- Author: Kim Ingram
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
Reposted from the UCANR Green Blog
Thinning a forest of woody materials has multiple objectives. It can increase the resiliency of the remaining trees from the effects of fire, drought, pest and disease; it can improve habitat quality for wildlife including watersheds; and it can make it easier for firefighters to protect human lives and livelihoods when a fire is burning. There are several ways thinning is carried out: cable logging, feller bunching, conventional tractor skidding, hand-thinning and piling, and mastication. One of the issues with thinning is the disposal of biomass that is non-merchantable (e.g., branches, tree tops, small diameter trees). Typically this material goes into large slash piles. For the most part, these piles are left in the forest to break down naturally under winter rain and snows, and are later burned. Because of strict air quality rules, forest managers have very small windows of opportunity to burn these piles, so they are often left on the landscape for many years, sometimes becoming a fire hazard themselves.
Forested communities are searching for ways to deal with this residual biomass that will improve the health of the forest ecosystem; improve and protect critical watersheds and wildlife habitat; reduce the amount of air pollution by removing the piles instead of burning them; and reduce the critical fire danger to their communities. The Placer County Biomass Program is taking up this challenge by chipping the slash piles and trucking the chips to a biomass facility to be converted into electricity.
Outside of Foresthill, Calif., the Tahoe National Forest American River Ranger District and the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) have been collaborating on a study of forest fuels reduction treatments carried out on national forests. The eight-year ‘Last Chance’ study involves independent third party research by University of California scientists of the integrated effects of forest thinning on fire hazard, forest health, wildlife, water quality and quantity, and public participation. The Placer County Biomass Program, in conjunction with the Tahoe National Forest, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) and the Placer County Air Pollution Control District, proposes to remove some of the biomass waste from the Last Chance project to provide an alternative to open burning of the piles. Local contractors are hired to grind the material on-site, load the material into chip vans, and bring the material to market within 60 miles of the Last Chance site to create green, renewable electricity. Placer County estimates that roughly 3,000 Bone Dry Tons (BDTs) of biomass can be removed. According to UC researchers, one BDT burned in a typical commercial boiler fuel will produce 10,000 pounds of steam and 10,000 pounds of steam will produce about 1,000 horsepower or generate 1 megawatt hour (MWH) of electricity.
The economics of this project will be used as part of the assessment of locating a biomass energy facility in the Foresthill area. The removal of these biomass piles will greatly reduce the possibility of catastrophic fire to the local communities on the Foresthill Divide. The improved forest and watershed health will be noticed by the local community and the surrounding county which derives recreation and watershed benefits from the American River area. In addition, several tons of air pollutants will be avoided by removing the pile burns from this area which is currently a federal non-attainment basin that carries both business and health risks to the local population.
Though this project is of benefit to the Foresthill community, other communities in the wild-land urban interface aren’t as lucky. According to Brandon Collins, research scientist at the Pacific Southwest Research Station and UC Berkeley, the lack of funding to chip and remove slash piles and the lack of infrastructure or facilities to take the chips to, makes it impossible at this time to remove that biomass at a larger scale.
“There is so much woody material on the landscape as a result of fire exclusion, it could take decades to really get a handle on it," Collins said. "However, any effort to remove thinning residues from the forest and to also get a benefit from it, such as energy, is great and should be supported.”
- Author: Bill Stewart
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
By Bill Stewart, Co-Director, UC Center for Forestry, originally published at http://www.calforests.org/what-twenty-years-of-concerted-public-safety-oriented-forestry-looks-like/ on September 13, 2013
The 2013 Rim Fire that burned across large areas of the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park brought national attention to the issue of how to increase the resiliency of forests to survive wildfires. There is considerable well-documented evidence that fuels are no longer limiting fires in the Western US and that they are getting larger and more expensive to manage (e.g. Miller et al. 2009, Miller et al. 2011). For example, a recent analysis concluded that “the percentage of high-severity fire in conifer-dominated forests was generally higher in areas dominated by smaller-diameter trees than in areas with larger-diameter trees.” (Miller et al. 2011). There is also considerable evidence that treatments that preferentially take out the smaller diameter trees (‘thin from below’) and focus on trees with signs of incipient mortality can significantly reduce the fire risk while still preserving most of the ecological characteristics of large tree dominated stands (e.g. Stephens et al. 2009, Moghaddas et al. 2010, Stephens et al. 2012a, Stephens et al. 2012b, Stephens et al. 2012c). In plain English, there is too much kindling in our forests and reducing fuel levels can extend the lifetimes of the big trees in forest stands.
While federal agencies often depend on prescribed fire and light thinning to increase fire resiliency, private and public land managers who produce sawlogs destined for renewable building products are interested in a wider range of approaches. Burning up trees that could have provided sustainable building products, renewable energy, and sufficient revenue to cover management costs is not a scenario favored by most forest landowners. Often lost in the discussion of the impact of the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park is the opportunity to integrate fire risk reduction with sustainable and profitable forest management.
From our surveys of family forest owners we know that half of forest landowners want to do vegetation management to reduce fire risk (Ferranto et al. 2012). They want to work together with their neighbors and local fire districts. We noted that most of these landowners also value environmental attributes such as fish and wildlife habitats, native plants, and aesthetics in addition to the revenue generating potential of their lands. However, most of these owners are wary of using prescribed fire by itself or in combination with thinning treatments. Not surprisingly, landowners are also averse to losing money on any major resource management activity. They often reinvest timber revenues to reduce risks in areas but they will rarely borrow money from other assets they have and invest in fire risk reduction (Stewart et al. 2012, Stewart and Nakamura 2012).
The 4,270 acre Blodgett Forest Research Station is owned by the University of California and is managed to demonstrate the full range of management approaches that can be used by forest land managers and owners to accomplish their unique goals. We have worked hard to make the results on a wide variety of forest related themes available on our web sites, through publications, and with field trips for landowners, professionals and other interested parties. At Blodgett, one project that always gets considerable attention on field trips is our twenty year effort to create a fire resilient corridor into the office and residential area within the Blodgett Forest Research Station.
Figure 1: Blodgett manager Rob York explaining how the treatments to create the more open stand on the right reduced fire risk and still maintained a fast growing stand. The denser stand to the left of this photo has not been managed since it grew back a century ago.
Following extensive logging with railroads and steam engines from 1900 to 1933, the young stands at Blodgett were compartmentalized and assigned to a wide range of even-aged, uneven-aged, and reserve management. Harvest activity on the regenerating forest began in earnest in 1962 and has continued annually to the present. The wide range of treatments applied consistently over time, coupled with comprehensive permanent plots established beginning in 1974 has enabled the longest available empirical assessment of diverse forest management impacts and tradeoffs in productive forests of the Sierra Nevada.
An ever present challenge is the fact that in the high fire season we house up to 45 researchers in the middle of our forest. In the mid 90’s, we recognized the risk of having 45 non-fire fighters in the middle of a dense forest is risky and decided that public safety must trump research goals around the buildings and along the access road. We used a combination of commercial harvests coupled with surface fuel treatments and have now thinned these stands from below (keeping the large health trees) three times. Our detailed inventory data shows that we have been able to maintain high growth rates, large average tree size, high biomass volume per acre, and good separation between the crowns of the large trees. This will allow us to successfully evacuate if a wildfire ever swept through.
The comparison of the 1993 aerial view and the 2012 aerial view after three harvests clearly shows the four historical images with the project unit outlined in white at the end of this document show the progression of the fuelbreaks in between our other research treatments.
Figure 2: 1993 aerial view of Blodgett Forest and the main entrance road
Figure 3: 2012 aerial view of the fuel reduction corridor along the entrance road
From our detailed records of the forest conditions as well as what we harvested, we know that these treatments have paid for themselves. Even with a only 40, and now 30 large trees per acre, these stands are still capturing much of the growth potential as the large and healthy trees continue to put on girth and height.
While Blodgett was able to design the fuel breaks under a larger timber harvest plan (THP) that covered many other units, other landowners could be dissuaded from undertaking this public safety oriented actions due to the complexity of filing for a full blown THP. State and federal agencies often spend $500 to $1,500 per acre to reduce fire risks, but public funds are scarce and the task is large. Much greater sums can be spent putting out fires. As a public policy, making it easier for forest landowners to invest their own revenue in risk reduction and improving the quality of their stands to get larger trees, better habitat, and protected water quality makes sense.
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
Here's the weekly forest news digest from Greg Giusti:
Nearly half of western wildfire costs go to California, ALYSON KENWARD/and UROOJ RAJA, Climate Central, 08/29/2013
With one of California's largest-recorded wildfires still burning largely uncontained and threatening water and electricity for millions, the total bill for fighting U.S. wildfires in 2013 is now likely to soar well past $1 billion. By the time the blaze is put out, which could be weeks from now, California's Rim Fire will likely be among the most expensive wildfires of the year. In fact, during the past 10 years, $4 billion has been spent fighting wildfires in California, more than in any other state.....
Fire is largest ever in recorded Sierra history, Manteca Bulletin, August 28, 2013,
GROVELAND (AP) — Unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada for theexplosive conflagration chewing up the rugged landscape on the edge of Yosemite National Park, forestry experts say. The fire had ravaged 288 square miles by Tuesday, the biggest in the Sierra’s recorded history and one of the largest on record in California. Containment increased to 20 percent but the number of destroyed structures rose to 111 and some 4,500 structures remained threatened. .....
Forest Service policy: Squelching Sierra fires left forest ready to burn, Associated Press, The Oregonian, August 28, 2013
GROVELAND, Calif. — Unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada for the explosive conflagration chewing up the rugged landscape on the edge of Yosemite National Park, forestry experts say. The fire had ravaged 288 square miles by Tuesday night, making it the biggest fire in the Sierra's recorded history and one of the largest on record in California. Containment held steady at 20 percent, but the number of destroyed structures rose to 111, and some 4,500 structures remained threatened. At least 31 residences were among those lost......
Commentary: Wildfires Underline Need for Active Forest Management By Elisa Noble, California Farm Bureau Federation, Sierra Sun Times, August 28, 2013
Anyone driving from the Central Valley to the Sierra knows that this year's fire season is in full swing. The American Fire in the Tahoe National Forest area of Placer County is one of at least four wildfires currently burning along the Sierra Nevada range. At more than 20,200 acres and 66 percent contained as of press time, we are gratified that firefighters are getting close to mopping this one up. But other fires, such as the Rim Fire in Tuolumne County.....
Forest Service budget to fight wildfires is depleted, Devon Merling, Deseret News, Aug. 27 2013
For the second year in a row, the Forest Service has exhausted its entire budget for fighting fires, according to the Washington Post. The news comes as wildfires rage across the West, including the Rim fire in California near Yosemite National Park, which has so far burned 160,980 acres and is only 20 percent contained, according to the Forest Service's Active Fire Map. According to the Post, nearly 3 million acres have burned in the United States so far this year. As of last week, the Forest Service had spent $967 million of the firefighting budget, leaving only $50 million in the budget for the rest of the year......
Bill to ban lead bullets may spark higher fire danger, Michelle Orrock, Flash Report, August 28, 2013
(*Reader note: Cosumnes CSD Fire Department provides fire, rescue and emergency medical services to an area covering more than 157 square miles, including the cities of Elk Grove and Galt, and a population of approximately 160,000.)
The California Department of Finance just estimated that the state has already spent $44 million on its firefighting expenses. According to their spokesperson, that amounts to a quarter of what was budgeted, and the fiscal year just began. As a local elected official charged with the fiscal management of a large fire district, these numbers are cause for concern. Whether we are looking at pension obligations and budget constraints or environmental issues like drought – the growing state and local costs to protect communities from fire is serious.....
Judge upholds cap-and-trade auctions in tentative ruling, Debra Kahn, Greenwire, August 28, 2013 (subscription required)
A California judge yesterday denied business groups' bid to overturn the state's system of distributing greenhouse gas permits, in a tentative ruling issued one day before this morning's oral arguments. Judge Timothy Frawley of Sacramento Superior Court said California's 2006 global warming law, A.B. 32, gives the state wide discretion to select the method by which it caps greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020. The California Chamber of Commerce and other groups had alleged that the state-run auctions amounted to an illegal tax on businesses.....
Is CEQA Reform Coming Up Short? Tom Scott, Executive Director, California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Fox & Hounds Daily, August 27th, 2013,
Is substantial CEQA reform possible or is it coming up short? The latest version of state Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s SB 731 falls short of what should be the ultimate goal of any CEQA reform: stopping abusive CEQA lawsuits while preserving CEQA’s ability to protect the environment. Last week, SB 731 advanced out of the Assembly Local Government Committee and, by the looks of it, the “elusive middle ground” that Sen. Steinberg seeks was very elusive in this bill.
Big reform of CEQA bogs down, Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee, AUG. 23, 2013
Substantially overhauling the 40-year-old California Environmental Quality Act may still happen, but with just two weeks remaining in the legislative session, it probably won't happen this year. Gov. Jerry Brown wants it to happen. He once criticized CEQA, signed by Ronald Reagan a couple of years before Brown succeeded him as governor, as "a blob," and in calling for reform, said, "I've never seen a CEQA exemption I don't like." However, environmental groups that wield great power in the Legislature are very resistant to change, as are labor unions that have used the environmental law to thwart non-union development, such as big-box retail stores......
Another lawsuit aims to stop Willits bypass work, GLENDA ANDERSON
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 27, 2013
Environmentalists have filed another lawsuit aimed at stalling work on the Willits bypass. They will be asking a Mendocino County judge on Wednesday for an injunction to stop soil from being moved from timber company property to wetlands Caltrans is filling as part of the $210 million, 5.9-mile Highway 101 bypass around Willits. The bypass, conceived more than five decades ago, has increasingly sparked opposition as it verges on reality. It generated another lawsuit last year and a multitude of protests since construction began early this year. Proponents say the bypass will alleviate traffic jams.....
Could Fires Influence Tax Decision? Joel Fox, Fox & Hounds Daily, August 26th, 2013
Firefighters are battling the Rim Fire near Yosemite, one of the largest fires in California history — but that’s not all. According to Cal Fire, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection site that monitors fires in the state, as I write this column, 8300 firefighters are battling a dozen California wildfires. The tongues of these fires lick against some policy and legal concerns the state faces. While the fires raise alarms about natural resources, the potential lose of life and property, and in the case of the Rim Fire, the water and power sources for the city of San Francisco, the fires will once again put a focus on the controversial fire tax. You might remember the fire tax was passed as a fee a couple of years ago. It affects
property owners in State Responsibility Areas for fire prevention......
Agency taking back federal funds, BECKY BOHRER, San Jose Mercury News, 08/22/2013
JUNEAU, Alaska—The U.S. Forest Service plans to take a portion of the timber payments it has promised or paid out to 22 states, citing federal budget cuts. Collection letters from Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell went out to governors around the country Monday, saying money would be taken from funds used for habitat improvement and other national forest-related projects that put people to work under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. Oregon stands to lose the most in the move, with nearly $4 million in reductions. That would leave the state with about $3.4 million under that program......
Rim fire: Disaster shows need to invest in Sierra forests and California's water supply, Brian Dahle and Rich Gordon, San Jose Mercury News, 08/26/2013
The two of us have many differences. One is a Republican, the other a Democrat. One represents a rural district, the other predominately suburban communities. There is plenty we do not agree on. But we are in total agreement on the benefits that flow from the Sierra Nevada to all of California, the most obvious of which is water. The Rim wildfire, which continues to encroach on Yosemite National Park and now threatens the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, is just one example of the environment degradation that jeopardizes the Sierra's many resources. Additional investments are necessary to ensure water continues to be delivered throughout California and that the forests remain a state icon.......
Divestment of fossil fuel holdings up for vote by Silicon Valley water district, Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, Aug 26, 2013
In the 1980s, hundreds of American cities, states and universities sold their investments in South African companies as part of a protest against that country's former apartheid government. Now, environmental groups are trying to duplicate that effort, but with global warming polluters in the role of villain. And, just as with South African divestment a generation ago, the Bay Area is at the head of the parade again, prompting cheers from environmentalists and jeers from skeptics who say the whole effort amounts to little more than empty symbolism.....
Bill to protect mountain lions heads to governor, Aaron Kinney, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Aug 26, 2013
SACRAMENTO -- A proposed law to prevent the needless killing of mountain lions by state wardens cleared the Legislature on Monday and now awaits the approval of Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would give California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens broader authority to pursue nonlethal measures, such as trapping or tranquilizing, when dealing with lions that are spotted in residential areas. It was inspired by the fatal shooting Dec. 1 of two cubs as they huddled under the porch of a home in Half Moon Bay......
Feds change endangered species law rules despite GOP protest, Julian Hattem
The Hill, Aug 26, 2013
The Obama administration is finalizing a change to the way it protects the habitat of endangered and threatened animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, is framing the change as an increase
in transparency and cut to red tape, though Republicans have charged that it lets regulators rush through new regulations without proper oversight. Under the new rule, set to take effect Oct. 30, agencies’ determinations about the economic impact of protecting habitat will be released at the same time as the rule is proposed. Currently, the wildlife service publishes its analyses of the protections’ economic cost after the proposal and scientific backing come out......
Critics jump all over federal Sierra Nevada frog-protection proposal. Opponents worry the plan would do more to protect frogs and toads than nonnative trout — a top tourist draw in resort areas, Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2013
A federal proposal to make the Sierra Nevada as comfortable as possible for some of their rarest amphibian inhabitants has stirred a backlash from business owners over the economic pain it could cause the region's recreation industry. Many opponents worry the proposal would do more to protect frogs and toads than nonnative trout — a top tourist draw in mountain resort communities where cash registers ring up purchases by vacationers, hikers and fishing enthusiasts this time of year......
Loggers Get the OK to Kill Endangered Spotted Owls, Beth Buczynski
Care2, August 23, 2013
Endangered Species Act exists to protect biodiversity. It can only work when species listed as endangered are actually afforded the protections guaranteed to them in the Act. Unfortunately these days, even earning classification as an endangered species doesn’t always mean safety from harm. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service approved a plan that would allow Fruit Growers Supply Co. accelerate logging of occupied spotted owl habitat in California’s old growth forests......
- Posted by: Susie Kocher
After a three-hour drive getting to know my driving buddies, listening to Fleetwood Mac and reveling in the forested landscape, we arrived. Lines of small wooden shanties and long dormitories circled around a campfire classroom, and small hand-painted signs directed us to various camp buildings, classrooms and bathrooms. As I tried to contain my excitement, I saw a handful of other campers who looked just as overwhelmed as I felt, unable to believe that this was to be our home for the next two months.
That first day of camp transported me back to a time when friends were made around picnic tables instead of 600-person lecture halls or random parties. After I found one of my friends, we sat near the entrance of camp and attempted to get to know the people we’d be spending all our time with. We helped people unload, found unclaimed rooms, played table tennis and shared our fears of spending the next two months without reliable cellphone service or social media.
One of my friends from the Volvo became my new roommate, and we chose our room based on the beautiful piece of bark near the door and the giant sugar pinecone hanging from the ceiling. Our “suga’ shack,” as it came to be known as, was a tiny, room-sized building with two tiny beds, two desks, fold-up chairs and little room for anything else. The rooms were open to the air, with screened doors and wooden walls that turned into metal mosquito netting about five feet up. We noticed that there were already families of spiders throughout it, with their intricate webbing tying together various pieces of furniture. Although we swept away the webs that day, by the end of camp, various critters — including squirrels, crickets, ants, yellow jackets and spiders — were normal companions in any building we inhabited.
During these eight weeks, I learned more about the forest than I thought I’d ever know. We learned about soil site indexes, forest pathogens, measurements and logging techniques. We took field trips to lumber mills and logging shows, and we climbed mountains and took plant quizzes on the way up. I learned how to climb a tree, hold a fire hose and properly chop wood. I woke up to the call of the Mountain Chickadee’s “Heeyyyy hippieee” call and went to sleep cradled by the light of the moon. Our days were hard; there’s no denying the struggle of waking up at 7 a.m. and not being done with class until 5:30 p.m., but now, comfortably sitting in my house with a hot cup of coffee and a cat, it’s incredible how lucky we were to have a living classroom that we could shape and be shaped by.
It’s difficult to properly articulate all of the memories I’ve made at camp. Relating my experiences to my friends and family since I’ve been home seems to almost cheapen the activity or make it seem even more surreal than it already feels. We spent our afternoons crick-dippin’, Lover’s leapin’ and thriftin’ at the local thrift stores, but just saying that doesn’t let you feel the cold water of the leap after a five-hour day in the field or laugh at the strange variety of souvenirs we found in Quincy shops. Looking through the lens of real life, these seem like activities that you could do anywhere and with anyone. But sharing those memories with the beautiful individuals I was lucky enough to meet this summer made it an experience that I can never forget.
I first heard about Forestry Camp from various friends in the College of Natural Resources, who raved about the amazing food, the weekend adventures and the general debauchery that usually occurs when large groups of college students congregate. Sure, I thought, this would be an opportunity to have the camp experience I never received as a child, a time to make great friends and maybe learn a few things about trees. What I didn’t realize at the time was how meaningful those eight weeks would be in molding my future aspirations and providing a platform for clarifying my passions and talents. Not to mention the eight weeks of giggle fests, late night fires and inside jokes that have made me doubt my ability to assimilate back into faced-paced city living. Now, as I get ready to move into my apartment and start my senior year of college, I’m so proud that I took that initial jump of faith in applying for camp.
What I learned this summer is that whether it’s a difficult class, a university-accredited forest camp in the summer or committing to Ultimate Frisbee, trying new things can have some great rewards. And, as college students, what better time is there than now to start exploring?
- Author: Jaime Adler