Fire scientists fight over what Western forests should look like

  • Blackened stumps surround Cheesman Lake in Colorado 10 years after the 2002 Hayman fire, the largest in the state's recorded history, swept through the area. A controversial new study says severe fires like this one are more normal than previously thought.

    Peter Brown

Mark Williams and Bill Baker stand amid ponderosa pines in the mountains west of Fort Collins, Colo., holding a copy of a 19th century land survey. They're looking for a small pile of rocks with three notches on the east side, indicating that a General Land Office surveyor stopped here to describe the forest. Surveyors noted many things, says Baker, a professor at the University of Wyoming; they even discovered a gallows where two men had been hung. But generally the reports focus on forest type and structure -- less dramatic, perhaps, but more useful for modern researchers reconstructing historic Western forests and their fire patterns.

Over the past five years, Williams and Baker compiled thousands of hand-written descriptions and combined them with tree-ring data from the lines the surveyors walked. What they found surprised them. In each of their study areas -- mixed conifer and ponderosa forests in northern Arizona, Colorado's Front Range and eastern Oregon -- dense thickets of spindly trees and severe crown fires were common even before European settlement. In fact, the two scientists argue that the severity of many recent megafires, like Arizona's 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, which burned 190,000 acres, is actually pretty normal.

If that sounds counterintuitive, it is. Conventional wildfire wisdom is generally the opposite. Many scientists say that dry Western forests were once open and park-like, with large, widely spaced trees and little undergrowth.  Now, however, due to fire suppression and logging practices, they've become overgrown with small trees and shrubs. The result is that frequent low-severity fires have been replaced by a new era of megafires that are hotter and more severe than ever before.

That's true in some parts of the West, say Baker and Williams, a recent Ph.D. student, but not everywhere; many dry forests throughout the region historically were more dense and prone to severe fires. They also disagree with the idea that thinning and prescribed burns can prevent such fires.  That kind of treatment, applied in the wrong places, is not only misguided, they say, but could do more harm than good.

Naturally, those strong statements have met equally strong criticism from many pre-eminent fire ecologists. But Baker and Williams are not the first researchers to complicate fire ecology in the West. Unfortunately, the nuances in their and other scientists' perspectives are often oversimplified in the media and in policy-making, with damaging results. "A set of laws, policies and initiatives that aim to uniformly reduce fuels and fire severity is likely to (have) adverse effects on biological diversity," wrote Baker and Williams in  their recent paper in Global Ecology and Biogeography.

"It's very important that we take a more regional geographic approach and not apply what we know from one system to another," says Rosemary Sherriff, an associate professor of geography at California's Humboldt State University, whose work corroborates some of the Wyoming researchers' findings. But "it's hard to get that across, because the idea of park-like ponderosa pine is widespread."

One of the main researchers behind the traditional view is ecologist Wally Covington. When he began working at Northern Arizona University in 1975, many of the landscapes he encountered were choked with trees that had sprung up during decades of fire suppression. Covington wondered how the forests looked before widespread settlement.  His study results strengthened earlier findings that, in the past, Southwest ponderosa pine forests were kept open by frequent surface fires.

Subsequent recommendations to remove small trees and reintroduce surface fires became the basis for policies like the 2002 Healthy Forests Initiative, attracting the support of both lawmakers and environmentalists, since they would heal damaged ecosystems while reducing the risk of catastrophic fire.

The "Southwest model" gained support from other fire ecologists and began to be used as an explanation for forest problems elsewhere in the West -- even areas with vastly different historical fire regimes. Foresters in places like eastern Oregon, Montana and California's Sierra Nevada began thinning to make forests more park-like and reduce the risk of severe fires -- in the process jeopardizing wildlife such as black-backed woodpeckers and Kirtland's warblers, whose habitat is found in burn patches. Further research would reveal the situation's complexity; in reality, both surface and severe crown fires played an important role in many landscapes.

For example, the Sierra Nevada's ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests are open and park-like on dry, south-facing slopes, with densely packed trees in creek beds and on northern aspects. Despite this variety, Malcolm North, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station, found in 2008 that fuel management officers were applying the Southwest model to an extreme, thinning the landscape into an "asbestos forest," rows of evenly spaced trees with no understory.

Matt Whithed
Matt Whithed
Sep 17, 2012 01:58 PM
There is really no question about Hutto's quote in this article "the federal government is spending money thinning forests that have a long history of dense stands and severe fires". But differentiate forest management at its interface with homes and infrastructure from forest management for the purpose of ecological restoration. Those with interests in industrial and private non-industrial timber lands are equally averse to severe fires. These are the areas where the vast majority of active forest management is occurring, particularly small diameter fuels reduction type work cited in this article. Sweeping generalizations regarding fire ecology and forest management have perpetuated a one size fits all forest management strategy among land managers and the public. One culprit for the misunderstanding is the broad and often misused term “restoration.”
Severe forest fires in the west may have been the norm in the Northern Rockies for centuries but they are hugely inconvenient in the human population and development rich landscape of today. Vast Wilderness Areas may be some of the last remaining landscapes where severe fires do not immediately threaten human life and possessions but even there the impacts to society are tangible and significant. I live in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana where for two months now our air is thick with smoke, often categorized as unhealthy, from dozens of fires burning in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Sep 18, 2012 02:49 PM
Interesting. I'm a frustrated restorative forester, driven to become a land surveyor as to the itinerant quality of forest work.
So I know a bit of both worlds.
Ironic that an old friend of mine from my high school /Quaker Youth group/Political Activist days, Jimmy Thorne, a research ecologist at UC Davis, and I came up with the idea, independently, around the same time, of using old surveyor's field notes to shed a little light on forest conditions of days past.[…]/Talk3_Session1_308_Wed_Thorne.pdf
(that's one of several papers on the subject)
Of course Jimmy went at it as a scientist and did not stop at the, often brilliant, yet scientifically untrained observations of guys "pulling chain" and turning angles, of a land surveyor.
 For me it was curiosity as to forest density on Rowe Mesa, as a land surveyor who pours over old field notes in the pursuit of my profession.
I came up with what I had imagined, from the evidence on that mesa, stumps, burn overs, PJ in regenerative growth phase.
That, at around the turn of the last century there were descriptions of "At (such & such) chains (66') we enter heavy timber. At s&s chains we mark a line tree, a pine, 6 links (1 link=8") in diameter..."
Things like that. Or "Soil second rate & stony/First rate & loamey". Nothing that goes into extreme detail, nothing with the notes of a cruiser, in any of my extensive readings of surveyor's field notes.
Thing is, these guys were set out to assess commercial value as well as to survey lands. But they were contracted, first and foremost, to divide the west up into mile squares, breaking chain every 8' at times in rugged terrain, the surveyor's time more involved in running his crews and breaking down traverses than in scientific endeavor.
At the turn of the last century.
Most of these surveys were done in a spate in the 1880's and again in the mid wars period, late teens to thirties.
The railroads had come through 30-60 years prior.
So, if the guys of this study are to state that these surveys occurred before major disturbance or settlement of the west they are simply quite mistaken.
Now that there is significantly different micro-eco-bio-culture, from the south facing side of a canyon to the north side of any given canyon, is something anyone that has spent a few days kicking around in the hills should be able to tell you.
Here in lies a bit of what I think of as the rub, the conundrum, we need these studies to continue, we need a good, earnest and, at times, ardent debate.
But more than that we need folks in the hills, running saws. Developing, once again, the talent and instinct of a thinner, that which is as much, or more, art than science. Thirty years ago I was one of those starry eyed young blokes. Passion for the forest and good hard work.
That's what we need now, again.
All of the studies don't do the hard work.
We need both.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Sep 18, 2012 03:45 PM
An example of Surveyor's field notes-
Richard Hutto
Richard Hutto Subscriber
Sep 19, 2012 10:02 AM
Swetnam and Brown "...questioned how ponderosa pines could regenerate if Baker and Williams are correct about severe fires having scarred Western landscapes for generations." They regenerate the same way most wingless pine seeds do--by animal dispersal. I have numerous photos of Clark’s nutcrackers and Mexican jays extracting seeds from cones on severely burned ponderosa pines (see photo evidence on our facebook page here: The more you learn about severe-fire ecology, the more it all makes sense--plant, beetle, and bird adaptations that are apparent even in many of our dry mixed-conifer forest types!
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Sep 19, 2012 10:44 AM
I'm thinking that if Williams & Baker's Hypothesis is true that fires and fuel density of the past were "actually pretty normal",
That we wouldn't have very much forest around at all that we could think of as climax, it'd have been toast.
And certainly birds, wind, water, all spread seed but, I think there's as much evidence that 300 years plus minus is a pretty good estimate for an overall average of time before the typical western ponderosa stand is hit with a "catastrophic" fire.
Stand replacement fires being typical to more mixed forests.
Again, chances are, the survey notes used down have such a strong correlation to what would amount to a cruiser's notes.
My old friend Jimmy based his research in California on mapping and studies that were done in the thirties, certainly given his findings, if the trajectory from then until now were to be typical and "pre Colombian" we would never have had the ability to have observed tree cover as it is now, it would have already been replaced with scrub oak, long before we could have got a gander at it.

I must say, as an old faculty brat, I'm really kind of disturbed by the prevalence of hokum science, "gotcha"""science""" as it were, to steal from the reprehensible.
Indeed, I find that the Bryan Birds/Sam Hitts of this world to be no different from the Inhoffes of this world, denying reality out of some form of religious fervor and doing everything they can to gin up some kind of bogus "science" to prove their point.
One can come up with all kinds of ideas as to how the world is not heating up, how the forests are just peachy but a reasonable person can walk out there door and see that's just plain old bulltwinkies.
Jeremy Boyer
Jeremy Boyer
Sep 19, 2012 07:23 PM
Mixed severity fire regimes. Paleoclimatology. Natural range of variability of forests during hundreds of years ago vs. forests coming out of the Little Ice Age in late 1800s. Seems messy to categorize. Why bother? The conditions of the past are kinda/sorta gone. Thinning & prescribed burning will only be done on relatively small parts of the landscape due to budget, bureaucratic and economic constraints. Land management agency thinning and burning, even if supposedly misapplied, will never harm forests overall compared to other threats like housing developments.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Sep 20, 2012 12:43 AM

It has taken me awhile to appreciate the benefits of some severe burns but people like Richard Hutto have taught me a lot. Thanks but I might offer that across parts of Oregon we have had plenty of those and I have a sentimental attachment to large old live trees. Not a lot of those in Montana I guess. Well, quite a few less. I do not cry over lodge pole getting completely torched, a species that was born to die.

 I sympathize with Californians such as Chad Hanson whose state has largely missed out on this bounty of dead trees and the lush ecosystems that can accompany them.

I appreciate the work that Baker et al have done, and more appreciate their steady, rigorous approach, good science. Some aspects can be disputed but they offer clear evidence, in bold contrast to a few enviros who fulminated in years past about any and all thinning, even thinning of 2nd growth plantations in the Oregon Coast range. Since I planted those for a decade, I regret the monotony we were responsible for at a 9x9 spacing. Perhaps better if we had planted half as much and allowed for some natural diversity. You seen one 25 year old doug fir plantation there, you seen em all.

As usual I thought I was dealing with religious nuts who had opposed thinning in low and mid elevation ponderosa pine . A case in point was the 2003 Davis Fire in central Oregon's Deschutes NF, a 25,000 acre mid elevation burn with over 75% severe mortality in the ancient PP forests, some over 500 years which had withstood countless other burns.

 The simple change that allowed this was the dense understory of lodge pole pine that regenerated around 1920, after the fire suppression era took hold but long before the logging era on those NF lands after WW2.

 In contrast to ill read snarls of some of the less astute enviros ( a loud and irritating minority I needed to ignore) this understory had nothing to do with logging disturbances.

In the article below myself and a couple of other luminaries took these wing nuts to task.

However, since then, my views have been tempered by the plethora of ill conceived thinning /fuels reduction projects I have enjoyed in various places.

High elevation lodge pole dominated mixed conifer stands with heavy machine thinning in a remote place easily characterized as a stand replacement regime.

Moist to wet mixed species valley bottoms heavily thinned by BLM in the Siskiyou for what purpose I can't fathom. A site like this can be expected to have dense natural vegetation.

Dense mixed hardwoods and shrubs in a fir plantation with the cut species littering the site and no piling and burning of fuels.

And the single worst, a very moist valley bottom dominated by willow in a CA state park where those flammable willows got whacked. They will come back I am sure, maybe it was just a bad afternoon for the crew who needed some mentoring.

I have seen plenty of good projects too in many places but at a certain point, it can look like some feds are a pack of hungry beavers who always have to be chewing on something.

GLO surveyors notes have been used much longer than some might realize with some of the earliest work published on early settlement vegetation in the Willamette Valley by Carl Johannessan at the U of O. His advantage is that those notes were unusually detailed, enough that he could assemble reasonably accurate maps of presettlement vegetation, showing of course the strong influence of fire across the valley floor.

My own use of GLO notes to examine riparian areas in NE Oregon was a mixed bag with scant few surveyors writing much on the veg, with notable exceptions. Those rare individuals were a treasure, makes you wonder how some were keyed into such things while most others were not.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Sep 20, 2012 02:07 AM
One of the ironies of the 2007 Tahoe burn which torched hundreds of homes is that in spite of the thinning and fuels treatments in the surrounding forest and park where mortality and fire severity were much reduced, they seemed to have little impact on the houses which still went off like a row of match boxes.

This was in spite of the fact that most of those homes did not seem to have obvious forest fuels hazards in their vicinity, once one went off the others followed, I also saw this in pics of the large homes in the dense development outside Colorado Springs which did not have apparent forest fuels problems in their midst.

Heavily treated forests burned over in last years AZ Wallow fire also much dampened a very hot blaze above Alpine and saved those widely scattered homes although they were not in dense developments on the hillsides like Tahoe.
Chad Hanson
Chad Hanson
Sep 22, 2012 01:54 PM
In the artice Malcolm North incorrectly states that the General Land Office data used by Williams and Baker is a "very scant data set" that does not allow for extrapolation to the landscape scale. In fact, this GLO data comprises thousands of sites over entire landscapes. The data used by Williams and Baker, in fact, is by far the largest data set ever used to address the historic occurrence of high-severity fire in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests. As for the comments by Swetnam and Brown, who imply that ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forest does not naturally regenerate after high-severity fire, this assumption is contradicted by the scientific literature. Savage and Mast (2005) (Table 3) found hundreds of stems per hectare of natural regeneration following high-severity fire in Southwest ponderosa pine forest. Haire and McGarigal (2008) and Haire and McGarigal (2010) had similar findings, indicating substantial natural regeneration of ponderosa pine and other tree species even in large high-severity fire patches, especially within about 200 meters from the edge of high-severity fire patches (which accounts for most of the area experiencing high-severity fire), and lower but still significant levels (for the purposes of establishing new forest stands) even farther than 200 meters into high-severity fire patches. Similar results have been reported outside of the Southwest in mixed-conifer and ponderosa pine forests (Donato et al. 2006, Shatford et al. 2007, Donato et al. 2009, Collins et al. 2011 [Plumas Lassen Study 2010 Annual Report]). There are likely numerous mechanisms for this, including seed survival (which may occur more often that some assume), dispersal by animals, and dispersal by wind.
Larry Thornton
Larry Thornton Subscriber
Sep 25, 2012 03:23 PM
The data I have seen from the GLO had a lot of bias in it. Many of the tree species and sizes were collected as "witness trees" on section corners. These were not randomly selected. They were selected because of their size and species, and not necassarily representitive of what the surrounding area looked like.
Swetnam asked, " ponderosa pines could regenerate..". Who said it had to? There are countless high country Parks and Meadows that we are now protecting from "invading" trees in the name of restoration. Maybe those meadows were forested at some time in the past. The landscape is dynamic, throw in climate change and we are pushing the limits of the natural range of variablility.
My recommendation to anyone living in the "urban interface" is to keep your valuables where you can get them out in a hurry and buy lots of fire insurance.
Peter Brown
Peter Brown
Sep 25, 2012 03:34 PM
Hey, all I know is what the photo above shows: recent high severity fires in Front Range ponderosa pine forests are not coming back as dense even-aged stands of trees. Far from it, in fact. That photo was taken this past June, almost 10 yrs to the day after Hayman took out about 50,000 acres of forest with nary a living tree left. You could search for days for a seedling that was not planted by either FS and Denver Water (they've planted a few 1000s of acres, but still a lot of treeless landscape out there). Maybe those corvids are busy as bees somewhere, but they're not having much luck with re-establishing those 50,000 acres very fast. And it's not just Hayman; wander around in any recent fires in the Front Range and see how treeless those areas still are.

And this is in the exact same area we reconstructed fire history before the fire (published in 1999) that was the first fire history in a ponderosa ecosystem that provided concrete evidence of crown fire. But the crown fire patches we reconstructed were acres to 10s of acres in size, not the 1000s to 10000s of acres we're seeing today.

And hence the crux of the question: what was the scale of crown fire relative to surface fire in the historical forest, and how has that changed today? No one disputes that *passive* crown fires occurred (where fire spread across the landscape was primarily through surface fuels, but occasional trees or patches or trees would crown), whereas current fires are dominated by *active* crown fires (with fire spread mainly through aerial fuels). One other point about the uncharacteristic nature of recent fires, at least Hayman: 400-600 yr old trees we sampled in our 1999 study that had recorded multiple fire scars (i.e., had experienced 6, 8, 10, 15 *surface fires* in their lifetimes) all died during Hayman. Hanson, I have to laugh every time I see your report on "the myth of catastrophic fire" because in the cover photograph there is what looks to be a dead tree that takes up the entire left side of the photo, with what sure looks to be a catface with maybe 8-10 fire scars recorded in it. An incredibly unintended ironic comment on your entire thesis in that paper. Here's a tree that experienced 8-10 surface fires in its lifetime, and then dies in a recent high-severity fire.

But back to Williams and Baker: my point with their data is their model is very incomplete, at least for the Front Range landscape they use to compare to their GLO data. Even if we assume that the forest structure they reconstruct from the GLO records are accurate (which, BTW, we will be testing next summer with a series of plots put in at their section corners that will actually be sampling tree ages and fire scars), even if these are accurate, it is still a huge leap to state that dense forest structure resulted from past crown fires. I.e, just look at the photograph above; where's this dense forest that's supposed to be coming back? (And Savage and Mast reported quite a number of past fires with little to no regen, with several areas instead coming back as shrubfields or grasslands. I suggest you report results from the whole paper instead of cherry picking). Ponderosa pine is not lodgepole; it does not have serotinous cones. All one has to do is wander around in any of the recent fires on the Front Range to see that there's no local seed sources, corvids aren't doing it, winds aren't bringing in the seed, and these stands are certainly not coming back as dense even-aged forests as W&B argue should be the case if their interpretation of the GLO data is correct.

Instead, I suggest that all the evidence points to the fact that we need more and larger ecological restoration efforts, and soon.
Ann Meisel
Ann Meisel Subscriber
Sep 25, 2012 03:52 PM
I fear to step into the discussion of an erudite group, but . . . .Thank you for the article. It added to my education and my belief that humans too often imagine the simple solution is the best even in the face of Nature's complexity. As far as mitigation of danger to homes built within forest communities, I don't believe fire policy will nor should be driven by potential home loss. Call it yin-yang, but if you enjoy the splendors--often very expensive splendors--of living in the forest, you must face the higher risk of not only wildlife encounters but also fire.
Richard Hutto
Richard Hutto Subscriber
Sep 25, 2012 03:54 PM
The picture above is indeed instructive; it shows that there are no big ponderosa pines! Why? They were all harvested before or after the severe fire event...might that have something to do with the fact that there is little recruitment? The more unnatural treatment a forest gets, the more unnatural the result.

The fact that charcoal trees have fire-scars is also instructive. Of course fire-scarred trees eventually burn down...that's the point! If they didn't burn down every 300 years or so, on average, they'd live 4,000-5,000 years, just as the other tree species that REALLY have a history of avoiding severe fire do. A little more perspective from evolutionary ecology might help here.

Again, nobody is arguing that some dry PIPO forests are in an unnatural state, and getting unnatural results from recent fires...the BIG point is that the story applies to a small proportion of western forests, and to almost none of the mixed-conifer forest types.
Peter Brown
Peter Brown
Sep 25, 2012 04:13 PM
In many many locations there were mature, dense stands of ponderosa pine before Hayman. Especially around Cheesman Reservoir there hadn't been any harvesting since the dam went in in the early 20th century. No, there is no recruitment because there is no seed source; ponderosa has relatively big seeds that do not go far from a parent tree. Perhaps a little perspective from silvics might help here as well.

And again, the question is one of scale: the oldest known ponderosa pine is 925 years old. Rarely do they get over 500 to 600. Individual trees die from all sorts of reasons, and often large patches die all at the same time for various reasons as well. We sample snags or logs all the time, many of which have evidence of blue stain (i.e., they died of bark beetles). We have plenty of evidence of trees died of drought. And even windthrow. And... even fire. But there is absolutely no hard evidence at all that the *scale* of recent crown fire "patches" is not completely unprecedented over the past several hundred years to perhaps millennia in most areas where ponderosa pine today dominates. And that is a huge area of western forests, and by goodness, a lot of the mixed-conifer forests as well.
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Sep 26, 2012 09:36 AM
So much energy, money and time spent trying to 'manage' the landscape. So many of us here seem to be either academics or landscape managers of some sort. And yet, despite legions of career foresters, numberless publications, billions in various government subsidies we remain clueless and helpless in the face of the surprises thrown at us. The west will simply just not settle down and be Connecticut or Luxembourg, and we culturally cannot handle this. We are total control freaks, armed with some very flimsy science, and we are culturally freaking out in the face of a landscape that is still wild, that will never be wrapped in chains like Connecticut. Everyone's a control freak: they demand climate, vegetation, fire regime, precipitation be just so to serve their agenda. Give it up! It is a privilege to live here. If you choose to pour everything into a moneypit subdivision surrounded by megatons of incendiary fuels, then you are the bigger fool, and you do not deserve the lives of our best young people working their asses off in choking smoke to save your 'investment'. The early explorers, Fremont et. al., were purely mercenary, like Louis and Clark, simply scouting and surveying for distant corporations (the feds). Their snapshots were just that-casual descriptions of conditions. Now we are obsessed with returning to baseline orthodox environmental purity-where is that? Early, middle or late Pleistocene? 1850 or 1950??
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Sep 26, 2012 01:33 PM
Peter says “But there is absolutely no hard evidence at all that the *scale* of recent crown fire "patches" is not completely unprecedented over the past several hundred years to perhaps millennia in most areas where ponderosa pine today dominates. And that is a huge area of western forests, and by goodness, a lot of the mixed-conifer forests as well.”

There is just this evidence, in a new paper in the scientific journal, Ecosystems:

Ponderosa pine regenerated just fine in many cases after high-severity fire in the past, which we know because places that were recorded as high-severity fires in the late-1800s to early 1900s now are well forested. Research is underway in the Front Range to try to understand the present lags in regeneration, to see whether this related to increasing drought or other factors, but 10-year historical lags in regeneration are documented.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Sep 26, 2012 03:33 PM
Darn it all anyway.
Sorry but, like I have a hankerin' to say.
Y'all need to put more poetry in science
There's plenty of science in poetry.
Saying that with full knowledge that so many will be sniveling and snapping like chihuahuas on amphetamines.
Sometimes you just need to give up on the preconceived, sorry, but, the notions of Williams/Baker sure do strike me as hypothesizes in search of plausible accessibility.
Just to get to a couple points, as per my very personal prejudices (as so much of the above is that skunk cabbage by any other name)
I'm not from Connecticut, Nuke Jersey or New York, my family headed west 399 years ago. They were silly Quakers looking for a place beyond the scourge, far from the pale, in defiance of any lord.
It is not with a mind to manage that I would run a saw but to clean up the mess of those other scurrilous, Yankees and Southerners, rascals that came out of the likes of Connecticut and The Carolinas in the course of the last century and a half.
If there is a person, here, that cannot admit to the fact that we've put ourselves in one vicious hell of a patch, then there is someone here who's as naive as a two year old on a midway.
Make it simple; think less of the data crunched, just take a walk out the door.
For myself, in my little canyon, eight miles from nowhere, a road without an exit, in one of those places recognized as forest fire hell in waiting, I recognize that I have chosen to live here, if the crown fire comes, overwhelming the work, thinning, that I've done, I'll cry but I ain't complaining, sure as hell ain’t blaming. This is the life I chose.
 Surrounded by the regrowth of the fires of the century prior, of which any two bit halfwit would recognize must have been ponderosa before the mega conflagrations that whipped around the west in the time of Big Ed, from Idaho to New Mexico. Now it’s all PJ, a few regal structures, rising with magnificence, both pondy and piÑon, beyond the scraggle of the twisted children of chaos, all fighting for a little sun, a little soil.
Here in The Pecos, climbing my ridge, looking over to the Viveash, it is all so obvious, the ponderosa slopes, still trashed, all but lifeless, still, on those slopes facing the sun, the spruce/fir slopes, where stand replacement has always been the norm, higher up, over there in the Valle De Osha. The aspens are coming back with vivacious vengeance.
 Having worked the hills, over there, in The Jemez, seeing what has happened, seeing it in my mind’s eye, The Cerro Grande, The Conchas, before they happened, calling it lost that day in May in 2000, three hours before they called it. Out of Control. And then Again. Just last year. To think, a nonprofit just successfully stopped work to clear around other power lines in the sticks in Arizona, ensuring another Conchas. This year and last, in the Gila, fires surrounding, yet not sterilizing, the forest and soils around one of the last places I ran saw crews. So many other places guaranteed to not grow a stick for decades for the soil, baked to lifeless.
 See, here’s the rub. Do me a favor and turn off the internal “ButtButtButt” for one cotton pickin’ second.
Think about it. Put a map in your head, maybe just of New Mexico and Arizona, this second; Throw on it the silhouette of Conchas/Rodeo Chidiski/CerroGrande/Wallow/Viveash/WhitewaterBaldy/Station.
Looking at that map?
Here’s the question. What do we have left? Go ahead, look at it. There’s my beloved Pecos Wilderness, there’s a little bit north of the Valles Caldera. Taylor’s also dodged the bullet lately, patches, patches, here, and there.
But how long ‘till they go up in smoke?
And here’s the kicker, yeah, there’ve, likely, been times in natural history that the map might have looked like that. But, see, this time it is, undeniably, our fault.
We done did this. Anyone that would deny it would be right there with James Inhofe in the Idiots R Us Clearing House of Denial.
Them folks in IRUCHD are bound to come up with some excuse, some deferral, like a future Republican Politician getting out of Viet Nam, to cast aspersions, deniability to the Urgent Guys. But like a banker with an artificial, mortgaged based, derivative, somebody has got to ask, or should ask, at what cost?
Think about it, if we refuse to recognize these fires, particularly, here, where I am, in the Southwest as the precursors of a Global Climate Disruption Feedback Loop From Hell. Like the Devil playing electric guitar on an amp big enough to blow us all back into some version of an apocalypse,
that it’s my turn, down here, this day, it’ll be y’all up north, sweeping your way, soon enough.
Well, if we refuse to think about it like that.
If we refuse to act.
Then, perhaps we will get a future we deserve.
Myself, the bones of my forebears are buried in the shadows of ponderosa pines.
All y’all that would sit back and let them burn, let me say to you, get out of the way. Maybe you should just go on back to Connecticut.
There’s lots of folks that think there’s things worth saving.
Stupid, Hippie, bultwinkie, sentiments aside.
So, yeah, all the D Jensens, B Birds and all, you’ve got a point, I love you guys but there’s a time a body has got to do what it takes to set things to right, there’s dishes in the sink and it don’t matter who left them there, we’re here.
So, in my twisted way, I’ll borrow from a mythical logger, Henry Stamper, to say
 “Wake it and shake it. Wag it an’ shag it! Give me some whistle punks! Give me some Bully Jacks. Give me some fallers n’ Chasers An’ chokesetters. I can’t run this show without (Thinners)!”
Peter Brown
Peter Brown
Sep 26, 2012 04:08 PM
Ditto that.

Bill, Whatever you and Dr. Williams think those data show, all I suggest is that you wander around in some of these burned areas and see if you really like what we have going on out there. There's no regen, and there's not going to be for some time to come because those there's no living trees. Yeah, you can argue it's too dry, or too warm, or not enough corvids, or just give it some time, but if there's no seed source for miles around, it's not coming back anytime soon. Hanson already cited some papers above: 200, maybe 400 m max we get seedlings into burned areas from surviving trees, depending on winds, corvids, whatever. Then takes, what, 20, 30 years for those seedlings to mature? When we have miles and miles of completely dead forest, how long just logically will that take to come back? And I mean completely dead forest: the MTBS map you cite in at least the 2011 paper is complete BS, walk around out in the Hayman footprint some day if you haven't already, or just fly out of Denver sometime. And I do take this personally; I happen to like 400, 500, 600 year old ponderosa on my landscapes, there just aren't that many of those left. And every last one of them - every one! - that we sampled at Cheesman is dead. And it's happened with High Park; with Jasper; with Bobcat Gulch; with Las Conchas; I could go on.

What the hell do you people want? You want crown fire? You getting crown fire!! How about figuring out how to get some surface fire back into these systems and be a part of the solution, not just constantly trying to throw roadblocks to good people trying to deal with real problems on the ground.
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Sep 26, 2012 04:52 PM
What all scientists want is to discover the truth, whatever it may be.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 26, 2012 08:27 PM
 It seems like this topic skips between the generic and the specific, which makes it confusing and hard to follow.Some of my colleagues have pointed out a couple of inaccuracies.

First, ponderosa seed is mostly wind blown and falls generally close to the trees as it says in the silvics manual here.

“Ponderosa pine seeds are not disseminated naturally over extensive distances. In central Oregon, seedfall at 37 m (120 ft) was only 22 percent of the seedfall at the west edge of a cleared area, and at 120 m (396 ft) it was only 8 percent (3). ” The quote above kind of implied pine seeds don’t have wings..but of course they do..

Here’s a photo.. (note I spend many of my younger years observing ponderosa pine seed years, climbing ponderosa trees for cones, and visiting extractories extracting seed.)

The decline of seed density with distance is also true of other species that Jerry Franklin and others also studied (I think various true firs and Doug-fir)… the number of seeds drops off with distance. It’s just physics, the same thing happens with pollen. There is still some at a long distance away, but not a lot.

Second, not to wax all biblical, but the seed has to fall on the right soil.. bare mineral soil, and germinate at the right time of the year so there is enough moisture, and not be overtaken by shrubs, forbs, or grass (this might be called the California problem). It is true that squirrels cache cones but they tend to be in a clump (the cache) and not spread out over the landscape.

Third, I think that there is some protection of seeds if the seeds are in soil that hasn’t burned up. Seeds may tend to accumulate in the duff, which may or may not burn. Also little seedlings can be protected, and many fires have places that just don’t burn hard enough to kill trees or seedlings or seed.

If Clark’s jays or nutcrackers are extracting seed from burned cones, aren’t they eating the seed? And even if some seeds fall out of their beaks, it seems like that might not be enough to start a forest in a given spot, given the pondo proliferation problems of getting started and not get overtopped outlined above.

In a good year, in a pine stand the Silvics Manual says “, In a good seed year as many as 852,050 seeds per hectare (345,080/acre) may reach the ground (19).”

And if you’ve been in some pine stands in the west, you’ll know that a good seed year can still have low regeneration due to needing “good ground” open at the same time there’s one of P pines intermittent seed years.

So all that is generic information.

Given all that, you can look at parts of the Hayman and see nada, zero, zilcho of ponderosa babies. Is that because of the intensity of the fire? Is that because the soil is so minimal in places and what was there washed away (removing seed and seedlings)?

I don’t know why. But I am also losing track of how these generalities and specifics are related to anything in the above discussion. We can observe the Hayman and see how things are, and wonder about how we should prefer them to be.

I still don’t see how arguing about how things were, really changes anything we currently see or want to do.

Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 26, 2012 08:29 PM
OOPs my photos and links did not come through the comment box. You can see them here:[…]/#comment-10804
Chad Hanson
Chad Hanson
Sep 26, 2012 08:58 PM
Peter Brown states that if you wander around in the large fire areas you will see that "[t]here's no regen[eration], and there's not going to be for some time to come because there's no living trees" and "no seed source for miles around". This assertion is simply not consistent with the published, peer-reviewed scientific data. First, most of the area of ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forest affected by wildland fires in the U.S. West currently burns at low and moderate severity, wherein most trees are not killed. Second, the portion that burns at high severity often contains numerous surviving large trees, and the majority of the high-severity acreage is generally close to the lower-severity or unburned edge, even in most of the largest and most intense fires (see, e.g., Haire and McGarigal 2010). Third, even in the minor portion of the post-fire landscape that has experienced the most severe form of high-severity fire (no surviving trees within the patch), there is still significant natural conifer regeneration (and regeneration from other trees as well, e.g., aspen and oak) according to the published data, e.g., Haire and McGarigal (2008, 2010) and Savage and Mast (2005). Peter Brown states that Savage and Mast (2005) found some areas that converted to shrubs after high-severity fire. However, this is misleading. Savage and Mast (2005) simply observed that in some areas shrubs were spatially the dominant vegetation, but also reported hundreds of conifer stems regenerating in shrub-dominated areas. As for the Hayman fire, the data I've seen do not seem to indicate that 50,000 acres of forest experienced 100% mortality, as Peter claims. Nor should we rely upon anecdotal claims about zero natural conifer regeneration on 50,000 acres in this fire area. Let's stick to the data.
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Sep 26, 2012 09:20 PM
Sharon...Clark's nutcrackers cache the ponderosa seeds, then return and eat them, but fail to find all the caches, thus effectively plant them. They travel very long distances and can easily move substantial seed into even large burns. In western Montana, a large percentage of the seed in their stomachs was ponderosa pine seed, so they do seek out ponderosa. Here's the article;

This is just one part of the sequence of events needed to get a successful seedling of course. Seems like this question of whether there are seedlings and if not, why not, is not simple.
Chad Hanson
Chad Hanson
Sep 26, 2012 09:27 PM
There's one other thing that's important to keep in mind, especially regarding the larger high-severity fire patches in the Hayman fire. The data indicate that natural post-fire ponderosa pine regeneration often begins at 13 to 18 years post-fire. The Hayman fire is only 10 years old. It's also important to bear in mind that these high-severity fire areas, or "snag forest habitat", are some of the most highly biodiverse and ecologically important forest habitats that we have in western U.S. conifer forests. Far from the damaged moonscape that some would have the public believe is created by high-severity fire patches, these areas are rich in abundance and diversity of birds and other wildlife (Hutto 1995, Kotliar et al. 2007, Hutto 2008, Malison and Baxter 2010, Swanson et al. 2010).
Peter Brown
Peter Brown
Sep 26, 2012 09:50 PM
Per Sharon's comment: Let's get specific. Williams and Baker argue that there is a direct link: dense even-aged stand structure they reconstruct from the GLO records *equals* higher severity fire. And that is in Front Range ponderosa pine dominated forests where they did their study. So now let's compare that to what's happening in today's fires: high severity fires *does not equal* dense even-aged forest stands. In fact, far from it; huge treeless landscapes. Now Baker has acknowledged that this is a topic that needs more research, but I suggest that it is a huge hole in their entire model. To explain it, they have to suggest that currently it is too warm, or too dry, or that 10 years is not enough time to see the dense even-aged structure yet. But I say that this makes their model, their entire thesis, questionable! In the Cheesman fire history, we had stands of acres to dozens of acres that we know crowned in 1851 (abundant dead trees that died in 1851) and still had not returned to forest prior to Hayman. I think it needs repeating: ponderosa is not lodgepole. Again: Where's the seed source to regenerate forest over thousands of acres when every living tree has been killed?

And per Hanson's comment: for sure, just keep arguing that the regen is just down the road, right around the corner, just gotta wait for it (sounds like climate change deniers; oh, let's just wait a few more years and its all going to cool off). Have you ever wandered around in any of these recent fires on the Front Range? Yeah, sure, all we have to do is wait another 3 to 8 years and it will all magically appear. But let's come back to W&B's model: massive crown fires are certainly not coming back as dense even-aged stands of trees.

(And so what if snags are great habitat? We have plenty of those right now. But aren't living forests also? Not to mention watershed issues, WUI, citizens getting killed? Try getting down to earth for a minute.)
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Sep 27, 2012 07:36 AM
Peter, no hole at all, you don't have the model right. Have a look at the paper. I'm going to bow out for a while and give others a chance, so this is not just us.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 27, 2012 07:54 AM
Chad- you said " This assertion is simply not consistent with the published, peer-reviewed scientific data." Let's do a thought experiment here.

Suppose Joe Smith were to do an gridded inventory of trees or not-trees on the Hayman. I don't know what journal would publish a paper that says there are no pp in certain parts of the Hayman. It doesn't... seem like very a groundbreaking (so to speak) scientific discovery. So what journal would publish it? Not to speak of the fact that it does not have the "previously thought" factor; it would be pretty much like scientifically discovering that horses eat hay, since people drive around and can easily see the absence of seedlings.

Now if you follow this train of thought, you'll discover that many things can be empirically true that are not published.

To paraphrase "if a tree falls in a forest and a researcher does not observe it, did it really happen?"

Second, your idea of just waiting more years may not work. As I said above, seeds much fall on good ground for establishment,not get eaten, have a couple good water years as they get established , and not be overtaken by other plants. I have only been to parts of the Hayman but there seem to be some grasses and forbs established in some places. Unless we disturb those, it seems like it will be difficult to get trees growing.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 27, 2012 08:04 AM
As to the Clark's Nutcracker,

Here's what it says in Wikepedia (could be wrong)

The most important food resources for this species are the seeds of Pines (Pinus sp.), principally the two cold-climate (high altitude) species of white pine (Pinus subgenus Strobus) with large seeds P. albicaulis and P. flexilis, but also using other high-altitude species like P. balfouriana, P. longaeva and P. monticola. During migrations to lower altitudes, it also extensively uses the seeds of pinyon pines. The isolated Cerro Potosí population is strongly associated with the local endemic Potosi Pinyon Pinus culminicola. All Clark's Nutcrackers have a sublingual pouch capable of holding around 50-150 seeds, depending on the size of the seeds;[2] the pouch greatly enhances the birds' ability to transport and store seeds.

"Clark's Nutcrackers store seeds, usually in the ground for later consumption, in caches of 1-15 seeds (average of 3-4 seeds).[2] Depending on the cone crop as well as the tree species, a single Clark's Nutcracker can cache as many as 98,000 seeds per season.[3] The birds regularly store more than they actually need as an insurance against seed theft by other animals (squirrels, etc.), as well as low availability of alternative foods; this surplus seed is left in the cache, and may be able to germinate and grow into new trees, if the conditions are right. Through this activity of caching and over-storing, the bird is perpetuating its own habitat. Closely tied in with this storage behavior is the bird's remarkable long-term spatial memory; they are able to relocate caches of seeds with remarkable accuracy, even nine months later,[4] and even when the cache sites are buried under up to a meter (3 ft) of snow."

If 1)they don't prefer ponderosa
2) they mostly find what they cache

what are the chances that there are enough caches out there to successfully reforest the Hayman (which was many contiguous acres of PP). Like politics, all biology/ecology is local.
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Sep 27, 2012 08:14 AM
(Note: Some of this discussion and these same comments are also appearing over at a blog called "A New Century in Forest Planning" which Sharon moderates and I contribute to. People may want to also check it out:

Sharon, I really do find the P-pine seed info interesting. However, as Dr. Richard Hutto has already pointed out above, he has photo evidence of Clark’s nutcrackers and Mexican jays extracting seeds from cones on severely burned ponderosa pines (see photo evidence on the UM Avian Science Center facebook page here:

Clark’s nutcrackers and Mexican jays aren’t exactly small birds, so one could assume they do a pretty good job of spreading P-pine seeds far and wide. At least much further and wider than the seeds simply falling form the tree. Yes, I’m sure that the birds do intend to eat the seeds they extract; however, I’m also sure that the birds don’t achieve this task with 100% success all the time. Just like I’m sure other birds, or squirrels, etc are not 100% successful all the time at eating the seeds they collect. All it takes to grow one P-pine is one seed. And I believe in nature this type of activity (ie animals spreading seeds) is happening all day, every day…all year, every year.
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Sep 27, 2012 08:17 AM
Peter Brown said, "What the hell do you people want? You want crown fire? You getting crown fire!! How about figuring out how to get some surface fire back into these systems and be a part of the solution, not just constantly trying to throw roadblocks to good people trying to deal with real problems on the ground."

Oh, please...cry me a river Peter!
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 27, 2012 08:20 AM
Also, Will, I wonder why you said "What all scientists want is to discover the truth, whatever it may be. "

That may be their aspiration, but that's not necessarily how they behave...some want to impress their colleagues, get enough research funds to keep their job, carry out vendettas against colleagues they perceive to be irritating, and all the other things that any group of humans does at work.
Peter Brown
Peter Brown
Sep 27, 2012 08:24 AM
Bill, you can’t just "bow out" right now, please answer my question: If your model is that extensive landscapes of dense forest structure *equals* massive and complete crown fires, then why are we not seeing extensive landscape of dense forest structure after our recent massive and complete crown fires? You whole thesis in the 2012 GCB paper (and apparently expanded in this new Ecosystems paper, I've not had a chance to read that in any detail) is that current fires are within their historical range of variation because you have evidence of similar extents of crown fire in the GLO records. So where’s our dense forest that is supposed to the result?

And by the way, the MTBS map you use in your table 2 in that paper is complete crap ([…]/FS-0212-056-020608_map.pdf), which you would have known had you spent any time at all in that area. The original BAER map ( is much more accurate of the completely dead forest that is present over about 50,000 acres of landscape. And yet you continue to insist this is all normal, nothing to worry about?
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Sep 27, 2012 09:19 AM
Sharon, Regarding your comment: "That may be their aspiration, but that's not necessarily how they behave...some want to impress their colleagues, get enough research funds to keep their job, carry out vendettas against colleagues they perceive to be irritating, and all the other things that any group of humans does at work."

You may want to check out the HCN podcost ( that accompanies this story and listen to the comments of Covington and Brown. Yep, how very scientific of them, especially Brown comparing William Baker to a 'creationist.'

And also make sure to check out William Baker's comment at the podcost link, where he takes the high road with this comment:

"In my opinion, scientists who engage in personal attacks and hyperbole denigrate science and the many professionals who have dedicated their lives to seeking the truth through careful examination and debate about evidence."
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 27, 2012 11:40 AM
I hope you didn't think that by saying what I said about scientists, I am for "personal attacks and hyperbole"? I certainly am not.
Bryan Bird
Bryan Bird
Sep 27, 2012 11:53 AM
Colin Holloway is seriously misinformed and needs to stop spreading misinformation on this blog. Otherwise this is a really fascinating discussion. Thank you.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Sep 27, 2012 01:28 PM
Bryan, sorry, Frijole Viejo, but you, as a representative of WIld Earth Guardians do have a habit, in my very personal opinion, to talk out of both sides of your mouth.
A classic example being described here,[…]/
And here,
Now, I'm just an old saruchero and a land surveyor.
As a surveyor, I do mess with court decree's and injunctions and the like and, see, I just don't understand how you, Bryan, acting through WEG, can act as sole arbiter in a court injunction? As such a statement as this might imply;
"“They (the Forest Service) need to get started immediately on that, and we understand that and we are being flexible in that matter,” Bird said."
Seems to me that once a judge/court puts an injunction on an action that it's the judge's/courts bailiwick.
And this injunction coming months after, if I recall correctly, you, Bryan, stated on (I believe it was) the KUNM call in show that your orginisation was not engaging in lawsuits to stop thinning.
Sorry, laddie, but you are a public figure.
I'm just an old Green Curmudgeon that cares a heck of a lot more about forests than my own ego or feelings.
That's why I was rather enraged by what I perceive (again my very personal opinion) that WEG would stop what I believe to be essential mitigation projects in the southwestern forests in the name of saving owl habitat.
As stated elsewhere, I don't believe it to be a matter of my opinion that the greatest loss of owl habitat, of late, has had next to nothing to do with thinners as it has had to do with massive fires.
Again, sorry, but if you're putting yourself out as a public representative of a not for profit institution, you put yourself up for criticism.
Sorry for getting back on the soap box, y'all,just kind of needed to state that I have not come upon my perceptions flagrantly.

Bryan Bird
Bryan Bird
Sep 27, 2012 02:33 PM
In staying true to this very good conversation, I will address only Colin's statement of opinion on what harm's the Mexican spotted owl more: thinning/canopy opening or high intensity fire. If Colin was following the science on this matter, he'd know the jury is still out.[…]embedded&v=hRJl3rGyVws.

There is a legitimate debate around this issue and the fact of the matter is that we don't have a lot of good monitoring information to answer the question definitively. Frankly, this was the very subject of Guardians' ongoing owl litigation with the USFS and USFWS. We need solid, demographic monitoring of Mexican spotted owl populations.

From observations its seems the owl does fine after moderate and even some high-intensity fires, at least from a site fidelity perspective. There are still questions about long-term reproductive success.

So, its not entriely clear that "essential mitigation measures" will have a beneficial effect on owl habitat nor is it even certain such measures can effectively alter fire behavior under rapidly changing conditions.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 27, 2012 02:48 PM
Whoa, Bryan are you saying it is not certain that fuel treatments can alter fire behavior, or that it is not certain that fuel treatments ALWAYS alter fire behavior. It seem to me that those are different concepts with different relevance to the context.
Bryan Bird
Bryan Bird
Sep 27, 2012 03:02 PM
Lazy use of words on my part, always would have been the appropriate term.
William V McConnell
William V McConnell Subscriber
Sep 27, 2012 05:14 PM
Can I get into this fray? I love Sharon's comment: "I still don’t see how arguing about how things were, really changes anything we currently see or want to do." The blogs seem to have wandered off-topic (as always). Let me remind everyone that we are no longer hunter-gatherers or primitive agriculturalists and "restoration" to historic conditions is not only an impossibility but also an expensive exercise in nostalgia. Maybe we should be managing for the future rather than obsessing over the past. (Does this remind you of current political rhetoric?)
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 27, 2012 05:30 PM
I was just tempted to say that economic manipulations don't always work to improve the economy, either but we still do them..
the argument is that "under some conditions they may not work, so let's not do them" or for flu shots "if we picked the wrong viruses they won't work, so let's not do them."
 But I thought that at least referring to economics could lead you even further off topic, and toward the election...
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 12:35 AM
Perhaps too soon to say about long term prospects for regen in Hayman fire, an area I am not familiar with.

But what have we seen with long term regen in other lower elevation severely burned ponderosa pine areas in the SW? I have heard, perhaps inaccurately, that some areas of the 2002 Rodeo Chiniski fire in southern AZ have very poor regen. Is it just too soon to judge or are we looking at places under stress with climate change?

Do we have longer term records for other areas showing lack of regen? I am familiar with the studies from the PNW but what about the SW and central rockies?
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Sep 28, 2012 07:23 AM
Mr. McConnell:

I agree with your statement that "restoration to historic conditions is not only an impossibility but also an expensive exercise in nostalgia."

In fact, I hope you're not inferring that enviro groups working on public lands restoration issues advocate a return to historic conditions, because I honestly don't know of any organization in the country advocating restoration in such a manner.

Restoration shouldn’t be aimed at going back to any point in time. Restoration of public lands should be about removing impediments to naturally functioning ecosystems. Ironically, this is why many of us in the enviro community have issues with Dr. Covington's "pre-settlement" model of restoration.

Below is a link to a set of Restoration Principles, released about ten years ago, which were the result of a 4-year bridge building effort between conservation groups and restoration practitioners to develop agreement on a common sense, scientifically-based framework for restoring our nation’s forests. I believe over 100 + conservation groups from around the country signed onto these Principles.

Citizens’ Call for Ecological Forest Restoration:
Forest Restoration Principles and Criteria[…]/Restoration%20Principles.pdf
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 28, 2012 08:47 AM
Matthew, it seems to me that this is the focus of the paper:

"precedence where it is vital to eliminate
or reduce the root causes of ecosystem
degradation, including stopping destructive
logging, road building, livestock grazing,
mining, building of dams and water
diversions, off-road vehicle use, and alteration
of fire regimes (Appendix 1)."
Passive restoration can be applied alone
or in combination with active restoration
techniques provided that the primary goal
is to stop the degradation and restore ecological

Now it seems to me that "fire regimes" must be "altered" from something... so aren't you thinking that a particular time is "unaltered"?

It also says that "native forest ecosystems
operating within the bounds of historic disturbance
regimes" deserve special consideration.

I think the relationship of the Restoration Principles to historic range of variation appears to be more complex than you stated above.
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Sep 28, 2012 09:06 AM
Sharon, Do us a favor and please don't simply claim the "focus of the [Restoration Principles]" is the one, somewhat out-of-context excerpted snippet you provided above, OK?

The quote from the Restoration Principles you provided above is simply for the concept of "Passive Restoration." It is NOT the "focus of the paper" as you claim.

Anyone who bothers to read the entire Restoration Principles will clearly see that "Passive Restoration" isn't at all meant to be the only form of "Restoration" advocated for in the paper.

The truth is that the Restoration Principles call for Active Restoration, Passive Restoration, Protection of Areas of High Ecological Integrity and even include a Community Protection Zone Principle.

Regarding the Community Protection Zone Principle, the Restoration Principles clearly state:

"A clear distinction must be made between fuel-reduction integrity and treatments that protect property and lives by reducing fuels in the "community protection zone" a limited area between rural communities and undeveloped forestlands, also known as the wildlands-urban interface. Treatments protecting property and lives in the CPZ may address the human safety issue, but should not be considered forest restoration in themselves since they may only involve very limited aspects of ecological integrity."

Again, I'd highly encourage those interested in bona-fide public lands restoration to give the Restoration Principles a thorough read. Thanks.
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 10:16 AM
If the goal is maintaining the viability of species, it is virtually impossible to manage for the future without deep reference to the past, as species are linked at the genetic level to the selective forces of their historical habitat and many will go extinct as the future becomes increasingly unlike the past.

If people care about biological diversity, or even about food for humans, we have to hope that we can reshape the emerging future to be as much like the past as possible. It seems odd to me that conservation organizations might back away from wanting to maintain as much historical ecosystem structure and function, and as many “historical” species as possible.

Those who would like to simply create a new future that fits their desires, or allow it to happen as it will, perhaps do not mind the massive extinctions that are predicted by the IPCC reports if climate change continues? Is there a more optimistic future in their minds, in which we create new organisms and new ecosystems that fit our future desires, using technology? Evolutionary history, embedded in gene frequencies, does not allow species to recreate themselves as they like for some new future envisioned by people. History matters to them.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 28, 2012 10:47 AM
Bill, This is a great conversation to have! Thank you so much for participating. This is where I think our different scientific disciplines, and different years of office and field experiences, might let us see the world differently, and the world will be quite enriched by exploring those differences.
You said”
If the goal is maintaining the viability of species, it is virtually impossible to manage for the future without deep reference to the past, as species are linked at the genetic level to the selective forces of their historical habitat and many will go extinct as the future becomes increasingly unlike the past.”

So I am a plant evolutionary biologist. In the past, generally forest trees deal with glaciation (changes in climate) by moving north and south or up and down in elevation. Like palynologists do, I see species adapting differently and moving up and down in different plant- animal assemblages through time. Of course, we would see species as generally adaptable because 1) we have studied that adaptation through time and 2) we study species that have not gone extinct. You focus on the tightness of linkage to the past. I look at the wondrous lodgepole pine that ranges from Alaska to New Mexico (and hybridizes with jack, all the way to the East Coast) or the cougars that live behind my house and have managed to learn to deal with suburban society. Trees have very neat ways of adapting that would probably be boring for readers to hear about; mammals have many ways of adapting through changing their behavior.
Fundamentally, I see the climate changing and plants changing along with it. Animals will generally go with the plants, or adapt in place, or have trouble. Animals will have trouble due to some function of the climate and people’s behaviors, diseases, predators, and competitors, and their interactions. We will keep our eyes on them, check if there is something we can do to help them (do things or stop doing things) and then decide what to do.

I have followed the workings of the IPCC too closely to believe their predictions- most of them go by models rather than knowledge of the species they model. I saw that developing a number of years ago. We can't really know if or what plants will survive or not, we don't even know what the CO2 will be. Since many organisms depend on plants, we can't know more about their future than we know about plants future.
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 11:28 AM
Hi Sharon...I hope you are right about adaptation, but it does not seem so clear to me that either the speed of movement, or a clear pathway, or something like their historical habitat will be found in those other places for many species. Moreover, those with substantial genetic diversity may do better, but many of our rarest species are rare in part because they lack genetic diversity or their populations are too small to allow rapid responses to changing conditions.

But, perhaps we are not so far apart in our thinking, if you envision that species will attempt to track the semblance of their historical habitat as it moves to other places. History still matters in that case, but perhaps you were not suggesting we forget history?

Yes, it is the unexpected interactions and constraints that may occur as climate changes that most surprise us, and may leave species stuck. If Clark's nutcracker plays a significant role in post-fire regeneration, what if that species suffers from a significant disease, then more fires come. I have a hard time seeing a future in which most species adapt by moving with their habitat, but perhaps we will be able to help them somehow.

On the Mogollon Plateau, for example, if ponderosa pine's climate moves up in elevation, there is only a small area on the San Francisco Peaks available. Sure, more to the north, but will the nutcrackers be there to help move the seeds? Peter Brown's worry about postfire regeneration may be a small concern relative to these kinds of required northward movement. But, we do need optimists...
Richard Hutto
Richard Hutto Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 12:22 PM
Things are changing, but we want to know which changes are a result of an overly heavy human influence. We need a strong sense of evolutionary history to understand the kind of environment that sustained itself just fine in the past and can maintain itself (and most of the species with which we share this earth) just fine in the ABSENCE of a relatively heavy human hand. By understanding the environments within which species evolved, we can better understand whether we need to "fix" a system that research shows is actually fully capable of sustaining itself and all the parts right now.

We may need to "fix" a small subset of western forest systems that are, by all accounts, out of whack--nobody is arguing with that. The bigger question is which forest systems are really "out of whack." A lot of recent research indicates that the need for a "fix" is being applied way beyond where it should be.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 28, 2012 12:28 PM
Species might not be able to make it where they used to be, for sure. So we could see if they move on their own via wind, water, snow, bird, pickup beds...and if we think they would do fine, want them to be there, and moving is the obstacle, then people can decide to intervene and move them themselves, through direct seeding or planting.

My original point about history was questioning whether it really matters in deliberating about what we want for the future -how many years ago, how many fires were, in what kinds of conditions.

There may be valuable lessons to be extracted, but I think the linkage between facts found and conclusions drawn needs to be very clear because there could be a variety of interpretations.

PS talk about optimism, remember the models that showed populations of 30 (Lande's?) would crash due to inbreeding? Because I had spent some time in ag research and they were still finding variation in inbred lines of corn, I wondered about whether we really understood about how populations keep their diversity. My understanding of the successful reintroduction of black-footed ferret was that that started with 18 individuals and now there are a thousand or so.

As Haldane said "the universe is queerer than we think, it is queerer than we can think". Which works out sometimes in a positive, and sometimes negative, direction for humans.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 28, 2012 12:34 PM
Whoops, here is the correct quote from Wikipedia..JBS Haldane (November 1892 – 1 December 1964) was a geneticist and evolutionary biologist..

"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
The second can is in italics in the Wikipedia cite, but I couldn't figure out how to do it in this comment box.
Richard Hutto
Richard Hutto Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 02:49 PM
Here's a little video clip to help you better understand how birds can provide insight into why severely burned forest conditions might actually be something to celebrate![…]CEH-TAJU&feature=relmfu
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 28, 2012 03:24 PM
I think perhaps it depends on your perspective..

Maybe the fish of this river are celebrating their arrival in fish heaven..[…]/

Ash and sediment buildup
When fire comes close to fish populations, they also battle the adverse effects of ash, which creates sediment and can clog gills of fish.

“When this happens, fish basically suffocate,” Hampton said.

This effect can extend into the long term as well, negatively affecting fish populations.

“The Hayman fire of 2002 deposited extra sediment into the rivers for as long as three years,” Hampton said.

Much of the residue remains in the air, and rain can also deposit ash and higher amounts of sediment into rivers for an extended period of time.

In areas near the Hayman fire, it has taken 10 years to reach a full recovery of fish populations, Hampton said.

Sediment and ash build-up also affect the areas where fish lay their eggs and areas that serve as insect breeding grounds.

“Sediments tend to smooth out riverbeds and can cement-in little gaps where fish and insect reproduce,” Hampton said. “In those areas, eggs will no longer hatch.”

Bug populations
The heat and sediment build-up tend to affect aquatic insects first and can more easily devastate those populations that serve as a food source for fish.

“If fire impairs a waterway, it can wipe out the food source for fish,” Hampton said.

Sometimes the ash and sediment accumulation effects are so adverse that intervention is needed to restore fish populations.

“Essentially, rivers and reservoirs affected by ash and sediment build-up have to be vacuumed out,” Hampton said.

Justin Augustine
Justin Augustine
Sep 28, 2012 04:05 PM
The literature shows that the relationship between fish/aquatic biota and wildfire is much more complex and interesting than alluded to above:

Sestrich et al. 2011. Influence of Fire on Native and Nonnative Salmonid Populations and Habitat in a Western Montana Basin. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 140:136–146: “Natural disturbances, such as wildfire, have played a critical role in the evolutionary history of native fishes in the western United States and are important in maintaining aquatic ecosystem health and complexity (Reeves et al. 1995). Our results support the contention that connected native fish populations appear resilient to seemingly catastrophic high-severity wildfire disturbance and debris flows (Bisson et al. 2009) and are capable of rapid recovery even when in sympatry with nonnative fishes.

Malison and Baxter. 2010. The fire pulse: wildfire stimulates flux of aquatic prey to terrestrial habitats driving increases in riparian consumers. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 67: 570–579: “We observed no difference in periphyton chlorophyll a or ash-free dry mass among different burn categories but did observe significantly greater biomass of benthic invertebrates in both high severity burned and unburned reaches versus low severity burned reaches. Moreover, a significantly greater flux of adult aquatic insect emergence occurred at sites that experienced high severity fire versus low severity burned and unburned sites. The greatest number of spiders and bat echolocation calls were also observed at sites of high severity fire. Our results suggest that fires of different severity may have very different affects on stream-riparian food webs and that high severity wildfire may lead to an extended ‘‘fire pulse’’ that stimulates aquatic productivity and flux of prey to terrestrial habitats, driving local increases in riparian consumers.”

Richard Hutto
Richard Hutto Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 04:29 PM
Sharon, is about perspective. The poor fish get their gills clogged, and aquatic insect populations decline, but that's very short term and very much about life in a world with natural disturbance. Disturbance ecology is about death...that death is necessary to maintain the variety of life on earth. If you only want one thing all the time (green trees and sediment-free rivers), you'll have to go to another planet!
William V McConnell
William V McConnell Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 07:06 PM
Oh wise men, ponderously pontificating on things abtruse. Have we not said enough?
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 28, 2012 10:59 PM
Perhaps, but I am not a man ;).
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Sep 28, 2012 11:49 PM

Bill Baker, one question about the GLO data which has vexed me. Since these observations were made after settlement and the mining era in many places, could the data have been skewed by that?

I appreciate the rigor of this conversation, you don;t need a grad degree to get that but need to do the reading and field work. I much dislike some activists who get away with calling themselves "ecologists" without evidence of having done the work to gain that status. I have a doctorate in watershed science and forestry but would never call myself an ecologist. People can strongly disagree over the interpretation of data but I need to know that they have looked over it closely. I have seen too little of that in years past and like many others, threw up my hands after trying to work with too many ill read activists. I am not a snob about this, I did not start college until age 32 but I always did my reading.

Whatever differences people may have in this forum, it is a conversation that has been a long time coming. Dueling citations, just what I like to see.

On gentle terrain characteristic of much of the forests of central and parts of eastern Oregon, large scale thinning and fuels treatments can be achieved but these are but a small fraction of the terrain seen as needing such treatment. They simply won;t be able to get into a lot of steep ground to do the work. The vast area will remain untreated and subject to intense burns, for better or worse.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Sep 29, 2012 05:21 PM

Mac- I did some thinking and, while it may be abstruse to you, I think we may be on to something important, so if others are willing to continue, so am I. I am usually not considered to be too “academic” but I think it’s important to not be afraid to cross into that terrain to understand how people think.

 What I am interested in here is how the different disciplines approach a problem and how their perspectives may differ, while being equally "scientific."

And people are speaking up from a variety of perspectives, and being civilized, which is great, IMHO.

So Richard said

a) The poor fish get their gills clogged, and aquatic insect populations decline, but that's very short term and very much about life in a world with natural disturbance. Disturbance ecology is about death...that death is necessary to maintain the variety of life on earth. If you only want one thing all the time (green trees and sediment-free rivers), you'll have to go to another planet!
I propose a corollary
b) species get outcompeted, or have too few offspring, and die out, but that’s very short-term, new species are always evolving to take their place, in a world with evolution. Evolution is about death and change, necessary to maintain the variety of life on earth. If you want species to stay the same, you’ll have to go to another planet!”
Now if a and b are both true, it seems like it’s a human choice as to whether to intervene in keeping species from going extinct or reducing the negative impacts of fire in some places.
Also the quote uses the term “natural disturbance”. This seems like it might be difficult to parse out, for example if bark beetles in Colorado are affected by climate change, does that make it an “unnatural” disturbance? And how would knowing the answer (natural or unnatural) affect the response to the outbreak?
And I think Greg raises an important point. We can’t afford to manage much of this country.. cutting trees- well, perhaps you can sell them in some places.. prescribed burning is all cost, everywhere. While in the South, large acreages are burned every year, I don’t see that happening in the west. In fact, the State of Colorado’s program was stopped this year. So there will be plenty of large fires, and plenty of sedimentation no matter what we do.
Denver Water thinks it’s worth it to reduce the risk to their watersheds. It seems to me to be a human values question and not a scientific question.

Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 01, 2012 12:27 AM
Good talk, I am sorry we are not all together to hash this out, somewhere on the ground. I had wanted to organize a workshop to assess thinning/fuels programs in Oregon but it did not gel. I also wanted to do a workshop on Biscuit fire-10 years later, what have we learned. But a bit too hot politically now to attempt that and I did not much want to see OSU taking the lead on this.

I am in eastern Kenya, just outside its largest national park, nice to be able to talk about these fire issues which continue to consume me. I have probably seen more burn areas across the West than all but a few and I am almost sure I have seen more salvage logging than almost anybody as well as plenty of thinning>

I am not sure what to think, I am more interested in good questions and dialogue, thanks for that.

Kenya, you can love it, you can hate it, but I sure love it now. Back to Ethiopia next week, an easier place to love.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 02, 2012 04:59 PM
Hello again,
 The Feral Friend (by the way, I’m not a bible thumper at all, just that that darn book is replete with rowdy metaphor) returns after spending the better part of the last week out in the field. You know, going over old GLO field notes and the like.
 I very well apollogise for the vociferousness of my delivery but not for the results.
 Way I see it, if science only serves the purpose of interdisciplinary snarking & quibbling there’s not much use to it.
 Or, that is to say, without a look to a “big picture”, what fun, or use, is it?
 So, sorry for the mind bombs, but y’all did start going to greater depths of consideration. I’m not really taking credit for that, so’s you know, just saying that it happened.

Here’s a few things (I hope you can see them as interrelated to the past bits of conversation) that have been getting in my craw the last couple decades.
 Needless to say we’re in a state of rapid climate change, kind of like it was around my home when those Folsom boys left their points, following the herds of mega fauna up north, a generation or two can very well mean some significant biological changes.
 Not the first time, won’t be the last time. Thing I’m looking at is it’s the first time there’s a species that has almost, single handedly, created those changes and, thereby, has the ability to effect those changes which might occur. That we really might want to look to the words of a Tatanka Yotanka and "Let us put our heads together and see what life we will make for our children”.
   Personally, I’d prefer not to see such a decision lean to the throwing up of hands.
  I’d kind of like to do what I can to allow the continuation of as many species as possible.
 Or, that is to say, my argument is, yes, species are more than likely to adapt but, given that we can hold ourselves responsible for the change, this time, what in the world is wrong with doing everything we can to aid such a transition, indeed, don’t we, kind’a, bear a responsibility to do so?
 I kind of think that, given the thrust of the change this time, I just don’t think we can follow sabre tooth cats up north to turn around and follow American lions back down south. Quite frankly I am rather enraged by the “Oh life on the planet will go on” argument. I kind of like what we’ve got now just fine.
 I tend to agree quite a bit with Sharon’s assessment in the wonder of things, that the ability for species to get all wild with tenacity (my interpretation) isn’t odd at all.
 Still, for myself, personally, that’s not enough. Hence my frustration. Because, as far as I’m concerned, observation is essential but it doesn’t mean diddly compared to action. In action one finds the call of an artist (in the Jeffersonian definition), more than a scientist, or even a technician.
 In the way of things it turns out that I had the opportunity to lend a hand to my nearest uphill neighbor this weekend, walking wise it’s three miles/15oo’ vertical, or 6-7 miles by road, as his truck was broken down I drove him to his place along those rutted forest roads so he could get what he needed to bring that load of wood into town (thinnings). Along the way, as we drove by controlled burns that had served only to burn a little duff, the entangled crowns with crazy ladder fuels, still a tinder box anticipating conflagration (let’s face it, I think if you got a couple beers in the Bill Armstrong types, they’d confess that the only reason that we’ve gone to burning over thinning is a factor of cost, not efficacy), my neighbor spoke in frustration of the difference between one state forester and another. His place is dog hair in the transition of spindly P/J regrowth & ponderosa fir, 8500’-8600’, logged over, grazed to hell in only the way a New Mexican can do it, a classic example of P/J encroachment upon “traditionally” ponderosa/Doug forest. The guy had been doing, by my thinner’s eye, a damn good job of it, getting the crowns out of the brawl they had been fighting but holding back to avoid a shocky stand. The second state forestry guy only had the ability to look through his Cruz-all and say he hadn’t cut enough. Dude obviously couldn’t see the forest for the trees, or the trees for the forest.
 In that ability lies the artist, I would argue, more than the technician, even the scientist. Trees being living critters, not data points.
 Like my neighbor, he had it, has it, going on. Just raw talent.
 Only reason I can pick it out is that I’ve spent so many years running the saws and the crews. In that, having one’s life’s work and pride in it, comes a different substance beyond conjecture, theory or contemplation. There can come the burning desire to see the work, nurturing, successful. I once had a contractor tease me “We’re not trying to get a medal, Qwayker”. Well I don’t want a stinking medal, I just want my work to mean something.

 Again, I say the things I do not to diminish or belittle those folks who, by professional habit, view the woods not through the eyes of a guy with a saw or a drip torch. I do, however, think we should get beyond the talk part and get to the art part.

Reckon that’s a lot of beating on a dead pony from what I’ve already said.

As to fish, again having lived through the years after the viveash (2000), having had “my” creek face three/five years of kill offs from heavy rains, I kind of can’t get into the idea of it all being all right. Call me a sentimental, emotionally driven old fool. This year the thing ran dry for the third/fourth time in my thirty years in the drainage. Yeah, reckon I’m sad, worried and kind of pissed off with all this global climate change stuff. I don’t see that as a failing. Sometimes I see cold and calculated assessment as one, though.

Probably goes without saying that my dander gets all up on the economic arguments. That we don’t have the money. All that rot. How can we not have the money? Sure, western forest aren’t great oxygen producers, but they sure as heck are carbon sequesters. I would surely love to see some of y’all eggheads (believe me, growing up in intellectual ghettos from Berkeley to Princeton, that’s a term of affection and endearment) argue on that, crunch the teragram numbers, go ahead and relate that to (however flawed) carbon market values.
 I’ve long admonished folks to think about the 17-20 pounds that a gallon of fuel mix for an acre thinned compares to the orders of magnitude of carbon released in a crown fire.
 It’s been personally painful, as a staunch wilderness advocate, to come to the conclusion that we very well may need to contemplate preserving, enhancing, rehabilitating, working like hell to aid transition into this new paradigm, that we very well may need to contemplate getting pretty darn extensive in forest rehab as a method of retaining sequestration over allowing billions of teragrams more of carbon to be violently spewed into the atmosphere.
 I want to see an argument based on that.
  How to go about that.
  How to make compelling arguments as to the economic necessity of vibrant, vigorous forests.
 I’d argue that enhanced actions and techniques of trying to revitalize existing, disturbed forests, is our best bet, to do what we can to restore health to those areas, like the one I live in, which had been pummeled up pretty good long before (you’d be a fool to argue this one with me, it’s kind of my field of expertise) the USGLO boys turned any angles or pulled any chain. As well as those areas of more contemporary moderate disturbance.

 Again, apologies for my frustrations, I do hope that some of y’all can appreciate the idea that scientific pursuit is the first step but not, in and of itself, the next. That even if there isn’t a need for urgency and the planet is way more forgiving (which I tend to believe) than most would anticipate, I do not see any reason to sit on our heels and “wait and see what happens” with our inaction.

Or I could just say, from my life around the eggheads, someone has got to nail yer feet to the floor so’s you don’t float out the window.

Mary M Kwart
Mary M Kwart Subscriber
Oct 02, 2012 06:22 PM
After retiring in 2007 from 30 years in federal fire management in a dozen western states (including Alaska and Hawaii) all I can say is "Duh". The trouble with land management is relying on those scientists too much and not paying attention to the what actually happens on the ground. The ponderosa pine model is so simplistic, I never used it except when I worked in Ponderosa Pine forests in California. In Alaska, free burning crown fires are the norm in black spruce. Get a grip, academics!!
Bill Gore
Bill Gore Subscriber
Oct 02, 2012 09:59 PM
Thank you Mary! Faster than you can spell 'benthic macroinvertebrates' I can smell an academic clusterfuck. No one can understand a landscape or region, except someone who lives there, out in it. And no one knows this better than an agriculturalist. Our knowledge seems to have stunted our understanding.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 02, 2012 10:57 PM
I suggest that the many can agree that the mid and low elevation ponderosa pine model is accurate. The problem is the much larger region of mixed conifer with much more variable fire regimes, with an estimated 20-60% of the stands in Rockies in such mixed severity regimes. Ditto the Klamath Siskiyou with most of it in highly variable mixed severity. Fires can go either way and large areas in the KS burned hot as hell before white settlement.

Thinning ponderosa stands seems pretty straightforward, Plenty of clear evidence of post settlement encroachment by understory conifers, despite some BS such as that bizarre pic the FS put out from the Bitterroot showing a purportedly natural, early 20th century widely spaced Ponderosa stand which was obviously logged recently.

But dealing with naturally mixed conifer stands is a whole other issue, some areas always did grow thick with multiple layered canopy.

It is good to hear from people actually doing the work and we need to hear more about good projects as well as bad ones. Given the fires over last several years, I want to know more about how those treated areas fared. It can be argued accurately that many stands did burn severely in the distant past, but what I need to know now is when and where fuels management can work in spite of that. As I mentioned previously, few areas will receive this treatment but those in the WUI need to be assessed accurately.
Bryan Bird
Bryan Bird
Oct 03, 2012 08:39 AM
Here are some good places to start looking at the issue of treatment effectiveness, but my conclusion is that under extreme conditions (becoming more common), all bets are off. There are also, many unpublished forest service reports on fuel treatment effectiveness.

Graham, Russell; Finney, Mark; McHugh, Chuck; Cohen, Jack; Stratton, Rick; Bradshaw, Larry; Nikolov, Ned; Calkin, Dave. 2011

Graham, Russell T., Technical Editor. 2003. Hayman Fire Case Study

Cram, D.; Baker, T.; Boren, J. 2006. Wildland fire effects in silviculturally treated vs. untreated stands of New Mexico and Arizona. RMRS-RP-55. 28 p.

As for native trout, anecdotal experience here in New Mexico seems to indicate the cutthroat and Gila trout may have evolutionary mechanisms for dealing with the habitat impacts of extreme fire behavior.

For example, in the Viveash fire of 2000, which has been mentioned above, the Rio Grande cutthroats appeared to move into the higher-level hydrologic units or the highest elevation, remote tributaries to Cow creek. I’d argue this is the species’ survival instinct: go to where the impacts may not be as severe or even present after the fire and then repopulate the main tributaries later. The rainbows and browns do not seem to have this instinct; they died off in large numbers after Viveash in Cow Creek. New Mexico Game and Fish quickly came in after Viveash and removed the cutthroats from their sanctuary to be later reintroduced.

The problem with this strategy is that many of our fire in the southwest are of such spatial extent that these refugia are limited for the native trout. For example, Las Conchas fire in 2011 burned hot in many of the highest –level watershed units inside Valles Caldera National Preserve with consequent fish mortality.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 03, 2012 08:50 AM
Thanks Greg,
 You might want to take a look at the Viveash here in New Mexico as an interesting example of a Post Toastie Ponderosie fire transitioning into classic Englemann Spruce Stand Replacement fire.
 That fire started on a mesa/ridge and was pushed down some steep slopes into Cow Creek Canyon, then chimneyed up into the Valle de Osha, so it crossed several transitions and elevations. I'm sure there are other examples of this, throughout the country. As far as I know there hasn't been much study up there as per fire effects on the different transitional stands. Spruce Fir does tend to get tight crowned around here if the spruce is dominant, with notable exceptions, up in the wilderness area, on the sunny sides, up around 8500'-10000' there are some mighty cool examples of Doug dominant stands that are, in effect, ground burneres with wide spacings, big ol' beautiful sleaze bag trees, burned and gnarly but absolutely majestic.
I'd tell my guys to Look up, every tree is an individual, so it is, also, with stands and forests.
Best part about that is there's still a bunch of places that don't need any help.
Those places are where I go for a break, and to bask in wonder.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 10:02 AM
Looks like i need to stop over in NM and check out the Viveash which seems an interesting burn to check out. More time on the ground, less time yap yapping but I am now doing my yapping now in Kenya. 18 months ago I did make a point of looking over the fires in the Gila NF but know little about the rest of the state.

Below is an epistle i wrote a few years ago when i was embroiled in the controversy after the 500,000 acre Biscuit fire in the Klamath Siskiyou. I spent over 100 days on foot in that burn, and monitored 125 salvage sale sites. It needs a novel to describe that time.

 It was bizarre to continually encounter outright false information put out by some enviro activists about mortality in that fire which had 44% of its area in the high severity class in contrast to most other burns in the KS which had about 16%. This refers to mortality, with some confusion over the use of the term "severity" which is also used to describe soil impacts. You can have a low severity fire for soil but still have complete canopy mortality, such as we saw in the Davis Fire in the Deschutes in 2004.

    Myopia and confusion on the fire front


    Talking out of both sides of the mouth versus civic responsibility
    There is one prominent environmental activist who has interesting and usually quite accurate things to say about forest issues. I have been a member of his organization for 12 years but listening to him talk about fires lately has been disheartening. One gets the impression that he has never had to take actual responsibility for land management decisions or faced the very real consequences. How would he have performed himself in an actual position of power when he could have his career ruined by decisions made during fires? One’s impression is that his goal lately was to again slam the US Forest Service, which is too easy a way to garner cheap political support for the many swinging at it from any direction on the political compass.
    He gave one public talk last year during which he castigated the government for squandering huge resources in fighting inevitable forest fires with consequent long range problems in the ecosystems. Fair enough, it is impossible to avoid fires and fire fighting tactics have indeed wreaked havoc in places. He was saying that we ought to just let many places burn, an approach that many might disagree with but it is a respectable opinion shared by some ecosystem scientists.
    My question to him was given that, exactly what he would have done had he been one of the commanders responsible for the Biscuit fire. His only harried response was that in the southern burn area the FS had neglected to jump on that fire soon enough and were probably negligent in supposedly refusing resources that could have snuffed out that small blaze early. What was most discouraging about this activist’s response was that he seemed oblivious to how he was directly contradicting himself. I wonder if I was one of the only people in the audience to see the glaring discrepancy of slamming the FS for fighting fires too much and 20 minutes later getting to slam them again for not fighting fires enough? Which direction will he jump next?
    Fire fighting strategy and tactics.
    Suggesting that we ought to just let fires burn in many remote areas is sensible but also the most appealingly simple minded response to problems in fire management. Simply choosing that as the answer allows us the luxury of having to think no further. The 1996 Summit fire which burned 40,000 acres in the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon is a case in point. The fire was initiated by a lightening strike in a large roadless area straddling an alpine ridge adjacent to the North Fork John Day Wilderness. As with many such fires, it just cooked along slowly for weeks along the ridgetop , burning only a few hundred acres. With the fire under the control of the Umatilla NF, surely the most ecologically minded National Forest in eastern Oregon [1], it was decided to let it burn. Of course, the old school fire managers in the adjacent Malheur NF were gnashing their teeth at this travesty. To the old school, the Umatilla was known as the “do nothing” forest.
    All was fine for this “let-burn” policy until the weather suddenly changed and this “eco-burn” mushroomed to 40,000 acres over the course of two days. The old school Malheur ranger seized the chance to finally throw one of his crews at the blaze as it blew up, and almost lost them all as their bus careened back down the mountainside through the fire storm with fire blankets draped over the windows. The ranger’s career came to an abrupt end after this.
    And that is the story of letting fires burn, during much of the dry season when natural fires do their most work, you don’t know what might happen. Would you want to be stuck with the consequences of those decisions ? If not, you might want to think this through a bit more thoroughly.
    There have been legitimate complaints about the amount of burn outs used in attempts to control wildfires. With some wildfires now burning so fast and hot, some say that large burnouts are the only way to gain control since fire lines have proven ineffective. Some might assume that much if not most of the burnout areas in Biscuit would have burned anyway in the wildfire although this is also a matter of dispute. There have been seemingly reliable reports of at least one shockingly inept burnout that raged out of control in one sector of Biscuit.
     Myopia and confusion
    The Biscuit fire burned hot, hotter and with higher canopy mortality than most fires in recent decades in the Klamath Siskiyou. I have listened to some environmental activists putting odd spins on this glaring fact in trying to present this burn as something else entirely . Having to fight off the salvage logging threat has obviously stymied sober consideration, although I saw similar myopia about fire long before Biscuit or salvage there became an issue. Some activists grab onto small nuggets of information, sometimes taken out of context , since they too often see such data as useful only so far as it confirms what they prefer to believe. This is perhaps too easy to understand due to decades of some agency and academic scientists supporting a legacy of destructive land use practices.
    In contrast to other burns I have seen, I found myself disturbed by what I have seen across too much of Biscuit, something a few other activists will also tell you in quieter moments when they are not consumed with making political statements about it.
    The most obvious confusion amongst activists about Biscuit has involved misinterpreting or ignoring easily available data on canopy mortality. I was yet again confronted with this at a recent presentation where the same exact misinformation about mortality in the fire was repeated.
    After my usual vexation and sense of creeping depression, it occurred to me that what I was seeing might be simply described by an academic wonk as “the construction of a social narrative” as a coping mechanism for contending with an impossible situation. In this case people were trying to explain this momentous fire and the loss of about 80,000 acres of precious old growth to themselves in the most positive way that they could . After all, if it is all just “natural”, it must be OK.
    [1] Full disclosure: I was based out of the Umatilla supervisors office when I was working on watershed research for the USFS PNW Research Station (1997-1999) although I was never directly involved with any of the planning or management decisions on the forest.

Richard Hutto
Richard Hutto Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 10:19 AM
The "loss of about 80,000 acres of precious old growth" in the Biscuit was also a gain of about 80,000 acres of precious burned old growth! You'll never see the forest if you're hung up on green trees!
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 10:33 AM
I concede that, you moved me in that direction but we needed to be frank about what actually happened there. In the central area of the burn, average age of the DF was about 150, and almost all of them in that age category. This indicated a huge stand replacement burn in the 1840s (?), this area burned again like that and it may in fact be what could be considered the natural regime. Chis Frissel moved me in that direction.

But, I much preferred the much more variable burn in the northern sector, what I like to call an "eco-burn" ( copywrited it is mine, all mine.). I am OK with that, but looking over thousands of acres with 90% mortality was depressing as heck.

I understand looking over large landscapes how variable fire has affected variability in stand characteristics, with such variability especially high in the KS.

But, I still wish that they had put that sucker out. But like in many places, it won;t happen, given the conditions during the hottest period when most of it burned hottest, no kind of treatment would have made any difference. And we are likely looking at much more like that.

That said, I am fine with such burns in places like Yellowstone, I lack an attachment to lodgepole. And I also think I understand its ecology a little better.

( mostly deaf since age 15, I hardly give birds the appreciation you do richard, since i can;t hear them but...I read your articles on post fire bird habitat. )
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 03, 2012 04:29 PM
Huh, yeah, that one, the biscuit, I wonder if Frank Zappa would see the crux of that biscuit.
I’ve a kind of brother in law fellow, husband of one of my old activist chums, who’s out that way. I, of course, think the world of him, am strangely proud (as in I don’t know him as well as I’d like and a little disturbed with what could be construed as a patronizing nature of the term) of him for his stalwart activism through his nonprofits, Still “S” could very well have been a fellow to have made that PPP (Post Pinchot Pivot) of which you spoke.
 Instructive to note that he regaled me with happy tales of his thinning his own property, over there, in the hills, west of Ashland & south of Grant’s Pass.

So, random thought from scampering about in the field today, put to rattling in my head from the “during much of the dry season when natural fires do their most work”. Well, actually it’s one of those things I’ve been contemplating for a bit around here. I’m figuring what would be the NM/AZ, Southwest “Natural” fire period is actually during our monsoon season. Kind of like treatment & mitigation all rolled up into one. Especially when one notes that all the HellFire fire’s we’ve had from Dome Lama to Conchas Wallow were all of human ignition.
 I’m not seeing a valid argument for allowing those rascals to get out of hand, for sure. I often describe a great many fires, currently, as being natural as developing cancer from exposure to plutonium (reckon most folks get a transuranic reference). Of course all those fires could do was to get out of hand. Sure don’t see much good for them.

I tend to agree, in a large degree, to an opposition to big salvage sales. Not that I’ve got a problem with harvesting some sticks, after all if we don’t get the sticks from here, we’ll just be getting them from Canada and I never did understand that an ardent environmentalist can’t understand that a tree has no godamned idea what a border is. Nor does the atmosphere, or a river, just go ask the Kootenai.
I do, however, hate skidders. The last time I got stuck doing lopping (a sad fact of a thinner’s life) for a salvage sale was after the Bridger Jump Up on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Broke my heart to see such insult to injury to the soil. I also was disturbed to see that the better percentage of trees were still green, I’d kind of preferred if they gave the green guys every chance. After all, it was for Stone Container.
 Now, if we started thinking skylines again, well there’s some grace to that.
An interesting observation during that time, though, was a pair of nesting Great Northies. They were hanging out in one of the few trees left standing, giving the final flight lessons before fall came in hard.
After all those months of treemagedon all around them.

I’ve also got to get down to the Gila, back in ’97 I was working around the NBar and Quaking Aspen Creek, over there by the Bear Wallow Lookout & Negrito Fire Base. Those hills got the double whamy in the last two years. NBar was pondy, flatter. Quaking Aspen was sunny side spruce/fir. I got yucks out of running that one as it was, ostensibly, pre commercial-pulp wood for Stone Container but I knew that Stone was soon to be toast. I had hoped that stretch might have had a chance. Now I’d just like to get down there and see if what I think might have happened did, that the soil might have hung on
William V McConnell
William V McConnell Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 04:57 PM
Perspectives, perspectives. Hutto et al. v, Holloway et al. Reluctantly I must re-enter this debate: a controversy that can never be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned. To find out why, check out this web-page. My biases will be apparent.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Oct 03, 2012 06:09 PM
Greg, I like your "social narrative" idea, but I would ask, who and why need it to be "OK"? Can't it be a loss of some things we value and a beginning of other things we value? Not to get too philosophical, Mac ;
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 09:54 PM
I use social narrative because in this case it involved the continual thrust of claiming that Biscuit had only 16% high severity while the actual figure was 44% and that figure was easily available. Those who contended that the higher number was just fine are also fine in my regard, a difference of perspective but scientifically sound.

What was odd was how the fire was depicted as the"gentle giant" etc etc with it characterized as mostly a cool ground burn, etc etc. This was of course by people who spent little or no time out there. They had to portray it as something just fine, an eco burn.

My experiences really turned me off to a lot of activists although many dear chums were involved for decades. Interpreting facts is one things, but deep delusions are something else.

Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 10:04 PM
Something else i penned during that time about Biscuit. After my years on this epic, I fled back to academia and "real science". As much as I groused about useless academics, I needed to hang with people who make a point of getting their facts straight. You don't need formal education to get that, and people like Colin with vast field experience have even more to offer.

Stumbling through the data: Problems with interpretation of ‘fire severity’ in Biscuit

Since right after the fire, too many people were confused by the 16% fire severity figure and used it as a measure of canopy mortality while somehow just ignoring the available data on mortality. The confusion about the meaning of ‘fire severity’ is likely because the term has been used in different ways by people. The terms severity and canopy mortality have been used interchangeably in different sources outside the FS.

 Areas with heavy mortality (over 75%) cover 44% of the burn area, not 16%.

 The source of the 16% figure is the FS Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) report in which severity refers not to mortality but to “changes in soil hydrologic function (infiltration, erosion hazard) and ecosystem impacts. Fire severity determinations are NOT meant to be a direct reflection of vegetation condition.”

This means that an area of low to moderate severity burns can have almost 100% canopy mortality, indicating that that the fire moved through quickly and did not burn long or hot enough to have severe impacts on the soil. A more useful description of the impact on vegetation is the index of ‘canopy fire effect’, also referred as ‘intensity’.

Cutting through this confusion about interpretation of the Biscuit severity data reveals that although only 16% of the burn area was in the high severity class, about 44% of the total area inside the fire perimeter was in the heavy mortality class with 75% or more of the canopy dead. Another 27 % is in the moderate mortality class with 50-75% of the canopy dead. This is not just a biased FS guess at what trees might die but represents many thousands of acres of dead trees. People have correctly pointed out that the mortality on Biscuit was initially overstated. The initial FS analysis indicated heavy crown mortality acreage at 49% of the burn area, a figure which was later lowered to 44% as the analysis was refined .

 Much of the area in Biscuit burned cooler, as in most natural fires, but people ought not to delude themselves about what happened there. This confusion about the ‘fire severity’ data versus ‘mortality’ grossly understates how very many dead trees there are out there. In contrast to what I have heard repeated like a mantra by too many people, the old growth in Biscuit did not always burn a lot cooler, it sometimes burned just as hot with too much of it now dead.. Data reviewed by the Conservation Biology Institute indicated that a total of 50% of the area of old and mature conifers had mortality of 50% or more. The area of heavy mortality (over 75%) burns includes 35% of the old and mature conifer stands, or 81,000 acres.

Although we have problems with comparing data on mortality classes on different fires over time, what is striking about the 44% heavy canopy mortality figure is that it is on the very high end for mortality from fires in the Klamath-Siskiyou over the last 30 years. Over this time, the area of burns with very high tree mortality within the fire perimeters has averaged about 12%. The Silver Fire, which burned over 95,000 acres of the Kalmiopsis wildlands and adjacent areas in 1987, also had about 12% area in high mortality. The Timbered Rock fire, the Big Bar fire and the Tiller fire also had similarly low areas of high mortality burns . (The anomalously high figure of 40% in the Quartz fire appears to be partly due to the preponderance of younger sapling and pole sized stands. The higher surface area to mass in such young stands will often result in hotter burns.)

Tables from Biscuit FEIS, page III-37
What makes Biscuit so important from a conservation perspective is that except for the suppression of fires since about 1950 across large parts of it, almost all of it was still ‘intact’. Despite decades of encroachment by roads and logging on the periphery, activists had been successful in keeping about 95% of the Biscuit fire area in a ‘natural’ state. I have heard much talk from activists about how plantations in Biscuit burned much hotter than other forest. There is no surprise in how hot plantations burned in some areas but focusing on this seriously overstates the impacts of past land management on fire behavior inside Biscuit. There were only 15,173 acres of burned plantations in Biscuit, or just over 3 % of the area inside the fire perimeter.

It is an important first step for people to recognize that fires play an important and inevitable function in forest ecology in almost all western US forests. But going beyond that and attempting to understand how such fires might have changed since Euro-American settlement is often well beyond us. Even more important is understanding how fires might be now changing in response to climate change and changes in forest canopy composition due to logging and exclusion of fires.

Changes in forest canopy composition due to logging and exclusion of fires over the past 50-100 years are obviously driving some burns. More important is understanding how fire regimes might be changing in response to climate change. Whether this change is only a ‘natural’ warming from the cooler era of the ‘little ice age’ (1550-1850), or a result of temperature increases from anthropogenic CO2 is something I can’t presume to answer here. There is little doubt that the hottest part of the Biscuit fire was driven by short term climatic conditions, with the seasonal dry conditions exacerbated by several years of drought.

Comparison of high severity and areas of high mortality in Biscuit
Figure is from Ecological Issues underlying Proposals to Conduct Salvage Logging in Areas Burned by the Biscuit Fire. (2003) Conservation Biology Institute, Corvallis OR.
Mary M Kwart
Mary M Kwart Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 10:48 PM
Wow--this whole discussion illustrates what is wrong with fire management. What part of fire is an inevitable part of the ecosystem don't people understand? Discussing fire severity, salvage sales, etc. are all a moot point. We need to make our communities more fire permeable--so that the fires, whatever the severity, can move through them with minimal destruction. This is done not through a simplistic "thin"or "no thin" debate but with a strategy that combines all actions available--like better house construction (one example--how about metal shutters for windows as used in Meditarranean climate Europe which we never see here). How about adopting in some places the shelter in place strategy used in Australia? More responsibility on the homeowner for fuels reduction and to maintain their own water source. And don't bring up the recent spectacular failures of this strategy--I know--I was there helping the Australians fight fire. I still think it is part of a group of strategies that can be used. The bottom line is climate change will make fires even more intense than in the past--arguing about fire intensity is useless--it is like people arguing about who made the arrow that they have been struck with--they should be pulling the arrow out, not discussing the niceties. The arrow is there, no matter what. Sometimes I think why we all fall back on the academic arguments is because we are afraid to face the fact that fires of all intensities are here to stay and we need to find a way to live with it psychologically. This is a big problem for our society--because of societal needs to maintain an illusion of superiority and control over nature. We aren't going to control it--so let's live with it.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 03, 2012 11:29 PM
The key issue is whether fire intensity/severity has actually increased. People such as Baker et al contend that such severe burns were far more characteristic of pre settlement fires than many assume. This is not of just academic interest since what is driving many fuels programs away from the WUI is the idea that the kind of hot fires we have seen too often lately are "unnatural" and can be much reduced by landscape scale treatments.

There seems to be little contention about the need for such treatments in the WUI, the question remains whether they are advisable in more remote areas in order to "preserve" live older forest and other values impacted by hot fires.

I think it is understood that under the most severe fire weather, little can be done but most fires burn under more moderate conditions when such treatments can have a large impact.

I will leave it to others to suggest what methods work better around rural homes.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 04, 2012 09:33 AM
Mary, with all due and great respect for another smoke eater,,,, my life is a spanner in the works....
To show my cynical side (again, I live eight miles from nowhere on a no exit, dead end forest road in an area waiting to go up)
I don't think the issue should focus on interface.
If you chose to live in a tinder box you should understand the possible consequences.
Personally I live in the hills because I love the hills. I sure don't want to change them but for "improving" the forest, for the forest's sake, more so than my own.
Sure, Lots of metal on the building, PV panels over power lines, blah, blah. But it kind of makes me mental that folks would move to a place because of perceived beauty/charm/view, whatever, only to go about (again, my opinion) wrecking it.
I mean, isn't that what cities are for? To live in an extremely controlled environment?
For me, it's all about the forest, recognizing the undeniable crisis temperate forests are facing.
I'm just one critter out of millions living in them.

AS to natural historic events, well, as far as I get it, things might have been like how they are now, here in the SOuthwest, fire intensity wise, around the same time Dickie III got waxed at Tewksbury and Cristobal Colon was waxing genocidal. I just don't think that worked out too well for anyone living around here, two legged or otherwise.
That was kind of a long time ago and, back then, the concept of anthropogenics wasn't so much of an issue.

That's (part of) my take away from the original argument/statement/article as to "Forest scientists (getting all wild on each other) over what Western forests should look like"

Reckon I'll stand with the urgent guys. I don't think there's much (the word intending nuance) natural/historic precedent for what we're looking at these days. Going as far back to them birds and they're seed caches and all, you know, I was looking over there to the Cerro Grande/Conchas burn scar this morning. If you haven't seen it, well, it's really rather mindboggling. Ten years on and the soil is still all but lifeless.
Any rate, it struck me, in all those tens & tens of square miles of nothingness, not a ponderosa for miles, why in hell would a bird that gets off on eating tree seeds want to hang out there and drop seeds what don't exist?
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Oct 04, 2012 11:47 AM
Hmm. Mary, if "society needs to maintain an illusion of control" we aren't doing so well. Say, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc. Not to speak of being able to control things with people under so-called "managed" conditions, like people who text while driving. I don't agree that "society" is under that "illusion."

Colin, I'd like to see photos of the burn scar where you were if you don't mind sharing them.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 04, 2012 12:02 PM
Under low and moderate weather conditions, at this time in many areas fire behavior and mortality can be very much controlled, within limits, with prior thinning and fuels work. Over the long term it seems more chancy due to climate change but not out of bounds to try it in places.

I think that under current climate predictions we will still have a wealth of dead trees in other places so no loss there.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 05, 2012 11:49 AM
Hi Sharon,
 Sorry, off in the field again for the better part of yesterday.
Here's another USGS link (Thanks Bryan, interesting to note this one shows more growth)[…]/recon-cerrogrande

Needless to say, you can find better & worse spots of regrowth (it does seem that the photos tend to the optimistic). in some of the slopes immediately adjacent to Los Alamos it's all still rather desolate. In the drainage's that managed to hold onto a little soil, things are better.
 I had avoided Los Alamos for the better part of my time here, the place is kind of like David Lynch does Twilight Zone. My first impressions of the place was that it was going to be toast in a few years. I had started surveying for environmental remediation work up there in '99. Don't know if you've ever smelt that smell a ponderosa forest smells like when it's ready to go up? Not that sweet is-vanilla-or-is-it-butterscotch smell, don't know how to describe it but there's a distinct odor of a distressed ponderosa stand. Or so I've convinced myself. Any rate the place reeked of it.
Those places are have just started to have the oaks tangle, ten years on. I haven't had the heart to get up there since Conchas. Makes me feel like Treebeard "Many of these trees were my friends".
 On a note of insane Conehead (local vernacular for the lab rats up there) over management, engineering insanity, they built these insane check dams up there in those tuff slot canyons. Just crazy. Talk about destroying the village to save it. Of course the photos don't describe the enormity, though one photo, in the link below, does show a huge ol' excavator for scale.[…]/after-the-fire.html

If you're good at interpreting ortho/satellite photos (in B&W prior to the Aughts), google earth is kind of interesting to use the time slider. You can search for Los Alamos, NM and zoom out a little. That's the Valles Caldera just west of the town. Cerro Grande ("Big Hill", "Cerro" often referring to conical shaped, volcanic type hills), where the NPS boys lost it) was a little south & West, conchas started to the southwest edge of the caldera.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 05, 2012 01:02 PM
I have 6 pics i took in May 2011 from the road to the ski area above los alamos of the Cerro grande fire and that canyon. They show lots of regrowth. I can post them if I could figure out a way to do it. I took them since I am always interested in talking about fire and I have done a number of lectures on fire ecology. If I knew how to post them and where, we could discuss them. I have pics from fires all over the west, but my experience in NM is limited.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Oct 05, 2012 01:26 PM
we could move this discussion to the NCFP blog and I could post your photos there, don't know if HCN has another solution. HCNer's?
Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Stephanie Paige Ogburn Subscriber
Oct 05, 2012 01:55 PM
Hi Sharon and Greg, yes, unfortunately we don't have a way to post photos in the comments, so if you want to discuss the photos maybe you should move over to Sharon's wordpress site. Sharon, will you post the link so other commenters will know where to go?


Stephanie P Ogburn, online editor.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Oct 05, 2012 02:41 PM
Thanks, Stephanie! Yes, Greg, send them to me at and I'll post them on the blog,
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 05, 2012 03:31 PM
OK, will do that with comments to go with photos.

Mary M Kwart
Mary M Kwart Subscriber
Oct 06, 2012 11:06 AM
Once again--case in point. Just look at this discussion to see a blatant illustration of the psychological denial via abstruse discussion of biological minutiae. Just because an illusion isn't successful at defining the reality of disaster makes it an illusion. And--there is no place humans can go to avoid fire--unless you want to live on a houseboat--it is not a matter of "choosing" to live in a fire prone area--for fire is every place in the US. It's not if fire comes to an area, it is when. Unless we have the social will to restrict where people live to avoid the most fire prone areas fixing the forest to stop or lower fire danger is not going to work on a country wide scale. And I doubt that with our history of championing individual property rights we will never get to that point. This discussion needs to encompass sociology and psychology, not just biological sciences. The scant research done in this area has never grappled with really important issues. People are afraid to face the truth head on of what it really means to live in the U.S.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 06, 2012 11:22 AM
You can't avoid fire but you sure can manage it in places, as people have all over the world for millennia. Human use and misuse of fire has had huge impacts on natural environments and vegetation in a range of ecosystems. The question is how to do it most appropriately which is what this discussion is about. Some fire prone environments can be managed to a degree,while others such as southern CA chaparral seem hardly amendable to management and people living in those hills are just looking at big trouble with severe fires. However, lower elevation ponderosa pine forest can be managed to avoid severe fire much easier.

High elevation mixed conifer zone is prone to hot stand replacement fires but as others have noted, the central rockies have 20-60% in a mixed severity regime where fires can go either way. Ditto the Klamath Siskiyou.
Sharon Friedman
Sharon Friedman
Oct 06, 2012 11:30 AM
Greg's photos are now posted at:[…]/

Mary, what is the "truth" that people are afraid of?
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 06, 2012 11:45 AM
The Cerro Grande fire looks typical to me. I do not know the history f the area and what evidence we have for past fire recurrence intervals but it appears to be coming back well enough. And of course the aspen is responding very well. With an aspen overstory, conditions are created that can foster more conifer regen. I expect that southerly slopes will take a lot longer and will show far more variable forests due to that. We know that even in the moist parts of western WA, conifer regen after fires can take a hundred years, adding to diversity in stand ages and sizes. And I learned in the Siskiyou to rise beyond my conifer centric view, what is wrong with hardwoods?
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 10, 2012 03:18 PM
The only problem I've got with "hardwoods", here, is that they tend to be gambel's oak, miles and miles of shrub you can't walk through. Love it in the little groves up the sides of the creeks & rivers, where you can sit under large arching trunks and dappled shade.
Post fire, even decades on, it can be just a sea of grabby-bitey stuff that wants to suspend you above the ground while disrobing you and leaving a criss cross of lacerations.

So in that it is all rather personal, I must admit, it’s hard to hunt in, hard to enjoy, for your typical Crested GreyBearded Honkey.

I'm afraid I can't agree that Cerro was "typical", unless typical applies to the new paradigm of soil scorching.
I was just up there yesterday, ironically locating/staking construction points for the inter agency fire command center they're putting up in one of the tech areas of the lab adjoining Bandolier National Monument.
Where there are places coming back, mostly where the BAER team was able to get to.
Another thing to note is that the ski area (Pajarito Mountain) was more beat up by Conchas than Cerro.
And that not nearly as badly as many places. The cynic in me might point out that yeah, a clear cut, like a ski area, can put a fire to ground.
I'm certainly not trying to belittle your observations, kind of reckon some of it might have to do with intimate familiarity/ remembering it pre fire.
As is often the case, many of the areas along the roads are in better shape, due to fire break aspects as well as resource deployment.
My greatest concern is that, in many areas, ponderosa will be replaced with PJ or Gambel's oak. Fully realizing, after my impetulant spiel as per sequestration and the like, that I've a great personal interest in having pondy's around in a future I won't be around for.
Indeed, that was one of the things that popped into my mind yesterday, that on the ridges over Frijoles Canyon there were some palo altos that survived the blaze(s) that they very well could have been little buggers during that last time the weather went hot, that drove those folks out of Frijoles Canyon and set the Te(i)(o)wa speakers out of their homes in search of another place to grow corn. Kind of put it in natural historical perspective to me, the enormity of social collapse from climate disaster. Yet there were still ponderosas.

My home is on the ponderosa edge. I’m positive that it was ponderosa 200 years ago, that the ponderosa extended down another fifteen hundred feet and miles and miles further. I think it was the fires of the turn of the last century that took them out. The Santa Fe Railroad runs just to the south. Those thirty years ago that I wandered into the Pecos Valley I was lucky enough to get to talk to a bunch of the old timers, now mostly gone, who regaled me with stories of making $0.25 a piece for railroad ties delivered to the railhead in Rowe. I’ve found hand hewn ties in the hills, often a little small and not brought out. This practice came more than twenty years before the USGLO surveys. Plus the fact that the valley was settled way earlier than that.
 Point being that I think my place and the valley is a very clear example of what disturbed environments do after a monster fire, that the “climax”species can be hampered for centuries. By my observation it’s not just a lack of ponderosas but also of all kinds of critters, flowers & plants. My hill still has trouble holding down soil, there’s paintbrush but little or no penstemon and on and on, right up to the larger critters, if you ask me, the mulies & the elk, etc.
 Going back to that map of the mind it sure does seem to me that ponderosa (ponderosa being more than just a tree, of course, but a whole bioculture)has quite the potential for becoming endangered in the southwest.
That kind of gets me riled up a bit.

Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Oct 10, 2012 11:17 PM
good points, especially about how you think forest cover has changed over last 200 years, and you are right, that corner of the world was settled much earlier by Euro americans than much of the West.

From what you are saying, it seems that pondy regen in Cerro has been poor? I can believe that but would like to see some data, maybe the FS has it.

What you have to say is a counter to the avidly pro fire views heard on this site, maybe we can hear a response from them. I do not know this area at all.

I might assume you are right about soil scorching, heavy fuel loads as we have seen in some places can result in that with long term changes. And I do think fuel loads can be much heavier in many places now.

(btw, i worked with Hoedads for 12 years.)
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Oct 11, 2012 08:18 AM
Ah, got to love them H(h)oedads (not saying that ironically in the least). Kind of reckon that should be held in as high esteem as being a veteran. I just murdered the poor things with a saw.
Somehow never got around to putting them in the ground (except for residential) despite the desire to.

Don't want to make it sound like I'm not pro fire, just that I think there's a big difference between a forest that's ready to *burn* and a forest that's *ready* to burn.
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Oct 11, 2012 08:36 AM
We might as well add this new report/study to the mix here, especially if we're "fighting over what Western forests should look like."

Based on the findings of this report, it's sort of hard to believe how more logging, thinning, etc will be able to head off this grim climate reality headed our way....

New Report: Climate Change Could Cripple Southwestern Forests[…]/

October 11, 2012

From the University of Arizona:

    Combine the tree-ring growth record with historical information, climate records and computer-model projections of future climate trends, and you get a grim picture for the future of trees in the southwestern United States.

    That’s the word from a team of scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Arizona and other partner organizations.

    If the Southwest is warmer and drier in the near future, widespread tree death is likely and would cause substantial changes in the distribution of forests and of species, the researchers report this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Read the entire article here[…]/climate-change-could-cripple-southwestern-forests

Also, I’ll paste the Abstract of the study below, but the entire study may be view here[…]/nclimate1693.html


    As the climate changes, drought may reduce tree productivity and survival across many forest ecosystems; however, the relative influence of specific climate parameters on forest decline is poorly understood. We derive a forest drought-stress index (FDSI) for the southwestern United States using a comprehensive tree-ring data set representing AD 1000–2007. The FDSI is approximately equally influenced by the warm-season vapour-pressure deficit (largely controlled by temperature) and cold-season precipitation, together explaining 82% of the FDSI variability. Correspondence between the FDSI and measures of forest productivity, mortality, bark-beetle outbreak and wildfire validate the FDSI as a holistic forest-vigour indicator. If the vapour-pressure deficit continues increasing as projected by climate models, the mean forest drought-stress by the 2050s will exceed that of the most severe droughts in the past 1,000 years. Collectively, the results foreshadow twenty-first-century changes in forest structures and compositions, with transition of forests in the southwestern United States, and perhaps water-limited forests globally, towards distributions unfamiliar to modern civilization.
Felice Pace
Felice Pace Subscriber
Nov 04, 2012 10:00 AM
I tried to stay out of this discussion but find the need to suggest that there are key factors that have not been discussed:

1. The data scientists are using to study contemporary forest fires does not distinguish between the area burned in the wildfire (whether "natural" or human caused) and the area burned by firefighters as part of the "suppression" effort. My experience (I've studied every very large fire in the Klamath Mountains - including in the Siskiyou sub-range - since 1987) is that a) for safety reasons, the percentage of total fire area which was burned by humans (aka discretionary suppression fire) has increased dramatically and is now sometimes (2008) larger than the naturally burned portion, and b) the discretionary suppression fires in general burned/were burned hotter than the natural fires.

Until fire mappers and researchers distinguish between the natural fire and the discretionary suppression fires, their findings will remain highly suspect.
2. Absent from the discussion of "treatments" was consideration of the influence of the tool being used to "treat" the forest. Overwhelmingly, the tool being used is the timber sale contract. The timber sale contract was a great tool for getting logs out of the woods and to the mill. It is a very poor tool if the task is restoring the forest or reducing fire risk. That is because when the tool is a timber sale contract economics - not forestry or "Restoration Principles" - rules.

In the Klamath Mountains (and I suspect elsewhere) the result is removal of too much canopy during "thinning". Fire risk is reduced for a time (5-8 years) but then for 30 or more years there is more fire danger as a result of the small trees and brush that sprouted when the canopy was opened and competition for moisture was reduced.

If the task is fire risk reduction, shade (aka a closed canopy) is our friend. If the task is forest restoration, we need a new tool - service contracts without embedded timber sales.
Colin  Holloway
Colin Holloway
Nov 04, 2012 11:27 AM
No argument there (as per 2). Given what we're up against I think it's time to see the value of a forest as a forest.
Again saying that I've little patience for the "There's no money" argument. This extends to your observation as to to the 5-8 years of fire risk reduction, as well as my personal problem with the Flagstaff Model, that you just can't expect to go into a place, mess with it once and be done with it.
It took decades and lots of incidences of disruption to mess up a whole lot of forest, only seems to make sense it would take a bit more than one treatment to get it happy.
To 1, here it seems that it goes to the extreme of Cerro Grande or, and much more often, that a proscribed burn does next to nothing, just cleans up a little duff but leaves the crown the same ladder fuel tangled mess.

Tim Baker
Tim Baker Subscriber
Nov 04, 2012 05:24 PM
Felice, I'm curious about your expertise in determining which areas were burned by suppression activities vs. part of the natural fire and how you determined an increased intensity was the result of the suppression fires.

I'm curious in large part because I'm not certain how suppression fires could burn hotter than the wildfire since both would have similar conditions had the suppression not occurred and the fire allowed to burn through the same material. Indeed, had the suppression fires not occurred, would the fires have just gone out on their own with a smaller area or continued to burn over an even larger area? Considering that most large fires are burning because the conditions are extreme, I somehow doubt that they'd go out on their own in a smaller area.

I've read a few reports about large fires in recent years and while suppression burns are included in the reports, most don't seem to be of the magnitude you imply.

And the current 'tool' of favor in the Forest Service in restoration activities has been the Stewardship Contract but that authority is sunsetting this year. Unless you foresee a huge increase in FS budget and employment to conduct the treatments you are speaking of, I'm uncertain how they are to get done without conducting some sort of 'sale'. The alternative would be to do nothing and that doesn't seem all that beneficial either.

I do wish we (the societal 'we') would put enough money into the FS (and NPS and BLM) to do the kind of resource management that's necessary to reach all of our (again, the social 'our') goals. But I don't see that happening either.
Greg Nagle
Greg Nagle Subscriber
Nov 04, 2012 10:01 PM
Tim Ingalsbee has done excellent work mapping the burnout areas in several fires in the KS. I tried to get him to publish this since it needed to be discussed more widely. In Biscuit I think it is accurate to say that about twenty five percent of total burn area was lit deliberately and in the eastern sector it did burn quite hot, as hot as wildfire next to it given the severe conditions under which it was ignited. But contending that the burnout increased overall fire severity seems a stretch. There were conflicting reports on a burnout that raged out of control at oak flat in Illinois canyon but I never heard anything credible on that. It could have happened, nothing would surprise me but it was hard to cut through certain mythologies generated by too many enviros who would never pass any class i taught.

Biscuit was like the Bible, you could see anything you wanted in it but it was sure odd how the burnouts were almost ignored in agency circles. If Tim had published those maps, others could have debated them but i think they were largely accurate. Given his background in sociology I think he hesitated to take on forest scientists but it often takes someone like him from the outside to ask necessary questions.

I found it laughable that many pics i saw of the northern much cooler fire area actually showed areas that was surely burnout, not wildfire. I have many pics of that and tried to spark some discussion about this glaring fact amongst FS research people with little success thus far.

Felice Pace
Felice Pace Subscriber
Jan 22, 2013 11:10 AM
Tim, It IS difficult to determine which areas of a fire as mapped by the firefighting bureaucracy is "natural" and which parts are discretionary supptression fires, i.e. backfires and burnouts - know known as "tactical firing" - a term meant to further mystify and hide the damage being done in the name of firefighting.

The way we've done it here is a combination: 1. monitoring the suppression effort while it is going on, 2. talking to firefighters and others about where they have "fired" the forest, 3. studying the fire progression maps, 4. FOIA requests to the FS/responsible agencies, 5. walking and aerial suveillance of the fire area post fire. We did extensive work on the 99 Big Bar/Megram Fire and found (cnservatively) that 23,000 acres were backfires and burnouts. The '08 fires on the Six Rivers and Klamath NF had vast areas of burnout. Send me an e-address and I'll send you photos. The FS fired off most of the Blue Creek drainage from the pottom - disturbing an archeological site in the process. I did rough calculations to estimate . 50% discretionary suppression fire in that one.

As to a new tool for forest restoration: timber sale loose money for the FS. If exclusive service contracts were used EVEN WITH THE SAME BUDGET LEVELS more work would be accomplished and it qwould be more approriate/effective. Also, any commenrcial product generated would be sold seperately and the funds generated would go back into restoration service contracts. In other words, the excuse that we don't have the approiriated funds is just that - an excuse.