DOI reports that they exceeded fuel treatment goals in FY 2019

Reduced wildfire risks on 1.4 million acres

Prescribed fire at Big Cypress National Preserve
Prescribed fire at Big Cypress National Preserve. NPS image.

This Department of the Interior announced it had doubled and nearly tripled targets set by President Donald Trump for vegetation treatments to reduce wildfire risk in Fiscal Year 2019, marking the largest fuel load reduction in a decade, according to information from the DOI. The announcement came as the four land management agencies with wildland fire programs in the Department — the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — reported their end-of-year accomplishments.

In December 2018, the President issued Executive Order 13855, directing the DOI and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote active management of America’s forests and rangelands to reduce wildfire risk with specific targets for actions.

The DOI was required to:

  • Treat 750,000 acres public lands to reduce fuel loads;
  • Treat 500,000 acres of public lands to protect water quality and mitigate severe flooding and erosion risks arising from forest fires; and
  • Reduce vegetation through forest health treatments by offering for sale 600 million board feet of timber from public lands.

Working toward those goals, the DOI announcement stated that they:

  • Reduced fuel loads on more than 1.4 million acres of DOI-administered lands, covering nearly two times more acres than required under the Executive Order;
  • Protected water quality on more than 1.4 million acres of DOI administered lands, nearly three times the acres required; and
  • Planned for harvest or offered for sale more than 750 million board feet of timber to reduce vegetation giving rise to wildfire conditions, exceeding the target by 25 percent.

Santa Fe National Forest fuels & restoration videos, parts 3 and 4

fuel management fire forest
Screenshot from Part 4 of the Santa Fe NF series of videos on fuel management.

Here are parts three and four of the series of 12 videos produced by the Santa Fe National Forest on the topic of fuel management and forest restoration.

Fuel Management is defined as:

An act or practice of controlling flammability and reducing resistance to control of wildland fuels [vegetation] through mechanical, chemical, biological, or manual means, or by fire, in support of land management objectives.

Forest Restoration:

Actions to re-instate ecological processes, which accelerate recovery of forest structure, ecological functioning and biodiversity levels towards those typical of climax forest, i.e. the end-stage of natural forest succession.


Part 3, How We Got Here


Part 4, The Scientific Evidence

Other videos in the series, published weekly, can be seen here. The final video will appear on October 20, 2019.

“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.

A ball and chain is not always a bad thing

At least not when it is used to reduce a fire hazard

ball and chain vegetation management fire hazard

This image posted on Twitter by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, reminded me of when I was involved with a ball and chain operation one winter on the Sitton Peak project on the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California in the early 1970s.

The objective is to rip out or crush brush in order to reduce the wildfire hazard. It can be used to create a fuel break in lighter brush, or knock down heavier brush to make it easier and safer to conduct a prescribed fire.

When I was the contracting officer’s representative (COR) on the project a large dozer pulled about 100 to 200 feet of anchor chain that weighed 40 to 80 pounds per link. At the far end of the chain was a Navy surplus steel ball, a float, about five or six feet in diameter, that had been used with an anti-submarine net. The float was designed to support a net made of steel cable that was stretched across the mouth of a harbour or a strait for protection against submarines. A seven-mile long net was in place across the entrance to San Francisco Bay on December 7, 1941.

Anti-submarine net floats
Anti-submarine net and floats. US Navy photo
anti-submarine net
U.S. Navy

When the system was used on the Sitton Peak project we found that the ball needed to be heavier, so we filled it with water. That didn’t last long because the ball led a hard life, constantly being dragged across the ground and over rocks. The water leaked out through gouges in the steel. We later experimented with other materials inside the ball, including gravel, that were retained for a longer period of time.

Landscape architects liked the appearance of a chained fuel break better than those constructed by a dozer blade because it left some vegetation and a feathered edge — a more natural shape with fewer straight lines. As the dozer pulled the assembly, the chain encountered variable resistance and would temporarily get hung up on a rock or a heavy brush patch. If the dozer was driving along a ridge top, this would cause the ball to traverse up and down the slope, leaving a zig-zag or irregular edge.

When used on flat ground, the ball is positioned and then the dozer drives in circles around it.

With the brush crushed, close to the ground, and later dried out, it can then be treated with prescribed fire that burns less intensely than standing live brush in the summer.

A ball and chain is not exactly a light-hand-on-the-land system. There is serious soil and vegetation disturbance, so before considering the method, any sensitive plants, animals, and artifacts need to be carefully evaluated.

Back in 2009 I wrote about a misadventure that involved the dozer we used on the Sitton Peak project. It became seriously stuck in mud while “walking” back from the project on a dirt road. Four trucks that came to rescue the dozer also got stuck in the same area. It was one of those incidents where rescuers became victims. The article has photos I took of the FUBAR incident.

Firewise: reducing the wildfire risk around your home

wildfire risk home tree spacing

Earlier this week Firewise and the National Fire Protection Association released this new video that explains how to reduce the wildfire risks around your home.

How to prevent your house from burning during a wildfire

We can benefit from Dr. Jack Cohen’s research

Above: Screenshot from the NFPA video below.

In light of the article posted earlier today reporting on Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order for the Department of the Interior to be more aggressive about conducting fuel treatment activities to better protect facilities from burning in a wildfire, this video is very appropriate.

Nobody knows more than Dr. Jack Cohen about why and how structures burn. He also knows what homeowners can do to make their homes fire resistant.

Before recently retiring, Dr. Cohen was a Fire Science Researcher with the U.S. Forest Service.