Fire management faulted in Calif. disaster

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

Credit: amissphotos / pixabay

Originally Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 at E&E: Greenwire

The widespread damage from wildfires in California's wine country could have been avoided with better fire management policies, researchers say.

A more consistent and thoughtful approach to defensible space around homes would reduce wildfire threats and is a better long-term approach than thinning forests far away from populated areas, said Alexandra Syphard, a senior research scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute.

Syphard, speaking yesterday at a forum sponsored by critics of the timber industry, said policymakers should stick to a "from the house out" strategy to protecting homes and businesses, and not rely on management of wildland areas to control fires.

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Facts trump alternative facts

Letter to the Editor, Medford Mail Tribune

Published September 2, 2017

David Schott’s guest opinion criticizing let-burn fire policies in the Aug. 25 Mail Tribune smacks of alternative facts that would probably land him a job with the Trump administration.

First, the Chetco fire was a “suppress” fire from the get-go. Firefighters had to rappel into steep, remote terrain. The fire in July burned in a healthy pattern, increasing in intensity as the summer heated up and Chetco high winds kicked in. Putting more firefighters into that situation would have been a disaster. No amount of logging can slow down a weather-driven fire, as we learned from the Biscuit fire.

Second, his “sensible forest projects” have turned hillsides into flammable tree plantations that include mounds of slash as high as three-story buildings. Both the Douglas Complex and Oregon Gulch fires burned hottest when fire hit densely packed tree plantations just like thousands of other fires that have blown up when encountering plantations.

And finally, no one likes smoke. But the best way to deal with fire in general is to clear vegetation from the home outward, stop clearcutting native forests, and thin the existing plantations to reduce fire hazards. When it comes to fire preparation, facts trump hyperbole.

Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph.D., chief scientist, Geos Institute

Details emerge on proposed monument cutbacks

csnm dellasalaFrom High Country News, August 24, 2017

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has completed his long-awaited review of 21 national monuments and recommending a handful be reduced in size including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. Climate change was a main reason to expand the Cascade-Siskiyou, as researchers pressed the Obama administration to protect whole watersheds and reduce habitat fragmentation between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains.

“It’s the only functional land bridge making that connection,” says Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute, who was involved with research on the monument’s role in climate resilience. He describes Cascade-Siskiyou, which encompasses a wide variety of habitats including oak woodlands, mixed conifer stands and chaparral, as the first monument to biodiversity. “Traditional uses like logging are land-use stressors that are incompatible with the monument’s biodiversity.”

In fact, researchers pushed for a far larger expansion than the one Obama enacted. “This is the last place any kind of monument reduction should be attempted,” DellaSala says. “Reducing the boundaries is not scientifically defensible.”

Read the full article here.

Guest Opinion: We need responsible forest fire policies, not more logging

By Dominick DellaSala

Many people view large wildfires as only destructive. But fires in Oregon’s forests are exactly what these ecosystems need to thrive.

After wildfire, the forest is transformed into the earliest stage of forest growth that allows a completely new fire-adapted community of plants and animals to get their time in the sun. A hike up Grizzly Peak near Ashland or the Biscuit burn area near Cave Junction reveals a young forest remarkably being repopulated by a rich web-of-life that not only thrives in severely burned areas but also requires them to survive. Dead trees anchor the soils preventing erosion, provide habitat for scores of insect-eating bats and birds that keep destructive forest pests in check, and shade new seedlings from intense sunlight. Soil nutrients are recycled as the forest rejuvenates quickly.

Attempting to put out every wildfire in the backcountry disrupts these natural cycles, is unsafe for firefighters and, most importantly, diverts limited funding from protecting homes and communities. Logging to stop forest fires also does not work because large fires are not like campfires — they are mainly driven by extreme weather conditions, not fuels.

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