Wildfire briefing, February 22, 2014

President Obama to meet with western governors about wildfire funding

On Monday President Obama will meet with the governors of some western states to discuss a change he is proposing in next year’s budget about how wildfires are funded. A busy and expensive wildfire season means the federal land management agencies have to rob dollars from routine ongoing non-fire activities to pay unusually high fire suppression expenses. And these busy and expensive fire seasons seem to be occurring with more regularity in recent years. The budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 would be similar to a bill introduced in the House, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2014 (H.R. 3992), which would create an emergency funding process for fire response. The funding mechanism would be structured along the same lines as procedures for paying for other natural disasters like floods and hurricanes.

Wildfires challenged early pioneers

The Santa Fe New Mexican has an interesting article by Marc Simmons about how early settlers had to occasionally deal with prairie fires as they traveled by horseback and wagon train across New Mexico and west Texas. Below is an excerpt:

…On another trip [in the 1830s, Josiah] Gregg’s caravan was chased by an approaching prairie fire, and it escaped just in time by reaching a bare stretch of country, devoid of grass. “These conflagrations,” he wrote, “are enough to inspire terror and daunt the stoutest heart.”

Capt. Randolph B. Marcy, leading a military expedition across the Southwest in the 1850s, had an experience similar to Gregg’s. One of his soldiers carelessly caught the grass on fire, threatening the supply wagons. He declared that only the most strenuous efforts by his 200 men in setting counter fires around the train saved the expedition from disaster.

Great danger, he said, came from troops throwing a lighted match or ashes from a pipe into the grass while marching. Matches were just then coming into general use, so that was a new problem.

When a prairie fire struck, various steps could be taken in the emergency. Marcy mentioned one, setting a counter or back fire. The hope was when the two fires met, the progress of both would be checked and they would die out.

However, we question something the author identified as one of the causes of fires that threatened travelers:

…But the sun could be blamed on occasion, when its refracted light on a piece of broken glass or bit of metal cast off by a wagon train set the grass ablaze.

It is very unusual for glass, broken or otherwise, to start a fire. But if a bottle contains water, in very rare circumstances it can act like a lens and concentrate sunlight, similar to a magnifying glass. We have never heard of an ordinary piece of metal causing a fire.

Utah’s “firefighting cows”

In recent years ranchers and state lawmakers in Utah have argued with the federal government over water rights on federal land that is used by cattle ranchers. In order to bolster their case, some of the ranchers point out that the animals reduce vegetation — and the threat from fires.

Below is an excerpt from the Deseret News:

Utah is a “livestock state” that recognizes the benefits that cattle confer on pubic lands, including keeping vegetative overgrowth at bay and thus reducing wildfire threats, said Sterling Brown of the Utah Farm Bureau.

“Cattle are one way to properly manage public lands,” he said. “We have deemed much of our livestock as firefighting cows because they have helped reduce fires out there.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Wildfire briefing, February 22, 2014”

  1. It doesn’t take much of a spark from a piece of metal striking a rock (or a rock striking another rock) to spark a smolder of fire. Was that a big cause of ignitions? Hardly. Did it cause a handful of ignitions here and there? Sure.

    As for the cattle grazing as a “firefighting tool” nonsense, that is one of the reasons why the West is in such bad ecological shape today. Cattle grazing reduces herbaceous fuels – once the primary carrier of fire in the West – and allows woody species to increase in dominance. This detrimental shift in species dominance is what has changed the various fire cycles in the West (the majority of North American included) and, among many negative effects, has led to the silly anti-fire culture we have today, which was further pounded into our modern culture during the heyday of the Smokey Bear generation. It’s really that simple.

    And for Utah to favor the ranchers and their non-native cattle, I expect nothing less, as historically, the sole economic incentive of land management in the welfare heifer states has been to degrade and destroy – all for a quick buck – complete with the most dumbfounding display of apathetic shortsightedness, proving they haven’t a clue about fire ecology in the West. 53% of the Earth’s land-based ecosystems evolved WITH fire, and the West is no exception. It’s a pretty obvious sign that cattle do not belong in the arid or semi-arid West if you have to pipe water from point A to point B to keep them alive.

    At least wildlife are smart enough to graze or browse an area and move on when there’s a lack of water, instead of standing around and noisily waiting for more taxpayer handouts. And that’s what public lands cattle grazing is all about, in order to supply only 5% of the nation’s beef.

    All is skewed in the welfare West, the birthplace of the Civil Water Wars.


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