In The News – September/October 2023

by | Oct 1, 2023 | 2023, September/October, TimberWest Magazine

The federal Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission issued its second and final report to Congress in September. It reflects one of the most sweeping and comprehensive reviews of the wildfire system to date.

The report makes 148 recommendations covering seven key themes. They include new approaches to the wildlife crisis, supporting collaboration, shifting to proactive planning to mitigate and recover from fire, and enabling beneficial fire to reduce wildfire. The other themes are supporting and expanding wildland firefighting staff, modernizing tools for informed decision making, and increased spending now to reduce long-term costs.

The Commission urged an “all of the above” approach because the scale of the problem requires broad, integrated, solutions. While the resulting recommendations are extensive and diverse, they are also complementary and interrelated. With these solutions in hand, the commission is recommending Congress act as quickly as possible.

Stimson Lumber Co. President Andrew Miller was critical of the U.S. Forest Service in managing the wildland urban interface in the wake of his company’s downsizing a lumber mill in northern Idaho. Miller had pointed words for Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Chad Benson.

Miller, like many in the lumber industry in the Inland Northwest and others seeking more management in the interface, had hopes that smaller scale thinning projects in places such as Libby and Troy would help an already sagging industry while improving wildfire safety for those living in the interface.

“He (Benson) has a chance to do a lot of projects and he’s not really interested,” Miller told a news outlet in the region. “His whole operation is suspended in litigation.”

Stimson’s mill in Plummer, Idaho, has dropped about two-thirds of its workforce. The mill processes smaller trees, but Miller said a lack of them fueled the downsizing of the facility.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation requiring agencies to accurately report the amount of hazardous fuels removed on public lands and the effectiveness of such measures in preventing catastrophic wildfires.

The measure mandates the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior to detail the acreage where hazardous fuel reduction activities took place, the effectiveness in its reduction of wildfire risk, what methods were used and the cost per acre to do so, and — importantly — to distinguish treatments that are near communities most at-risk to the threat of wildfires. The legislation requires the reports be made public and instructs the agencies to implement standardized procedures for tracking such data.

The transparency-driven legislation, led by Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., who serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, comes on the heels of a damning report by NBC News: “The Forest Service is overstating its wildfire prevention progress to Congress despite decades of warnings not to.”

The bill awaits action by the U.S. Senate.

Simultaneous outbreaks of large wildfires will become more frequent in the West this century as the climate warms, putting major strains on efforts to fight fires, new research shows.

The work appears in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. It was co-authored by scientists from the University of Washington and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

The study, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), focused on wildfires of 1,000 acres or larger. It found that wildfire seasons in which several such blazes burn concurrently will become more common, with the most severe seasons becoming at least twice as frequent by the end of this century.

“Higher temperatures and drier conditions will greatly increase the risk of simultaneous wildfires throughout the West,” said NCAR scientist Seth McGinnis, the lead author of the study.

The Oregon Department of Forestry will offer training to better understand new timber harvest rules that go into effect Jan. 1. The new rules are designed to better protect fish and wildlife.

The rule changes came about from legislation that supported the landmark Private Forest Accord, which was an agreement between the timber industry, small forest landowners, and conservation groups.

“These are the most sweeping changes to the Forest Practices Act (FPA) since it was enacted in 1973,” said Jennifer Ward, Forest Resources Division training coordinator. “We are providing several training opportunities to help people better understand the changes and the possible impacts on their land.”

People living in the West are breathing in 27 times more pollution from wildfire smoke than they were 10 years ago.

That’s according to a study by the website Climate Central. The study reports that 2023 is the worst wildfire season the Northern Hemisphere has seen in 17 years, with the worst air quality in the western half of the U.S.

Researchers say health issues such as eye irritation, heart disease, asthma and death have increased as much as 66 percent in some areas in the last decade.

The report also says the current warming climate will continue to produce larger wildfires and smoke pollution for years to come.

Recent heavy rainfall has dropped the wildfire potential outlook down to normal for the Northwest, according to the National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook.

In Washington, a total of 165,365 acres burned this season, according to Angie Lane, who works for the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in the wildland fire management division. The 10-year annual average for acres burned is 472,881.

Still, Washington marked its second-highest number of fire-starts this year at 1,884. That falls just behind 2015 when 2,013 ignitions were reported.

The Northwest Interagency Coordinating Center (NWCC) reported 41 large fires burned in Washington this year and 44 in Oregon. NWCC considers large fires to be 100 acres or more in timber, 300 acres or more in grass, or when a Type 1 or Type 2 Incident Management Team is assigned.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) Forest Health Research Program has awarded $5.5 million to support 15 scientific research studies.

The results of these studies will provide critical information and tools to forest landowners, resource agencies, fire management organizations, and policy makers across California on a variety of topics related to forest health and forest management. Research projects are expected to produce scientific publications, outreach and education events, and decision support tools.

Proposals selected for award include research projects focused on post-fire restoration, forest resilience to pests, new decision support tools for communities and homeowners, and the use of national Forest Inventory and Analysis data to inform biomass estimates in forests and shrublands. Grantees include the University of California, Northern Arizona University, University of Wyoming, and the USDA Forest Service, among others.

Funding for these grants comes from Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds through the California Climate Investments program and the Wildfire and Forest Resilience budget package.

Oregon has yet to deliver 1,100 units of permanent housing planned after catastrophic wildfires displaced vulnerable families three years ago this month, a review by The Oregonian newspaper reported..

State administrators pledged to rebuild communities and told lawmakers at least some replacement housing for low-income and working-class Oregonians would be ready as soon as fall 2022. Officials blew past those early timelines and have divulged little information publicly about the problems causing delays.

The state through this spring committed $183 million for 17 projects with 1,100 units, but none has been completed. Two of the largest projects, in southern Oregon, are substantially behind schedule and timelines for completion remain murky. In one case, agency leaders failed to effectively navigate warnings about alleged construction defects and didn’t tell people expecting the homes until 14 months later.

As a result, some low-income Oregonians waiting for years to move into new homes or apartments remain stuck living in state-funded RVs or former hotel and motel rooms converted into cramped studios.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that aims to restore ecosystems and boost carbon storage and sequestration through tree planting, fire risk reduction projects, and expanded use of forest products and new wood technologies.

The legislation will increase revegetation, wildfire prevention, and hazardous fuels reduction projects, as well as expand the use of wood products, said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Virginia, one of the bill’s sponsors.

The measure was lauded by the Society of American Foresters, the American Wood Council, the American Forest Resource Council, and the National Association of State Foresters.

“The devastating wildfires we’ve seen over the past year are proof once again that the Federal government must take a proactive role in improving the resiliency of our forests and that can also help to reduce carbon emissions,” said Manchin.

At least a dozen windows were smashed at the World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon, as a timber-industry conference got underway. The conference, called “Who Will Own the Forest?”, continued amid protests.

The group that organized demonstrations outside the center’s campus denied responsibility for the vandalism. An anonymous blog post on a website dedicated to disseminating anti-fascist messages took credit.

A small group of activists blocked the entrance to the conference, chanting “Shame” and “Clean water, clean air, not another billionaire,” a Pacific Northwest Forest Climate Alliance spokesperson said in a statement.

Windows and doors were boarded up with plywood as demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk with signs and banners.

Activists from organizations that are part of the Pacific Northwest Forest Climate Alliance were in attendance, protesting the environmental impacts of logging and, more broadly, big-business ownership of forests.




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