US Forest Service pauses all prescribed fire operations

A 90-day review of practices is being conducted

Morning briefing on the Calf Canyon - Hermits Peak Fire
Morning briefing May 8, 2022 on the Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire as firefighters break out into Divisions. The Hermits Peak Fire started from an escaped prescribed fire on April 6, 2022. USFS photo.

The US Forest Service announced May 20 in a press release that a “pause” is in effect for all prescribed fire operations on National Forest System lands. The reason given for the pause is “because of the current extreme wildfire risk conditions in the field…while we conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools, and practices ahead of planned operations this fall,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said in the statement released late Friday afternoon.

The public statement from Chief Moore does not actually say in clear text why the review is being conducted, but the unmentioned elephant in the press release is the hundreds of thousands of acres burning and the weeks-long evacuation orders in New Mexico, some of it attributed to an escaped prescribed fire. However in an email sent to FS employees, the Chief wrote, “I’m sure you all have seen the stories in the news about recent prescribed burn escapes. These, as well as isolated incidents on other national forests in recent years, have made it imperative that we pause to review our processes. That’s why I am temporarily halting all prescribed burns on National Forest System lands and creating a review team consisting of representatives from the wildland fire and research community.”

At least two prescribed fires escaped in New Mexico in April. The Hermits Peak Fire escaped from the Las Dispensas prescribed fire northwest of Las Vegas on April 6. On April 22 it merged with the Calf Canyon Fire which was reported April 19 in the general area where another prescribed fire was ignited about three months earlier. Now a month after the Calf Canyon Fire was reported the FS is saying its cause is still under investigation.

The combined Hermits Peak / Calf Canyon Fire is still spreading. It has burned more than 303,000 acres and destroyed 347 homes and 287 other structures. Another 16,316 structures are threatened and evacuations are still in effect. An estimated $95 million has been spent so far on suppression of the fire.

On April 7 a prescribed fire being conducted by the Bureau of Land Management about 10 miles southeast of Roswell, NM escaped and burned 1,900 acres.

On the Dixie National Forest in Utah the Left Fork Fire was reported May 9. On May 10 the Forest Service said it ignited from material still burning from a prescribed fire conducted April 7, 2022.  On May 11, 12, and 13 the daily updates on the wildfire posted by the Dixie National Forest stated it was “human caused.” The escaped fire burned 97 acres.

Left Fork Fire escaped prescribed fire
Firefighters construct fireline on the Left Fork Fire in Utah which was caused by an escaped prescribed fire. Posted by the Dixie NF, May 12, 2022. Photo by Mervin Garcia, Engine 322.

On May 16 the Uncompahgre & Gunnison National Forests ignited the Simms Mesa prescribed fire, expected to treat 200 acres about 11 miles south of Montrose, Colorado. On May 19 a wildfire was reported in the area which was was given the name “Simms Fire”. Officially the cause is under investigation, but the Forest Service on May 19 wrote about the fire on Facebook, “Earlier in the week a prescribed burn was conducted in the vicinity which was monitored daily. The cause of the fire is under investigation.” Fire officials report that at least one home has been destroyed. Evacuations are in effect and Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team 1 has been mobilized. Friday morning it had burned 371 acres.

“In 99.84 percent of cases, prescribed fires go as planned,” the statement from Chief Moore said. “In rare circumstances, conditions change, and prescribed burns move outside the planned project area and become wildfires. The review I am announcing today will task representatives from across the wildland fire and research community with conducting the national review and evaluating the prescribed fire program, from the best available science to on-the-ground implementation. Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning.”

The FS safely conducts about 4,500 prescribed fire projects each year on average, treating more than 1.4 million acres. Since most prescribed fires are conducted between September and May, the Forest Service expects the pause will have “minimal impact” on their goal of increasing fuels treatments by up to four times the current levels in the West, including using prescribed burning as well as mechanical and other treatments.

Issuing a press release late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the work week is a tactic sometimes chosen in hopes that the timing of the unfavorable information will minimize its negative impact.

Inciweb currently lists nine prescribed fire projects on Forest Service lands in various stages of planning or execution; there are likely more, since not all are entered at the website.

Calf Canyon -Hermits Peak fire
Firefighters attempt to hold the Calf Canyon -Hermits Peak Fire at Highway 434, May 10, 2022. Inciweb.

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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.

70 thoughts on “US Forest Service pauses all prescribed fire operations”

  1. So… we can go available now? Make a livable wage because of the OT? No we will still do our forest fuels work because it is imperative to our funding 🙄

  2. It’s simple poor planning, lack of people ( they make better money at Burger King) so now the feds get sued for millions of dollars and screw the folks on the line. Checks out.

  3. What is your definition of a successful prescribed burn?

    Prescribed burn means the burning, is in compliance with a written plan establishing the criteria necessary for starting, controlling, and extinguishing a burn and to meet planned fire or land management objectives, of a cover of vegetation capable of sustaining and carrying fire over the area intended to be burned.

  4. Hold my torch watch this! The hardest thing for an agency to do is burn after getting humiliated. I would say with this kind of pause it’s from an agency struggling to meet resource orders.

  5. Look, the time for broadcast Rx is behind us. We had decades to be aggressive with Rx throughout the 49’s, 50’s,60’s,70’s,80’s,90’s when fire behavior was mellow and a 10k acre wildfire was considered HYOOGE!

    That time is in the rearview mirror, the window is gone and it ain’t coming back. The FS blew it. Now, trying the pull off any kind of consequential rx, and hold it for weeks, is just far too risky. We’re trying to bail out the Titanic with pint glasses 2.5 hrs after it hit the iceberg.

    1. So I suppose the solution is large high severity wildfires. Got it! I’m glad this is the land management choice we have decided to make by continuing to exclude fire from fire dependent ecosystems. I for one look forward to converting all our national forests into national grasslands.

      1. Nate.
        Yep! But that choice was made many decades ago and now we’re stuck with it. We were handed a shite sandwich by our stoic predecessors.

        Just like the cliche “we’re never going to chainsaw our way out of this” well, at this point, we’re never going to Rx our way out either. In the west wildfire is outpacing Rx 15:1. As an RXB2 I don’t want to (and I won’t) burn anything anymore. I won’t do it under the insane pressure that line is putting on us. I won’t do it because I don’t trust the agency to have my back if my burn gets declared 2 weeks after ignitions halted because of a wind event. I won’t do it because it leaves me and my family is an insanely exposed legal position. I won’t do it because Rx doesn’t pay. I won’t do it because Rx is a planned event that takes years off of a young, underpaid firefighters life from huffing smoke. I won’t do it so that some office dwelling line officer can get a cash award. I won’t do it because Rx burns are mostly inconsequential (25,100,200,500ac) burns that aren’t going to do anything to “protect” values in the face of a 97th percentile wildfire which is the variety we get frequently now.
        As an analogy think of Rx fire as diplomacy to prevent war. Nobody wants or asks for war. In this case diplomacy failed because the generations before us never took up the torch so now we’re stuck fighting . The way I see it, we’re pinned down in the trenches taking grenades.

    2. Not at all. Burning during an extreme drought and in the spring (NM is VERY windy during spring) is never a good idea. There are other opportunities to burn in NM. Pick a time that is safe and backed by science, not “we’ve always done it this way…” The science is clear, but the agency has not been using the best available science. It’s weird because they pay for it, but don’t implement it.

  6. Leadership in charge of this agency has never been on a RX fire or a burn boss. They don’t get it because they have never done it. A knee jerk reaction to Save there DC SES jobs. Do something. The line officers who force us to burn to get acres so they can get their yearly pay awards. Review that DC. Prescribed fire doesn’t need a review. The organizational agency of the USDA FS needs a review.

    1. Can someone fill me in on the bonuses that are dealt out for prescribe fire? My crew has been busting ass trying to get more then a handful of prescribed burns ready in R6 just so we can go available, yet our fuels afmo has gone out and is available at this moment. I’ve heard rumors he pushes so hard for these burns because of cash bonuses but I have no proof. Meanwhile we’re the ones forced to try and implement this unrealistic amount of burning and being held back to try and complete them.

      1. Dozer Bro,

        Good luck finding that information very easily. There should be some sort of reporting going on for monetary awards and values. Or at least there was. I’ve seen before. I forgot where, it was close to 10 years ago that I was chasing that particular squirrel.

        I would start by looking on intranet links. Probably budget reports or something along those lines. If you are friendly with budget officers, you could ask them as well. You may only find the amount of award and recipient however. If you want specific award info for metrics for targets…. yeah. Good luck. I would bet right now with the all the money coming in and scrutiny on RX burning, some of the info is being obfuscated even more. Trickle down economics.

      2. Straight call them out and ask them (make them lie) on a large conf call. You’ll know straight away if they’re lying and so will everyone else.

        Like Ivan Vanko said “If you make God bleed, people will cease believing in him”. 🤣

      3. Bonuses? I was a Forest Supervisor, and the cash awards I was given were less than the ones I gave my people.
        If high cash awards were given, I’d love to know who got them.

        1. Retired Forest Supervisor,

          I have seen them and who got them. Back around the time we were still using the T drive. It was one report. I can confirm at least one forest supervisor who got around 10k. Don’t know if that is normal or still a practice, but I have seen it at least once. I could maybe even dig it up but it was around 2012 or 13. You might not have gotten one but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. SES awards can go up to 20% of their salary as well if I read the latest OPM policy correctly.

        2. My spouse is a RF and I can assure you, cash awards for acres treated ARE given. In 19 we paid off our vehicle (which was only a year old).

          The Forest Supts and Dist Rangers push hard on their proletariat “District Employees” to burn so burn they do. They’ll continue to burn but now, with the loss of so much skill and brain trust, more burns will be lost. It’s a recipe for really bad things to happen.

          Broadcast burning in the age of drought riddled forests requires more skill than ever before yet less skill is what is at hand due to the way the FS has treated their employees. Now with Rx targets poised to accelerate there will surely be disasters the likes of which the FS has seldom seen.

          Stay safe everyone, don’t endanger yourselves or your communities so that Line can get a feather in their cap and a tidy sum in their accts.

          1. I’d buy requires more skill…

            More skill at looking at the WX 3-7 days ahead of the burn and especially isobar tightness. Skill to ID RH in the single digits is a no go

            How much skill did it take to cancel any RX burn in NM with the winds and RHs?

            Planning is a skill and DR and RO might want to take a hard look at and the communities who are rightly going to have a jaundiced eye to these folks deciding to go ahead and burn.
            Just because the Guv maybe immune to lawsuits….individuals who are deciding to burn might want to review their PLI limits….

            The skill will be…..answering to the public how to trust, barring land clearing around properties, how much skill it takes to cancel a burn for much better days when prescription is within limits?

  7. I have to wonder about prescribed burns during climate change-caused droughts. After all the extensive bark beetle killed trees, and the lack of snowpack, prescribed burns seem like a greater risk. In healthy forests they work well, but I don’t think they’re a good idea any longer. You can’t even cut farts in these conditions without a fire risk. We are in deep doo-doo. 😰

  8. Prescribed burns during high, high winds and single digit humidity conditions dont make sense. Come on USFS, shape up and use your brains. This is ridiculous. Every year its the same old story.

      1. Yes it was. The FS is still using the generic marker of “under investigation” but the empirical, demonstrable evidence says it was an escaped Pile rx from weeks prior.

        After Gallinas was declared and was a t3 org for at about 7k acres a new start was detected to the NW of the Gallinas/Hermits origin. Air tankers that were already aloft and were diverted to paint it and knock it down, they did. At that time the local FS folks knew that the “new start” was precisely in the location where they had burned hundreds of acres of piles. A few days later the whole area was buffeted by 80mph winds and the same fire came roaring out from between the retardant lines. When the IA folks arrived on scene they noticed hundreds of half burnt piles at the anchor/origin. Wildfire Today has written about this. Yes, officially, it’s still “under investigation” but everyone down here in NM knows the truth and it will eventually be made public.

        1. I wish those who know that would come forward with specifics. This fire is an unbelievable casualty for northern New Mexico in so many ways. It feels like an existential crisis to many. We want to know the truth, so we can help make sure this won’t happen again.

          1. Sarah- this is the reality that wildland folks are facing…. Catastrophic/record fires are going to occur in every state/ region going forward. There is realistically no way to avoid the inevitable. In the last decade how many regions have set records for “destructive” wildfires? Unfortunately escaped RX or not, it’s r3 turn. Next year it’ll be R4

            1. Yes, that is true to some extent. But if you look at the other fires in NM, it could be considered a very bad fire season, but not the worst. It’s the prescribed burn caused fire that is so unbelievably bad. My observation is that they tend to be much worse. In any event, we would not be in danger right now if it weren’t for the prescribed burn set in windy weather, and possibly the smoldering piles in Calf Canyon. We would not have a 300,000 acres plus inferno, burning down houses and whole communities. That is the fire doing the most of the severe damage in New Mexico. It was a terrible decision to burn that day. Locals and tribal elders, who could see we were in a pattern of high winds, and it was windy on the day the burn was ignited, pleaded with the FS not to do the prescribed burn. They refused to listen. This can’t be considered to be anything like just a fire that might occur anyway.

          2. Sarah,

            Oh, there are plenty of FS employees that know the truth, I am one of them and the Whistle will be blown. The FS is either burying or sitting on this info until the fury settles down. They’ll let the “under investigation” label float for a while but the truth WILL come out so that the people victimized by this fire can seek recompense. I would start with a class action lawsuit against the Forest Supt and Dist Ranger, the header of the lawsuit would be changed to the FS but I would pursue legal action to target them personally and intimately.

            1. Thank you. Personally, I am focusing on the possible need to evacuate and that is all I can do. I think the people who lost their homes will have to file the lawsuit. But I will do what I can to make sure what happened is known, and that things change, if I still can after the fire has gone through. I do really believe there was pressure from up the chain of command to get the burns done, especially since they are increasing fuel treatments so much, and as mentioned above, without the funding in place. But still the decision was made locally to risk everything, and now so much of everything is lost.

            2. Big Ernie, a class action suit might work, but it will take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. The problem is that the USDA has a lot of lawyers that know the system and the system is rigged in their favor. The best bet is to go to insurance companies, have them sue; go to the media, get your story out there; go to Congress, change the laws; and of course you can always sue, waste your time and get back 1/2 of what you spent. Sorry, but I’m 5 years in and still no resolution. I’d hate to see others waste their time and money.

      2. Prescribed Fire IS important, we all need to change how we do it. Instead of trying to do it as cheaply as possible with a minimum org and militia, why not just organize. Instead of a burn boss, have it be an IC. Treat it as an incident. Have more than enough resources. Have Rx teams with logs, plans, imets, pios, smoke specialists, order what you need to effectively prep, implement and hold. Scale up and down as needed. Quit trying to nickle and dime these things. Recognize the true risk and cost compared to the risk and cost of losing one.

        1. This is exactly where I stand. Set up ICP, give me a freaking caterer, assign IHC’s etc etc etc.
          Amazing how we can staff a 3000 acre Rx with 40 individuals, and a 300 acre wildfire requires 400 folks.
          Require working 16’s (or better yet portal/portal) H-pay and R&R as needed. Perhaps those 40 firefighters will be incentivized/engaged in resource mgmt projects and not flee to wildfire assignments to make a living.

  9. The USFS is failing as an organization in every way. Neither the condition of the forest nor the condition of the organization are in the shape they need to be in, to do what needs to be done. It’s really that simple.

    A massive WWII era effort of mechanical treatment and manpower need to be applied for years to position the Forest for safely managing prescribed fire to the scale necessary to be of consequence. The organization is not in a position to even get close to managing that level of planning or execution. The organization is even less apt to effectively manage a workforce towards common goals, it no longer has an enterprise culture that would move in the same direction. It has spent the last 20 plus years tearing down the culture that would be necessary to do what needs to be done. Spending years and tremendous effort building a culture of elitist line officers and defending their autonomy at the expense of accomplishing the mission. Tearing down the culture of fire management, it’s leadership, innovation and ethos. An organization that has spent more time and energy in an internal conflict over who should lead and manage the fire management organization and activities at every step of the way. Disregarding and dismissing experience, expertise, qualifications and decades of evolution based on lessons learned. Instead, more focused on who will decide.

    The agency now values autonomy, an almost fraternal order line officer culture, open ended academic analysis over practical and pragmatic land management practices of mundane but essential hazardous fuels maintenance where it matters most.

    Wildfire is exponentially becoming more and more of a public safety, homeland security mission profile than it is a natural resources, forest management mission. Clearly, planned and unplanned wildfire both.

    1. Amen. Not new at all. Historically evident in the grade structure within the Fire Dept. Of USFS.
      It would be a great job if you were a Trust-Fund recipient, and not trying to raise a family.

  10. Well said Professional WFLL. To bad our agency doesn’t think that way. USFS needs major reorganization. Fire is to big for land management. RX fire has prescriptions and we manage that accordingly. Folks that scream dead trees and climate change haven’t even written a burn prescription nor do they understand what we are trying to do. Most those folks lead our agency. They silence the fire management voice. Heck we don’t even have a voice in Leadership anymore. They don’t like us. They are jealous of us. And we don’t like them either. It is not an easy agency to work for- so I just try to ignore DC Chief leadership and hope for change.

  11. And if it started any other way the fire managers would all still be hero’s. I always love a good old ass covering knee jerk response. Gotta look like you are doing something to distract from the mess over 100 years of excluding fire did to the land. And local governments got to act all upset instead of taking accountability for their lack of planning in allowing WUI development without mitigating fire risk. But hey, its the prescribed fire program alone’s fault am I right?

  12. Just the leadership failure of blindsiding an agency and your people in a weekly corporate email – yea, no more prescribed fire.

    There were places with ignitions occurring when that email got sent out. Ok folks, let’s start mopping this thing up.

    The disconnect and morale crushing leadership from the top is just too much.

  13. Escaped “controlled” burns and let’s see if the lightning fire takes off (Markleeville “21) generate huge amounts of money for all those involved. So what is the big deal? There must be more to the story that no one is talking about.
    No one should have to try to make a living on overtime. Base pay equivalent to Cal Fire fire fighters, drop the hazard pay, and pay Federal fire fighters portal to portal. The kind of money (billions of dollars) we give to foreign countries each year that hate the U.S. is criminal.

  14. We are better off having the fuels program prepping roads, ridges, trails,etc. or POD boundaries than putting efforts towards postage stamp burning. It sure is nice showing up on a fire with a road prepped and all you have to do is burn, some places are already doing this.

  15. An estimated $95 million has been spent so far on suppression of the fire.

    If the initial ignition was assigned to a campfire, what would happen to the camper?

    1. When the books were shut on Cerro Grande it was $1bn. That was only 43k acres and burned down about 400 structures.

      Hermits/Calf is > 300k and has taken 600+ structures. By the time the books are shut on it, with tort claims and ingoing BEAR costs this will be well north of $1Bn.

    2. W,

      It depends substantially on whether they catch the camper, which can be very hard to do. There are ALOT of fires started by the public that do not result in finding who the culprit was. Especially smaller IAs where the investigator is a local patrol or something.

      Then there is the question of how do you get 95 million dollars out of someone who doesn’t have anywhere near 10,000 dollars in assets.

      They’ve charged the public with the full cost before but you can’t squeeze a turnip and so the reality is some sort of payment system to pay off *some* of the cost. They’ve also just fined people for a fraction of the supression cost.

      It really depends on what the court decides to do.

      A closer comparison to holding the FS negligent would be court practices with companies. Power companies have dodged paying for fires sometimes, citing things like climate change and sometimes they don’t.

      I don’t know who the hell would charge the FS for the cost when they lose a burn. The FS is already going to pay for supression by default, but yeah…. the individual claims by people who lost a house? Like a civil claim? No idea what the mechanism is. I’d be really curious to know. I have always wondered.

      1. It is highly unlikely either the FS or any individual line officer will have to pay. The law favors the discretion of the Forest Service.
        They would have to file an administrative claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act with the agency and then when denied, go to federal district court.

  16. Let’s just remember a few things(correct me if I am wrong):

    1) The bipartisan infrustructure bill was a bunch of money, some of which was ear-marked to improve/increase workforce and implement more burning.

    2) A number of weeks ago, Chief Moore specifically said in his Chief’s letter to everyone that we were going to increase treatments by 1-4x. This was in alignment with the bill. We all knew there was going to be more money and emphasis for treatment. He and we all knew that when the bill passed last year.

    3) We are nowhere near actually spending the money. There is an agency wide meeting on the 24th to talk about some of it. We haven’t gotten raises, a new series, more positions etc. The rain has not hit the ground.

    If we can agree on this, then most of the the other sidebars might be very important but regarding these particular burns and the results of losing them, one of the more important and simple things may just be leader’s intent coming from the appointed leader of the agency. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and all that.

    Think about being an I.C. and giving intent? Once you brief and give the “ready break” the gears start turning and on big orgs it is really hard to stop it if you realize you gave poor intent. Any groundpounder has probably seen that happen or done it.

    Giving intent without the tools in place to meet the objectives is bad intent. If the objective is to do something very ambitious then you need the tools in place.

    I feel like Moore was giving objectives as if the money and staffing levels were already there even though they were clearly not. He was clearly in a position to know that.

    Why did he do that?

    Not why did he plan on adding more pressure to burn. That was inevitable. Why do it without the staffing and budget in place? Why not make the simple distinction between waiting for the tools and resources to be in place (hold and improve) and the direction to begin implementing objectives. This shouldn’t be a debate about whether we should burn or not. Not this article at least.

    Again just breaking it down as an IC or the “leader”, say you have a big complex fire and some resources have arrived and you ordered a lot more. You know you cannot currently begin giving “big box” objectives? Picture that scene. The usual best practice (correct me again if I am wrong) when you don’t have everything yet is to: establish LCES, start having people scout, find an anchor, maybe start working some of the fire with what you have.

    That is your in-briefing. Once everyone shows up and you start getting DIVs in place and so on, then you get into the big picture briefings. Your initial briefing (again correct me if this is wrong) might actually include something like: “we are still waiting on a lot of stuff I ordered”. So your folks know not to get too extended yet. Right?

    Those of us below the line officer level may not take his letter very seriously. But, I know that somewhere at the Forest Supt. level they are taking into account acres treated.

    I have seen it. I have seen in person an email sent from from forest FMO to district FMOs saying to “find targets of opportunity” in advance of a forest supervisor’s eval. I also remember doing a PSD unit a short while later that was way way too wet to burn. It was a joke.

    I doubt it would be very hard to track that sort of thing down if it happens frequently. Just mentioning what I saw. This was probably about a decade ago. I would take a polygraph over seeing that email though, it got printed off and left sitting on a copy machine I was using.

    Moore put the cart in front of the horse is what I think. If he was told he HAD to apply that pressure, he HAD to push it right now because of congressional and executive expectations then hopefully, he has the stones to lead up now. I also hope, sincerely hope, that if some fuels guy, or burn boss or FMO or even ranger gets tossed under the bus over this that they lead up hard.

    It sucks to lead up. It is not fun. No FFT2 wants to argue with a squaddie, no squaddie wants to argue with the assistant or captain or supt or whatever. At least most of them. We want to say we can do something we were told to and assume we have backing and do it.

    It has to happen sometimes though and this is that time. If the chief and deputy chief do not choose to do their best leading up and if line officers do not choose to do their best, then they don’t deserve our sympathy. If you want to be the leader and demand to be the leader than you have to take the responsibility that comes with it. Not be willing to do this is a sign of an amateur and should not be the qualities of an organizational head.

  17. Easy for me to say, but living in the rain soaked south. 2 hrs east of Appalachia NC, Just wait for moisture to return then resume CB!

  18. Actually..probably a good thing and well overdue. In a specific region the quality merchantable timber is being burned to a crisp. Why? RXB2 and RxB1 taskbooks are solely based on suppression and not silviculture. There are so many FF’s that have no understanding of silviculture concepts and most just want to burn it to the ground by ripping headfire just so they can get to the next one to meet the quota. It’s time the FS started burning for a specific prescription on the right day, under the best parameters, with the best methods to meet a silvicultural need.

    1. Nobody cares about Silviculture. If you do so
      much, try becoming an RXB2 and pulling off a burn with a one dimensional silvicultural prescription. Good luck with that.

      All that Line wants is black acres so we give em black acres. Nuked black, dirty black, painted black…it doesn’t matter. That is the truth and nobody cares anymore about fire effects.

    2. Well then
      How many of those FFTRs are truly originating from 2 or 4 yr Forestry colleges to even understand silvicultural prescriptions let alone alone spell it.

      Large amounts of OT in the RX world and large amounts of H-pay in the supression world doesn’t always guarantee a FFA candidate….Future Foresters of America…😆 🤣

    3. T,

      TL;DR is that fire is a mostly blue collar trade and the rest of the FS is mostly not and doesn’t seem to realize it.

      If you want a long-winded answer, keep reading. I am not here to place value on my job or yours and have tried to be thoughtful and civil. Cheers.

      I would think the non-fire side of the FS can sort out what treatments and what objectives they want with each other when it comes to RX. Fuels shop is maybe the bridge for it, but there are a lot of competing interests when it comes to burning. Heritage, Wildlife, Hydro, Fish etc. want a say. Fuels is already beholden to them when it comes to planning burns.

      My opinion is that fire is really not there to decide who is in charge of developing RX plans. That is land management, fire should be implementing.

      This discussion came up with some line officer guy from R5 I was talking to back in 2012ish I think. I was down at the academy helping staff and they were doing R5 firehire in McClellan at the same time. He was one of the people in charge. He was a pretty academic minded guy and I don’t think he had much of a fire background. For that matter, quite a few of the people on the selection side of the process didn’t look to be fire.

      I asked some questions about what they were looking for when deciding whom to hire. One of the desireable traits was a strong understanding of the “Safety Journey” and whatever “Pillars” were part of it. The other big sort of flavor of what management was wanting, was firefighters that were also “land managers”. They were selling that idea to the apprentices too. (Academy at the the time was mostly FS, I think BLM had bowed out at that point iirc.)

      I will try to tell you my opinion of that without sounding disrespectful.

      It is very unlikely that the average firefighter right now has the ability to understand or focus on the technical esoterics of any other department but fire.

      Think about being a silvaculturist. If you were asked to come help staff a moderate complexity incident, say a smallish type 3 org, how confident would you be trying to be an IC? Or let’s say even just a single resource running a crew? Or a SITL or LOGS3 or take your pick. READ doesn’t count, sorry.

      Personally, I can look at a burn plan, I can try to do my best to help meet the objectives, but the interests driving the plan and the academic elements used to determine objectives are coming from multiple departments with multiple specialists with multiple degrees.

      I don’t care what the objectives are when it comes to the “why”. I’m there to implement. To run a crew or holding or firing (can’t speak to burn boss because I am not one). It isn’t that I don’t care about the desires of other departments, it is the scope of my expertise and role in it is very specific.

      I don’t think there is much bad faith when it comes from fire, occassionally we have some careless moments, like anywhere. Unfortunately, the consequences may be much more dire and we are very aware of that, it is a very stressful job. But most of the groundpounders I’ve seen, and it has been quite a few, are all very mission focused people who want to do a good job. We don’t want to see a bunch of nuked-out treatments, we don’t want to burn down houses, we want to meet objectives.

      But I don’t think I am alone in saying this: I have zero interest in being considered the “unskilled labor” who falls under some arbitrary GS level hierarchy, who is there to do the lawn work.

      I don’t have anywhere near the time to learn about Silvaculture, or Arch, or Hydro, or Rec, or Timber or anything else. These are full on academic specialities requiring degrees. I don’t think they are better or worse than what I do, but I am doing trade work.

      I used to work high end construction. Like work on the winter homes of movie producers and actors and super rich people. I was there doing a niche trade job, doing woodwork, there were painters, there were electricians, there were plumbers, masons, etc.

      Comparing this to an RX burn, these are your RXBs, Single Resources, PSD operators, lighter, holders etc. Those are your niche tradespeople.

      The chief, the regional and local foresters, the heads of the white collar departments, those guys are the architects, engineers, inspectors, general contracting companies etc. They are managing the other side of the project. Their wheelhouse is everything that goes into the project on paper, the aspects of a large project that need to meet code, be drafted and so on.

      An engineer would never show up on a jobsite and start demanding that subcontractor come over and do this or that. An architect or contractor management company CEO would never send out emails to all the workers talking about their expectations and assuming that their wages allow them carte blanche authority over the site work. There are folks hired to do that and they are required to have a lot of trade experience to even be considered for those jobs.

      I would never consider grabbing the fisheries guy with a red card helping us burn and put him in charge of firing or holding. It is pretty uncommon to find militia guys with a ton of quals and professional firefighters don’t expect them to understand a lot of tactics and strategy.

      It’s one thing to drag a torch around. It is physically demanding and requires some good situational awareness, but once a firefighter has been around very long, they are being pushed into a training trajectory that takes a lot of hard earned experience and qualifications to develop. RXB2 (burn boss) takes years to get to, FIRB takes at least a few years really. These are journeyman level qualifications.

      The only big difference is the bizarre and counterproductive model the FS runs their “jobsites” off of. If we were building a house, it would probably collapse if we ever even got the foundation done.

      I will be happy to practice my trade implementing whatever Line Officers, Silvaculture, Arch, Fisheries, Wildlife and Fuels have collaborated on to determine plans, scope and specs. I don’t work for you though. It isn’t my job to figure out where the money or staffing are going to come from either.

      It definitely isn’t my responsiblity when management doesn’t have all that in place and stakeholders have specs that are in conflict or impractical.

      If the project comes out sloppy because of the above factors, that is not my problem. If all the above factors are in place, then it is my problem. It is that simple.

  19. Ah the divide between USFS line officers and fire fighters gets even greater. The great divide. Is anyone listening. Oh yeah they have for like the last 30 years- yeah right- Fire does all the hard work and line officers get all the rewards. So frustrating. Fight hard for our duty, respect and integrity. All so we can be the “This is Who We Are” generation. Give me a break. Pay us portal to portal. Get a real fire organization. We are tired of disconnected leadership. You tell us get more targets and now ya shut us down. What a failed organization.

  20. Best comment on this thread is the first one. “LOL”. Prescribed burning going on right now. Read the post on wildfire today about the bear trap fire, and now read the inciweb post on the bear trap fire. Is that what active suppression by making the fire huge looks like? Wonder if anyone is going to monitor what that country looks like in two years?

    1. Maybe they’ll be able to claim the low and moderate burn severity as areas treated, our numbers look good and Forest Sup gets a bonus. I know my Forest has done that.

      Win, win, mission accomplished for $1,200 a acre in suppression costs.

  21. That’s to bad they are doing a great job burning down the forest and not thinning the forest. The Owl

    1. The area referenced in that paper was burned down to stumps in a high intensity backfire during the Dixie fire. At that altitude it will take generations for the forest to recover. Prescribed fire can be utilized, but it is not a cure all. With no followup treatment prescribed fire just adds to air pollution and the fuel load.

  22. These forests in northern NM have been sick and have been turning grey and more grey for years. I was telling my bro how bad it was looking and how the warm weather was letting the bark beetle survive during the winter. I studied that stuff back in the day. Sure enough, new patches of brown and lots of dead and down. Believe me, no possible logging or harvesting with the steep steep slopes. By the way the FS closed down a lot of roads and turned it into wilderness. It is economically unsustainable. People are lazy now a days and won’t put a piece of firewood in their truck unless it is close. They won’t log this small toothpick trees around here. Who carries firewood a quarter mile to their truck. Must be the normal fire regime that happens in the mixed con forests in NM. According to the fire scars from past chunks studied by a university in AZ. Just another comment.

  23. Some very good comments, we can all agree that the big green machine has issues, it’s still a great agency to be sure, only because of the folks that make it great….Not because of great leadership….kidding. I am surprised at the lack of public outcry concerning these fires, this should be a big deal…..

    There is a documentary narrated by Kate Winslet that should be seen by all that inhabit this planet Eating our way to Extinction, scary and sobering…
    For a time I was not on board with the climate change camp, well I have come to my right mind, we are killing the planet we live on, we may have crossed the line of no return, no big deal for me I am 60, I will be fine, you youngsters just starting out with the feds/starting out in life…..what a crap sandwich we are leaving you…..I am glad my kids refuse to bring kids into this world… may be asking what does this have to do with this topic…..I say everything…….everything… this big in NM…..not supposed to happen……The time has arrived that RX fire should be a thing of the past…at least west of the Miss…..Peace….

    1. OLD DRHS. The big green agency is NOT an agency to work for. Are you kidding me.
      COME ON MAN!!

    2. Old DRHS,

      I watched that documentary to see what it was all about. After the cyst popping scene with the butchers, I will help save the climate for only that reason. I hurked a little. Not gonna lie.

  24. Anyone know why all those county/local/state officials didn’t have any building codes passed? Or ordinances to ensure their communities were firewise?

    It’s your responsibility as a private citizen to ensure your place is survivable.

    Keep on burning. And those on here criticizing are and have been the problem. The blame game is so fun. The whole reason you’re dumb if you ask “how’d that fire start”. Like it matters… they always do.

    1. Many of the people who had their home burned down were the rural poor. Some had homes in their family for generations, and some lived in mobile homes. So no building codes would have helped them. It is true it’s incumbent upon people who live in the WUI to do their best to protect their own structures, but we also have the right to expect that the FS will not start fires in the forest during high wind patterns and burn the forest down around us. We expect that out of anyone. It’s common sense. You can’t assume fires will just start no matter what. Being reasonable and careful with fire does help, of course. And prescribed burn fires seem worse than the average fire.

      “Like it matters, they always do” — no they don’t. Fires require an ignition.

  25. Mother nature designed it to burn, and she will see to it that it happens on way or another. Its only a matter of time and each passing year adds more fuel just laying in wait. It will burn so folks need to be prepared.

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