(LONG) Cost of fighting fires cast doubt on national plan
Donald L Ferrt
wolfbat359 at mindspring.com
Tue Jul 2 08:25:25 EST 2002
dwheeler at ipns.com (Daniel B. Wheeler) wrote in message news:<6dafee1b.0207012156.5c833b3d at posting.google.com>...
> From The Oregonian, July 1, 2002, p A1
> Cost of fighting fires cast doubt on national plan
> Critics say the approach, designed to end squabbles and skyrocking
> costs, is inherently flawed
> By JIM BARNETT and Tom DETZEL, The Oregonian
> WASHINGTON - As wildfires rage across the tinder-dry West this
> summer, the government is unleashing torresnts of money for
> helicopters, bulldozers and highly trained smoke jumpers in a fire
> season that is threatening to become of the costliest ever.
> But a new reality is taking hold in Washington: Firefighting and
> prevention costs are spiraling to budget-busting heights. And with
> more record-breaking fire seasons forecast, politicans fear there
> won't be enough money to go arund.
> The situation has provoked an unlikely shouting match. At a hearing
> in May, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., normally an ally of President Bush,
> accused the administration of failing to thin overgrown forests in his
> state, where the biggest fires now rage.
I thought Sen. Domenici said it was the thick underbrush instead of
> "Somebody in the administration has to fight for what you say you
> believe in," Kyl barked at representatives from the U.S. Forest
> Service and the Department of Interior, the agencies that control most
> federal firefighting dollars.
> It wasn't supposed to come to this.
> After record fires in 2000. President Clinton and the Republican
> Congress approved the National Fire Plan, hoping to end perennial
> squabbles by setting long-term goals and earmarking $2.2 billion a
> year to meet them.
> Oregon has been spared so far in the 2002 fire season. But with
> double the normal number of acres already scorched nationwide, the
> season is shaping up as a test of Washington's commitment to the
> 10-year plan.
Well, if they have the drought Colorado and Arizona has, then it will
have the fires!
A letter from the Denver Post talking about fires when everything was
Huge fires are not new
While vigorously campaigning in areas of wildfires, Govs. Jane Hull
(Arizona) and Bill Owens and U.S. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton
have promoted the policy of cutting timber to prevent forest fires.
They support the argument by pointing to a historical time when there
was considerably less timber. Cleaning up the forest might be sound
policy to prevent wildfires - except that wildfire disasters occurred
during that golden era.
Some examples, according to "The National Forests," by Arthur H.
Carhart (Knopf, 1959):
1871, Peshtigo, Wisc.: Fire burned more than 1.2 million acres and
took more than 1,500 lives.
1881, Manistee and Ausable Valley, Mich.: Fire burned 2 million acres
and cost 169 lives.
1894, Hinckley, Minn.: Fire took 418 lives.
1910, Montana/Idaho Great 1910 Fire: Burned an area 25 to 30 miles
wide and 120 miles long - 3 million acres. Most of the burn occurred
in 24 hours. It took 84 lives.
1918, Cloquet, Minn.: Fire burned 250,000 acres and cost more than 453
It is clear that a return to some golden age of forest management will
not accomplish the goals promoted by Hull, Owens and Norton.
The writer is a history columnist for The South Routt Now.
> Critics cite Kyl's invective as just one signal that the fire plan
> might not succeed. At its core, the plan turns decades of fire policy
> on its head by emphaasizing prevention and fuel reduction instead of
> just putting out all fires.
> But the plan contains an inherent conflict, critics said. Although
> much of the fire money is earmarked for thinning forests and planning
> for contained fires, federal land managers can also tap those funds to
> snuff out wildfires in their ealiest stages - and may be forced to do
> so in big fire years.
> The result, critics said, is a firefighting bureaucracy better
> equipped than ever to undermine its own objectives, particularly when
> timberlands are dry and politicians demand quick action to protect
> constitutents, as in Arizona, where the biggest fire in the state's
> history has consumed hundreds of rural homes.
> "The National Fire Plan is nothing more than a big pot of money,"
> said Jonathan Oppenhemier, an associate of the Idaho COnservation
> League and a leading critic of the plan since its inception. "You
> could say it is destined for failure becuase it doesn't redefine how
> we respond to fire."
> Behavior patterns
> Federal land-management agencies, especially the Forest Service, have
> a decades-long tradition of fighting fires as if going to war. They
> throw in every available resource, even against long odds of success
> and with only second thoughts of accounting for cost
> The suppression policy was adopted to preserve valuable timber
> particularly in the West, where the threat of fire was often greatest.
> It also made for good politics: The effort was expected, and the
> agency and its firefighters were showered with gratitude.
> "You almost always have to spend a lot of money to do a big show of
> ofrce just to demonstrate you're doing everythying you possibly can
> and, I would add parentheically, even if it may not do a lot of good,"
> said Jim Furnish, a former deputy Forest Service chief who retired
> last year.
> Over time, the policy altered the natural cycle of fire and forest
> health. Forests across the West grew thick with underbrush and small
> trees that fueled small sparks into stand-destroying conflagrations.
> Federal policy changed in 1995, after the deaths of 14 firefighters,
> including nine from Pinreville, in the Storm King fire in Colorado.
> From then on, federal land managers were told to identify areas that
> could be allowed to burn with little risk to life or property.
> But altering ingrained agency culture was harder than expected, said
> Michael Rains, a Forest Service researchers. Land managers still err
> on the side of caution, haunted by the prospect of losing a fire that
> seems to be under control.
> "If you spend 60 years in a certain way, then it's difficult to begin
> to change that," said Rains, who specializes in studying large fires.
> "When you want to order u a tanker, you order up a tanker. You just do
> it. You don't really thing about any more than that."
> High cost of small fires
> Spending patterns identified by The Oregonian suggest that although
> fire plan mony might have prevented some catastrophic fires, the extra
> funds also may have the potential to reinforce wasteful, if
> well-intentioned, behavior.
> The newspaper analyzed records of 130,000 fires fought by the Forest
> Service from 1990 through 2001 to determine how much the agency spent
> to extinguish each acre and also to track cost trends over time.
> The analysis showed that the cost of fighting small fires, those
> fewer than 1,000 acres, soared as fire plan money was made available.
> The cost reached $2,252 per acre in 2001 after holding steady at less
> than $2,000 for seven years.
> The trend suggests that new resources had been trained on small fires
> before they threatened homes and businesses that have encroqached on
> wildlands, said Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture who oversees
> the Forest Service.
> "If we suppress them, we're going to incure a significant cost per
> acre compared to if we lose them," Rey said.
> Indeed, one tenet of the fire plan is to protect communities and
> homes near or on federal land with a high fire risk.
> But the cost of fighting big fires, those burning more than 10,000
> acres, also climbed as fire plan money became available, setting a
> record cost of $660 per acre in 2001, the data show.
> Critics said the trend is evidence the agencies persist in throwing
> resources at big fires with the same old institutional inertia. If the
> fire plan were working as envisioned, the cost of fighting big fires
> would go down, they said.
> "It just seems like we're stuck on this hamster wheel of, you get a
> big fire, you put all kinds of resources on it, and then basically
> pray for the weather to change," said Furnish, the former Forest
> Service dputy chief. "It seems lik there ought to be a better way."
> Pouring money on blazes
> This year, with kiln-dry conditions across vast swaths of the West
> and more than twice the average acreage ablaze, suppression costs are
> piling up fast.
> Federal agencies are spending $12 million a day to fight major fires,
> dispatching a huge array of equipment and an army of 15,000
> firefighters to the front lines of blazes that by Sunday covered
> nearly 1 million acres.
> When more resources are aailable, local fire managers use them.
> Rather than risk losing control of a fire, they often order as much
> firefighting power as regional commanders allow.
> "As our intiial incident commanders began to realize things were no
> longer the same out there with fuel loading, they began to make
> decisions quicker and, in my mind, better," said Tom Andrade, former
> assistant fire manager for the Deschutes National Forest. "It used to
> be that you'd go to a fire and you'd see one or two helicopters. Now
> it's not unusual to see three, four and five. And they run $3,500 to
> $4,000 an hour."
> That's not all. A single air tanker can cost $4,000 a day, plus
> $3,000 an hour to fly it and another $3,500 for a load of retardant. A
> 20-person fire crew costs $6,000 a day. Renting a bus to move crews
> can cost $450 a day.
> Budgets are already in tatters.
> The Forest Service, which traidtionally spends the most, has eaten
> through almost all of its $321 million fire suppression budget and
> predicts it will need more than twice that amount to last through the
> Likewise, the four Interior Department agencies that fight fires have
> spent half of their $160 million suppression budget.
> The fire season of 2000 still stands as a modern record, when 8.4
> milion acres burned and federal wildlife agencies spent a record $1.4
> billion on suppression. But the ferocity of this year's fires in
> rekindling memories of two years ago.
> "We'll have years where we'[ll probably have burned more acres and
> probably have expended more money," said Steward Lundgren, a budget
> analyst for the Forest Service. "But the importance of this one is the
> great loss of acres and great number of houses in a short period of
> The Rodeo-Chediski blaze in Arizona has burned through 452,000 acres,
> Since it began June 18, the fire has destroyed at least 423 homes and
> has cost $21 million to fight. Two big Colorado wildfires wiped out
> 190 homes and ran up a $53 million firefighting tab.
> Budget battle
> Back in Washington, the mountain toll of destruction is making
> politicians nervous that agencies won't have the time, money and
> attention to get back to the job of preventing more big fires in
> future years.
> And they have good reason to worry, according to the General
> Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
> In reports issued this year, the GAO said that although Congress
> nearly doubled annual spending undr the fire plan to $2.2 billion,
> Forest Service and Interior Department agencies had fallen short of
> meeting the plan's goals.
> More than half of federal land units lacked complete fire management
> plans, the GAO said, concluding that the agencies "have not
> effectively determined the amount of firefighting personnel and
> equipment needed" to fight wildfires.
> Posted as a courtesy by
> Daniel B. Wheeler
Anybody notice the article in the 'Rocky Mountain News' about more
effects the drought will have?
Beetles ravage state woodlands
Insects 'probably kill as many acres of trees a year as fire,' says
U.S. forestry expert
By Jim Erickson, News Science Writer
July 1, 2002
As wildfires consume vast swaths of Colorado forest, another force of
nature is quietly killing millions of the state's trees and fueling
future fires: bugs.
Like wildfires, insects prey on overcrowded, drought-stricken forests.
Epidemics of two tree-killing pests are now raging across Colorado,
teaming up with wildfires to transform the state's pine and spruce
"We have massive areas of forest that are really dense and thick, and
nature is telling us, 'I'm going to fix this problem, and I'm going to
do it through bugs or fire or a combination of fire and bugs,' " said
forester Frank Cross.
"The bugs are like a slow-moving fire," said Cross, head of the forest
health group for the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service.
"They're not as dramatic, but they probably kill as many acres of
trees a year as fire," he said. "They just do it quietly."
The mountain pine beetle and the spruce beetle are ravaging Colorado
forests. Both are brown-black boring beetles about the size of a
The female beetles drill through a tree's bark and into the succulent
cambium layer beneath, then lay eggs. When the beetle grubs hatch,
they devour the cambium and basically strangle the tree, severing the
pipeline that carries water and nutrients.
By the end of this summer, spruce beetles will have killed about a
million high-altitude Engelmann spruce trees in the Routt National
Forest north of Steamboat Springs. And there's no end in sight, said
forester Andy Cadenhead, head of the Routt's epidemic response team.
The Routt epidemic began with a freak 1997 windstorm that blew down
13,000 acres of spruce. The bugs gorged on the downed trees for
several years, then flew into nearby standing trees in 2000.
Since then, they've invaded more than 500,000 acres.
"At this stage, the appropriate terminology would be to say that we
have several hundred (spruce beetle) epidemics in the Routt,"
"It's mind-boggling, and the situation is much larger than the Routt
"I think there's about 3 million acres of spruce-fir forest in
Colorado, and we could see one-third of the mature spruce trees dead
in the next five to eight years," Cadenhead said.
At slightly lower elevations across Colorado, the mountain pine beetle
is feasting on drought-weakened ponderosa and lodgepole pines.
Normally, a vigorous pine can "pitch out" a boring insect, using sap
pressure to push the bug out through its entry hole and drowning it in
But in a drought, pines lack the sap pressure needed.
The current mountain pine beetle outbreak started in 1995, and the
number of killed trees has doubled each year since then, Cross said.
Aerial surveys show that mountain pine beetles killed at least 969,000
trees in Colorado between 1996 and 2001.
Pine beetle outbreaks normally last about 10 years, so the current one
could persist at least three more years, Cross said.
So far, the hardest-hit regions have been Grand and Eagle counties.
The Lake Granby area, the Williams Fork River near Henderson Mine, the
Troublesome Creek watershed, the Vail Valley and the Eagle River
Valley all have suffered heavy losses.
After the beetles eat their fill and kill the trees, they fly to new
feeding grounds. The dead trees aggravate the wildfire hazard for
years to come. "Dead needles burn better than live needles," Cadenhead
Insecticide spraying will begin around Steamboat Springs in September
to protect some uninfested trees. Two months ago, forest officials
also proposed removing infested trees and thinning the forest on 5,750
Those plans have been stalled by three administrative appeals filed
against the Forest Service -- two by environmental groups and one by
the timber industry. The environmentalists oppose the cutting plan,
while the timber folks say it doesn't go far enough, Cadenhead said.
The current spruce beetle epidemic could last eight to 10 years, said
retired Forest Service entomologist Bob Averill. Forest Service
computer models predict that 80 percent of the mature Engelmann spruce
trees could be killed in a region roughly bounded by the Wyoming
border on the north, Interstate 70 on the south, Meeker on the west
and Rocky Mountain National Park on the east.
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