New Age Forestry?

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Sat Dec 21 11:20:47 EST 2002

December 19, 2002  The Idaho Statesman

Prescribed fire is an effective forest management tool

by Dave Rittenhouse 

When the Western governors signed their fire management implementation
strategy just outside Idaho City, it was in a beautiful grove of large
ponderosa pine adjacent to a completed prescribed fire.
Their strategy, and other related policies clearly exemplify both the
challenge and opportunity to implement an understood and accepted fire
management program.

After seven years as supervisor of the Boise National Forest, I have
appreciated the never-ending complexities of natural resource
management. One problem is certain. Within this national forest, about
40 percent of the ponderosa pine forest has burned in the past 15
years with uncharacteristic intensity. The costs of suppression and
emergency watershed rehabilitation exceeded $100 million. We clearly
have an issue. More importantly we have an opportunity.

We live within fire-adapted ecosystems. We know historically that in
ponderosa pine forests, low-intensity, frequent fire removed brush and
small trees and increased nutrients. Today they are dominated by dense
vegetation and burn more intensely. Tools like thinning and prescribed
fire can help return them to more historical — and healthy
— conditions.

Several programs are occurring to accomplish this goal: 

• Completed in 1996, a “hazard risk” assessment to
recognize the potential for large severe wildfires and the
consequences of disturbance to the entire ecosystem. This assessment
told us where to focus time and energy.

• A significantly increased prescribed fire program, completing
nearly 60,000 acres within the past 10 years to strategically restore
the natural role of fire under controlled conditions.

• Emphasized fuel hazard reduction near eight communities and
rural intermix sites, with the use of prescribed fire and mechanized

• Enhanced work with partners, including the Bureau of Land
Management, Idaho Department of Lands and rural fire fighting
departments, for both fire suppression and fuel reduction.

• Four stewardship pilot programs, which exchange goods for
services and build collaborative relationships.

Prescribed fire is one of our key management tools because we decide
where and when to burn, thereby limiting smoke, resource damage and
threats to life and property. Eventually some “natural”
fire will be used, but only through careful planning. Letting all
wildfires burn is both irresponsible and unwise due to current
unhealthy forest conditions.

Selectively removing primarily small to mid-size trees is another
successful fuels reduction method, used in combination with prescribed

This activity is increasing. By thinning first, a prescribed fire
minimizes damage to residual trees. If we focus on what´s left behind
those beautiful large pine trees can be saved.

I foresee the Forest Service continuing to implement an integrated
watershed approach, mixing wildland urban interface with larger
watershed restoration projects by utilizing small diameter and
commercial tree removal, and prescribed fire. Some thinning projects
may need additional funding to pay contractors to complete projects.

Whatever the tools, whether thinning, prescribed fire, timber sales or
stewardship contracts, my hope is that public conversation will focus
on the end result of having a forest that can sustain fire and
maintain healthy watersheds.

Warm Springs Ridge, a 13,000-acre site halfway between Boise and Idaho
City, exemplifies the mix of fuel reduction activities to produce more
resilient conditions.

Small and mid-sized fire-sensitive trees are being removed through a
commercial timber harvest that retains larger ponderosa pine.
Prescribed fire, thinning and fuel breaks are also being used. This is
a perfect example of “progressive” forest management
practices tied to fuel reduction.

Near Yellow Pine, the community, Idaho Department of Lands, and the
Boise and Payette national forests have thinned and stacked smaller
trees for later burning. Private citizens cleared fuels from their
property. Although there isn´t yet a dependable market for the
small-diameter wood, small businesses and other entities are working
hard on promising ideas.

The Boise National Forest is quietly completing the very work that´s
being discussed.

And it´s working. 
Comment by poster: Some interesting stuff from one of my old Ranger
Districts. A pal I worked with in South Carolina just signed on with
the Boise National Forest there and is in charge of parts of the
silviculture department in Idaho City. Since the massive 200,000 acre
Rabbit Creek burn in 1995, Idaho City and the Boise NF have been
pushing for some kind of "sensible fuels management" and it looks like
they're implementing it now.
However, It's not a new idea and I have been pushing it for 10 years.
Everyone wants fire resistance in our forests but don't see the bigger
picture of drought resistance. They often go hand in hand and should
be linked in the treatments. A drought resistant forest should also be
fire resistant when treatments are complete.

Larry   eco-forestry rules!

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