If any fires that burn in beetle ravaged forests get bad enough, the U.S. Forest Service will consider giving up acreage and hopefully keep firefighters safe. Here are some of the problems fire crews could face:
Thick beds of pine needles, fallen timber and weakened trees create great risks, officials say. Fallen timber makes getting in and out of an area difficult. Hotter fires can spread quickly among tree crowns. And falling trees pose a risk.
Decisions on how to fight fires are always made on a case-by-case basis depending on factors such as weather and the fires’ proximity to developed areas, fire officials said.
The reason I highlighted part of that sentence is that some of the responses to the article on the Post’s site unfairly attack liberals and the Forest Service. It’s not surprising those comments are there. After all, conservatives make a habit of criticizing without offering their own solutions. Now on to the meatier side of this issue.
First off, you can find a map of affected areas at Colorado State University’s Forest Service website. Areas affected primarily by mountain pine beetles are displayed by themselves on the second map.
A spokesperson for the Forest Service’s pine bark beetle incident management team duly notes that the beetles took 10 years to affect one million acres. In the 11th year, half that number was affected. That is a sign that the system shifted in a radical, meaningful way. As a nonlinear system, these kinds of quick shifts are to be expected, and more shifts like them are likely in store for it in the future. We continue to force the climate system and the system is showing sign after sign that the forcing is having an effect. Add in a century of less-than-optimal forest management, and it’s obvious that the West of the 21st century has been dealt a bad hand that must be dealt with responsibly.
Only one-third of the affected land is in areas where there may be structures, homes and roads. So the chances that a different kind of fire management plan than normal would be enacted is pretty low. The remaining two-thirds of the land is in areas where fires are already allowed to burn. Instead of stupidly rushing people in to fight fires where conditions might be extremely dangerous, the Forest Service is already planning on studying the situation first. That’s called acting responsibly.
One of the commenters at the Post’s site remarks that a better plan than just letting the forests burn is utilizing the timber for commercial use. Now, the Post’s article did not mention that there were many potential solutions passed by the state legislature and Gov. Ritter this year. Among them: incentives for products that use timber killed by the mountain pine beetle infestation, or $1 million annually through 2012 to help consumers implement forest treatment projects to reduce wildfire fuels. How about federal efforts? Rep. Mark Udall has put up the following:
H.R. 5216 would amend the newly-enacted energy legislation to allow more trees to be removed from National Forests to qualify for incentives to use “renewable biomass” to generate energy.
H.R. 5218 focuses on additional steps to help Colorado communities act to reduct potential damage from wildfires. This includes setting up responsible personnel and procedures, grants for responsible development and grants for establishing fire-hazard assessment maps.
Want another example? How about the following:
the transition from a coal to a geo-exchange and woody biomass heating system for schools in Oak Creek, CO. The old coal heating system was one of the last of its kind in a school in Colorado. The woody biomass will be provided from wood pellets that came from trees killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
The problem with any and all of the mitigation and responses to the beetle problem is cost. Programs cost money to plan and implement and verify. Where is that money supposed to come from? Are we in the West supposed to simply allow timber companies to come in and based solely on their word only harvest dead trees? I have a deeper suspicion of corporate accountability than I do governmental accountability. The government is set up to respond to the people. Corporations have gotten away with all kinds of things under the Bush “administration”. Further, money is lacking because conservatives have removed funding sources from the government to give to unaccountable corporations.
I’ll ask the question again: how much are we spending to occupy Iraq? And another: do you feel that the money is being spent in the best way or are there other policies and programs that should be funded instead? Every dollar wasted to occupy Iraq is a dollar and interest that we don’t have to spend on programs to reduce millions of acres of fuels for wildfires, or any other problem we face.
By the way, an additional piece of news: the Forest Service released a plan to remove beetle-kill trees along roadways on the 2nd of June.