'The fire group is in a real building process'

  • FIRE SPECIALIST: Berni Bahro

    U.S. Forest Service

Berni Bahro, 43, directed the fire analysis team for the Sierra Nevada Framework. He is a fire specialist in the Region 5 office of the Forest Service in Sacramento, Calif.

"The information that we used to plan fuels management for the Framework was the best we've ever had. But at the site-specific level, there are still too many nuances. The biggest mess-ups were on the Inyo, Modoc and Humboldt-Toiyabe forests, because their vegetation types are so different from the west-side timber stands that were used to calibrate the models.

"It's very hard to tell exactly how the Framework changes things because of the way that the Forest Service did the accounting of past treatments. All the records were kept in board-feet per year - it's not easy to take a fuels-treatment record in units of board-feet and convert it to acres. They did it that way because, until recently, fuels treatment was still very much oriented towards meeting timber production.

"But the bottom line is that the total amount of treatment goes up.

"SPLATS also require a lot of local interpretation. Say we're talking about the Sequoia National Forest, and we're doing SPLATS to protect the sequoia groves. The sequoia trees grow in a belt over a few thousand feet of elevation. But because that land is so steep, that belt of sequoia is not very wide. The big danger to those groves is the big crown fires that get started in the chaparral down below. So what we should be doing is heavy treatments on the chaparral. SPLATS says you treat only on the upper two-thirds of a slope, to protect the watershed, but in this case, you've really got to go all the way down to the bottom of the slope.

"Line officers have a hell of a job. They've shown a lot of resilience in embracing these new management schemes. Some of the forests, like the Sequoia, are just doing course corrections (and) can adapt the Framework to meet their needs. They're doing great. But the Forest Service people in the Plumas and Lassen forests - they feel kinda beat up.

"As open as the Framework was, there were still a lot of Forest Service employees who never thought it would go anywhere. And then here it is.

"And the fire group in general is in a real building process. Fire managers and biology people were always reactionary. Now, they're in the driver's seat."


Copyright © 2001 HCN and Jim Downing

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