Study: 4 large fires = 7 million cars for 1 year

A non-profit organization called The Forest Foundation has released a study that claims the greenhouse gases released by the 4 large wildland fires that they studied is similar to the gases released by 7 million cars on the road for 1 year.

The Foundation says they studied these 4 California fires:

  • The Angora Fire, which burned more than 3,100 acres near South Lake Tahoe in June and July of 2007.
  • The Fountain Fire, which destroyed nearly 60,000 acres east of Redding in August 1992.
  • The Star Fire, which burned more than 16,000 acres in September 2001 in the Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests.
  • The Moonlight Fire, which burned more than 65,000 acres in September 2007 in and around the Plumas National Forest in the northern Sierra Nevada.

I have never heard of this organization, and have no idea of the credibility of them or the study. But it is certain that information like this, credible or not, is going to have an increasing effect on the management of public and private land.

So, should land management agencies redouble their efforts at preventing and suppressing wildland fires? Or, should there be a greater emphasis on prescribed fire or fuel reduction? Of course, prescribed fire will put greenhouse gases into the air, but will it be less than when the vegetation burns in an unplanned ignition? You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Fire Management Plans and Prescribed Fire Plans are going to become more complex, time consuming, and expensive to develop.

Update, March 21, 2008:

I have found out more about the origin this “study”. According to an article written by Thomas M. Bonnicksen in the Sacramento Union published yesterday March 20, Bonnicksen claims that he “authored (it) for the Forest Foundation”.

Bonnicksen is a “Professor Emeritus” at Texas A&M University. And, according to a Greenpeace web site called Exxon Secrets, he is associated with National Center for Public Policy Research.

In August of 2000 an article he wrote called “The Lesson of Los Alamos” was published on the Heartland Institute web site in which he was extremely critical of the National Park Service (NPS) and prescribed burning in general. In the article, Bonnicksen is not encumbered by facts in reaching his conclusions.

It is true that mistakes were made by the NPS on the prescribed fire at Bandelier National Monument that led to the Cerro Grande fire, and also in 1988 in Yellowstone National Park, but Bonnicksen is only correct in some of his analysis. For example, many of the fires that burned into Yellowstone in 1988 were human-caused and started outside the park.

According to Wikipedia:

Almost 250 different fires started in Yellowstone and the surrounding National Forests between June and August. Seven of them were responsible for 95% of the total burned area.

Yet Bonnicksen said:

Park staff did the same thing in Yellowstone in 1988, when they allowed a natural fire to burn until it became impossible to control. When it was over, the fire had charred nearly one-half of our oldest national park.

The Chapparal Institute has an exhaustive analysis and critique of some of Bonnicksen’s attention-grabbing writings. An excerpt:

When someone spends so much effort to promote an idea, especially with such inflammatory language, it is often helpful to consider their motivation and connections. Due to his economic and political interests, it is difficult to view Dr. Bonnicksen as the objective observer and expert that he portrays himself.Dr. Bonnicksen is on the advisory board for the following organizations:

The Forest Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by the California Forest Products Commission. “The Forest Foundation strives to foster public understanding of the role forests play in the environmental and economic health of the state and the necessity of managing a portion of California’s private and public forests to provide wood products for a growing population” (from their website).

According to public documents, Dr. Bonnicksen has been paid by the Forest Foundation to write opinion pieces in newspapers and to give presentations to promote land use policies favored by the logging industry. He also offers consulting services regarding timber and vegetation management. Nothing wrong with any of this of course, but it should be taken into consideration when measuring an individual’s objectivity.

How much should we fear mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and wildland fires?

Burr Williams, of the Midland Reporter-Telegram in Texas, has some interesting thoughts comparing mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and wildland fires. Here is a brief excerpt:

“Mountain lions, grassfires and rattlesnakes are part of our landscape. We cannot prevent all wildfires nor can we kill every mountain lion or rattlesnake. We can learn how to behave if we run into a mountain lion (stand tall, wave your arms and yell). If we run, the lion will think we are food. In mountain lion habitat, we learn not to jog at daybreak or at sundown, because their prey (deer) often feed at that time. To avoid being bitten by a rattlesnake, we can learn to walk through pastures with respect, always putting our feet down where we can see them, and reach to the ground with our hands only after looking first.

During the month of February grassfires burned over a half-million acres of West Texas, prompting evacuations, killing livestock, destroying fencing and destroying buildings. Our semi-arid prairie brushland has adapted to fire over the centuries. Every rainy period will be followed by a dry year, and either lightning or man will sooner or later burn the dried-out litter left after the rainy times. Fire keeps our ecosystem healthy, according to ecologists. We can learn never to toss a cigarette out the window or to weld on a windy day without wetting the ground or to pull onto a grassy shoulder on the highway where a hot catalytic converter can start a fire.”

Man arrested for assaulting firefighter with ATV

From the Palestine Herald-Press in Texas:

An elderly Anderson County man was arrested late Saturday afternoon after he allegedly attempted to run over volunteer firefighters who were battling a grass fire on his property.

Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said deputies arrested John T. Vinson, 73, Saturday on a charge of assaulting a public servant after the man reportedly drove a four-wheeler into a Westside Volunteer Fire Department firefighter and threatened to harm others.

Firefighters from Tucker and Westside Volunteer Fire Departments were called to fight a grass fire on ACR 2134 around 4 p.m., Taylor said, which apparently started when sparks from an earlier fire ignited in Vinson’s pasture and blew across a fence into a wooded area on a neighbor’s property.

When firefighters came onto Vinson’s land to put out the fire on his side of the fence, the man reportedly became upset, Taylor said.

“He came up to one of the firefighters on his four-wheeler and said not to put it out,” Taylor said.

When firefighters continued to try to extinguish the fire, the man drove the four-wheeler at them, striking and injuring a Westside volunteer, Taylor said.

“He purposely ran into the fireman,” he said. “(The firefighter) was transported from the scene with a knee injury.”

Vinson also allegedly threatened to get a gun from his home but was prevented from doing so, said the sheriff, who responded to the call along with deputies and Constable Doug Lightfoot.

Ice storms in Missouri increase fuel by a factor of ten

The ice storms that swept through parts of Missouri and Oklahoma this winter damaged trees to the point where now the fallen trees and broken branches have, in some places, increased the fuel load from 3 tons per acre to over 30 tons per acre.

From the Joplin Globe:

……. “That’s because repeated ice storms have put more fuel on the ground in timbered areas than at any time in recent memory, officials say. The ground is crisscrossed with limbs and downed trees that not only provide fuel, but limit access and mobility for firefighters.

Andy Nimmo, chief of the Redings Mill Fire Protection District, experienced what the future could hold on March 2, when a small fire broke out on Reinmiller Road, southeast of Joplin. It became a large wildfire in a matter of seconds.

“We got our first glimpse of the danger then,” Nimmo said. “Fifty mile per hour winds in a heavily timbered area with lots of fuel on the ground made it 10 times more difficult to fight. We had to drop back and punt. We had to go to the nearest road we had access to to stop it.”

Duane Parker, a fire-protection consultant with Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development, said a wooded area normally has 3 tons of fuel from leaves and fallen limbs per acre.

The average now is 30 to 34 tons per acre because of ice storms in 2007, and that does not include “hangers,” those limbs that are broken but still hanging in trees, he said.

Parker predicted the threat of serious fires this spring will be high in Southwest Missouri.”

CAL FIRE proposes to close 20 fire stations

Governor SchwarzeneggerThe California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which now prefers being called CAL FIRE, may have to close 20 fire stations due to a $50 million budget cut for the agency being ordered by the Governator. To help solve the state’s budget woes, Governor Schwarzenegger is also pushing a 1.25% surcharge on all residential and commercial insurance premiums.

More information from the Auburn Journal:

Proposed state budget cuts could close 20 Cal Fire stations statewide including Auburn’s Bowman station.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked Cal Fire to cut more than $52 million from its budget, which amounts to about 10 percent of its general fund.

“To do that we are going to have to close a number of our facilities and reduce a number of our positions,” said Daniel Berlant, department information officer for Cal Fire.

He said the positions cut would not be in fire protection but in resource management and at the State Fire Marshal’s office.

He said Auburn’s Cal Fire station is on a list of stations targets for proposed closure.

“There are other stations (in the Auburn area) that can respond in a timely manner if there were to be a wildfire,” Berlant said.

He said if the Auburn station were to close employees would be redistributed to other locations.

“No current employees would lose their jobs,” Berlant said.

The governor has also proposed a wildland firefighting initiative within the budget that would recommend a surcharge to property owners statewide, which would pay for all facilities to remain open, Berlant said.

A 1.25 percent surcharge on residential and commercial insurance, like homeowners insurance, could bring in as much as $120 million to the state fire agency.

“It would increase our funding and we could increase our staffing to respond to wildland fires before they become infernos like the San Diego fires of last October,” Berlant said.