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Where I Stand on Large Scale Forest Treatment


By Bill Martin


I express my gratitude for the recent feature by Tomkins, Hepner, Hall, and Cunningham, crafting a credible response to a July 10th contribution by a party opposed to thinning and related treatment of national forest land.  The foursome’s defense of legitimate forest activity for future protection of the forest and of nearby communities was supported by numerous references to published research—the opposing author’s statement did not.

It was also important to see mention of the virus of misinformation; that transmission of fabricated conclusions supported by just a thin slice of believable reality.  That’s happening on a national scale about far more than land management.  The July 10th author claimed a number of truths I oppose.

First, he said the most recent catastrophic wildfires (like the Dixie) should be pinned mostly on an electric utility.  While the ignition was certainly their responsibility, the surrounding public land’s ongoing drought, the days long hot weather with unusually strong winds, and an overstocked forest devoid of better management were elements of the Dixie over which the utility had neither responsibility nor control.  With dozens of large wildfires across the west going at the same time, available suppression resources can never stop one single fire in its tracks in such conditions.  Fuel density is the only factor we can attempt to control to slow wildfire’s speed of advance.

Every land management student is introduced early to the Fire Triangle.  This absolute physics principle states that to have wildfire, you must have fuel, heat, and oxygen in adequate proportions to ignite and sustain combustion.  Those educated in forestry are also introduced to a principle of plant physiology stating that trees need sunlight, moisture, and nutrients in adequate amounts to support individual tree growth and resilience.  One of the points of the opponent was that highly stocked vegetative acreage (including ladder fuels) are a source of humidity that can protect such dense stands.

This claim fails in over-dense, stagnated stands of smaller competing trees.  None can gain differential sunshine to overtop their fellow competitors while all of them fight for water and nutrients.  Humidity may be slightly higher in such locations, but only overnight and in early morning.  By summer’s midday temperatures, the moisture this over-dense mass of greenery can wring out of dry soil has left the site, especially during windy periods.  Approaching wildfire will have a uniform supply of fuel to accelerate through.  In my own yard, my weed whip knocks down dense 18” tall grass to keep approaching fire at slower speed along the ground—but since I rake and dispose of it, there is little left to fire.  Mechanical thinning of forest land followed by prescribed fire would mimic my raking while keeping the stand’s nutrients on the site.

I was also pleased to see that the feature by Tomkins, et al showed some helpful photographs for greater understanding of forestry.  The Butterfly example with 725 stems per acre shows green foliage right down to the ground.  Conifers emit volatile hydrocarbons during transpiration but especially when superheated by approaching wildfire.  Have you ever watched your previous Christmas tree burn?  The post-treatment Butterfly photos show wider spacing, green branches well above ground and stocking resembling more of an all-aged forest.  Greater growth on fewer stems also equals better defense against beetles and fungal disease.  A nice benefit is that the less flammable, masticated slash is close to the ground, where it can decompose and release nutrients.

The last illustration I want to applaud is the one demonstrating the principle of interception, where rain or snow caught in dense vegetation above ground is less likely to make it to the surface, and even then may be stalled in duff too thick to let it reach organic soil (where tree roots are) before evaporating.  Interception is the enemy of adequately moist soils, and is far less of a problem in more open forest stands.  This is another reason I rake up thick duff to preserve tree health.

Another argument against the July 10th claims has to do with home hardening.  A good practice, to be sure, and code mandated for new construction in 2008.  Like many I went beyond that with concrete siding and boxed soffits, specialized fire venting and a growing proportion of my home’s perimeter with rock-covered anti-weed fabric.  Local (voluntary) home firesafe audits are available, and we got one that showed there was more we could do.

Lastly, that author said that we’d be better off if the government, poised to spend millions on forest treatment, would instead pour this money into home hardening in our local communities.  No.  These funds were provided to help public land resilience and not individual homeowners.  Unless we want the Plumas and neighboring forests to be more like Dixie Fires-in-waiting, we need to get busy applying the kind of land treatment the Quincy Library Group started against great odds in the 1990s.  Besides, local home risks should be dealt with privately, motivated perhaps by property insurance rates and availability.

4 thoughts on “Where I Stand on Large Scale Forest Treatment

  • Right on, Bill!

  • Thank you Bill

  • Well thought out article based on proven facts. Great insight to save the forest for future generations.

  • The big difference between the arguments presented by Mr. Martin and Tompkins et al. versus those provided by Josh Hart, is that Josh respects forest ecology and all of the living beings that share the ecosystems upon which we depend, whereas Tompkins and Martin view the forest as another resource to be exploited. There is a tremendously large gap between the Dixie-proven, very successful and respectful treatments completed in Genesee Valley over more than a decade (Genesee Valley Wildfire Restoration Plan 2016), compared to the raping and pillaging proposed in the Plumas National Forest’s “Community Protection Plan”. Granted, Josh is not as well-versed in the fire ecology lingo understood by Tompkins and Martin, but I very much respect Josh’s integrity, much more so than Tompkins and Martin. Tompkins and Martin can tout their experience as much as they want to boost their egos, but Josh is concerned with a future based on the needs of our great grandkids, and their grandkids, whereas Tompkins and Martin are concerned more with their own immediate privilege and entitlement. Indeed, fireproofing our homes is far more essential than trying to fireproof a forest that actually depends on fire for sustenance. As I stated in my recent Letter to the Editor, it is easy to argue for fireproofing the forest, which may contribute some short-term benefits to our town not burning down, versus nurturing a sustainable forest, with large, old trees, based on diversity, that will truly afford the long-term resiliency that Tompkins and Martin claim can be achieved with a short-term, non-diverse perspective founded in a fire-suppression logic. Using a fear-based, if-you’re-not-with-us then screw you, short-term approach to fire-suppression, we are no better than those that proposed complete fire suppression more than a century ago. If you are not completely misguided by the misleading narrative provided by Tompkins and Martin, you will realize that there has been 100% fire suppression this season, despite a very wet spring, with regular rain showers, a lack of strong winds, and perfect conditions to let the unusual lightning-caused fires to burn a little. However, we have done the complete opposite- we have used helicopters with water buckets to completely suppress these natural fires, while we conducted very small under burns into July. There is something exceptionally wrong with the “professional” opinions provided by Tompkins and Martin. Interestingly, nobody had the guts to comment on my Letter to the Editor. The reason is that the “scientists” and the “professionals” have very few “good” reasons to proceed with the raping and pillaging that is now being proposed. It’s time y’all pulled your heads out of your a-ses, just enough to see WTF is going on.

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