Thursday, October 20, 2016

How Do You Want Your Smoke?

Prescribed fire near Naches, WA in September, 2016.  Photo: Shawn Gust, Yakima Herald-Republic
"All the models predict that we are going to have a lot more fire, even if we put a lot more resources into suppression, so we’re going to have a lot more smoke,” Reese Lolley, Chair of the Washington Prescribed Fire Council, said. “We’re going to have fire in our forests, the question is how do you want your smoke?”
Mr. Lolley is one of several prescribed fire proponents quoted in a recent article about the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot in Washington State. Also known as Washington House Bill 2928, the state legislature passed the bill to examine the use of prescribed fire to reduce the catastrophic effects of wildfire in the future. The effort is aimed at expanding the use of prescribed fire and addressing its limitations: smoke impacts, complicated planning and costs. The goal of the Pilot is to learn from previous fires and reduce the fuel available on 11,000 acres for the next fire. 
"We are trying to get fire-adapted landscapes like this to a point that they can accept fire and not have it be catastrophic," said Naches Ranger District Fuel Technician Jason Emhoff. 
The Pilot is attempting to make it easier for prescribed burn plans to get the go-ahead form air quality officials who want to ensure the weather favors smoke dispersal, a tough sell in the past.  With support from Washington State legislators, fuels managers are looking for ways to use prescribed fire on landscapes without impacting communities that are sensitive to smoke. 
Smoke regulations have long been the limiting factor for prescribed fire because they create plenty of smoke. So, as Mr. Lolley asks, "How do you want your smoke?" The smoke from prescribed fire may be visible and cause an impact for a few days whereas smoke from a wildfire event may be intrusive for weeks and months.  
The Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot hopes to change the misperception about fire as the enemy and raise community support for more prescribed fire being used as a tool in the future. 

Wyoming and South Dakota Cohesive Strategy Workshop a Great Success

Stakeholders participating in the Wyoming - South Dakota Cohesive Strategy Workshop last week. Photo: Kate Lighthall
Last week, the Western Region for the Cohesive Strategy and the State Foresters of Wyoming and South Dakota hosted over 100 stakeholders in Casper, Wyoming to hear from their peers about how the Cohesive Strategy is being implemented there and make recommendations for collaborative, cross-boundary actions for continued and increased efforts towards "living with wildland fire" through the goals of Resilient Landscapes, Fire Adapted Communities and a Safe, Effective, Risk-Based Wildfire Response.  

In addition to the history, context and science behind the Cohesive Strategy, case studies from both states were highlighted to demonstrate the value of collaborative efforts towards the three goals and the vision of the Cohesive Strategy: 

  • the Vestal Project in South Dakota; 
  • the Teton Area Wildfire Protection Coalition in Wyoming; 
  • the South Dakota Mountain Pine Beetle Working Group; 
  • the Pole Mountain Fuels Treatment Partnership; and 
  • the US Forest Service's Life First Initiative.

The attendees comprised a diverse group with representation from: Wyoming State Forestry Division, South Dakota Department of Agriculture Division of Resource Conservation and Forestry, South Dakota Wildland Fire Division, Wyoming and South Dakota Counties, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, US Fish and Wildlife, local fire districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy and FEMA. From upper management to line personnel, the workshop was filled with interest, enthusiasm and participation!

Following robust breakout sessions to discuss barriers and opportunities, the outcomes of the workshop included a set of recommendations for actions that stakeholders in each state can take to help advance collaborative, cross-boundary efforts:

  • Improving and expanding communications efforts - especially around the notion of "good fire" and to encourage a cultural shift that fire is "ours" not "yours or mine".  Also to adjust suppression/management perceptions and expectations in mountain pine beetle mortality areas.
  • Implementation of a Good Neighbor Agreement between the individual states and the US Forest Service to allow for increased pace and scale of treatments on federal lands. 
  • Develop a clearinghouse for partner data to improve/increase access and use.
  • Expand AOP meeting to cover more topics for increased shared learning among stakeholders.
  • Create local coalitions to advance communications, learning, recruiting of ambassadors and work plans.
  • Develop local leadership and processes at the grass roots level to build broader support for activities.
  • Expand use of Farm Bill authorities - NEPA Categorical Exclusion, Good Neighbor, Insect/Disease Designation.
  • Consider shared state/federal multi-agency staff positions such as a WUI Coordinator.
  • Implement state-wide collaborative agreement to share non-suppression costs. 
  • Consider another Cohesive Strategy workshop for broader group of stakeholders including more NGO's, private landowners and Tribes.

The feedback from the workshop has been extremely positive with lots of enthusiasm for continuing the efforts in both states. The Western Region will continue to work with stakeholders in both states to assist in the implementation of the recommended actions.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Climate Change Has Doubled Western US Fires

A new study says that human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the US over the last 30 years. Since 1984, heightened temperatures have dried out forests, causing fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have. 

Scientists and public officials have in part blamed climate change for this increase. The new study attempts to quantify that assertion. "A lot of people are throwing around the words climate change and fire - specifically, last year fire chiefs and the Governor of California started calling this the 'new normal,'" said lead author John Abatzoglou, a professor of geography at the University of Idaho. "We wanted to put some numbers on it."

The researchers relied on climate data and modeling to present a sweeping regional view of three decades of worsening forest fires. Warmth drives fire by drying out the land. Warmer air can hold more moisture, and the air sucks it out of plants, trees, dead vegetation on the ground, and soil. The resulting drying effect is evident in the rise of more fires.  

The new analysis showed temperature increases caused by rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution have had a drying effect on Western forests that caused 10.4 million acres to burn in large fires during the three decades. That suggests that 44 percent of the forest area burned during the years analyzed burned because of the effects of global warming. The finding was an estimate, with researchers concluding global warming likely drove between six million acres and 16 million acres of forest fire.  

Read more here and here.  And the full report here

Monday, October 10, 2016

Shared Problems, Shared Solutions by Vicki Christiansen

This is the most comprehensive conversation about the Cohesive Strategy that I've come across to date.  Please take a moment and read or watch Vicki Christiansen's presentation at the 5th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference by the International Association of Wildland Fire. Vicki is the Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry in the US Forest Service and one of the original scholars behind the Cohesive Strategy. Courtesy of Wildfire Magazine.  

Read full presentation here (quicker than watching it). 

Watch video here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Walk Into Wildfire


More creative ways to immerse audiences into the real life of wildland fire using a visual medium.  

In another multimedia production from artists Ethan Turpin and Jonathan Smith, "Walk Into Wildfire" is a life-sized recording from US Forest Service research cameras to give an otherwise unsurvivable point of view.  Audiences in Bozeman, Montana confront wildfire's presence in this proxy experience, exploring its behavior, hazards and beauty.  Watch and share.  More here.

Idaho Makes Good Use of GNA with First Timber Sale


Last week Idaho Governor Butch Otter shared his thoughts on how Idaho is fighting wildfires through the power of partnerships.  In his opinion piece, Governor Otter touted the diverse interests working together in unprecedented ways to improve the health and resiliency of Idaho's lands.  

He pointed to the overall goal of reducing large wildfires as he outlined the Idaho Department of Lands' recent auction of a federal timber sale for the first time in Idaho. Under the Good Neighbor Authority, Idaho is working with the US Forest Service, timber companies and other forest partners, on an "all lands" approach to restoring forested lands and providing additional wood to sustain Idaho's forest products industry - very Cohesive Strategy.

Federal, state and private lands are intermingled in Idaho, so management practices on federal lands inevitably affect neighboring state and private lands. Idahoans wasted no time in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the Good Neighbor Authority. 

Other projects are planned under the Good Neighbor Authority that are allowing Idaho to help the US Forest Service with the enormous and complex job of restoring national forests and making them more resilient. 

Read more from the Governor's letter here.  And more about the Good Neighbor Agreement in Idaho here

Musical Collaboration Explores Wildfire and Climate Change in Flagstaff

Shawn Skabelund and Janice ChenJu Chiang. Photo: Melissa Sevigny

The Flagstaff (Arizona) Festival of Science began last week and this year the theme is “the science of change.” Two local artists have teamed up to create a musical experience about wildfire and climate change. Shawn Skabelund is a sculptor and Janice ChenJu Chiang is a pianist. Together they’ve planned a piano concert that takes place in a room transformed into a forest.  Read and listen to more here