests. From complaints that noise would bother the wildlife to objections about installing extra equipment, I believe we were the target of no less than 50 lawsuits, all without basis, by the time I left.

"Your analysis is flawed, your assessment is unsubstantiated and illogical. But hey, I voted +1 anyway." - Thelizman (K5 moderation in action)
Healthy forests my ass (4.00 / 3) (#47)
by Dphitz on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:16:03 PM EST

Bush's plan seems rather transparent to me.  I don't think he's really that interested in healthy forests, but more interested in helping the logging industry.

From what I've heard of this plan most of the "thinning" would take place far away from any residential areas (where it would be needed most to save lives and property) and in the deep forest areas where fires might even do some good.

God, please save me . . . from your followers

Thank You (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by Genady on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 02:31:20 PM EST

As a former Coloradoan, and day laborer in the People's Republic of Boulder, thank you :) This is a very good overview of the Topic. I expect Part 2 will be the knock down drag out cage match between Smokey the Bear and GWB. A few points for that matchup.

What is the correlation between fire season and El Nino/La Nina? I seem to remember that this phenomenom could cause droughts in the NAmerican West.

Are there any plans by Insurance providers to start charging 'fire plane' premiums, the way that people in Flood planes do? Should the government be the primary recipient of these types of funds? Or if we broached the subject would all of the residents of Aspen call their congresscritters and squeltch the idea?

If corporate clearing is the answer will this actually result in further regulation of the logging industry? (i.e. clean up your mess on the way out, or set a maximum re-forestation density).

Could we maybe get some more information to the rabid tree-huggers that don't have a clue about forestry, yet still insist on blocking attempts at forest management?

Can't we all just get along?

Turtles all the way down.

El Nino, La Nina (none / 0) (#57)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 03:33:54 PM EST

Those two disrupt the large scale weather patterns and have a large effect on rain fall.

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[ Parent ]

I submit GWB is wrongheaded (none / 0) (#79)
by gr00vey on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 07:08:07 AM EST

I would refer you to this http://www.sierraclub.org/logging/alert.asp issue. ANd this link http://www.ems.org/wildfires/healthy_forests.html can be found in the previous. They state quite a good case. You might note even FIREFIGTHERS are against Bush's legislation.

[ Parent ]
and this (none / 0) (#80)
by gr00vey on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 07:11:03 AM EST

Your statement after this text regarding tree huggers, though deragatory, has no substance. Perhaps you could provide some data to back up your conclusion? "Could we maybe get some more information to the rabid tree-huggers that don't have a clue about forestry, yet still insist on blocking attempts at forest management? "

[ Parent ]
Thanks for your suggestions (none / 0) (#84)
by imrdkl on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 05:55:36 PM EST

If I recall, there was some hope that this year's El Nino would help out in the southwest, at least. I also found at least one article which indicated that there are population centers which have additional costs and requirements to obtain insurance, due to the fact that they are on the forest boundary.

Tentatively, I'm looking at a piece which focuses on the philosophy behind thinning next, with some focus on the work done by the ERI and with a special focus on spatial analysis (density). I'll continue to watch this article, however, for more ideas.

[ Parent ]

silly suggestion? (3.00 / 1) (#73)
by Phantros on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:21:20 PM EST

Maybe this is an uneducated newbie suggestion, but why not create "corridors" in the forest where there is little or no growth, so that when one section goes up in flame, it will remain localized rather than spread through entire forests? I'm picturing a one mile (to pick an arbitrary size) corridor that is positioned to take into account prevailing winds and topography for maximum effect with minimal cutting, forming a checkerboard pattern. The trees removed would pay for the effort as well.

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with

Not a chance (none / 0) (#74)
by RyoCokey on Fri Sep 20, 2002 at 11:48:06 PM EST

This is an excellent idea at first glance, but there's no way the environmental lobby would stomach it. While it would provide convenient firebreaks, it would also segment the natural habitat, causing problems for deep wood species, as well as letting grassland competitors (such as cowbirds) impenge on their territory.

Plus, it's basically giving the timber industry what they want, which would never go over well.

In memory of a mentally mutilated child
[ Parent ]
another problem (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by squidinkcalligraphy on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 04:58:09 AM EST

Another problem with this is that the edges of forests are exposed to a lot of wind, making branches more likely to fall off. This then makes the trees on the edge more susceptible to disease (this is a big concern in Southern Australia). The outer trees die, same thing happens again further in, until u have no more forest. `Corridors' = `surface area'
An identity card is better that no identity at all
[ Parent ]
Forests are not actually there just to be burnt (5.00 / 2) (#82)
by Insaa on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 10:50:36 AM EST

The overwhelming problem with the suggestion is that you then have cut the forest into multiple small separate pieces. In this day and age a protected forest tends to be relativele small compared to its initail size. However, within this space, much of the reason for its protection is to provide habitat for the thousands of plant and animal species that live within it. These range from the majestic trees that you usually focus on to the small primary successors (things you would probably see as weeds) that fill the suddenly sunny forest floors around recently fallen trees. It also includes that animals and insects eg deer, squirals, mice, rats, butterflies, bettles, wasps and flies. And lets not forget the fungi that grow into toad stools and spread on the wind to decompose other (usually) dead material.
Now imagine cutting this all into slices, and biologically, it doesn't matter if your "fire-breaks" are a couple of meters wide to a mile wide, by doing so you have separated the forest into isolated communities. 'Isolated' because generally, species that live in a forest live IN a forest. Some might live around the forest, some might fly over the forest and so might slowly spread seeds out of the forest but in general, most of the species live IN the forest. By making fire breaks all through the forest you split it up and make it impossible for animals to move between the separate mini forests. Now you might think that a deer isn't going to have a problem walking a few hundred meters to the other forest patch just over yonder but I can assure you that even something as large as a squirrel will. And a large proportion of the bird species will and most of the insects will. This is because they have an inbuilt fear of open spaces, partly because of predators, partly because they cannot physically travel through open land, partly because their normal food supply comes directly from the forest and they can't see far enough to the other forest and wouldn't want to travell across what would basically constitute a barren waste land to them when there is still some food in the forest.
Now, I could tell you why stopping travel between your new communities is bad but that is another story entirely (even though it is highly related) and give you one example ... being that disease has a greater chance of wiping out a species in that forest patch (just believe me on this one. If you really want I'll explain it later).
Now, to make things worse, so far I have only considered animals being stopped from moving. On the longer time scale of hundreds of years you have also stopped the spread of the plant and tree species which, given a few more hundred years would slowly die out and leave you with no forest (again, you have to trust me on this. It's 2am at the moment. I'll give more details later if requested.)
And with that you have lost your forest. Sure it will take a few hundred years to dissapear completely. But you will notice a lack of animal and insect life a lot quicker.

So, very quickly, how to you control fire growth? Very simply. You let it burn.
But but but, then we will have no more forest. Bingo! You will have no more forest where the forest burns down. How insightful. But also, how short-term minded and how consequential this is as well.
You see, the forest burns down completely to the ground because the fire initially feeds itself on the ground litter that slowly builds up. When enough ground litter has built up and if then a fire occurs, the flames then burn a lot hotter and higher because of the high amount of fuel available on the forest floor. As the flames get into the canopy, it starts to burn and spread throughout the rest of the canopy burning all the trees to reasonably dead charred bits of wood.
Before people came along and built their houses in and around the forests there use to be forest fires just like today... but they were smaller and much more frequent. These fires usually were started by lightning strikes and would burn off large areas of land but with completely different consequences. As the fires were not put out by people they occurred more frequently in each area and this meant that there was less time between fires for ground litter and branches to accumulate. With less fuel on the canopy floor the flames could not become as hot or as high and would not get into the canopy of the larger trees so easily. Sure they still got into the canopy but this would not propogate so easily because the canopy tends to be relatively wet even during a drought (and here we have another story) and this stopped fires from spreading very far.
What forests seem to have done is develop different thicknesses of bark to protect their inner workings from the heat of the flames as they spread through the forest floor. Therefore the larger trees survived happily and the smaller stuff got burnt off. With all the smaller stuff burnt off some of the trees (Australian Gum trees are a perfect example) would use ingenious cones to drop seeds onto the ground where there was far less competition from the burnt smaller plants (well they're dead so they aren't gonna be trying to grow are they) and they from these seeds new seedlings would grow. This is what is suppose to happen (generally).

So what should the authorities do to protect the people and the forest and its inhabitants. They should let it burn, thereby getting rid of all the extra fuel that has built up over decades on the forest floor waiting to catch alight. But here is the problem for them. Because they have let so much fuel build up, any fire now is going to be devastating and spread over a massive area, putting many lives at risk (as we now see on tv each year and marvel and the flames). In theory, they could go through the entire forest and basically rack the worst of the fuel out except that is incredibly expensive and practically quite impossibly. Also, its pretty damaging to the forest wildlife (although admittedly no where near as bad as the huge fire that will be the alternative). This basically leaves use with just keeping on letting the forest burn when it does catch alight and doing our best to put it out before it destroys property. The important thing is that after the fire has swept through an area, that area allowed to burn the next time a fire starts. However, it shouldn't be such a bad burn as the first time. The effects of letting the areas burn in raging wildfires is that you will see massive areas of the countryside devastated and it will take decades for them to recover (hundreds of years for a total recovery). The other thing to add is that when a fire burns around property, it is allowed to burn right up to the property, not to 50 meters away or even 5 meters away. If you protect an area of forest 50 meters around all property, all you are doing is stacking up good fuel around that property. Essentially, you are making a funeral pire around your house. This is why the fire needs to burn right up and maybe into your garden so that in the long term it does not become a fuel store.

The thing that writing this comment has got me interested in is can porposeful large scale burn offs help the situation. For example. At the moment, fires generally occur during the dries parts of the year when most of the fuel is nice and dry. What would happen if the fire and forestry service went around a lit "controlled" fires during winter or early spring? Would there be enough moisture around to reduce the effects of the fires maybe leaving the canopy intact and thereby keeping the trees that will take many centuries to replace? One problem with this that I can think of at this point in time is that I doubt that trees have the same level of fire resistivity during the entire year. They are more likely to expend energy on fire protection like bark just before they expect to need it (eg in summer) and at other times of the years when fires are not suppose to be occuring, they can either conserve that energy or spend it on something else like growth or seed and pollin production.
Biology is like that. It is very complicated but I implore you, please give biology a chance to work how it wants to and how it has done for the last millions of years instead of becoming paraniod and so trying to protect your house from fire at all costs. In the end all costs will include the very thing you are trying to protect in the first place.


[ Parent ]

clearcutting (1.50 / 2) (#81)
by turmeric on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 10:48:21 AM EST

your article doesnt mention clearcutting

And why should it have? (none / 0) (#85)
by imrdkl on Sat Sep 21, 2002 at 05:58:58 PM EST

The article concerns thinning, primarily.

[ Parent ]
I think it should have (none / 0) (#90)
by gr00vey on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 03:37:41 PM EST

as ultimately, it is all deforestation. Also, I am sure areas that are clearcut will burn differently than those that weren't ever cut.

[ Parent ]
Thinning the American Brain (4.33 / 3) (#88)
by Peahippo on Sun Sep 22, 2002 at 12:40:47 AM EST

I have a few things to say, at the risk of repeating pieces of a few other postings on this topic.

The logical extreme of "administration" planning is to cut down all the trees to avoid forest fires entirely. Shesh ... "thinning"? Is that the new buzzword for more ill-considered forest exploitation?

People are notoriously stupid about forest fires. What, do you think that without firefighters, forests would vanish in a puff of smoke? What on Earth did nature do without firefighters? Was Gaia just lucky for megayears before Teddy Roosevelt and the US Forest Service came onto the scene?

The article mentions that the ancient forest trees are mostly gone, thus the smaller progeny and survivors are more susceptible to fires. That's certainly a point, but it's not the main reason. Human actions in supressing fires in the first place have allowed monstrous deposits of fuel on the forest floors. This fueling would otherwise be incrementally dispensed with in the ground-crawling fires that nature has grown used to for millions of years. Modern fires generally burn forests from roots to crown specifically for this reason. It probably started for the usual hypercapitalistic reasons of preserving as many trees as possible for harvesting. The bed we now lay in was made generations ago.

Recovering old growth forests is not going to be accomplished by "thinning". It is going to be accomplished by not cutting down trees and letting time do the work. It only stands to reason that a tree becomes old growth if it is allowed to get old in the first place. We've already seen this kind of problem. Before the blight took the American Chestnut tree, loggers were finding it harder and harder to find the enormous trunks that their fathers had logged so easily.

Another foolish factor in the forest fire equation is the encroachment of people's expensive homes into forested areas. People should either stop living in woodlands, or they should stop expecting the gubmint to bail them out when their patch of supressed forest catches alight. The end result of generational policy is here for us to see: fire supression may stop small fires, but eventually a catastrophic one comes along and burns many people out of their homes anyway. I believe that the period of time that is afforded by this action just allows many more homes to be built in the forests for the great fires to consume. (The illusion of safety is after all the main American product.)

Forests burn, stupid; don't build your home there. Shorelines move, stupid; don't build homes there either. People are so inane about these things that it's enough to make you want to join Greenpeace.

I agree with most of your sentiment (none / 0) (#91)
by gr00vey on Tue Sep 24, 2002 at 03:39:51 PM EST

but then I *DO* support greenpeace. They do some excellent work...

[ Parent ]
About the trees: Part 1 | 98 comments (92 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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