Thursday, September 11, 2008

U.S. Forest Service: Pay Attention to Smokey Bear

Federal mismanagement of U.S. forests has increased the number, size and cost of wildfires over the past decade. Historically, the national forests have been logged to provide lumber for commercial activities, to promote forest recreation, species protection and management, and to prevent wildfires.

In recent decades this has changed. Pressure and lawsuits from environmental lobbyists have prevented or delayed both commercial and salvage logging, turning many of our national forests into tinderboxes.


At 9/11/2008 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are also in this situation largely thanks to Smokey, namely, 100 years of fire suppression.
In addition to objecting to logging, environmentalists and the public also resist prescribed burns in places like Sequoia National Park. Pre-emptive burns are another tool to help reduce the risk of wildfires by reducing fuel.

California has been at high risk in recent years due to severe drought and the composition of the forest which is predominantly coniferous.

Nova did a very interesting documentary on this subject entitled Fire Wars.

At 9/11/2008 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this site and I visit it regularly, although less frequently than I once did. I get tired of the constant kneejerk wingnuttery. I'm all for a balance and for attempts at objective debunking of popular memes and misconceptions, but I find the often polarizing political and anti-enviro agenda tiresome.

At 9/11/2008 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Sock,

Have to agree that finger pointing at environmentalists does little to advance an understanding of a complex subject.

It would be closer to reality to say that fire management and forestry conservation have changed substantially in our lifetimes. Public understanding of such specialized fields is limited at best and does tend to lag behind the research.

The popular perception that one should never touch a leaf or twig in a forest was very widely practiced and has now been shown to lead to congested forests, premature tree death, and devastating wildfires. Much as logging and pre-emptive burns seem like wanton destruction to many concerned citizens, these techniques are in fact essential to restoring forests and preserving biodiversity.

At 9/11/2008 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention reducing the risks to thousands of firefighters as well as homeowners living in these areas.

At 9/11/2008 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen to qt. Finger pointing is appropriate to identify the source of a problem. Fed and state landowners are not able to manage fire risk due to 'environmental concerns'. The absence of fire risk management substantially increases the number of fires (Moritz, Ecology, v84, n2). For example, 50 years ago brush removal and controlled burns were routine in coastal California. No longer. Brush removal and burning are now prohibited due to putative environmental impacts. The results are hills covered with brush, increasing numbers of wildfires, and skyrocketing fire damages. It is sad to see communities burn due to stupidity and irrationality.



At 9/11/2008 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Things will swing back to reason as more people understand that environmentalists are the biggest threat to the environment.

At 9/11/2008 5:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

My brother-in-law works for the Forestry Service as a fire fighter in the summer and as a tree marker (for selective logging) the rest of the year. He, and most Forestry Service workers, agree that clear cutting was bad. But, selective cutting provides needed lumber and removes underbrush and the oldest trees to reduce the risks of fires. Unfortunately, a number of pseudo-environmental groups succeeded in blocking all lumbering in some forests. In the past ten years those forests have had more frequent and more severe fires than selectively lumbered forests. More trees were lost in the fires than selective lumbering would have cut in 100 years.

At 9/12/2008 7:51 AM, Blogger thomasblair said...

Cato has an interesting policy analysis on the Forest Service and their history of fire suppression.

At 9/12/2008 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That is an interesting paper although the public policy suggestions indicate a certain bias against the National Forest Service which the author would abolish.

One cannot dispute that only some of the national forests are at high risk due to the forest composition. According to the report, these areas represent about 1/3 of the national forests although the author argues that the fuels problem is not an issue in the majority of these areas.

One reason that he gives for this assertion is that fuel has not built up to any extent in areas since fire suppression methods were not effective until aerial spraying controls were introduced in 1950. That would leave 48 years of growth accumulation, not one of his more compelling arguments.

This paper is more focused on the problem of escalating fire fighting costs. The proposed public policy solutions seem to be more focused on containing costs and decentralized control than fire prevention and control which is understandable given that the author is a forest economist rather than a fire fighting professional or a forest ecologist.

Fire fighting journals present a very different perspective on handling fire emergencies.

At 9/12/2008 10:11 AM, Blogger thomasblair said...


I wasn't entirely convinced of his argument that fuel accumulation isn't a cause of the increase in acreage burned that we've been seeing over the past decade.

I was linking to the paper for its treatment of the financial history of the Forest Service. It's no surprise what kinds of firefighting policy a blank check will encourage.

At 9/12/2008 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas Blair,

Appreciate your clarification on the issue of fire ecology.

The history of the funding is certainly interesting. It would be difficult to argue that a blank check from congress followed by the practice of dipping into the reforestation fund encouraged fiscal restraint.

The author goes a bit far when he suggests that the Forest Service discouraged prescribed burns implying that they knew this would lead to more catastrophic fires. One should at least place these actions within their historical context acknowledging that the mainstream views in the industry resisted emerging fire research.

He makes this suggestion while dismissing the fuels problem as "fallacious" and "no where near as serious" as suggested by the Forest Service implying that this is just some creative invention to get more funding.

You can't have it both ways. My basic problem with the report is its lack of fairness.

On the issue of funding, I completely agree with the author on the need for fiduciary responsibility, stringent financial controls, propert budgeting, auditing, and accountability.

At 9/12/2008 11:32 AM, Blogger thomasblair said...


The author goes a bit far when he suggests that the Forest Service discouraged prescribed burns implying that they knew this would lead to more catastrophic fires.

Perhaps my memory fails me, but I don't recall this implication. This was the section I recall that deals with the Forest Service not liking prescribed fires:

In order to promote fire protection on
state and private lands, Congress in 1924
authorized the Forest Service to offer funds
to local fire protection districts. But, conditioned
by the blank-check law, the agency was
so prejudiced against prescribed fires that it
refused to sanction fire protection districts
that allowed their members to use light burning
in southern longleaf pine until 1943 and
loblolly pine until 1954. During that time,
many landowners in the South refused to
form or join such districts. In response, the
Forest Service recorded all prescribed fires on
their lands as wildfires.

I don't gather the implication you do, but again, perhaps my memory fails me.


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