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Progress in 2009

Val Jaffe

Along with presidential politics, change is in the air for management of forest fuels. These changes will be part of the current public interest and program expansions in sustainable forestry, biomass, energy, and carbon sequestering. Ugly [budget] truths and economics of wildfire management, of course, play a significant role in forced adjustments.

According to the U.S. interagency Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, “A lesson is truly learned when we modify our behavior to reflect what we now know.”

Learning Curve Ahead
Post-season fire management wrap-ups and assessments are currently taking place across the West. Typically, public agencies will adopt revised and new directives based on recent experience; their unique perceptions, at times befuddling to many. Regardless, it behooves those of us affected by public land managers and agency business protocols to track their progress and learned lessons.

For example, you’ll have a new set of program acronyms to memorize during next year’s federal signup period. The likes of BPAs (Pre-season Incident Blanket Purchase Agreements) were formerly U.S. Forest Service EERAs (non-competitive Emergency Equipment Rental Agreements), and they come with revised forms to decipher. Let’s hope the change increases signup efficiency.

Thankfully, the annoying EaTIS (Equipment Training Inventory System) has been decommissioned, although adjusting to decommissioning of EERA could present new problems. Legacy records are still accessible; however; complete records require agency assistance.

Then again, I’ll need to verify claims of improvement over ROSS (Resource Order and Status System), offered now by the VIPR (Virtual Incident Procurement) system. So, plan ahead and give yourself time to climb a new learning curve.

As public servants, agency personnel and their actions are still accountable to each citizen. Voice your fire and forest fuels management observations, concerns, and questions, while tempering your expectations for a suitable and timely response. Your timing may be perfect, as we’ve seen unprecedented progress made in Montana this year. It’s been a squeaky wheel proposition.

Our Neighbor’s Land
My quest to stay informed of current forest equipment designs and applications sent me to Nova Scotia this year. DEMO International 2008 was held last September for three action-packed days, just north of Halifax. It’s one of the largest exhibitions of innovative forest equipment offered in North America and a world-class event that attracted more than 6,100 visitors. Our Canadian brethren hold this in-woods extravaganza every four years, switching between eastern and western sites.

Stretched out along the nearly two-miles of forest road, were more than 120 exhibitors. It’s hardly possible to see all of the displays in less than two days. Although Ponsse impressed me with their harvester/grapple-loader and bunked forwarder/off-road chipper system, which rivals John Deere’s biomass bundler system in operational efficiency, it was Lamtrac International’s smart application of their LTR series mulcher that charged up my treasure-hunting spirit.

The Canadian company’s design alteration of their snow-groomer with 4-tracked, double articulated and oscillating chassis to a multi-functional, low ground pressure machine (less than 4 PSI) definitely won my vote for most-maneuverable grinding vehicle on steep and varied terrain. Application of this workhorse vehicle for fuels reduction, fire suppression, and rehab is a sure fit. Of course, only skilled operators can maximize the machine’s operational specifications given similar ground conditions.

2009 Trends and Events Worth Tracking
Below are some websites to bookmark next year:

    Montana Legislature will hear recommendations from the 2007-2008 Interim Committee on Fire Suppression. According to Committee discussions, anticipated recommendations for the Montana Legislature include 1) encouraging State and collaborative efforts that increase use of timber industry and hybrid equipment on wildfire incidents and 2) assuring that proper regional equipment training opportunities are available by authorizing formation of the Mechanized Equipment for Fire and Fuels Academy in Montana.
    Fire managers in Western regions are seeking modern equipment options and training, having repeatedly exhausted their state coffers and traditional expertise.
    Live, in-woods equipment training for day and night fire operations may again be offered — this time in conjunction with the Oregon Logging Conference (mid-February 2009) — and given U.S. Forest Service funding approval.
    Burgeoning sustainable forestry, biomass, and green energy markets attest to greater recognition that our existing renewable (i.e. forest) resources can satisfy a measureable portion of our national energy and product demands.

Thanks to You
We’ve covered steep ground this year in the Wildfire Column, from the mechanics of fire season sign-ups and regional training, to funding issues and politics. I hope our focus on the topic and pointers to additional resources have proven beneficial.

If I have assured you that your interest is widespread, alternative and crucial equipment opportunities are available, and positive changes in the use of timber equipment in fire-related operations are forthcoming in 2009, then I have accomplished my primary objectives.