Report: DOI manipulated wildfire science data to justify increased logging

A former petroleum geologist at the USGS asked scientists to “gin up” emissions figures for him

logging forest service
U.S. Forest Service photo file photo.

A trove of emails obtained by reporters at The Guardian indicate that an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior selected wildfire science data in order to promote logging.

Below is an excerpt from the article.

…The emails show officials seeking to estimate the carbon emissions from devastating 2018 fires in California so they could compare them to the carbon footprint of the state’s electricity sector and then publish statements encouraging cutting down trees.

The records offer a look behind the scenes at how Trump and his appointees have tried to craft a narrative that forest protection efforts are responsible for wildfires, including in California, even as science shows fires are becoming more intense largely because of climate change.

James Reilly, a former petroleum geologist and astronaut who is the director of the US Geological Survey, in a series of emails in 2018 asked scientists to “gin up” emissions figures for him. He also said the numbers would make a “decent sound bite”, and acknowledged that wildfire emissions estimates could vary based on what kind of trees were burning but picked the ones that he said would make “a good story”.

Scientists who reviewed the exchanges said that at best Reilly used unfortunate language and the department cherry-picked data to help achieve their pro-industry policy goals; at worst he and others exploited a disaster and manipulated the data…

Three fatalities after air tanker crash in Australia

New South Wales January 23

Tanker 134
Tanker 134 as it started a new contract with CAL FIRE. Coulson photo, April 11, 2019.

This article first appeared on Fire Aviation.

Updated at 6:01 a.m. PST January 23, 2020 (US time)

A C-130Q air tanker (N134CG) crashed in southern New South Wales Thursday January 23 (Australia time). All three members of the crew perished.

Coulson Aviation released a statement saying their aircraft, Tanker 134, had departed from Richmond NSW on a firebombing mission and went down in the Snowy Monaro area. There were three fatalities.

(UPDATE: the three men have been identified)

Tanker 134 had been working on a contract in Australia since August, 2019.

Tanker 134 (N134CG)
The last flight path of Tanker 134 (N134CG) recorded by FlightAware, January 23, 2020 U.S. local time.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be investigating the incident which they said occurred at Peak View near Cooma, NSW. The agency is expected to release a preliminary report within 30 days.

map crash tanker 134
The marker shows the location of Tanker 134 that was last recorded on FlightAware.
location Tanker 134 crash
This Google Earth 3-D map shows the general location of Tanker 134 last recorded by FlightAware. The map is looking north.

New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Coulson has grounded its entire fleet of air tankers out of respect for those who died. “Our hearts are with all those that are suffering in what is the loss of three remarkable, well-respected crew that have invested so many decades of their life into firefighting,” he said.

Cameron Price of 7NEWS Sydney reported on the incident:

Wreckage of missing RFS C-130 located by search crews. Reports only tail section intact. Aircraft has broken up on impact. Crews reporting difficult terrain and “terrible visibility”.

The Premier of New South Wales said out of respect for the crew flags would fly at half mast in the state, and:

Heartbreaking & devastating news that three US residents who were crew members operating a LAT in the Snowy Mountains region have lost their lives. Our thoughts & heartfelt condolences are with their families & the tight knit firefighting community.

The U.S. Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahuse Jr. said:

I am deeply saddened by the tragic news we received today. The brave Americans who died near Snowy Monaro died helping Australia in its time of need. The families and friends of those who we have lost are in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you Australia for your sympathy and solidarity.

From the Canadian Interagency Fire Centre:

@CIFFC and its member agencies are deeply saddened by this tragic event. We send our condolences to our firefighting colleagues at #CoulsonAviation & @NSWRFS

Earlier the New South Wales Rural Fire Service reported that contact had been lost with a large air tanker that was working in the southern part of the state in the Snowy Monaro area.

Posted at 7:22 PST January 22, 2019 (US time)

Our sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, and coworkers of the crew.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighter headed to Australia jumps at the opportunity to help

“I am in a unique position where I actually can do something and I actually can help.”

Justine Gude
Justine Gude is interviewed before boarding a flight to help with the bushfires in Australia, January 7, 2020. Screenshot from the ABC7 video below.

As 20 firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service were about to depart from Los Angeles for a flight to Australia to assist with the bushfires, reporters found Justine Gude who was willing to speak on camera about the assignment. She gave an excellent interview.

Ms. Gude said, in explaining why she volunteered for the overseas trip:

You watch the news or you read these stories of these terrible things that are happening and you always want to know, ‘How can I help, what can I do?’ And I am in a unique position where I actually can do something and I actually can help. So, who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity. I’m super excited.

Two weeks later in Australia, Carolyn Cole, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, found her. Again she was very quotable:

You know they say ‘It takes a village’. Well it takes all types to have a successful hand crew. You need the funny guy, you need the smart guy, you need the strong guy.

The reporter asked, “What is your role”?

Me? I’m the strong guy!

Then she doubled over laughing

Here is the first interview in Los Angeles, January 7, 2020, by ABC7:

And two weeks later, in Australia, by the LA Times:

Two more 20-person hand crews are traveling to Australia today, January 22. They are a combination of Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service firefighters from throughout the United States. The U.S. has already deployed more than 200 USFS and DOI wildland fire staff to the Australian Bushfire response.

“Recent rains have been a welcome relief to fire crews and communities across Australia, but have not extinguished the risk, “said Stuart Ellis, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) CEO. “We are grateful for the arrival of US fire task force personnel this week. Australia is a large country, and while we have seen generous rain fall in the past few days in some areas, we are still experiencing kilometers of active fire front and a large clean-up ahead of us. We’re halfway through the summer and there are still challenges ahead for us this season.”

U.S. Forest Service Fire Director Shawna Legarza recently returned from Australia in support of the bushfire response.  “The large, landscape-scale devastation is unprecedented in terms of its impact on Australian economy, its people and their communities, and the effect to numerous ecosystems and habitats. It was humbling to observe the Australians’ resilience, the response in Australia, and level of support from our agency. We will continue to learn from each other in this complex fire environment.”

Based on requests from AFAC, USFS and DOI, the National Interagency Fire Center said wildland fire personnel will continue to provide assistance as requested through the existing agreement. The U.S. firefighters are filling critical wildfire and aviation management roles in New South Wales and Victoria.

Incident Management Team in Australia
A United States Incident Management Team in Australia, January 17, 2020. Photo by Traci Weaver for the US Forest Service.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Analysis of tree regeneration following large wildfires

Northern Rockies

Yellowstone Lake Burned Area
Trees that burned on the northeast side of Yellowstone Lake. Photo: August 16, 2010 by Bill Gabbert

Below are key findings and a brief summary from a paper titled, “Post-fire tree regeneration and fuels across the Northern Rockies following large wildfires: science meta-analyses, scenarios and manager workshops”.

The principal investigators were:

Penelope Morgan, University of Idaho
Camille Stevens-Rumann, Colorado State University
Jarod Blades, University of Idaho

As more of the western US burns in large wildfires it is critical to managers and scientists to understand how these landscapes recover post-fire. Tree regeneration in high severity burned landscapes determines if and how these landscapes become forested again, while changes in fuels structure influences how these landscapes may burn again. In this study the researchers compiled two large datasets to understand region-wide patterns and drivers of tree regeneration and surface fuel accumulation post-fire. The results demonstrated that natural tree regeneration in the Rocky Mountains is declining with increasingly hotter and drier climatic conditions and that close distance to living trees were critical for tree establishment.

Key Findings:

  1. Fewer tree seedlings established far (>270 ft (90m)) from living tree seed sources
  2. Hot, dry climatic conditions in the years after fires resulted in lower tree regeneration
  3. Climate and distance to a living tree are two of the most important factors in determining tree regeneration responses. Thus, these factors should be considered when making post-fire tree planting decisions to optimize the likelihood of success.
  4. Fuels increase with years since fire, but this is mediated by site productivity and burn severity. Managers should carefully monitor burned landscapes and reduce risk during these peak tree fall periods 9-14 years post fire. Subsequent burning may reduce fuel loads, but vegetation considerations should be considered to mitigate the effects of repeated high intensity disturbances.
  5. The need for ongoing research-management partnerships that synthesize and translate current science, such as the workshops and decision tool we designed, is imperative in the face of increasing agency workloads that constrain agency specialists from adequately addressing climate change in post-fire planting and management decisions. As such, our findings suggest that the workshops were effective for the rapid delivery of science in a setting that capitalized on the use of visualization and interactive participation. Perceptions of the usefulness and credibility of the workshop materials and decision tree was high.

The full document can be seen HERE.

What is behind PG&E’s power blackouts?

The effects on businesses and residents

Power Shutoff California fires powerline
Screenshot from the FULLMEASURE video below.

Investigative reporters from FULLMEASURE looked at how the preemptive electricity blackouts occurred in California and the effects on residents and businesses.

Australian dairy farmer’s father and brother were killed in the bushfire, but his daily chores could not be ignored

Australian Army assist farmer bushfire
Australian Army officer Lieutenant Aiden Frost with dairy farmer Tim Salway and his wife Leanne. Photo: Sergeant Max Bree

Tim Salway’s father, Robert, and brother, Patrick, died trying to defend their properties in a New South Wales bushfire, but Tim’s daily chores at the dairy farm could not be ignored.

The article below was written by Sergeant Max Bree of the Australian Army, January 20, 2020.

A raging inferno killed Tim Salway’s brother and father when bushfires tore through the family dairy farm near Cobargo, NSW, on New Year’s Eve.

As Mr Salway returned to their ravaged 600-acre property, milking came first.

“I knew my old man and brother were lying there just over the hill, but we had to get the cows in,” Mr Salway said.

“You can’t afford to miss because they start getting udder issues.

“That was the hardest milking I’ve ever had to do, but you couldn’t just stop and say ‘that was a bad fire’.”

About 170 of the Salways’ 350 cows were lost in the blaze.

Help arrived in the fires’ wake, including an Army strike team to clear and pile up fallen trees from the paddocks, saving the family an estimated month’s work.

“They ripped in with chainsaws, they smashed through, their bosses kept asking me ‘what next?’,” Mr Salway said.

“We’re able to get back in these paddocks, we’re able to work the land again. In time we’ll be able to burn these heaps [of wood].

“They cleared our driveway and just driving in makes you feel better. Things like this keep you going, as tough as it is for our family.”

Lieutenant Aiden Frost, of the 2nd/17th Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, commanded the strike team that arrived for two days of work on January 14.

They also brought water and an Army chaplain to counsel the Salways.

“The intensity of the fire basically ripped all of the trees out of the ground and created huge amounts of debris which rendered the paddocks sort of unusable,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“The farmers have been overwhelmed. We can’t solve the whole problem, but in a couple of days our guys have been able to clear significant amounts of the property, which will eventually allow their cattle numbers to recover.”

Strike teams, such as those commanded by Lieutenant Frost, are working to assist communities in south-east NSW in the wake of the bushfires.

His team has 26 soldiers from Army’s 5th Brigade, mostly infantrymen and combat engineers supported by a medic and signaller.

Four of the infantrymen completed an Army chainsaw course while the team was staging at Holsworthy.

“One minute we’re helping fix fences to stop cattle getting on the road and the next minute we’re out doing engineer tasks like inspecting culverts and bridges, or felling and cutting up trees” Lieutenant Frost said.

“Even if it is just basic, manual labour, the team is really glad to be able to help.”

The Salways’ farm provides milk to Bega Cheese, the same company that makes canned cheese for Australian Army ration packs.

The company couldn’t process the Salways’ milk for 10 days after the fires, meaning it had to be dumped, but Bega Cheese still paid for it. The company also provided the family with generators, to keep things running until power was restored.

“We take for granted where everything comes from,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“Guys like these farmers provide milk to make cheese for ration packs or the supermarket; everyone knows the struggles they’ve had.

“Then to have a fire devastate your farm and lose family members is the last thing any of these people needed. At least we can show that the people of Australia and the Army cares about them.”

When the team finished at the Salways’ property, Tim’s family had worked for 15 days straight to recover, with no end in sight.

“It wasn’t a fire, it was a monster, like a tornado; it’s something I don’t want to see again,” he said.

“The family down the road lost five houses. Up the road, out of about seven houses, there’s only one left.

“I’ve been trying to say it’s not that bad, but when the Army turns up to help you it must be pretty bad.”