“Fire is inevitable”

tree density wildfires exclusion
A screengrab from a video below illustrating how the number of trees per acre can increase if fires are excluded from an area.

In the first two in a series of 12 videos produced by the Santa Fe National Forest in Northern New Mexico, Fuels Program Manager Dennis Carril discusses the inevitability of vegetation fires and how fuel, standing trees and deep layers of litter, can build up as a result of fire exclusion. Each video is less than three minutes long.

The videos are “unlisted” on YouTube, however they have been promoted on Twitter by @SantafeNF and @DOIWildlandFire.

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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.

One thought on ““Fire is inevitable””

  1. It is true that we are an arid climate where decomposition of the pine needles (duff) on the forest floor is a slow process. However, the author of this video leaves the impression that he is holding 130 years of duff that has not decomposed. That impression is an exaggeration. In the early 1980’s it was not uncommon for the monsoon rains to sweep through every afternoon during the months of july and august. The duff did decompose at that time at a higher rate and fire was relatively infrequent because of sufficient monsoon rains, colder temperatures in the winter to kill off the bark beetles and deep snows. The author presents a simplistic description of what we face today. The FS created much of the problem we face today with small diameter trees crowding our forests by logging out the older growth large diameter trees and opening the canopy for the seedlings to explode in the sunlight reaching the forest floor. However, the major driver by far is the unrelenting change in the moisture and temperature and snow pack that has gripped not only the American SW but much of the world.
    Because we are dealing with such extremes conditions, the strategies that the forest service has chosen are not the wisest considering all the other related catastrophic problems that we have. First of all, the amount of black carbon soot from all sources of burning that we are pumping into the atmosphere is accelerating the rate of alpine snow melt by covering it with a grey surface that increases the absorption of the suns solar heat and at the same time is less effective in reflecting away this same solar heat from the surface of the earth ( albedo effect). This results in a closed loop of ever greater atmospheric temperatures and less efficient use of our alpine snow melt. The result is catastrophic in many ways. First of all, we are looking at crop failures due to temperature increases and lack of irrigation water. Starvation. Mass migrations of humans and animals seeking food and water is increasingly coming into view
    Urban planners are desperately trying to increase the white surfaces on roof tops to increase the reflectivity of our cities. The predicted temperatures for our SW cities paint a picture of ever increasing need for energy to power the demand for air conditioning . Phoenix has been predicted to become uninhabitable by 2050.
    The next issue is that the massive amount of smoke pollution that the USFS “fire as the answer to fire” programs will cripple generations of citizens in the US through increased disability and death due to heart, lung, stroke, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune disease. This will reduce our productivity, collapse our health care systems, increase absences from work and school and reduce our overall quality of life. There are plenty references to verify this prediction. Just because the FS has decided that they are going to embrace “fire as an answer to fire” does not mean that the basic physics of public health no longer exist.
    And lastly, the forests of the American SW are not really “natural” anymore. They sequester the radioactive debris from our legacy of atomic bomb testing during the 1950’s and 1960’s at the Nevada Test Site. The amounts and kinds of plutonium in individual bombs is still classified. So, although we know that certain bombs tended to dump their pay load on certain cities, counties and states, we do not really know what they dumped. The important thing to remember is that these radionuclides have long half lives. Plutonium 239 has a half life of 24,000 years and has an affinity for the lining of the bones.
    So, what can we do? Are we helpless? After all, we all have to die someday, right?
    Check out the Farm Bill section 5 where US Senators from Arizona, McSally and Sinema are sponsoring a change in our outdated log export laws that prohibit us from exporting logs in their unmilled form. This provision would allow Arizona to export the small diameter, low value trees to the orient to use in strand board, cardboard,etc. It would keep the biomass in its solid form, prevent the immediate release of the black carbon soot and CO2 into the atmosphere from burning and benefit mankind. Imagine all those empty Walmart containers headed back to China with these trees. Secondly, we need to look at ancient forests that man co-habitated with through the world. Until they were hunted out, most of these forests had evolved with large browsers that kept the ladder fuels down. We could reconstruct a similar tool here in the SW with professional meat goat graziers to keep our ponderosa seedling and other ladder fuels down in wildland urban interface areas. They were extremely effective in some of the California fires. Thirdly, the municipal reservoirs of Arizona are filling with the ash from fire. Not just catastrophic fires but all fires. With the ever increasing likelihood that this unrelenting drought is not departing anytime soon, leaving mulch on the forest floor is a good idea for these reservoirs. It stabilizes the soil during times of flooding and sequesters the CO2 and the radionuclides from the NTS bombs.
    What the FS paints as a simplistic problem is not really simple at all. The USFS perpetually acts as if their decisions exist in a vacuum.


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