An Oregon State University (OSU) research study has revealed that thinning moderates forest fire behavior, even without prescribed burns – for a while. Mechanical thinning alone can calm the intensity of future wildfires for many years, and prescribed burns lengthen thinning’s effectiveness, according to the OSU research that involved a seasonally dry ponderosa pine forest in northeastern Oregon.
Findings of the study, led by OSU research associate James Johnston and published in Forest Ecology and Management, are important because reducing accumulated fuels on federal forestland has been a congressional priority for nearly two decades; research such as this helps determine which techniques work.
Johnston’s team looked at years of data for multiple forest parcels – mechanically thinned stands and unthinned control stands – and used computer modeling to predict the behavior of future fires. The collaboration included his Oregon State College of Forestry colleagues Julia Olszewski, Becky Miller, and Micah Schmidt, in addition to Lisa Ellsworth of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and Michael Vernon of Blue Mountains Forest Partners.
“Our work shows that mechanical thinning can moderate fire behavior even in the absence of prescribed fire,” Johnston said. “That’s good news since prescribed fire on national forests has remained flat over the last 20 years because of shortfalls in U.S. Forest Service capacity, a risk-averse agency culture, and regulatory constraints on smoke.”
Fuels built up for a year or two after thinning and then declined, while litter and duff declined dramatically as a result of thinning, he said. Forest litter refers to any non-living organic matter that is freshly fallen or only slightly decomposed; duff is the layer of decayed and decaying organic matter between the litter and the soil.
“Although the models show that thinning alone moderates fire behavior for a number of years, prescribed fire is still a key tool for meeting fuel reduction and fire management objectives in the ponderosa pine forests of the southern Blue Mountains and elsewhere,” Johnston said. “Prescribed fire will extend the longevity of what the mechanical thinning accomplished when the conifers regenerate significantly and those surface fuels start to rise above desired thresholds.”
A report commissioned by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) concluded that Oregon’s forest-dependent businesses and industries suffered an estimated $5.9 billion in economic losses as a result of the Labor Day wildfires that one year ago burned more than a million acres across the western part of the state.
The 104-page study looked at the economic impacts of last year’s Labor Day fires on Oregon’s forest sector, which ranged from lost timber and logging equipment to forest restoration efforts made more difficult by a shortage of tree seedlings. The Labor Day 2020 Fires: Economic Impacts to Oregon’s Forest Sector study report can be downloaded at https://oregonforests.org/pub/2020-labor-day-fires-economic-impacts.
The report looks at the various ways forest landowners and businesses — such as logging companies and sawmills — were affected by last year’s fires, finding that the Labor Day wildfires had substantial impacts on the sector and will continue to impact Oregon’s timber supply, forest-related employment, and other economic factors well into the future.
SouthTahoeNOW.com reported that the Tahoe Fund announced a grant from its Smartest Forest Fund to a first-of-its-kind digital tool called Land Tender to decrease the time it takes to plan and execute projects that protect communities and forests — from years down to months.
This tool would provide land managers in the Tahoe Basin with the high-resolution data and modeling they need to make more agile and informed decisions.
Land Tender is being developed for the Tahoe Basin in collaboration with the California Tahoe Conservancy, Basin land managers, fire districts, scientists, local NGOs, and other stakeholders to update Lake Tahoe’s community wildfire protection and forest health plan for the entirety of the lake’s 500-square-mile watershed basin. This work will include thinning hazardous and overgrown timber, clearing fuels from roadsides, and conducting prescribed burns.
The Hill reported that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo) introduced the America’s Revegetation and Carbon Sequestration (ARCS) Act of 2021, with Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) and Angus King (I-Maine). The bill would establish a national revegetation plan under the umbrella of the Interior Department and the Forest Service, which would determine the number of acres of federal land requiring revegetation. The Interior Secretary would be required to publish a report detailing the amount of land and where it is located.
The bill would also require Interior and the Forest Service to establish a revegetation task force for each region of the U.S. within 18 months. Each regional task force would develop a region-specific revegetation plan in the six months following their establishment.
It would also establish a pilot program to revegetate abandoned mine sites on federal, state, and tribal land for eight years, after which Interior would be required to submit a report outlining its results.
In September the National Forest Service cancelled a bidding process that would allow the Four Forest Initiative (4FRI) to move ahead. Portions of the USDA release read as follows:
“Overall, the Government’s conclusion is that the requirements for meeting the restoration objectives (as currently defined in the RFP) are not reasonably aligned to industry needs. In addition, significant financial and investment risks remain which ultimately represents a performance risk to the Government.
It is in the best interest of the Government to thoroughly re-assess the requirement so that any new solicitation issued would better address all risks to offerors and the Government, including financial and investment risks. Reassessment may include re-consideration of a variety of specific government requirements such as:
We are deeply invested and our intention is to work with our partners together on a new proposal as soon as possible. Our next step is to regroup with our partners, stakeholders, industry, and elected officials to discuss what we’ve all learned and how we can move forward to ensure success when implementing future contracts and agreements.”
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