BLM intends to take shortcuts to begin cutting timber after a fire

salvage logging
Skidder and delimber operating on a fuel management research project in the Priest River Experimental Forest in Idaho. Forest Service photo.

The Bureau of Land Management will open a 30-day period during which it will accept public comments on their plans to remove some steps that are required before cutting timber following a fire.

The agency intends to no longer require Environmental Impact Statements or Environmental Assessments on what they call “salvage” operations of less than 5,000 acres — cutting dead or dying trees which can result from insects or wildfires. They would use a Categorial Exemption (CX) to skip some environmental review steps that are usually required.

The BLM’s press release about their plans did not include information about how the public could comment, just that, “[A] a public comment period on the proposed CX closes 30 days after the proposal publishes in the Federal Register. The BLM will provide additional information about when and how to comment when the proposed rule is published. ”

Their press release saw no issues with their planned accelerated timber cutting operations:

The BLM has completed a review of scientific literature and previously analyzed and implemented actions and found no evidence that salvage harvest at the levels proposed would have a negative effect on forest health. To the contrary, removing dead and dying trees can accelerate forest succession and benefit native wildlife species that rely on successional habitat, while reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfires.

An opposing point of view is in a paper written by D.B. Lindenmayer and R.F. Noss, titled “Salvage Logging, Ecosystem Processes, and Biodiversity Conservation.” It was in Conservation Biology, Volume 20, No. 4, August, 2006.

Here is an excerpt:


“Some of the impacts we have outlined may be different from or additional to the effects of traditional forms of logging that are not preceded by large, natural disturbance events. This is because the conditions preceding, during, and after salvage logging may differ from those in areas subject to traditional logging. Moreover, the ecological benefits derived from large-scale disturbances (such as the creation of charred trees and coarse woody debris) can be lost or severely diminished by salvage operations for decades and even centuries (Lindenmayer & Ough 2006). These problems have often been overlooked or poorly understood by conservation biologists, foresters, and other natural resource managers. In some cases salvage impacts may have been so substantial that past interpretations of ecosystem responses to natural disturbance may need to be reexamined. That is, ecosystem processes and biotic responses may have been more influenced by salvage logging than by the initial natural disturbance event. This may be true for hydrological regimes in the northeastern United States following the 1938 hurricane (Foster et al. 1997), aquatic macroinvertebrates in the western United States (Minshall 2003), and arboreal marsupials in the forests of Victoria, Australia, after the 1939 and 1983 wildfires (Lindenmayer et al. 1997).

“Whereas most documented effects of salvage logging are negative from an ecological standpoint, others can be neutral or positive, depending on the response variables measured. Effects are likely to vary over time and among and within vegetation types in response to the type, intensity, and periodicity of natural disturbance and disturbance by salvage logging. Therefore, there can be no generic recipes for salvage logging that can be uncritically applied in all landscapes.

“Perhaps one of the problems associated with the lack of appreciation of the impacts of salvage logging lies in the terminology itself. Dictionary definitions of the term salvage associate it with “recover or save” or “saving of anything from loss or danger” (e.g., Delbridge & Bernard 1989). Although salvage logging removes wood from burned areas, such practices generally do not help regenerate or save ecosystems, communities, or species (but see Radeloff et al. 2000) and often have the opposite effect. Hence, in many respects, the term salvage is inappropriate and misleading from ecological and conservation perspectives. An alternative term might be postdisturbance logging.”

BLM issues preemptive Moses letter to all employees

Moses letter

A message sent yesterday to all Bureau of Land Management employees is a version of what has been affectionally known over the years as a “Moses Letter”.

During the heat of an exceptionally busy wildfire season the top leadership of federal land management agencies sometimes send a message to all employees beseeching them to make as many people available as possible to help with the firefighting effort.

“Let My People Go!” is a line from the spiritual “Go Down Moses.” The phrase originates in the Book of Exodus 5:1:

And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.

Yesterday’s message was sent by William Perry Pendley (who adds  “Esq.” after his name in his signature). Mr. Pendley is the Deputy Director for Policy and Programs in the BLM, but is serving as the effective head of the agency — the administration has left the position of BLM director empty for President Trump’s entire presidency.

Messages like this are not usually seen until mid- to late summer when thousands of firefighters are battling wildfires and resources are scarce. Anticipating resource shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the letter was sent preemptively, months earlier than has been typical.

Here is an excerpt from Mr. Pendley’s Moses Letter:

“During these challenging times, our firefighters need our help.  That is why we are working to provide opportunities to permit each one of us, safely and effectively, to support wildland firefighting in some capacity.  BLM employees can help in many areas other than operational firefighting, for example, finance, logistics, planning, and public information.  Incident Management Teams need members with these skills to support firefighters and communities.  Local area support is also needed in dispatch centers and fire supply caches.

“The need is real.  The National Interagency Fire Center’s Predictive Services group, which closely analyzes weather and vegetation to create the most accurate wildland fire outlook possible, foresees above-normal wildland fire activity this year.  Following a dry fall and winter, drought is emerging and expanding across California, Oregon, and Nevada, that is, much of the Great Basin near our headquarters in Grand Junction.  Additionally, we see increased use of our public lands during the pandemic, which could increase human-caused fires.

“For all these reasons, I’m asking managers to support employee participation in wildland fire support functions.  Fire managers have the responsibility to share training schedules and educate non-fire personnel on the opportunities available, and to provide safe wildland fire suppression operations during the pandemic.

“Support for emergencies such as wildland fire management may take precedence over non-emergency activities.  Workforce contingency plans set priorities and shift local capabilities in order to continue critical work when incident response is necessary.  Employees not qualified or otherwise unavailable to directly assist with wildland fires can indirectly support the effort by filling in behind their peers to ensure that the BLM’s important daily work continues uninterrupted.”

The song below is also known as “Let my people go.”

BLM is concerned that some states will not permit state and local firefighters to respond to wildfires outside their local jurisdictions

blm firefighter
BLM file photo.

While taking active measures to protect the public and employees and minimize exposure to COVID-19, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to reduce hazardous fuels across the West and in Alaska and to plan for the upcoming fire season by maintaining and strengthening firefighting capabilities.

“We are committed to protecting our colleagues in the BLM and those with whom we come in contact during this challenging time; however, as westerners we know we must fight fire all year long and we will do exactly that,” said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley.  “Guided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health authorities, we continue to implement proactive COVID-19 measures to protect employees and the public, but, when it comes to fire, we have no intention of standing down.”

The BLM Fire and Aviation program works closely with, and relies on, its state and local partners for all wildfire suppression efforts.  During the COVID-19 outbreak, some state governments have declared they will not permit state and local resources to respond to wildfires outside of their local jurisdiction, which will greatly limit the national response capabilities of these valuable resources.  The BLM is working with these governments to address concerns and to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that shared resources are available to be deployed wherever need may be greatest.

“In order to ensure smooth interstate wildfire suppression operations, all wildland firefighters must be permitted to cross state boundaries without restriction to ensure safe and effective wildfire operations throughout the country,” said Pendley. “We beseech our federal, state, and local partners to ensure that ability.”

Every year, the BLM works with its Federal, state, and local partners to conduct initial attack on all wildland fire incidents to suppress wildfires as soon as they ignite.  Aggressive initial attack is the single most important method to ensure the safety of firefighters and the public; it also limits suppression costs.  During the COVID-19 outbreak, the wildland fire agencies will continue to work to suppress wildfires with the goal of reducing wildfire size and intensity.

The BLM is also working with its Federal, state and local partners to develop specific COVID-19 wildfire response plans to provide for wildland fire personnel safety.  These plans outline best management practices to limit the spread of the virus and to provide a safe working environment for all wildland fire personnel.

In addition to large air tankers and Type 1 and 2 helicopters under contract with the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM will have on contract 34 Single Engine Airtankers (SEAT), 4 water scooping air tankers, 7 smokejumper planes, 19 tactical support aircraft, and 25 helicopters for wildfire suppression efforts this year.  The BLM also has access to call when needed helicopters, SEATs, Large and Very Large Airtankers, water scoopers, and  tactical support aircraft.


BLM conducts 1,123-acre prescribed fire northeast of Billings, MT

BLM prescribed fire Billings Montana
BLM’s Kendall Coulee South prescribed fire northeast of Billings, MT on April 20, 2020. BLM photo by Colby K. Neal.

Bureau of Land Management firefighters conducted the 1,123-acre Kendall Coulee South prescribed fire northeast of Billings, MT on April 20, 2020.

BLM prescribed fire Billings Montana
BLM’s Kendall Coulee South prescribed fire northeast of Billings, MT on April 20, 2020. BLM photo by Colby K. Neal.

The BLM uploaded the video below, April 22, 2020: “Safely and successfully conducting a prescribed fire requires a great deal of planning and coordination. Addressing the additional health concerns we currently face adds to that challenge. The BLM Montana/Dakotas has developed an approach that is allowing firefighters to continue this important work.”

BLM plans to build 11,000 miles of fuel breaks

BLM Fuelbreak EIS

On Friday, February 14 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for Fuel Breaks in the Great Basin. This Final PEIS provides for the construction and maintenance of a system of up to 11,000 miles of fuel breaks within a 223 million acre area to aid in the control of wildfires in portions of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, and Utah.

The Preferred Alternative outlined in the PEIS analyzes manual, chemical and mechanical treatments, including prescribed fire, seeding, and targeted grazing to construct and maintain a system of fuel breaks. These treatments would be implemented along roads and rights-of-way on BLM-administered lands to minimize new disturbance and wildlife habitat fragmentation and to maximize accessibility for wildland firefighters.

BLM Fuelbreak Map

The estimated total cost of developing and producing the PEIS was $2.3 million.

“Wildfires pose an enormous threat to rangelands in the Great Basin – rangelands that people depend on for both recreational opportunities and their livelihoods, and that wildlife rely on for habitat,” said BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley. “Fuel breaks are one of the most important tools we have to give wildland firefighters a chance to safely and effectively contain rapidly moving wildfires and potentially reduce wildfire size.”

cost constructing fuel breaks BLM
From the BLM PEIS

Wildfires in sagebrush communities in the Great Basin states are becoming more frequent and larger, fueled by large, unbroken swaths of grasses, brush and other vegetation. Over 13.5 million acres of historically sagebrush communities on BLM land burned within the project area between 2009 and 2018. Wildfires that consume sagebrush provide the opportunity for invasive annual grasses to increase, making future large and severe wildfires more likely.

BLM Fuelbreak
Example of a mowed fuel break. BLM photo.

The concept behind fuel breaks is to break up or fragment continuous fuels by reducing vegetation in key locations. When a wildfire burns into a fuel break, the flame lengths decrease and its progress slows, making it safer and easier for firefighters to control.

An electronic copy of the Final PEIS and associated documents is available for public review for 30 days on the BLM Land Use Planning and NEPA register at Other documents related to the EIS are at the BLM’s ePlanning website.  The BLM will issue a Record of Decision after the end of the public review period.

BLM Announces New Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation

Will oversee all aspects of the BLM’s Fire and Aviation program

Grant Beebe BLM
Grant Beebe, BLM’s new Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation

The Bureau of Land Management announced today that Grant Beebe, a veteran wildland firefighting professional, has been selected as the BLM’s new Assistant Director for Fire and Aviation based in Boise, Idaho. Mr. Beebe has been acting in the position since March of 2019.

Even though is title is Assistant Director, Mr. Beebe oversees the BLM’s entire Fire and Aviation program, including policy, operational oversight, and working with partner agencies and other elements of the BLM to ensure the program is carried out effectively and most of all, safely. The BLM performs 70 percent of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s firefighting and hazardous fuel reduction efforts.

“Grant is a widely respected and highly experienced fire professional,” said BLM Deputy Director for Programs and Policy William Perry Pendley. “He has deep knowledge of wildland fire management, as well as fire readiness and training, honed both in the United States and overseas. His leadership abilities, passion, and commitment will continue to be just what our fire program needs going forward.”

Grant Beebe BLM
Grant Beebe as a smokejumper

Mr. Beebe has a long history in the BLM fire program where he started as a smokejumper at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise in 1990. In 1997, he took a break from the BLM to work for the German government in Indonesia to provide fire training and fire readiness expertise. In 1998, he returned to Boise as the Base Manager for the smokejumper loft at NIFC before moving into other areas of fire management, including planning and budget in 2011.

He received a bachelor’s degree in English from University of California at Davis and a master’s in Forest Fire Management from Colorado State University. He will continue to be based at NIFC.