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Don Rivenes: Fire danger and forest problems

In response to the Aug. 28 column in The Union by George Boardman on fire danger in California: on the positive side he states that Tom McClintock’s advice that “all of the nation’s forest problems could be solved simply by logging more trees — live big trees as well as dead ones” goes too far.

He said that “a better idea for reducing fire risk would be a major program of controlled burns and forest thinning (removing small trees and brush) that would mimic the natural state of forests as we found them 150 years ago.”

We wholeheartedly agree. He also could have stated the importance of making the areas around homes fire safe to protect them from incoming fire and limit human started fires near homes from damaging the forest.



Malcolm North of the U.S. Forest Service writes on fire management: “One means of changing current practices is to concentrate large-scale fuels reduction efforts and then move treated areas out of fire suppression into fire maintenance. A large-scale prescribed fire program is the only option available to perpetually reduce fuels and reduce the economic impacts of mega fires as well as maintain ecological integrity across the landscape and ensure subsequent fires are more likely to burn less severely …”

As to air burners for waste disposal, this may be a short-term solution, but for a long-term solution to climate change, biomass plants will allow the waste and small diameter trees from thinning operations to be burned efficiently and provide electricity and heating to offset fossil fuel burning.

A consortium of environmental organizations feels that restoration project activities should include: (1) defining and prioritizing burn units based on proximity to communities and large-scale units that maximize the number of acres burned at the lowest cost; (2) defining fuel conditions that indicate burning is necessary and appropriate within burn units and within reforested areas; (3) and creating natural and man-made fire breaks that will be used as unit boundaries.




Rather than castigating environmentalists, he should recognize that they are working in regional collaboratives to offer solutions that apply the latest science to forest management such as Malcolm North of the Forest Service has proposed. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) and its many partners have been successful in supporting such collaboratives for bringing our forests, economies and communities back into healthy balance. This has led to reduced lawsuits and appeals and restoration activities occurring with broad support amongst a variety of stakeholders.

Local and national environmentalist organizations have been clear in comments on post-mortality salvage that trees that are a hazard and threaten public safety should be removed, and supported that in both King and Rim fires comments. However, the structural complexity of Complex Early Seral Forests (CESF), compared to salvage or clear-cut logged forests, is extremely high due to the presence of scattered pockets of surviving trees, substantial levels of native shrubs and sprouting hardwood trees, and high levels of woody legacies, such as snags and downed boles.

For current and future restoration projects there are seven primary concerns: (1) develop and implement a rational landscape-wide long-term fuels management strategy; (2) effects of salvage activities to spotted owls should be avoided; (3) species diversity and abundance and fire resiliency in reforested areas should be maximized; (4) the ecological value of Complex Early Seral Forests (CESF) must be recognized; (5) the effects of herbicides on ecological integrity must be minimized; (6) the adaptability of the post-fire landscape to climate change should be maximized; and (7) and spread of noxious weeds during project activities should be avoided.

As to air burners for waste disposal, this may be a short-term solution, but for a long-term solution to climate change, biomass plants will allow the waste and small diameter trees from thinning operations to be burned efficiently and provide electricity and heating to offset fossil fuel burning. The impact of low natural gas prices on current biomass plants is causing their closure.

The Nevada County Biomass Task Force is working to provide a Nevada County biomass plant to dispose of such materials, and the California Energy plan is helping to subsidize such plants.

Finally, the Federal Wilderness Act prescribes use of wilderness areas and I don’t know of anyone who wants to prevent human enjoyment of these areas.

Don Rivenes is the executive director of the Forest Issues Group. He lives in Grass Valley.


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