As a government employee for an agency that provides essential emergency management services, you are not expected to say that your agency does not have enough resources to conduct their routine activities. But that is what Jim Hubbard, the Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry for the U.S. Forest Service was quoted as saying in an article in the San Francisco Examiner which we covered September 17. Mr. Hubbard, according to the article, said the USFS does not have enough resources to manage long-duration wildfires. This was the reason he gave for their policy this summer of full suppression of all fires, rather than letting some fires burn through remote areas for weeks or months with only minimum intervention by firefighters. In a two-page memo earlier this summer he directed that any fire strategy with restoration as one of the objectives must first be approved by a Regional Forester.
In the Associated Press article that was published on September 16, Mr. Hubbard was quoted as saying, “It looked like a fire year that would exceed our resource capacity to respond. We didn’t have the resources to cover long-duration events”.
Mr. Hubbard’s boss, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Tom Tidwell, in a “guest commentary” at the Denver Post, is now doing damage control about Mr. Hubbard’s comments, saying “our fire-management policy has not changed” and that restoring the health of our nation’s forests continues to be a “cornerstone”. He said “The Forest Service has the personnel and equipment to continue our policy of restoring the health of our nation’s forests”, and, “A national guidance memo by Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard in no way represents a departure from our standard fire-response policy.”
Mr. Tidwell explained that with the predicted severity of this summer’s fire season, they decided to be conservative in their approach to managing long-term fires, and directed that Regional Foresters be involved in decisions that had the potential to tie up large numbers of firefighting resources.
Our take on this is that to an extent, Mr. Tidwell confirms that a shortage of firefighting resources was indeed an issue. The primary theme of his article was that forest restoration will continue. While saying there were enough personnel and equipment “to continue our policy of restoring the health of our nation’s forests”, he never actually said there were enough to run a successful fire management program. The article emphasized restoration far more than fire suppression — which is not surprising for an agency that primarily grows trees, and has been forced to run a fire suppression organization on the side.
This approach will only encourage those who have been saying for decades that the five federal land management agencies need to divorce themselves from their fire management organizations to allow them to marry-up as a Wildland Fire Management Agency.
Thanks go out to Kelly