The U.S. Forest Service has banned the use of exploding targets in their Northern Region, which includes all lands administered by the USFS in the states of Montana and North Dakota, and in parts of South Dakota and northern Idaho. The ban, signed last week, will be in effect for a year, until May 9, 2015. This is considered a stop-gap measure while a longer term prohibition is being considered that will be incorporated into Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 261.
The decision by the Northern Region is in concert with other USFS areas that have banned the dangerous devices, including national forest system lands in the states of Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The announcement about the ban, issued by Jonathan L. Herrick, Special Agent in Charge and Faye L. Krueger, Regional Forester, included this statement:
The purpose of the order is to enhance public safety, and to protect our natural resources and property by restricting the use of explosives and exploding targets. The widening use of exploding targets on our National Forests and Grasslands has led to serious injuries, catastrophic wildfires, destruction of property and a significant loss and/or damage to our natural resources. This order provides authority for FS law enforcement officials on all Forests/Grasslands in Region 1 to enforce this restriction and to enhance our ability to protect our natural resources and the people who use them.
Exploding targets have become popular in the last two years with shooters who get a thrill from seeing the explosion when their bullet hits its mark. We have documented numerous wildfires that have been started by the exploding targets. They are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555.
In June, 2013, a man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed by an exploding target. After someone shot the device, shrapnel struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing his death.
We have written about exploding targets numerous times, and applaud this decision by the USFS Northern Region. Hopefully the Regional Foresters in California, and Regions 4, 8, and 9 have the courage to take the same step. (See the map below to decode the region numbers.)
Facnetwork.org has an interesting article about how residents in the northern California community of Butler successfully prepared for and responded to the Butler Fire, part of the Orleans Complex, in August of 2013.
…A significant investment in fire prevention work from the community, the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service during and after these fire events allowed firefighters to safely defend the 10 structures there during the Butler Fire.
Butler folks had faced this event before and were prepared, with the help of the local community and firefighters, to defend their homes once again. An old ditch line constructed by miners in the 1800’s was identified after the 2008 fires as the place to hold future fires upslope of the homes. Thirteen acres of prescribed burns had been conducted by the Orleans Somes Bar Fire Safe Council between this ditch and the homes below, since 2008, and in the past two years, the Salmon River Fire Safe Council had brushed more than 10 acres along the ditch line.
Burnouts on the western flank of the 2013 Salmon River Complex in Murderer’s Gulch caused thousands of acres of plantations to burn at high intensity.
As the fire approached, 40-plus community members who had just mobilized to help save the town of Orleans from another arson fire, came up to see how they could pitch in. While some crews prepared the homes for fire, others established perimeter firelines and brushed along the main water line. Still others organized an emergency evacuation plan for volunteers. Some people brought food, and supplies like brass fittings to get hydrants online. And Rebecca Lawrence, a Facebook pro, whipped up the Salmon River and Orleans Complexities Open Group that allowed people to communicate and organize even when phones were out and roads were closed. When the agency hotshot crews showed up a couple days later, they were grateful for the prep work already accomplished that allowed them to focus on bringing the fire safely past the homes with minimal use of burnouts…
A study conducted by Headwaters Economics explored how firefighting costs might be affected by the application of Firewise principles in a community. To achieve official status as a Firewise Community, it must get a written wildfire risk assessment from their state forestry agency or fire department. Second, communities are required to generate an action plan and form a board or committee based on their risk assessment. Next, they must organize and hold a public education “Firewise Day” event. The final step before applying requires that they invest at least $2 per person in annual Firewise actions.
But those requirements do not guarantee that a large percentage of homeowners will actually take steps to create defensible space or use fire resistant building materials on their structures. There is also no requirement that a community construct a large-scale fuelbreak that would reduce the intensity of an approaching wildfire and the accompanying ember shower that is the culprit for igniting most homes during a fire seige.
The study analyzed costs of 111 fires. Their conclusion was:
We find no evidence of a relationship between suppression costs and Firewise participation represented by: (1) the percent of homes in Firewise Communities for the area within 6 mi. (9.7 km) of wildfires, and (2) the Firewise-related expenditures by residents. The lack of evidence that Firewise reduces suppression costs suggests that policy makers attempting to address rising suppression costs are better served focusing on other solutions, including increasing suppression funding and managing future development in high-risk areas.
The Firewise program is not designed to reduce the costs of fire suppression. Its goals are to reduce the deaths of residents, protect private property from fire, and enhance the safety of firefighters and the general population.
During the course of the study the researchers interviewed 16 Type 1 and 2 Incident Commanders. Some of them stated that the patchwork nature of the creation of defensible space and the use of fire resistant building materials at the parcel level within a Firewise Community made it difficult to modify fire suppression tactics and strategy based on an official community-wide designation .
Yes, that is a new term to me also — “prescribed goat grazing”. I am familiar with the concept, just not the name. Back in the 1980s the Laguna-Morena Demonstration Area east of San Diego tried it as a demonstration project. A goat herd was used in brush covered remote areas near Pine Valley, California, and they did a great job in a confined space of reducing the amount of fuel that would be available for vegetation fires. They will eat almost anything.
A paper has been published titled, Goat grazing as a wildfire prevention tool: a basic review, by Raffella Lovreglio, Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar, Vittorio Leone. One thing the authors did not cover in detail was the cost of building goat pens, and fencing around areas that will become their pastures. On a relatively small scale or in a semi-urban area, that may not be a substantial consideration, but if you are attempting to treat thousands of acres and moving the goats every few weeks, you’re talking about a large investment in building and possibly moving fences. If it is possible to not fence their “pastures” (using dogs to keep them in the right place) and only provide a pen for when they are off duty at night, it would be less costly.
Below is the summary and conclusion of the paper, and after that their chart showing the strengths and weaknesses of using goats for fuel reduction.
“Prescribed goat grazing has the potential to be an ecologically and economically sustainable management tool for the local reduction of fuel loads, mainly 1h and 10h fine dead fuels and smaller diameter live fuels. These fine dead fuels can greatly impact the rate of spread of a fire and flame height, both of which are responsible for fire propagation.
Far from being a simple technique, prescribed goat grazing is more complex than simply putting a goat out to eat a plant; it requires careful evaluation of the type of animals and planning of timing. The technique also requires further research, since information about grazing for fuel reduction is anecdotal and there is only limited scientific information currently available, mainly for the Mediterranean area (, ).
The economically sustainable use of prescribed herbivory could be used for:
Maintenance grazing of fuel breaks with mixed goat-sheep flocks;
High impact browsing where prescribed burns are not possible (high cost service);
Specialized impact browsing in timber plantations (medium/high cost service);
Follow-up on burned areas (short term).
Goats are the most cost-effective, non-toxic, non-polluting solution available; they are greatly appreciated by the general public and they are an environmentally friendly and effective method of nearly carbon-neutral weed control which deserve further attention and applied research.”