Federal firefighting promotes building in the wildland interface

So then, maybe it should stop?

Economist Ray Rasker spoke the obvious at University of Montana’s Conservation and Climate Change lecture series. He also talked a little politics. If there is no guarantee of the feeds throwing money to the wind to save houses along the national forest boundaries the counties might be a lot less willing to grant building permits there because the costs would fall on them.

Speaker: Rethink who pays costs of fighting fires to protect homes in woods. By Rob Chaney. Missoulian.

It would be nice to see this building reduced because of its impact on water quality, scenery, wildlife habitat. A lot of the nasty “remove or shot the deer, elk, bears, cougars, wolves” complaints come from people who live in the woods and their pooch gets got or their shrubbery eaten.

Climate Change Takes Toll on Lodgepole Pine

The most abundant of all Western pine falls at astounding rate-

Every Western pine from the Yukon to New Mexico is suffering high mortality from unusually severe attack by native insects, diseases and direct mortality from drought and heat. Lodgepole pine, which often grows in vast almost monocultural stands, is dying too.  Almost anyone who lives in the West knows this. In many places the beauty of the forest has been greatly marred for many miles.

Climate Change Takes Toll on the Lodgepole Pine. By John Collins Rudolf. New York Times.

When lodgepole pine dies, the needles first turn red for a year before they fall off.  While red, they burn with remarkable explosive force.  After they are dead, however, lodgepole and other dead conifers do not burn as fiercely as a green forest.  A common misconception is that they do, a mistake this New York Times article perpetuates. Lodgepole are shallow rooted.  When dead they are easily blown over in windstorms.  If they pile up in large “jackstrawed” heaps, these can burn very hot.  Miles of downed lodgepole also form barriers to wildlife migration.

I took this photo of red lodgepole pine near Stanley, Idaho about 5 years ago. Since then, they have almost all died and many fallen over or cut down. They didn’t burn.

Fire crews make progress on Yellowstone blaze

Progress on Antelope Creek blaze, but smoke hinders tourism-

Antelope fire now over 3000 acres. Island Park News.

The Yellowstone country is just getting too crowded to use in the summer, but every fall natural and prescribed fires are making that time of year bad too. Any opinions on this?

Natural restoration advances rapidly in the big Castle Rock burn near Ketchum/Hailey, Idaho

The 50,000 acre fire was 3 years ago-

The Idaho Mountain Express has an article detailing the regrowth in the big burn next to Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho. This is a very popular recreation area, so its restoration is noticeable to a lot of people. Similar articles could be written about several million more acres of burns in central Idaho — burns of the last decade.

The Idaho places where restoration is not going well are the millions of acres of rangelands (more properly sagebrush steppe) where cheatgrass has fueled vast fires, destroying native grasses, forbs and shrubs, creating more of itself for future fires. This year about 3/4 million acres of Idaho rangeland has burned.

Related. Utah has mildest wildfire season in a decade. By jason bergreen. The Salt Lake Tribune

More related. Rain, snow and lower temperatures help tame central Idaho wildfire. Idaho Statesman.

Summary: It was a very modest fire season in Idaho

2009 third-smallest fire season since 1970. By Todd Adams. The Challis Messenger.

Posted in wildfire. Tags: , . Comments Off on Summary: It was a very modest fire season in Idaho

Jury finds agency, DuPont negligent in land case

BLM and DuPont held accountable for killing crops which neighbor public lands by applying Oust in southern Idaho after wildfires.

Jury finds agency, DuPont negligent in land case
Associated Press

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Pine-beetle epidemic changes debate over logging Montana’s forests

Will it increase support for salvage logging?

Of course it will!

Will it increase support for Tester’s Wilderness plus logging bill? Yes!

Will there actually be an increase in salvage logging? Hard to say.

Some points needs to be made. First, this beetle epidemic is not just a Montana thing. It extends from the Yukon nearly to Mexico among pine trees. Logging of green trees to get ahead of beetle infestation is hopeless. It hasn’t worked anywhere in Canada or the United States because this is an extraordinary event fueled by a series of warm winters.

Secondly you can offer the dead trees for sale, but the timber operator needs to make a profit.  They are presently trying to ramp up the salvage in Canada and the United States.  If demand for a product is stable, an increase in the supply drives down the price. The price offered for lumber or chips from dead pine is already low because of the depressed economy. A ramp up of logging will drive the price still lower.

These salvage sales might find no one who will log them. Fortunately, dead lodgepole pine, left standing, does not deteriorate nearly as fast as dead spruce or fir, so some of these might still be worthwhile 5 years from now.

Finally, these dead forests will not necessarily all burn. Dead pine burns like gasoline while it still wears its dead red needles, but after they drop, the fire danger goes down rapidly in many stands. However, when they topple over in the wind on top of each other, the fire danger goes up again.

Pine-beetle epidemic changes debate over logging Montana’s forests. By Jennifer McKee. Missoulian State Bureau


Here is George Wuerthner’s interesting and detailed  essay, which I mentioned and others too in the comments.

It turns out that yesterday there was an essay in Writers on the Range about the big beetle kill in Colorado. Folks, including editorial writers, need to understand that this is not a Montana beetle kill or a Colorado beetle kill. It is a continental beetle kill.

Burning Questions

Why the National Fire Plan is a Trojan Horse for Logging

Earlier Ralph noted a new study that suggests fire mitigation work in the US may be misplaced.  Along those same lines, George Wuerther shares an account of one experience he had digging deeper into the rationale & motive of some “fuels reduction” projects :

Burning Questions ~ George Wuerther

A couple of years ago I went on a show me tour of a Forest Service Thinning project that was funded under the National Fire Plan (NFP). A group of us, including some forest service employees, a university fire researcher, country commissioners, timber interests, and the like gathered at the Forest Service office. The district ranger explained that we were going to see a fuel reduction project designed to protect the small town where we were standing. After giving preliminary background on the proposed timber sale, we got into a bunch of Forest Service vehicles and drove out of town. And drove. And drove. And drove. Eighteen miles from the town, we got out of the car to look at the thinning project.

Fire Mitigation Work In Western US Misplaced, Says New Study

Only 11 per cent of federal efforts have been near homes or offices-

This won’t come as any surprise to those of us who have watched the BLM and Forest Service conduct preemptive (“prescriptive”) burns and vegetation thinnings. Most of the fire reduction work I see is deep in the forest land, although often fairly near some kind of road.

Those monies spent might have some benefit for wildlife habitat or livestock, but not where people live. When asked, the Forest Service may point to a single home or two, or second home, deep in the woodland or steppe, but it isn’t the city or town.

One of the major reasons, however, is that 70 per cent of fire prone lands with homes are not within a mile-and-a-half of federal land. This puts a physical legal limit on the federal government’s ability to affect the high-risk zone. The study points to a need to be able to “treat” next to or near the homes to have an effect.

This raises a question if it shouldn’t be a private person, or a local government’s responsibility to thin the land next to the homes they choose to build in the fire zone, and which the city or county allowed to be developed for residential purposes there. RM

Fire Mitigation Work In Western US Misplaced, Says New Study. Science Daily

“Grazing-as-usual” ends on 600,000 acres of public land in southwest Idaho

 This is important news for management of public lands in sage-steppe country.

Sage grouse in flight, Bruneau uplands © Ken Cole 2008

Sage grouse in flight, Bruneau uplands © Ken Cole 2008

Judge rules in southwest Idaho grazing case – AP

A federal judge has directed the Bureau of Land Management to rethink the way it manages grazing across thousands of acres of southern Idaho, especially the impact livestock have on sage grouse and other threatened species.

Following the intense Murphy Complex Fire that swept through southern Idaho a couple summers back, wiping out 76 sage grouse leks, intense political pressure to turn the cows back out quick largely eclipsed consideration for sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, and other wildlife displaced onto the remaining habitat spared the blaze.  To give an idea of the regard for habitat in this part of the country, Ralph Maughan took photos of cattle grazing  post-burn – Bad practice when one hopes to restore the landscape.  

Given the critical importance of the remaining habitat in Jarbidge country, conservationists quickly filed suit to ensure wildlife wouldn’t take the short-end of the stick given BLM’s plan to fold and continue “grazing-as-usual” on over 625,000 acres following the fire.    

The question:

When fire (or any catastrophic event) wipes out huge swaths of wildlife habitat, how should that affect management of wildlife values versus livestock on those remaining landscapes so important to remaining wildlife ? 

Read the rest of this entry »

Bridger-Teton National Forest quickly moves to use stimulus money for anti-conservation logging

Traditional logging dwindled on the Bridger-Teton, Caribou-Targhee and Shoshone National Forests because it brought in only pennies on the dollar spent. Stimulus may be used to renew logging at a loss-

The stimulus bill has money for forests, parks, wildlife that can be used in a beneficial or negative way. It appears the supervisors for 3 national forests in the Greater Yellowstone country are quickly moving to use the stimulus money directed to wildfire reduction and forest health to restore traditional logging by means of “salvage” of dead timber. They have asked timber interests for projects. Why haven’t they asked wildlife and conservation groups?

As George Wuerthner points out, stands of dead timber are not particularly flammable. In addition, building new roads into these areas spreads noxious weeds and degrades wildlife habitat. If they wanted to create a lot of jobs, they would hire people to pull the noxious weeds. Because most of the timber mills in the area went out of business long ago, it will be long time before stimulus money will result in new timber mills and trained loggers. Logging is capital intensive nowadays and creates few jobs per dollar spent.

A word to these forest supervisors, use the money to truly improve forest health — eliminate weeds, rehabilitate erosion sources on the national forests, recut overgrown trails, reduce livestock grazing impacts, clean trash out of the forests, improve human degraded stream conditions, repair damaged roads you plan to keep open, close and obliterate vehicle tracks that are degrading the forest.  This is the way to create jobs in a hurry and improve rather than harm the environment.

What is taking place here is a warning to those who love the national forests and want jobs to get involved quickly so that the money does not go to old fashioned projects that create few jobs and actually degrade the forests. Contact your local national forest now!

Remember that forests are more than just the trees.

Story in the Jackson Hole News and Guide. Bridger-Teton asks loggers for wishes. Letter links logging industry, local mills with health of national forests. By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Massive Public Lands Bill a Bonanza for Sportsmen, but?

Protection of Wyoming and Salt River Range, plus Commissary Ridge from drilling wins praise-

Massive Public Lands Bill a Bonanza for Sportsmen. By Chris Hunt. New West.

But there is more in the bill than protection of certain parcels of land-

If you don’t think about the Owyhee Initiative part of the bill, it seems like a good bill for wildlife; although there are several little discussed provisions. For example, I just got email containing an almost overlooked entire “Title” of the bill. This title creates the “Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund,” which could result in a lot of tree cutting and brush clearing on the public lands and adjacent private and state lands, although it looks like the number of projects are legally limited. If this was lifted, this one way a lot of local employment could be created during the recession/depression.

To quote from the bill . . . the purpose of the Title is

“. . . to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes through a process that–
(1) encourages ecological, economic, and social sustainability;
(2) leverages local resources with national and private resources;
(3) facilitates the reduction of wildfire management costs, including through reestablishing natural fire regimes and reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire; and
(4) demonstrates the degree to which–
(A) various ecological restoration techniques–
(i) achieve ecological and watershed health objectives; and
(ii) affect wildfire activity and management costs; and
(B) the use of forest restoration byproducts can offset treatment costs while benefitting local rural economies and improving forest health.”

Here is the text of the entire title s-22-title4-omnibus-public-lands pdf file.

A New West thanksgiving column. Giving thanks for burned forests.

Burns on private industrial forest lands versus multiple use national forest land-

Giving Thanks for Burned Forests. By Matthew Koehler. Guest opinion in New West.

If you want to see a real “moonscape,” check out burned over industrial forest lands that were already clearcut.

Posted in politics, public lands, wildfire. Tags: , , . Comments Off on A New West thanksgiving column. Giving thanks for burned forests.

Feds might start billing [Custer] county for wildfire structure protection

One way to get zoning, proactive property protection or something equivalent-

Custer County, Idaho and other rural counties are not of a mind to regulate housing development. It is a matter of philosophy or ideology.

This philosophy is not without public costs, however; and this might send them a message about letting people or developers build in the fire zone to do just what they want and then expect the U. S. government to protect them for free.

Story in the Challis Messinger. Feds might start billing county for wildfire structure protection. By Todd Adams.

Posted in politics, property rights, public lands, wildfire. Tags: , . Comments Off on Feds might start billing [Custer] county for wildfire structure protection

2008 wildfire season in Idaho nothing compared to 2007

Idaho’s forests granted a quiet wildfire season-

More than 2-million acres burned in Idaho in 2007. Less than a hundred thousand burned this year.

Story in the Idaho Mountain Express. Just 98,894 acres have burned across the state this year. By Jason Kauffman. Express Staff Writer.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Tags: , . Comments Off on 2008 wildfire season in Idaho nothing compared to 2007

New report says grazing had “negligible” effects on size of Murphy Complex fire

This is a revised version of an earlier story.

Here is the news release from the Western Watersheds Project.

Rocky Barker also discusses it in his recent blog.

BLM Report On The Murphy Complex Wild Fire Shows That Grazing Has Little Effect On Fire Behavior.

Idaho BLM has released a long awaited Report on the Murphy Complex Fire. The Murphy wildfire blaze burned over half a million acres of sage-grouse and pygmy rabbit habitat in summer 2007.  BLM, ranchers and Idaho politicians had hoped the Report might show that livestock grazing can reduce wildfire impacts. Instead, it showed little to no effect of livestock grazing in limiting fire spread.

In fact, under the hot, dry conditions typical of western wildfires, grazing would have to be conducted to such a degree that only bare dirt, manure and trampled grass remained to make much difference at all. Such severe grazing leaves no habitat value for sensitive species such as sage grouse, pygmy rabbits or other species such as mule deer.
Read the rest of this entry »

20 years after Yellowstone fires: Black Saturday’s lessons still debated

Rocky Barker has written extensively about the Yellowstone fires and fire policy in general with a book (Scorched Earth) on the role of forest fires fighting and the history of the public lands.

Today he has a feature article on how the lessons from ’88 have been learned and applied and also not learned or applied. He discusses the response to the current fires of 2008.

20 years after Yellowstone fires: Black Saturday’s lessons still debated. Response to this year’s blazes shows how policies spawned by the fires of ’88 have been disregarded – or carried out. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Climate change to fuel wildfires in West

Seems pretty intuitive to me :

Report: Climate change to fuel wildfires in WestSignOnSanDiego.com

Montana and Wyoming fires fewer and milder so far this summer

Montana and Wyoming fires fewer and milder so far this summer. Billings Gazette. AP.

You can add most of the Western states to this list, except for California.

Posted in wildfire. Tags: . Comments Off on Montana and Wyoming fires fewer and milder so far this summer

Web Tools for Forest Fires

There are a number of web sites that help people heading for the outdoors.

The one I use the most it the smoke plume web site (yes, it’s getting pretty bad). SSD Fire Detection Program.


National Fire News.

Yellowstone Park Wildland Fires

U.S. air quality (suggestion by Mike Post)

GeoMAC Wildfire Information (suggestion by Buffaloed)

The politics of firefighting: “CNN drops”

Air tanker drops in wildfires are often just for show. By Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

‘Only you’ can change how we deal with fire

Heath Druzin and Rocky Barker discuss fire policy, suppression and keeping your public forests manicured:

‘Only you’ can change how we deal with fireIdaho Statesman

Smokey’s new ad makes ATV users angry

Rocky Barker writes how the Blue Ribbon Coalition (an off-road vehicle lobby) doesn’t like the new Smokey the Bear ad that says ATVs can start wildfires. This is true. Such fires happen all the time.

So do dirt bikes and full-sized vehicles that travel over dry grass. I started one once with my truck is days when the catalytic converters got really hot. Fortunately, it only burned an acre and one conifer.

Smokey’s new ad makes ATV users angry. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Are the ways forest fires are fought and prevented wise?

As summer advances, debate over the handling of forest fires, is one again on the front burner.

Are the ways forest fires are being fought and prevent “firewise?By Heath Druzin and Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman. “We spend billions attacking almost every wildfire, but scientists say that’s bad for the forest, can put firefighters in unnecessary danger and doesn’t protect communities as well- or as cheaply – as we now know how to do.”

Reporters Druzin and Barker cite USDA’s inspector general who concludes that too many Americans who live to areas prone to forest fires do not join with their neighbors and/or accept personal responsibility to construct and landscape their homes in a way to reduce the danger of being burned in a wildfire. This is due in considerable measure to the federal effort to put out every fire and throw billions into wildfire suppression with no constraints.

– – – – –

I believe their has been a decline in personal responsibility, but then I might be criticized as sounding cranky.

Note: please read the sidebar on rangefires. They are quite different the forest fires, and there are far too many of them. The result and the cause is mostly the spread of the flammable exotic cheatgrass.

House passes the FLAME Act

“Diary of a Mad Voter: Joan McCarter”  Wildfires: House Passes Proactive (Really?) FLAME Act

“When it comes to being forward thinking, proactive and strategically-thinking, the last organization that comes to mind is Congress. But this time, with the FLAME Act, they’ve done it.”

By Joan McCarter, New West. 7-15-08

McCarter argues, correctly I think, that the Bush Administration has used wildlifes to starve the Forest Service budget so there is nothing left for recreation, wildlife, etc.

They do it by requesting a meager amount to fight fires. Then when the fire fighting costs “unexpectedly” exceed the appropriations, they take the money out of other Forest Service accounts.

Congress may put an end to this Administration effort to destroy the Forest Service.

Logging industry is misleading us on forest fires and global warming

The following “guest essay” in New West is by Dr. Chad Hanson,  a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California at Davis.

My view is that the logging industry has always used forest fires to try to stampede people into supporting policies that are bad for the forests, the environment, and most people except the logging company executives.

Logging Industry Misleads on Climate and Forest Fires. By Chad Hanson, Ph.D. New West.

The net effect of most logging is to increase the release of greenhouse gases.

Regrowth after a forest fire results in more update in carbon dioxide than regrowth after logging.

Posted in Logging, politics, Trees Forests, wildfire, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Logging industry is misleading us on forest fires and global warming

Rocky Barker: Yellowstone ’88 fires retrospective moves into high gear

Yellowstone 88 fires retrospective moves into high gear. Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Rocky has written a huge amount of copy over the years about the Yellowstone fires of ’88 and forest fire policy in general.

Posted in wildfire, Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park. Tags: . Comments Off on Rocky Barker: Yellowstone ’88 fires retrospective moves into high gear

California wildfires bring haze to region

California wildfires bring haze to region. By Chelsi Moy of the Missoulian

It looked like this might be the first summer in quite a while that Idaho, Utah, and Montana skies would not be filled with forest fire smoke, then an unusual lightning storm hit California setting hundreds of fires; most still burning.

One day it will be clear then pretty hazy as the winds shift and pump the smoke into one or more of these states.

– – – –

Related story. Monsoonal moisture dampens Arizona’s fire season. By John Faherty. The Arizona Republic. Arizona’s fire season is generally early — April through June. Then in most years heavy flow of moisture from the south reduces or ends the fires. It is happening this year.

The great Yellowstone fires were 20 years ago

Yellowstone fires 20 years later: Back after the burn. By Brett French. Billings Gazette

Posted in wildfire, Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on The great Yellowstone fires were 20 years ago

California forest fires puts air quality at dangerous levels in Reno, Nevada

California forest fires puts air quality at dangerous levels in Reno, Nevada. RGJ.com. By Steve Timo

These fires have reduced air quality as far east as Western Wyoming.

Photo of cattle on the Murphy burn

The land needs to rest from cattle grazing for several seasons after a range fire, but here they are on the tablelands above Jackpot, Nevada, grazing part of the Murphy burn.

The sagebrush area is unburned, the rest is obviously burned. Grazing a burn weakens the newly sprouted perennial grasses — the good grasses — in favor of the fire prone annuals. I did notice the cows left the lupines and death camas completely untouched. I had to wonder if the future of this draw will be pretty poisonous flowers?

Cattle grazing the Murphy burn
Grazing the Murphy burn the very next year. Photo Ralph Maughan. June 16, 2008

I saw quite a few pronghorn in the general area, and it is also obviously important deer and elk transitional and maybe winter range, but cows seem to come before everything else.
– – – –

Update. June 24. The BLM is going up to the area to get the cattle off the burn. They are not supposed to be there.


Summer wildfires will be with us again soon, although there is hope that a cold and wet winter (still with us in much of Idaho, central Oregon, the Greater Yellowstone) will mean a less active season in these areas. Much of the West is as ready, or more ready to burn than last year.

Overall each year is worse since the 1980s and firefighting threatens to consume the entire budget of land management agencies.

The FLAME Act (Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act) proposes to create a permanent fund for reliable monies for this, rather than relying on the luck of the political year for congressional appropriations and/or presidential support.

The details of when and how to fight fires will, of course, remain very controversial.

Up in FLAME. High Country News. By Evelyn Schlatte

Related. Montana fire prediction. Good news for western Montana, bad for eastern. Great Falls Tribune.

Posted in politics, wildfire. Comments Off on Up in FLAME

Governor: Montana alone on fires this summer

Governor: Montana alone on fires. By Tom Lutey. Billings Gazette.

The governor is right, and there will be fires. Other states are little better off, maybe worse. They same is true for another hurricane like Katrina, or a powerful earthquake.

National guard assets are almost all deployed to fight Bush’s war in Iraq. America is unprotected.

Posted in politics, wildfire. Tags: . Comments Off on Governor: Montana alone on fires this summer

Central Idaho elk and deer doing fine in presence of wolves

Dr. Jim Peek presented data at the Chico wolf conference showing that the elk and deer population is doing fine in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. He examined population and hunter success trends in 4 key hunting units before and after wolf restoration.

Currently there are 105-119 wolves in the 4 units, which he believes is the maximum number that will naturally occur.

Overall, elk harvest is nearly stable with a slight upward trend in recent years. Mule deer harvest has increased more dramatically, perhaps the result of the many recent forest fires that have resulted in a proliferation of browse,

In the individual units, elk population is declining on one, increasing on one, with no trend in the other two.

Peek predicted a future decline in the most remote areas because of an overabundance of old, non-productive cow elk, and relatively few bull elk due to human hunting effects (few hunters will pack in 2 to 4 days to shoot an old cow elk, but they will for a bull elk). He speculated that the future elk decrease in the deep backcountry would be greater if wolf populations are reduced because old cows are what the wolves target — average age 13 years.

In the one front country unit (the Salmon Face, unit 28), the present and future seem bright because the cow elk are younger and the cow/calf ratio higher. Hunters there do go after cow elk because it does not take the time to get into that country.

Overall, the wolves have had little effect on elk or deer population size. The important factors are wildfires (57% of the area has burned since 1982), summer drought or adequate rainfall, and winter severity. Wolves can potentially suppress population rebound following a severe winter, especially in the frontcountry unit, although he presented no evidence that this has actually happened.

The Pine Beetle And Forest Fires

The Pine Beetle And Forest Fires. By Brodie Farquhar. Wyomingfile.com.

The relationship between dead lodgepole pine and forest fires is not straight forward.

Mark Rey walks

U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey walked out of federal court a free man Wednesday in Missoula, wearing not an orange inmate’s jumpsuit but the gray business suit with American flag lapel pin he had donned for his contempt hearing.

Ag chief cleared of contempt. By John Cramer the Missoulian

The federal judge wasn’t happy, but apparently thought his contempt of court citation might bring the Forest Service around (a little bit).

More. Judge Clears Mark Rey and Forest Service of Contempt. By Dillon Tabish. New West.

Wildlife showing strains of winter [in south central Idaho]

This is surly true a lot of other places too with the deep snows, . . . and we should remember the vast wildfires that burned not just summer range, but winter range as well last year.

Wildlife showing strains of winter. Deep snows are pushing big-game species into harm’s way. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express.

Posted in wildfire, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Wildlife showing strains of winter [in south central Idaho]

George Wuerthner Gets it Right on Fire, Ecosystems, Management

This analysis is from Forest Policy – Forest Practice, an interesting blog on forest policy written by a number of academics and “practitioners.”

George Wuerthner Gets it Right on Fire, Ecosystems, Management. By Daver Iverson.

This is a summary of George Wuerthner’s recent letter to Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden who believes that legislation putting more effort into forest thinning is going to have a substantial effect on the growing size and length of the wildfire season in the West.

Idaho’s Governor Otter, other governors declare war on cheatgrass

Otter, other governors declare war on cheatgrass. They want 500 volunteers to help collect native seeds, so threatened areas can be replanted. Idaho Statesman. By Rocky Barker.

Controlling cheatgrass is absolutely critical. If they don’t have enough native seed, they need to encourage the production of native grass and forbs for seed as an agricultural crop. This could be a new agricultural activity for these states and one relatively benign.

The dangers are that the cheatgrass fire cycle is already too advanced, and, probably more likely, is that the objectives will always be in danger for being changed into cow welfare rather than wildfire reduction — planting the wrong species (including exotics and cultivars), grazing the new growth too early, keeping cattle on areas that will always be unsuitable for cattle grazing, building fences that hinder or stop wildlife migration.

Cattle grazing could disappear on much of this cheatgrass country with no macroeconomic impact. In fact, it is already much reduced because of the unsuitability of cheatgrass as forage except for the short period before it starts to develop seeds.

Photo: cheatgrass monoculture

Plum Creek subdivisions could strain fire budget in NW Montana

Plum Creek timber is the largest private landholder in Montana, and now since timbering no longer pays as much as remote subdivisions do, they are planning, asking and building a lot of them. Many are located in expensive-to-service, forest fire prone country. Most county commissions seem to think that they have to let developers do as they please with their land, but who pays for all this?

As long as the US Forest Service keeps fighting fires with the primary goal of saving homes, even the most remote, never-should-have-been built homes, the sprawl will never end (except perhaps now by financial collapse of the mortgage market).

This article explores the problem and suggests the reorientation of thinking of county commissioners will be when they have to assess their constituents the true cost of fire fighting.

Plum Creek subdivisions could strain fire budget. By Michael Jamison, Missoulian.

Scientists look for answers to Utah forests’ beetle epidemic

Scientists look for answers to state forests’ beetle epidemic. By Judy Fahys. The Salt Lake Tribune.

This is not unique to Utah. Various and vast death of conifers is happening all over the Rocky Mountains as well as British Columbia and Alberta. The cause of the beetle pandemic is not local and there is no solution except a change to colder winters.

These forests burn more almost every summer and this will continue until there is a change in the vast regions. The people I talk don’t debate that this is going to happen, the question is what will replace the dying and dead forests?

Avalanche danger will be high this winter after big wildfires.

Idaho Fires lead to higher avalanche danger. KTVB 7.

Much of the vast area burned is steep and turns into avalanche country when the trees are removed, even partially. The same will be true in parts of Montana where there were many fires.

Right now snow pack is generally low.

Avalanche center current reports.

Professor: Fires in West will worsen

WASHINGTON — A Montana expert testified Thursday that climate change will increase and intensify wildfires, while members of Congress and U.S. Forest Service officials grappled with how to pay for the increased costs of fire suppression

Story: Professor: Fires in West will worsen. By Noelle Straub. Casper Star-Tribune Washington bureau.

This should be obvious, but it isn’t.

Some people will want to argue that we can’t say because global warming isn’t real. Regardless, the critical fact is this: conifers, especially pine, are already dead and are dying at unprecedented rates in the northern Rockies, B.C. and Alberta.

They are burning, and they are going to burn every summer that is not unusually wet. Thinning them is too late now, and often useless anyway, even if there was enough money.

This means that almost every summer is going to be awful smoky in Montana and other places that are downwind of large forest areas.

My advice to anyone with property in these areas is to unload it now before potential buyers figure this out. Move to a cleaner place like a city far from the forests.

This will not go down well, and one of those who will have to adjust to this new reality is Plum Creek Timber, which is trying to become mostly a real estate company that will sell land in “the fire plain.” Timber Giant Takes a Hit: Plum Creek’s Risky Businesses. By Myers Reece, Flathead Beacon (republished in New West).

CA fires not global warming related, but northern Rockies fires are

California fires get caught up in global warming debate. By Rocky Barker. The same scientist who attributes the back-to-back big fire seasons in Idaho and the Northern Rockies as signs of human-induced climate change says the fires in California are not.

Posted in Climate change, wildfire. Tags: , , . Comments Off on CA fires not global warming related, but northern Rockies fires are

California’s age of megafires: Drought, housing expansion, and oversupply of tinder make for bigger, hotter fires

California’s age of megafires. Drought, housing expansion, and oversupply of tinder make for bigger, hotter fires. By Daniel B. Wood. Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor.

Many factors behind the current California wildlfires are similar to those last summer in Idaho and Montana, except, of course, the sprawl into the “fire plain” is worse, and I haven’t head about a role of any invasive species like cheatgrass.

The politics of Disaster: Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson seeks more grazing on Idaho’s burned rangelands

The politics of Disaster: Rep. Simpson Seeks Special Grazing For Fire-Riddled Idaho. By Brodie Farquhar. New West

Simpson is following a long tradition among Idaho politicians of using fire disaster to do exactly  the wrong thing, but something that pleases powerful constituents.

He seems to have taken the over the role of Larry Craig — a good fire is time for a good  feeding for the timber barons, and now increasingly big ranchers and corporate ranches.

Tallying Up the 2007 Fire Season in Montana

New West has an article summarizing the severe wildfire season (long season) in Montana this year.

Of course, people should note the Idaho had the worst and the longest of any state.

Tallying Up the 2007 Fire Season in Montana. By Dave Loos.

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“60 Minutes” to feature Idaho, all those forest fires and global warming

Rocky Barker wrote about this, this morning. It will be on TV this coming Sunday.

“60 Minutes” report on fires and global warming highlights Idaho. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Idahoans must adapt as wildfire seasons become increasingly treacherous

This is hardly the first time this has been discussed, but this article goes into detail about what may be the new summer reality in Idaho and other Rocky Mountain states. I have found the good time for outdoor recreation is May and June, not July to mid-Sept (too much smoke). Folks will need to learn to enjoy the “shoulder seasons” (March-April) and (Oct-Nov) in addition to the winter. Of course, that is not feasible for many.

Idahoans must adapt as wildfire seasons become increasingly treacherous. By Heath Druzin and Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman

Of course, there is far more to the longer fire season than outdoor recreation, nor is the increasingly long fire season just a phenomenon of Idaho and Montana (the two major fire states in the West this year), but many other states in the U.S. and in other countries. Greece, is a good example, where unprecedented large wildfires have become a big political issue. Read: WWF in despair over Greek fire damage. Rare species of animals and plants lost in flames. Anger rises as developers move in on stricken area. UK Guardian.

It looks like in Greece anti-conservation forces are just as ready to take advantage of the fires as they are in the U.S.

Here is an article about the continued wildfires in the U.S. that are continuing outside of the West where the season is over. Officials see no quick end to the drought and wildfires in Eastern Kentucky. Associated Press

I would not expect many quick innovations. It’s clear the federal and state agencies are not about to change livestock grazing as usual. I don’t see a slow down in the building of homes in remote, expensive to defend locations. Invasive flammable weeds continue to spread. Timber companies will use the fires as an excuse to go in and log the wrong way because they have to make money, not lose money by conducting a fire reduction project such as cutting only the small, crowded trees.

Posted in Climate change, wildfire. Comments Off on Idahoans must adapt as wildfire seasons become increasingly treacherous

Climate Change Likely to Increase Fires from Invasive Weeds

Yesterday begreen made a detailed post here about the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on wildfires in Las Vegas.

Here is the first article I found about the testimony.

Climate Change Likely to Increase Fires from Invasive weeds. Associated Press. By Kathleen Hennessey.

Related story. Sagebrush recovery efforts under way. By Emily Simnitt. Idaho Statesman.

Cheatgrass and one bunch of a native grass (Great Basin Wild Rye). Photo copyright Ralph Maughan

Senate Subcommittee considers Great Basin management

The Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee is holding a hearing in Las Vegas today ~ Thursday, October 11 ~ to discuss threats to the Great Basin. From what I gather, fire and cheatgrass will be highlighted on the agenda. Subscription only article from E & E :

The Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee looks at environmental threats facing rangelands and forests in the Great Basin at a field hearing Thursday in Las Vegas.

The Great Basin includes much of Nevada, western Utah, the lower third of Idaho, the southeastern corner of Oregon and a narrow strip of eastern California. It has been under assault recently by a combination of invasive species, wildfire, drought and climate change.

The hearing has the potential to alter the current momentum of the debate over how best to manage habitat in the West that continues to diminish ~ habitat that is critical to the almost listed pygmy rabbit, sage grouse, and a host of other species including pronghorn, a variety of beautiful birds, fish, and other wonderous plants and animals.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Climate change, invasive species, Las Vegas, public lands, public lands management, wildfire, Wildlife Habitat. Tags: . Comments Off on Senate Subcommittee considers Great Basin management

Wildfires: Should taxpayers pay for those who build mansions in ‘the stupid zone’?

The increasing cost of wildfires and their decimation of the Forest Service’s budget for other things is raising more and more controversy.

The Salt Lake Tribune has a story on it. Wildfires: Should taxpayers pay for those who build mansions in ‘the stupid zone’?By Patty Henetz. The Salt Lake Tribune

Changes in weather, environment outpace forest fire policy, panelist says

Changes in weather, environment outpace policy, panelist says. By Perry Backus. Missoulian.

This is story is from a panel at a two-day conference set up a group named Western Progress, a progressive policy group. The focus is on building a “restoration economy” to fit the conditions of the interior West.

Posted in wildfire. Tags: . Comments Off on Changes in weather, environment outpace forest fire policy, panelist says

A tale of two fires: Was Ketchum treated better?

This is from the Magic Valley Times-News. A tale of two fires: was Ketchum treated better?

Both fires had huge amount of resources poured on them, so I think this story sets up a false comparison. On one hand in the Murphy range fire, you had powerful ranchers to whom politicians bow and scrape. On the other hand with Castle Rock Fire, you had a community with some of the richest and best known people in the country.

Posted in politics, wildfire. Tags: , , . Comments Off on A tale of two fires: Was Ketchum treated better?

Idaho Fish and Game biologists expressing concern ahead of winter snows near Sun Valley, Idaho

With the drought and the Castle Rock Fire, wildlife may have a hard time surviving the winter due to poor food availability during the summer and burned winter range. This is true too  in many places beyond the vicinity of Sun Vally, Hailey, and Ketchum, Idaho.

Story in the Idaho Mountain Express. Drought leads to more wildlife sightings.. Fish and Game biologists expressing concern ahead of winter snows. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires, Wildlife Habitat, winter range. Comments Off on Idaho Fish and Game biologists expressing concern ahead of winter snows near Sun Valley, Idaho

Northern Rockies fire season just about over

The first day of autumn brought cold and often heavy rains to much of Idaho and Montana which have been on fire since mid-July.

Many fires will smolder on. It’s amazing how once a fire gets started in “heavy fuels,” meaning very dry (inside) logs, it can continue to slowly burn despite exterior conditions adverse to fire.

I took this photo of a very old smoldering log at the Bridge Fire (near Elk Summit in the Bitterroot Mountains) this September. It was early in the morning, the forest floor was damp from dew and the temperature was about about 1 degree C. above freezing (34 F.). Many logs lying in still green grass had been completely consumed without burning the grass upon which they laid. Photo by Ralph Maughan.

If the temperature gets up into the 70s F., and a strong wind blows for a few hours, some of these fires could return to torching trees and even making runs, but days are short now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cost of protecting homes from fires could consume the entire Forest Service budget

Despite the huge wildfires this year in Idaho and Montana, very few homes have been lost. The fire fighters are getting better and better and protecting structures, but it costs a huge, and rapidly growing amount of money.

Other people pay for this in terms of reduced forest management due to the exhaustion of funds of the Service and by higher insurance rates and local taxes. Counties should stop allowing homes to be built on the so-called wildland/urban interface, or, alternatively if they think this denies property rights of land owners, they don’t, and the Forest Service does not have to provide protection. The latter course of action would avoid the property rights argument.

Cost of saving homes adding up. By Jennifer McKee of the Missoulian State Bureau

Forest Fires Burning Up More Tax Dollars Than Trees. By Bill Schneider. New West. 

Montana covered by stifling cloud of smoke.

The first big fires of 2007 in Idaho blew smoke across uninhabited Central Idaho and into the Bitterroot Valley of Montana on July 9. More and more fires started in Idaho and then throughout western Montana. The fires are of all sizes, but a large number are over 50,000 acres.

On my trip there last week I couldn’t find clean air anywhere south of Glacier National Park. While only some of the fires were actively burning new territory, diffuse smoke was rising all over the large swaths already inside the fire perimeters. This came from creeping, smoldering, individual trees (such as red lodgepole torching) and few runs. This made for few visible plumes, but omnipresent smoke.

I stayed one night at a motel in Hamilton, and I asked the night clerk about it. She said the smoke has been nearly continuous since July 9 (a few clear days). The smoke was hardly confined to the Bitterroot Valley, but filled almost all the Western Montana valleys and well as the mountain air and the plains to the east for a ways.

The year 2000 was a huge fire year and 2001 pretty big too. With just a few exceptions, Western Montana has been covered with smoke partially or entirely much of every summer since 2000. This has got to affect recreation and the economy — a dream retirement home in the Big Sky with the sky dirtier than in any city?

The fires will return too — not in an unusually wet year, but the trees are so stressed from lack of water and resulting attack by insects and disease, that they are going to burn for a long time in every dry and even normal precipitation year.

At Two Medicine Lake. Glacier National Park. Sept. 15, 2007.
Photo copyright Ralph Maughan

Smoky Fleecer Mountain, ten miles south of Butte. The way most of Western Montana has looked this summer.
Photo by Ralph Maughan. Sept. 16, 2007.

Fire closes Idaho 55 to Banks. Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum is 100 percent contained.

Fire closes Idaho 55 to Banks. The Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum is 100 percent contained. By Cynthia Sewell. Idaho Statesman.

The new Chief Parrish Fire has closed 14 miles of Idaho 55, a major route north to Cascade and McCall, Idaho.

The relatively new Grays Creek Fire to the north of Chief Parrish is threatening the high end Tamarack ski area and real estate development.

The perimeter around fires in Idaho this year is 1.6 million acres so far. This is about twice that of last year.

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Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fire closes Idaho 55 to Banks. Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum is 100 percent contained.

Craig, “ecoterrorists”, hidden riders, and industrial legacy

There is no doubt, the hoopla surrounding ID Senator Larry Craig is a well deserved condemnation of hypocrisy that’s been years in the coming and nobody is celebrating his descent more than progressives throughout the Northwest. Now, he has resigned effective September 30.

But the shamefull manner in which a powerful Republican Senator squandered his standing is thankfully failing to completely overshadow just what it is many in Idaho and throughout the West are celebrating:

In the meantime, his actions in backrooms of the nation’s capital deserve attention. Call it a Craig’s List of how to block good deeds, or at least see that they don’t go unpunished.

Read the rest of this entry »

Idaho: Zena-Loon Fire Progression Map – July 15 to August 31, 2007.

Map. Oh my !!

The Zena-Loon is the bulk of the “East Fork Fire Complex” which is now 217, 263 acres. Here is a color coded fire progression map. They seem to update it daily.

Another map I would like to see someone produce is how much of the country surrounding this fire progression map has already burned between 2000 – 2006. I imagine it is a lot, maybe even the majority.

On top of this, the Cascade Fire Complex (Boise National Forest to the south) has burned 242,709 acres. The Rattlesnake Fire to the north (Nez Perce National Forest) has burned 102,212 acres. The Showerbath Complex in the Frank Church Wilderness NW of Challis has burned 130,784 acres.

Much later. Well, unfortunately, as time went by the URLs to the maps disappeared. Webmaster.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Idaho: Zena-Loon Fire Progression Map – July 15 to August 31, 2007.

Invasive weed (cheat grass) a fuel for West’s wildfires

Invasive weed a fuel for West’s wildfires. By Patrick O’Driscoll, USA Today.

This is a fine and an easy-to-understand article on the role cheatgrass plays in the range fires of today’s West.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way — conservationists were to be held to blame for the fires and Larry Craig was to roll onto an easy reelection victory. Instead we have USA Today explaining cheatgrass and fires to the masses, and Larry Craig not going to be reelected, and maybe gone from the Senate before the end of 2007.

Posted in invasive species, wildfire. Comments Off on Invasive weed (cheat grass) a fuel for West’s wildfires

Fire Myths and Fire Realities

George Wuerthner, who wrote the essay below, is the editor of Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy published by Island Press. He has 33 other books on natural history and ecological topics. This essay is a reflection on the current fire season compared to the past and what should be done.

Wildfires in the West: Myths and Realities-

With most science, it takes a while for the latest research and observations to be published, and then be assimilated into the public consciousness. Typically new science does not entirely invalidate the old ideas, but provides new insights and nuances. I see that happening now with fire ecology and how fire issues are reported in the media.
One of the frequently repeated “truths” is that fires are more “destructive” than in the past due to fire suppression. By putting out fires, we are told, we have contributed to higher fuel loads in our woodlands that is the cause of the large blazes we seem to be experiencing around the West.
But like any scientific fact, the more we know, the more we understand how little we really understand. While fuels are important to any blaze, the latest research is suggesting that weather/climatic conditions rather than fuels drive large blazes. In other words, you can have all the fuel in the world, but if it’s not dry enough, you won’t get a large blaze. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in wildfire. Comments Off on Fire Myths and Fire Realities

Rocky Barker’s blog: Homes in Ketchum area are the hardest fuel to treat

Rocky Barker’s blog: Homes in Ketchum area are the hardest fuel to treat. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Regarding the impact of the Castle Rock Fire, Barker writes; “This [fire] will have bigger economic impacts than the Murphy Complex did on ranchers and the fires near McCall are having on little communities like Warren and Yellow Pine.”

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Guest opinion: Western Watersheds not to blame for Murphy fires

Some time ago, this web site posted the opinion of public lands rancher and state legislator Bert Brackett on the Murphy fire complex.

Here again is Brackett’s opinion. Failed policy based on flawed science has gotten us here. Guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman. Brackett blamed the Western Watersheds Project because it won a lawsuit and then entered into an agreement that reduced grazing by 30% in the BLM’s Jarbidge Resource Area where a good deal of the fire burned.

The Statesman then published a guest opinion from Jon Marvel, executive director of the WWP.

Here is Marvel’s guest opinion. Western Watersheds not to blame for Murphy fires. Idaho Statesman. In addition to the extreme dryness and heat, Marvel blamed it in 100 years of mismanagement of ranchers and the BLM from over grazing that promoted the spread of cheat grass and the planting of exotic grasses like crested wheatgrass which did not, as predicted, retard fire. The end result was more fuel to burn than before cattle and sheep were brought to this land. The livestock also wiped out the green riparian areas that served as barriers to range fires. This included not just green grass, but green shrubs and trees that supported beaver ponds. The ponds created large hard-to-burn areas that were difficult for fires to cross over.

Idaho wildfires cost feds millions.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Idaho wildfires cost feds millions.

A fungus could halt the advance of cheatgrass

Gonzaga University biology professors Julie Beckstead and David L. Boose were recently awarded $247,000 in federal grants for a three-year study on pyrenophora semeniperda, a fungus that attacks the seeds of cheatgrass.

Something like this could save the rangelands of the West.  Story in the New York Times. Associated Press.

Deliberately introduced African grass becomes the cheatgrass of Sonoran Desert

While cheatgrass arrived in the West as an accident, African Buffelgrass was deliberately planted. It has changed the fire ecology of the Sonorian desert and has even become a severe fire threat inside cities such as Tuscon, AZ.

“Buffelgrass is like taking a kiddie pool, filling it with gas, and putting it in your front yard,” [said Kevin Kincaid, a fire inspector for Rural/Metro, a private emergency services provider]. “These fires can go from four-foot flames to 30-foot flames in 20 seconds.”

Story in the High Country News. By Michelle Nijhuis

Posted in invasive species, wildfire. Comments Off on Deliberately introduced African grass becomes the cheatgrass of Sonoran Desert

Fires cause evacuations near Ketchum, Idaho. Rain does not stop the central idaho fires.

Other Idaho fires-

High resolution map of two of major fires in the Landmark complex, showing their relation to Yellow Pine, and Stibnite.

Aug. 29 For more recent information on the Castle Rock Fire, go here.

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Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fires cause evacuations near Ketchum, Idaho. Rain does not stop the central idaho fires.

Idaho wildfire news. August 15.

Numerous stories today.

Yellow Pine resists ‘mandatory’ evacuation. ‘There was about to be a revolution if they said we had to leave’. By Heath Druzin. Idaho Statesman. This story could be repeated many times around the globe. Local residents are warned of a volcano, landslide, hurricane, flood, fire, etc.. Some refuse to leave and pay with their lives, but often their risky decision pays off.

Forest Service closes upper portion of the Middle Fork of Salmon River indefinitely. By Roger Phillips and Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman. The main and most of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River are now closed to float trips due to nearby (or immediate) forest fires. These are major backcountry tourist destinations for those looking for a scenic, wilderness river experience.

Fires threaten Wyoming highways

Fires threaten roads. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole Daily.

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Fires threaten Wyoming highways

Otter orders mandatory evacuation of Yellow Pine, Idaho

Yellow Pine is a very deep backcountry town. I visited it for the first time in June 2006. A month later it was beseiged by forest fires on all sides. This year is may be worse, and invoking a rarely used authority, Idaho’s Governor Butch Otter has ordered people to leave.

Story. Governor orders Yellow Pine evacuation. By Heath Druzin. Idaho Statesman.

Yellow Pine on Google Earth. The photos on Google Earth are quite new and you can readily see the burns from last year.

Larry Craig: wildlife, safety, and arrowheads gotta go; cattle – stay.

Here is another great clip of Senator Larry Craig discussing how they need to stop bothering to look for Native American artifacts when they are fighting fires (something they don’t do anyway). I guess he forget that Kyle Prior, chairman of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes was sitting at the end of the table for their news conference on the Murphy Fire as he gave out his misinformation.

Story and video on the WWP blog.

Posted in politics, wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Larry Craig: wildlife, safety, and arrowheads gotta go; cattle – stay.

Columbine fire explodes. Yellowstone East Entrance closed.

Sunday was great fire expansion day all over Western Montana, NW Wyoming, central Idaho, and SE Idaho. Among the many fires, the Columbine Fire which had been slowly growing about 7 miles south of the East Entrance, blew up.

Story on many of these fires in today’s (Aug. 13) Billings Gazette. Park’s East Entrance remains closed; Hicks Park fire still east of road. By the Gazette staff.

Photo of Columbine fire on Aug. 12 from near Fishing Bridge. Park Service Photo.

Update. The East Entrance to the Park will probably be opened at 8 am on Tuesday, August 14.  

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires, Yellowstone National Park. Comments Off on Columbine fire explodes. Yellowstone East Entrance closed.

Watch the Idaho and NW Wyoming fires grow

This is the link to the animated satellite image for Pocatello, Idaho and a wide area around it. Click on the link for 1 km animation and watch as the day progresses.Morning finds the many canyons of northern Idaho filled with dense, stable clouds of smoke. Moreover most of Montana is covered with smoke. As the day goes on you will probably see plumes emerge in north central Idaho and Yellowstone Park and the surrounding country. Yesterday, Aug. 12, the tall and long plumes were very impressive by mid-afternoon.

Note some other NWS websites (Missoula?) might work even better.

Update on late Aug. 13. Although they were slow to develop today, the west central Idaho fires eventually put up very large plumes that drifted across the state and over to Montana.

More on this year’s Western fires

2007 fire conditions are off the charts

Officials are finding it difficult to predict fire behavior because this year’s data don’t fit any model. Experts say climate change is a big part of this season’s extremes. By Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman.

Busy Week for Fires in Northern Rockies. Record-Breaking Fire Season? New West. By David Nolt.

New fire threatens home in Southeast Idaho [near Preston]; 14 other fires rage. By Tessa Schweiger. Idaho Statesman.

My view is that a century of bad grazing practice, suppression of forest fires, logging with little consideration of its effects (positive or negative) on future fuel conditions are major factors, but number one is the drying and warming climate. This makes the fight against cheatgrass, the need to restore native grasses and forbs, conservation of large trees in unlogged areas, and judicious thinning (not just any kind of thinning) of forests more important than ever. Read the rest of this entry »

Hot headed Idaho politics

Flamin’ Blame Game Western Watersheds Project has been taking some heat from Idaho state legislator Bert Brackett – not to mention his politicians in Washington. Here is Western Watersheds Project’s response.

And here is a picture of a sign erected in WWP’s honor near what remains of the Murphy Complex Fire.

Added Aug. 10. The Idaho Fires were recently a part of Greenfires’s diary on the Daily Kos. Idaho Burning.

Western governors declare war on cheatgrass

Western Governors yesterday held a press conference to declare war on cheatgrass.

I can’t help but think back to an article on NewWest describing the importance of words when considering conservation politics – politics in general.

We’ve got a good idea how politicians in cowboy suits conduct their perpetual wars. Now it’s been declared in the West, on up to a million acres recently charred by fire – against an infliction of the range which follows the very ‘prescriptions’ that they call for. They’re chasing their tails, and in the process turning your public lands into their private pasture.
Read the rest of this entry »

Many troubles for the sage grouse

WWPblog has a story about many of the threats to sage grouse.

Here’s a link to the West Nile concerns

This just goes to show how important rehab efforts after the fire will be to get these birds, and a host of other wildlife, proper habitat. Siberian wheat-grass, another non-native very similar to Crested Wheat, is being considered.

This Western Watersheds webpage has a pretty good rundown of the concern.

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It’s starve or sell for cattle ranches

The Salt Lake Tribute describes the stifling conditions ranchers are finding themselves in. The fire and drought are coming down hard right as the price of feed stretches just beyond many’s reach. This ought to give buy-outs a new breath.

While smaller operations engage in hard to swallow realities about the conditions on the land, Simplot stocks up:

Simplot's reserve
That’s retardant from the Murphy Complex fire effort along the road.

The parch conditions favor larger operations ~ especially controllers of the entire commodity chain like Simplot.

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George Wuerthner interviewed on “Off the Trail” about benefits of wildfire

George Wuerthner does an interview on the KBSU public radio program “Off the trail” with Jyl Hoyt. Wuerthner describes the upside of forest fire. You can listen to a stream of the interview here.

Posted in Trees Forests, wildfire. Comments Off on George Wuerthner interviewed on “Off the Trail” about benefits of wildfire

Where’s the smoke coming from? An estimated 900,000 acres-plus burning across Idaho

Posted in wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Where’s the smoke coming from? An estimated 900,000 acres-plus burning across Idaho

Rocky Barker’s blog: We live in the indefinitely bad fire season with conditions off the chart

Rocky Barker says that we ( in Idaho) are now living in conditions like those in Yellowstone in 1988 when the fires exploded, and a month early at that!

We live in the indefinitely bad fire season with conditions off the chart. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

I have added the following after receiving comments to the post. Fires close all roads to Yellow Pine. Idaho Statesman. By Heath Druzin and Cynthia Sewell

Inciweb East Fork complex. Explosive Western Idaho forest fires and numerous emergency road closures.

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Boise has the hottest month ever in July

Boise has the hottest month ever in July. By Heath Druzin and Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman. Do you think this might explain why the fires exploded in the country to the south of Boise?

Given this knowledge it’s fascinating to watch Larry Craig’s views on climate from video on the WWP blog. Craig walks tightrope to avoid Global Warming’s contribution to wildfire.

It’s time for sagebrush patriots to rally against the land stealing rebels

The winter before last, emboldened by their power, California’s Representative from the Tracy area area, Richard Pombo, teamed up with Jim Gibbons of Nevada and hatch a scheme to steal the public lands under the disguise of mining reform.

In a move surprising to many, Westerners rallied against them, and before long Western Republicans who’d long had little good to say about public lands such as Craig Thomas, Mike Enzi, and even Larry Craig were backpeddling, and pledging their fealty to our birthright of room to roam, our great public land heritage. Even Butch Otter, then a member of the House who was proposing to sell off 20% of the national forests, etc. to pay for Hurricane Katrina, was quickly forced to drop his bill lest he lose his race for governor.

Of course, their conversion was “lite.”Now they are back at it, using the fires as the latest weapon against the public lands. John Miller’s article on the fire’s stirring an “ember of the sagebrush rebellion” should be a wake-up call. This isn’t really about fire. The fires are their vehicle to attack the public land management agencies, the firefighters, policies designed to elevate the importance of wildlife, recreation, and the average citizen. They mean to take it away from you.

It’s got to be once again more into the breach for the public land patriots.

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Western fires stir embers of ‘Sagebrush Rebellion’

Western fires stir embers of ‘Sagebrush Rebellion’. By John Miller. AP

First of all, I have always been a sagebrush patriot, not one of these “rebels” with their hand out whining for federal money and complaining that they have to follow rules. One of reasons the sagebrush rebellion was defeated was that folks saw them as band of well-connected people out to steal the public’s land for their own purposes.

It’s interesting that when a wildfire fighter is killed in the line of duty, these same politicians are the first to demand in inquiry.

Last year when Montana’s now ex-senator Conrad Burns belittled a hot shot fire crew (because ranchers had complained), his rating in the polls plunged and from there on it looked like he could well lose the election. He did lose.

From a year ago about this time . . . Report: Burns called firefighters lazy. By Charles S. Johnson.

Larry Craig is up for reelection in 2008. He will have major primary election opposition. He will also face a Democrat.

– – – –

–The Idaho Statesman today came down hard on Idaho’s “armchair” fire-fighting policians. Our View: Don’t play blame game with fire management. Editorial view of the Idaho Statesman.

Fires tax crews to the limit

Managers say no teams have all the people or equipment they need to battle wildfires in today’s hotter, drier world. By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

Rocky Barker has written a story that gives little support for the Craig/Crapo/Otter position that too many regulations on grazing and protection for the environmental have played a major role in this year’s very severe fire season.

Barker is also one of the first to mention the Bush policy of making agencies take fire-fighting costs from their other programs. My view is that if matters continue to deteriorate, the fact that so many national guard units are in Iraq will start to be an issue — they are off fighting in a hard-to-fathom civil war when their number priority in the past has been to protect the homeland.

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Senators Craig, Crapo, and Governor Otter blow hot air about the Murphy Fire

This is about the news conference these three had yesterday. It’s on the WWP blog with a short video of an especially revealing segment.

Story in the Idaho Statesman. Idaho politicians blast federal fire management. By Heath Druzin. The dynamic trio didn’t get quite the spin they may have expected in the Statesman.

Update. LTE by Bert Brackett (rancher often mentioned in these stories). Times-News. Fire Fueled by Failed Range Management.

Reply to Brackett. Sent to Times-News by Max Hatfield

Bert Brackett’s Readers Comment Slandering Jon Marvel today was just about the most contrived self serving pile of rhetorical cow manure I have ever read. I sent the following letter to the editor in response.

Bert “Einstein” Brackett’s Rhetorical Cow Manure

Is your neck red enough and are you stupid enough to buy Rep. Bert “Einstein” Brackett’s slander about Jon Marvel? Brackett has attributed the 2007 range fires to Marvel and recommended naming them the “John Marvel Watershed Memorial Fire.” Maybe Brackett has another motivation for this tripe? Read the rest of this entry »

Rumor: Craig, Kempthorne, Otter to showboat about fire tomorrow

In contrast to the sensible position of Utah’s governor, rumor is Idaho’s three will show up tomorrow to talk about how the big rangefire was caused by not enough grazing and too many government regulations (on their buddies).

Note: as you can see from the comments below, they had their session today.

The cheatgrass menace: Utah’s governor willing to spend the money, but can hated plant truly be eradicated?

Finally an article in a major newspaper that almost gets it right about rangefires — it’s the cheatgrass! . . . the cheatgrass was

The Cheatgrass Menace. By Christopher Smart. Salt Lake Tribune.

A couple things that next to be emphasized. . . . larger seed banks need to be created and soon because the demand for reseeding outstrips supply, given all the fires.

In the article it says, “Of the more successful strategies, Pellant explained, is to introduce non-native grasses that can outcompete cheat and then seed with native grasses to restore the environment. But once new grasses have been planted, they must be allowed to take root over several years before they can be grazed, or the cheat will return. And there is always pressure to get livestock back on the range.” [emphasis mine]

In addition, they usually do not get around to seeding with native grasses a few years after they have planted these “non-natives that can outcompete cheatgrass.”

If this menace is to be curbed, more than money is needed. There also needs to be the political will to say “no” to ranchers who want start grazing again the second year after a reseeded burn, and there has to be the will to provide money to do a second seeding with the native plants. It is critical we don’t lot politicians use burns to as an excuse for even more abusive grazing practices.

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Insect insurrection: On the explosion of the mountain pine beetle

Scientists are increasingly alarmed that global warming has removed any control that bitterly cold winters once had over the mountain pine beetle, which co-evolved with pine trees over millennia in the West.

This is umpteen article I’ve posted on the mountain pine beetle. I think the beetle, drought, heat and fire are doing just what we would expect in a warming world, reduce the acreage covered by forests  in the northerly and high elevation regions of the Earth.

I am still waiting for the explosion when the B.C. or Alberta beetle kill catches on fire. It covers many thousands of square miles.

Read “Insect Insurrection” by Brodie Farquhar. Casper Star Tribune.

Rocky Barker’s blog: Fire brings out the same old question: Is it man or is it nature?

Barker blogs about the history of the general area burned in the giant Murphy Fire complex and the personalities involved.

He has written a lot about fires, beginning with his coverage of 1988 Yellowstone Park fires and living through the firestorm that blew through Old Faithful that year.

In 2005 his book Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America (Island Press) came out. I used it as a text in Public Lands Politics class.

I wrote to him yesterday asking him to point out that no amount of grazing would contain cheatgrass, and a lot of other folks no doubt contacted him too, probably leading in part to today’s blog. Fire brings out the same old question: Is it man or is it nature? By Rocky Barker. Idaho Statesman.

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Drought causes ripple effect in Idaho. Wildlife, forests, irrigators showing stress

This is on Idaho’s deep, deep drought from the Idaho Mountain Express. By Jason Kaufmann.

The last week, the flow of monsoonal moisture coming up from the south (typical of August) has begun with thunderstorms, some quite wet. These have dampened some of the fires, but have little effect on the dry forests. These heavy fuels respond slowly to infusions of moisture.

Posted in wildfire, Wildlife Habitat. Comments Off on Drought causes ripple effect in Idaho. Wildlife, forests, irrigators showing stress

Idaho Fish and Game talks about wildlife habitat damage from Murphy Complex

This video shows some of the rangefire damage, and they talk about damage to sage grouse leks and big game habitat. The best is at the end when they indirectly counter Larry Craig and the ranchers with quotes such as “Fuel moisture was at an all-time low…. fire burned right through grazed areas …”

76 sage grouse leks, burned with more still in Nevada where the fire burns on the to the south.

Video from the Times-News.

Incident report on the Murphy Fire complex.

Craig, Otter criticize BLM fire management

Oh boy, these Idaho politicians acted fast to try to define what caused the fires, protect their butts, and try to get a bit extra for their good buddies out there.

It’s quite a scene — the BLM and 1000 of their staff diverted to help fight fires in Idaho caused not by the Clinton Administration, but by years of mis-management by the BLM which has been essentially run by Larry Craig, Dirk Kempthorne, and the good ‘ol boys they put in charge when Bush took over (like recently retired Idaho BLM Director K. Lynn Bennett). Sure is good Idaho’s ex-governor is now Secretary of Interior.

Story by By Erika Bolstad. Mcclatchy Newspapers. Idaho Statesman. Craig, Otter criticize BLM fire management. Senator blames grazing limits for major blazes in Idaho. Kempthorne shifts staff to bulk up firefighting efforts.

This is a good statement by Kempthorne, and I hope they actually do it. “Kempthorne said his department is working to address post-fire restoration needs, including a new program that seeks to replace the invasive cheatgrass with native sagebrush and species such as bluebunch wheat grass and Idaho fescue.”

Notice he is not talking about using non-natives such as crested wheatgrass and similar species, or worse, stuff like forage kochia. Nevertheless, action needs to be taken to see that he not only talks the talk, but walks the walk.

One great advantage these politicians have is that not many Americans are familiar with things like names and characteristics of rangeland grasses. Unfortunately, too ranchers are unfamiliar with their characteristics as well, other than that they are “feed.”

Update: their real goal is grazing without even the few restrictions present now . . . let’s get the last of the native grass before it’s all cheatgrass. Then we’ll be out of business. Even then we can sell the land to some conservation group and let the deep canyons be designated wilderness (the area is crossed by scores of vertical walled, often deep canyons, which some groups propose for wilderness designation).

Charred and scarred: Ranchers blame grazing rules for fire’s huge size

Charred and scarred. Ranchers blame grazing rules for fire’s huge size. By Matt Christensen. Times-News writer.

This story features none other than Idaho State House of Representatives Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, of whom KT has written.

Brackett is correct that the grazing rules led to the size of the fire, but in exactly the wrong way. The grazing rules have led to cheatgrass. The cheatgrass burns, killing the much less fire tolerant native grasses. Then the BLM reseeds with the wrong mixture of grass seed, such as non-native crested wheatgrass and various cultivars of native and non-native grasses. The the BLM doesn’t give time for even their poorly suited mixture to take hold before cows are dumped back on the grazing allotment. Of course, this leads to more cheatgrass.

Cheatgrass grows so fast and ripens so fast that no amount of livestock grazing can put a dent into it. Once the seed head develops, cattle and sheep won’t eat it unless they are to become dead livestock.

Therefore, it’s incorrect for Brackett to say there hasn’t there hasn’t been enough grazing unless he knows about voracious cows that will each thoroughly graze about a thousand acres of unripe cheatgrass a day (or cows that eat ripe cheatgrass!)

Posted in Grazing and livestock, public lands management, wildfire, Wildfires. Comments Off on Charred and scarred: Ranchers blame grazing rules for fire’s huge size

Increased humidity keeps Idaho fires from growing

A relatively new forest fire, Trapper Ridge, is pumping a lot of smoke into Stanley Basin.

There will be a big controversy over grazing when the Murphy Complex and other range fires are out. Burned areas should be rested a good while and seeded with native grass, forbs, and brush to reduce the liklihood of cheat grass spread and the fires next time.

Natives are also much better for wildlife. Cattle prefer them too, which is one reason they eat it to the ground when grazing is not managed well, renewing the abnormal fire to cheat grass, cheat grass to fire cycle.

Fire teams: S. Idaho blaze No. 1 priority, but cooler temps help. By JOHN MILLER – Associated Press Writer

Despite the cooler temperatures and higher humidity, the fire has grown to 623,000 acres.

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Blaze ignites criticism. Ranchers question rules of engagement in Murphy fire

Blaze ignites criticism. Ranchers question rules of engagement in Murphy fire. Times News. By Nick Coltrain.

This is very irritating. Some of the ranchers are blaming the fire on not enough grazing and BLM’s tiny attempts to rest a few areas. The years of abusive grazing are the reason for the cheatgrass spread.

You don’t graze cheatgrass away because it is palatable for only a couple weeks before it starts to go to seed, and it goes to seed anyway even if it is grazed. Try it yourself if you have cheat-grass. Mow it to the ground (to simulate heavy grazing) while it is still green and downy. If there is any moisture at all, the mowed cheat grass will go the seed anyway.

The ranchers are a major reason for the spread of this weed grass that has changed the ecology of the West. They created the bare spots where it invaded and pushed out the native grass that stays green most of the summer.

This fire exploded at an incredible rate to become the largest in the country. What do these ranchers mean the “BLM didn’t react fast enough?” The firefighters are stretched incredibly thin. This is one of scores of rangefires. The sense of entitlement of these ranchers is appalling.

Now that the area has burned, it should be reseeded with native grasses and shrubs and rested for 10 years, but you can bet these ranchers will be using the political connections to be grazing in two years, and even next spring.

The BLM does deserve blame for not restraining the grazing, and planting the non-native crested wheatgrass under guise it was fire resistant. Thousands and thousands of acres of this exotic wheatgrass burned along with the cheatgrass.

~Story on why cheat grass wins~

I just got this email, which is certainly telling . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Why cheatgrass wins

The major culprit in almost all of the big lower elevation fires in the interior West is cheatgrass, which has a nicer name of downy brome (Bromus tectorum), probably given for the way it is during the brief period is it growing, green, and not ripening.

Cheatgrass has taken over the West, greatly increasing fire danger, damage, and harming wildlife habitat, causing stream erosion, etc. Global warming or not, there will be more and more fires as cheat grass spreads because that is a major way it wipes out its native competitors — fire.

It is an annual grass, and it is the first grass to sprout with late summer rains. It usually gets a good start before winter and continues in the early spring. If the autumn is dry, it sprouts in early spring. It is very shallow rooted, sucking the up moisture and nitrogen that native seeds need to sprout as well as shading them out. Cheatgrass is a tremendous producer of seeds, far exceeding native bunchgrasses.

Once it starts to move in, almost always as the result of some disturbance that creates bare ground, it is almost inevitable that it will convert most of the area into dry brown grass for most of the year, replacing semi-arid country shrubs and native grasses with a dreary monoculture. This will happen slowly if there is no fire, but with a fire it is almost inevitable and the annual probability of a fire increases with the proportion that is cheatgrass.

Great Basin wild rye and cheatgrass. Photo by Ralph Maughan

I took this photo of a tall perennial bunchgrass (Great Basin wild rye) and cheatgrass near Pocatello, Idaho in early July. To the casual observer it might seem the wild rye is doing great (it’s tall and green even though it was been half eaten by cows) and the cheatgrass dry and dead, but the wild rye is doomed even without a fire. That is a terrible thing because wild rye has very deep roots to seek out water in mid-summer, and these roots serve to hold the soil in place. Cheatgrass is only slightly better than a slope of bare soil.

I can’t tell if the cheatgrass was grazed before it ripened or not because it goes to seed even if cattle or sheep are put in to eat it during its brief “downy phase.” It can’t be eaten when it is ripe like in the photo because the seeds are very hard and sharp (you’ve probably gotten it in your socks — itch!).

Perennial bunch grasses can’t stand heavy grazing. If the rest of that green wild rye is eaten by a cow, it will be so weak when it sprouts next year that it will probably be overrun by the cheatgrass (no fire necessary). The wild rye’s seeds don’t have much of a chance sprouting in the cheatgrass, and cows have already chomped off all but one seed stalk on this bunch anyway.

Cheatgrass begins to invade an area most often by dirt roads or vehicle tracks, usually in conjunction with cattle grazing. Heavy grazing leaves bare spots, and the first seeds to sprout on these bare spots will be cheat grass once an infestation is nearby. The cattle also spread the cheatgrass seeds and trample them in, for good measure.

Overgrazed range (sagebrush steppe) with all the native grass eaten. Bare ground, the perfect spot for cheatgrass to sprout and then soon burn, destroying the sagebrush which has already been weakened by cattle trampling. This photo in the Owyhee country (BLM) of SW Idaho was taken this year by Katie Fite. A fair portion of it that has been invaded by cheatgrass is currently on fire.

More information. Cheatgrass: the Invader the won the West. 

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BLM is not responsible for the Milford Flat Fire

Some Utah officials blamed the BLM for the huge Milford Flat Fire in central Utah for not allowing enough grazing, but the Grand Junction Sentinel has it right — if anything, the blame is in the other direction. Overgrazing led to the huge infestation of cheat grass (which can only be grazed a few weeks in April and goes to seed even when it is grazed hard).