Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rethinking Wildfire - Ecological Restoration Now to Prevent Wildfires Later

Professor John Bailey, Oregon State University. Photo: OSU

Professor of silviculture at Oregon State University's College of Forestry John Bailey says, "We need to use the best scientific information that we've developed about how to treat forests. Then monitor these treatments and adapt them based on what we've learned."

In Oregon, the unexpected consequences of years of forest management that included aggressive fire suppression has left our forests in need of ecological restoration to survive inevitable future fires and drought associated with climate change.  

Bailey's suggestions are falling on receptive ears across central and eastern Oregon.  

Recent Ph.D. graduate James Johnston is working in the Blue Mountains collaborating with local, state and federal governments, forest managers and the public to help them understand the ecosystem drivers and what different things can be expected in different forest types." 

On the Malheur National Forest, projects are successful because stakeholders visit the forest together. These outdoor experiences help people learn about the different types of forest vegetation and what their needs are to sustain health. 

On the Deschutes Forest, these field tours give stakeholders the confidence to move forward with project plans. 

The Deschutes and Malheur Forests are facing insect infestation and severe drought similar to the forests in California. "We know that more than 100 million trees in the southern Sierra Nevada have died in the past few years," says Johnston. "When it's our turn in five to 10 years, perhaps, we need to have landscape-scale restoration done in order to prevent the death of the trees. If we don't, fire will kill them anyway."

Professor Bailey says, "We have the advantage of an engaged public who is excited to hear what we think about wildfire management and because of the way that forests are burning now, we have to continue to scale up our research."

A Sea Change is Occurring in How Federal Judges View Collaborative Forest Restoration Projects

Colville National Forest.  Photo: Colville National Forest, USDA

A sea change is underway. It is plainly visible in recent appellate decisions that federal judges are viewing collaborative forest restoration projects as the Cohesive Strategy intended.  

An article by Jim Peterson on highlights two court cases that without a doubt, indicate that the tides are changing.

Peterson writes that the two court cases demonstrate three significant changes. First among these is that federal judges are becoming more comfortable with the congressionally-blessed collaborative process that encourages diverse citizen-stakeholder groups to partner with the Forest Service in identifying, designing and monitoring forest restoration projects intended to restore natural resiliency in forests.

Second, their rulings reflect a welcome sensitivity to and appreciation for the demanding and difficult work these all-volunteer groups are doing, as well as a much-improved understanding of observable forest decline and a willingness to apply case law in ways that allow collaborative forest restoration projects to proceed. 

Third, the US Forest Service is doing much better project planning than it did a decade ago. It is mastering environmental law and regulation that, for years, seemed to defeat its best laid plans at every turn. 

These changes, says Peterson, are clearly apparent in decisions by federal judges in two cases: Alliance for the Wild Rockies v Jim Peña (US Forest Service Region Six) and Rodney Solomon (Colville National Forest); and Alliance for the Wild Rockies v Mary Farnsworth (Idaho Panhandle National Forest), Leanne Marten (US Forest Service Region One) and Thomas Tidwell (Chief, US Forest Service).  

Peterson's article details the Ninth Circuit Court's affirmation of an Eastern District Court ruling that denied a preliminary injunction requested by Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Alliance lawyers had hoped the Ninth Circuit would stop work on the collaboratively-developed A to Z Project on the Colville National Forest.

Judge Milan D. Smith, Jr. explained, "the Panel held that Alliance had not demonstrated serious questions, much less a likelihood of success, with respect to any of its NFMA or NEPA claims." In addition, the court noted the years of collaborative engagement by the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NWFC) and Alliance's refusal to participate in the collaborative group when invited. 

Similarly, Judge B. Lynn Winmill for the District of Idaho, US District Court held up two post-fire salvage and restoration projects on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.  

Peterson details both cases in his article and underscores, Judge Winmil's personal note that leaves no doubt about the fact that he, among many others judges, is beginning to grasp the relevance and significance of publicly-led efforts to more meaningfully address the underlying causes of the wildfire-driven collapse of western forest ecosystems.

"In the West, fuel and climate are combining to create intense wildfires," Judge Winmil wrote. "Fuels are increasing at an alarming rate as invasive plant species spread across the landscape, while at the same time climate change is lengthening the fire season. This means burnt timber is becoming a major feature of our National Forests. 

“If trees can be logged simply because they burned, we will reap massive clear-cuts. But small projects, fully vetted and properly designed to mitigate impacts, may be valuable in reducing hazards and funding reforestation efforts. The Tower and Grizzly projects fit that mold."

These two cases and Peterson's article provide clear testimony that the Cohesive Strategy is working. Through collaborative, meaningful interaction, the public is working with the US Forest Service to find the best possible, science-based solutions to creating and maintaining resilient landscapes.  

The sea is indeed changing, in exactly the way the Cohesive Strategy intended.  

To read Jim Peterson's full article on these tide-turning court cases, click here

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Framework for Next Gen Sagebrush Restoration

Sage grouse require wide-open, conifer-free sagebrush country as well as access to wet habitats. Photo: Brianna Randall
I read today that over a million acres of sage grouse habitat has burned this year in wildfires. This new research can help in the management of sagebrush landscapes and aid in the effort to reduce wildfires across our nation's rangelands.

From the article on

When conifers expand into wide-open sagebrush country, the sage grouse flee. This simiple equation has been proven time and again through scientific research, which has prompted unprecedented collaboration to remove encroaching juniper and pinyon-pine on over a million acres of public and private lands across the West. 

An innovative new study shows landowners and managers how to increase the efficiency of future conifer removal projects. 

The research team investigated where to prioritize removing conifers to benefit greater sage grouse during each stage of their life.  The results help practitioners reduce the cost and time spent planning and implementing large-scale management efforts - a win for people and wildlife! 

The findings show that both BLM and private lands are by far the most important areas to remove encroaching conifers to benefit the birds. 

Read more about how practitioners can meet sage grouse and restoration goals here and read the full report here

Monday, August 7, 2017

Multi-Year US Drought and Fire Conditions Can Be Predicted

Drought impacted trees in Sequoia National Park.  Photo: Nate Stephenson, USGS

The next mega-droughts and subsequent active wildfire seasons for the western U.S. might be predictable a full year in advance with the help of a new model based on tropical climate variability, global climate change and the natural filtering effects of soils. 

An international team of scientists from the U.S., South Korea and the United Kingdom tackled the challenge of predicting multi-year droughts that reach beyond the seasonal timescales to which they are currently limited.

The team's research shows that in addition to contributions from natural forcings and global warming, temperature differences between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans play a role in causing drought and increasing wildfire risks. The findings indicate that a warm Atlantic and relatively cold Pacific enhance the risk for drought and wildfire in the southwestern U.S.

The predictions will be available soon as the team collaborates with operational forecast centers.  This could be another great tool for fire and land managers moving forward!

Read more here.  

Scientists Say Nation Must Choose - Planned or Unchecked Fires?

Hayman Fire in Colorado, 2002.  Photo: US Forest Service.

In a recent Treesource article, Karl Puckett quotes Mark Finney, research forester for the US Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station who says we're in a "fire paradox" where the more we fight against fires, the worse they get when they happen.  

"The secret to living with fire is having more fire," adds Finney.

Good fire is planned, prescribed fire burning to reduce fuels that can contribute to large, destructive fires. These controlled fires help create species and age conditions in forests that are less monolithic and more mosaic. Prescribed fires also help change the vegetation and ladder fuels to create an environment where surface fires can be more manageable.  

Finney argues that we need to let good fire out of the box and start using it instead of fighting it.

Other experts weigh in for the article and mention the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy as a framework to strengthen collaboration to meet the three strategic goals - resilient landscapes, fire adapted communities and a safe, effective wildfire response. 

Read the full article here.  


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fire Up Your Beef

Short version of video - 6 minutes. 

America's grasslands evolved with fire and grazing. Unfortunately, fire has been largely missing from rangelands for decades and in its absence, rangeland health has declined and red cedar encroachment is robbing producers of productive pastures. 

Watch the video above to hear first-hand from ranchers and cattle producers about their use of prescribed fire to reduce the woody encroachment, increase livestock production and create resilient landscapes.

Longer version of video - 22 minutes.

"Fires of Change" Still Traveling

Artwork by Bryan David Griffith.  Photo:

The Fires of Change traveling art exhibition was launched in 2015 to explore, through the eyes of artists, the increase in severity, size and number of wildfire in the Southwest and their impact on the landscape.
The successful display has traveled from the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona to the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson and is showing at 516 Arts in Albuquerque, New Mexico this summer. It features sculpture, photography, video, mixed media and installations by ten artists from across Arizona and the country.  

The traveling project is a collaborative effort between the Southwest Fire Science Consortium, Landscape Conservation Initiative at Northern Arizona University and the Flagstaff Arts Council. 

This is still a terrific example of bringing stakeholders together to better educate communities about the realities of living with wildland fire.  

Read more here.  And our blog post when the project originally launched here