Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Biomass in Siskiyou County

Here is an article by Felice Pace on the limitations of biomass harvesting in Siskiyou County.   here

Much of it I agree with.  But, there are a couple of old environmentalist talking points that shouldn't go unchallenged. 
Removing too much forest canopy opens the forest to sunlight and reduces competition for moisture. This encourages brush sprouting and tree seedling survival. If the canopy is reduced below 60%, the result will be much greater fire risk 8 to 10 years down the pike. Unfortunately, the Forest Service – and Mr. Alexander’s group - usually insist on reducing canopy to 40% or less and calling this “fire risk reduction” In reality these practices create more fire risk over time.
There are some modeling and temperature studies that predict higher fire intensity at canopy levels under 60%, but actual real world fire behavior  studies show lower fire intensity in treated areas, even at low canopy levels.  Young forests on productive lands, if cut to 40% canopy closure, will return to 60% closure in 10-20 years.  If left at 60% closure, the results typically will be overstocking and stagnation with spindly trees in 20 years.  If we are treating a mature stand, 60% might be appropriate on high sites.  On the east side, the typical pine forest could not even support 60% crown closure in the long run. 

 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong would have us believe that the health destroying smoke experienced by Californians is the result of failure to log. This just repeats what Armstrong has heard from her timber industry backers. But – judging from the extensive fires of 2008 - at least half of that smoke is not from natural forest fires but from ill advised, dangerous and (at times) irresponsible burn-outs and back fires lit by overeager firefighters who do not understand how fire behaves in Northern California’s forested mountains.
 A backfire or burnout is designed to burn out the areas where the fire would go anyway.  If done right, it reduces smoke by burning more areas during the cooler night time weather, and less during the blow-up periods of two to eight p.m.  Typically, the fire managers resort to burnouts when there are large numbers of fires caused by lightning, and it is obvious that there are simply not enough firemen, air tankers and other resources to stop them from burning together and going to the ridge.  By burning down from the ridge at night instead of waiting for the fire to come up to the ridge in the afternoon, you increase your chances of holding the fire at the ridge.  To try to separate the smoke from the burnout from the original fire is misleading. 
That said, I have seen some abuses and bad decisions.  Most notably, on the Megram Fire in 1999, the fire team insisted on burning out the entire drainage of Horse Linto Creek, in mid-October, against the advice of locals.  Most of the burnout never got started, and the final fire perimeter was a very large U.  On another occasion, in a wilderness area on the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California, we had permission to build a fairly minimal tractor line in the wilderness.  But the burnout team insisted on lighting it off in mid-afternoon, causing a lot of containment problems.  We ended up building the four blade wide dozer lines that we had promised the resource officer we would avoid. 
Howver, in 2,008, we had a huge lightning bust in a drought year, just as fire danger was becoming extreme in late June.  There may not have been a lot of options. 
Furthermore, many of our largest fires “blew up” into firestorms in the flammable “slash” (small trees, branches and limbs) left behind by timber companies. Here’s a partial list of Siskiyou County fires that “blew up” in logging slash: Hog Fire (1977), Yellow and Glasgow fires (1987), Specimen Fire (1994).
The only one of these that I worked on was the Hog fire.  This was a typical case of lack of resources.  We were doing fine, lining a relatively small fire which was partially in a logged over area.  Then air support was restricted due to many fires in other areas.  One of the dozen or so lightning fires was giving us problems, and the fire team decided to pull back and burn everything out on the south side.  The north side was wilderness, and burned until we got an early rain, just as the management on that side was preparing to abandon direct attack and go to a burnout. 
Biomass generation that makes good environmental and economic sense and which protects public health will be supported by the environmental community
I hope so.  Generally, in my career in the flat, well roaded forests of McCloud, I had few problems with local environmentalists.  But two sales with a lot of biomass as well as commercial thinning and salvage were sued by out of town groups, resulting in costly delays.

1 comment:

  1. Concerning burnouts: i would agree that - if they are done properly - they can be effective and therefore reduce total smoke. But how often these days are they done properly? Judging from what was done in 2008 in the Klamath Mountains - not very often. What you describe - fire managers insisting on firing during the heat of the day, fire mangers ignoring the locals who know local conditions, fire mangers lighting off whole drainages because of safety fears - appears to be becoming the rule rather than the exception.

    Thanks for your site and for discussing my commentary on biomass in Siskiyou County. I think this sort of dialogue informs the citizens and that ought to lead to greater community invlvement and better decisions.