Wildfire, Forest and Wildlife Management: Stupid is as Stupid Does


by Capt. William E. Simpson II
12-16-2018
OPINION

Website

Ok, so the gloves are coming off in this article and deservedly so. Some might think this critique as overly harsh? But I would respond in return; how harsh is it for tens of thousands of people, including children, to be displaced from their homes just before the holidays? And all because some obtuse scientists, officials as well as off-base environmentalists are standing in the way of an evolutionarily proven solution for devolving catastrophic wildfire back to the normal wildfire we expect on the landscape? I will get to that just a bit later herein.

The most recent wildfire season in Oregon and California have been arguably the worst yet, and are provably the results of plain stupidity, which, according to most dictionaries, is a failure to learn

We certainly have a lot of that going on among scientists corrupted by money [1] and agencies who are paid with our hard-earned tax dollars to manage our publicly-owned natural resources in a logical and effective manner, but instead seem to cater to the will of a select few stakeholders instead of the majority of the stakeholders, the tax-paying citizens.

Catastrophic wildfires are now destroying the western United States at a level commensurate with the devastation seen in warfare. Just in California during the 2018 wildfires approximately 15,000 homes were lost along with about 300 business structures. Last year’s wildfire season (2017) in California had estimated losses totaling $180-billion dollars. And the costs related to the catastrophic wildfires of 2018 are now estimated at over $400-billion!

The official fire reports of these immense infernos consistently list ‘grass’ and ‘brush’ (‘1-hour fuels’) as key fuels, which are primarily vegetative materials one-quarter of an inch in diameter (0.25”) and smaller. These 1-hour fuels provide both the fuel for ignition (kindling the fire) as well as fueling and carrying the fire to other heavy fuels such as homes. And when the herbivores that evolved to consume these fuels are eliminated, the wildfires are then made excessively hot (catastrophic) from the prodigious 1-hour fuels.

When ecosystems across the landscape are balanced and contain the appropriate densities and species of native herbivore populations, wildfires have much less fuel available across the landscape and the resulting wildfires are not nearly as hot as those we have experienced in recent decades. 

Prior to 1960 and as far back as recorded N.A. history, wildfires burned much more area than today. However, it is vitally important to understand the nature (the heat) of these fires varied greatly (much cooler) from most of the super-hot highly-fueled grass and brush-fed wildfires we see today. The cooler-burning natural wildfires of the past are what is expected on the landscape and is what is beneficial to the wildlands for renewal. “While high intensity fires tend to decrease site productivity, low intensity fires can increase site productivity” (Carter and Foster 2003) [2]

The preponderance of science and empirical experience support the statement that the catastrophic wildfires we are experiencing today are not natural and are the result of defective wildlife management policies and practices leading to the loss of millions of large-bodied herbivores, and this extends into the obtuse management of native species American wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The deer population of California is currently down over the past 5-decades by approximately 2-Million animals, and Oregon’s deer population is down about 150,000 animals. These now missing California deer had been consuming about 2.6-million tons of grass and brush (1-hour fuels). This massive amount of highly flammable, super-hot burning fuel is made available for ignition and combustion during the longer-warmer summers. These particular un-grazed fuels without a doubt represent the largest part of the wildfire problem we are experiencing today in the western states, especially California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington. 

According to a study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

"By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape."

Carbon Sequestration Issues: 
When wildlands burn catastrophically, hundreds of millions of tons of carbon compounds are released from their sequestered states and into the atmosphere. This presents a very serious problem for mankind. In addition to releasing massive quantities of greenhouse gases, deadly particulate toxins are released into our breathing air during these super-hot wildfires, and are particularly problematic given the very serious toxicity in humans and wildlife.

Most of the public and even some medical doctors are largely unaware of the complexity and scope of airborne wildfire toxins and the now-evolving monumental public health crises. The EPA and some doctors seem to be getting up to speed on the serious adverse effects of carbon-monoxide poisoning and the effects of micro-particulates and some of the damage they do to heart and lung tissues, but many of the hundreds of deadly toxins and their effects are not yet fully understood. In fact, there are no toxicity tests for some of these arguably deadly toxins. Still others are prime suspects as potent carcinogens.

More here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3221783

One of the very latest studies:
Hundreds of deadly toxins in wildfire smoke: New EPA study

And here is an article that highlights the scope (as of 2015) of this growing public health crises:
National Geographic: 'Smoke From Wildfires Is Killing Hundreds of Thousands of People'
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/151029-wildfires-smoke-asthma-indonesia-california-health/

So, let’s examine the government’s own forensic fire reports as to characteristics of the ‘fuels’ in just a sampling of the recent catastrophic wildfires:

Camp Fire (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6250/)
Size
153,336 Acres

Percent of Perimeter Contained
100%

Fuels Involved
Grass, brush and timber

Mendocino Complex Fire (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6073/)
Basic Information

Current as of
10/25/2018, 8:41:26 AM

Incident Type
Wildfire

Cause
Cause Under Investigation By Cal Fire

Date of Origin
Friday July 27th, 2018 approx. 07:00 PM

Location
Ranch: Northeast of Ukiah, California, River: Northeast of Hopland, California

Incident Description
Wildfire

Coordinates
39.24 latitude, -123.11 longitude

Size
459,123 Acres

Fuels Involved
Timber (Grass and Understory)
Chaparral (6 feet)
Tall Grass (2.5 feet)

Klondike Fire (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5998/)
Basic Information
Current as of
11/5/2018, 7:28:51 AM

Incident Type
Wildfire

Cause
Lightning/natural

Date of Origin
Sunday July 15th, 2018 approx. 10:45 PM

Location
9 miles northwest of Selma, OR

Coordinates
42.369 latitude, -123.86 longitude

Fuels Involved
Timber (Litter and Understory)
Timber (Grass and Understory)
Brush (2 feet)

Mixed conifer and hardwood timber stands interspersed with brush patches. Abundant snags and jackpots of heavy fuels.

Klamathon Fire (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5910/)
Basic Information

Current as of
7/19/2018, 12:53:12 PM

Incident Type
Wildfire

Cause
Unknown

Date of Origin
Thursday July 05th, 2018 approx. 12:31 AM

Location
Hornbrook, Hilt, Colestin, Soda Mountain Wilderness and Klamath River Country Estate

Incident Description
Grass, Brush & Timber

Coordinates
41.88 latitude, -122.54 longitude

Current Situation
Total Personnel
1,642

Size
37,900 Acres

Percent of Perimeter Contained
90%

Fuels Involved
Chaparral (6 feet)
Tall Grass (2.5 feet)
Timber (Litter and Understory)

ERC levels are approaching historical thresholds.

Catastrophic wildfires have been trending upwards over the past decade, so it’s not like this is some new paradigm that caught agencies and officials off-guard like a meteor suddenly appearing in our solar system and heading for earth. Many legislators, agencies and appointed officials (including some at the USFS) as well as scientists, have had ample time to observe and learn the pathology of these brutally hot unnatural wildfires, as well as the evolution of catastrophic wildfire on the landscape, yet they seem to have learned nothing.  

It appears that we can lead some politicians and even scientists to the truth (the facts), but we cannot make them think! Several major published studies agree on reason for the evolution of catastrophic wildfire as being the loss of our native species grass and brush mowers (large-bodied herbivores), and here is another example:

Another published study states:

"The removal of large herbivores has adverse effects on landscape structure and ecosystem functioning. In wetter ecosystems, the loss of large herbivores is associated with an increased abundance of woody plants and the development of a closed-canopy vegetation. In drier ecosystems, reductions of large grazers can lead to a high grass biomass, and thus, to an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Together, with the loss of a prey base for large carnivores, these changes in vegetation structures and fire regimes may trigger cascades of extinctions (Bakker et al., 2016; Estes et al., 2011; Hopcraft, Olff, & Sinclair, 2009; Malhi et al., 2016)."

Let’s recap the learning that any logically-thinking layperson, not inhibited by any agenda, could glean from a cursory observation of catastrophic wildfires and the obvious empirical data over the past decade:

1.   Every year the winter and spring rains come and the annual grass and brush fills-in the landscape, essentially reloading the wildfire gun at our heads. And this same process happens in many areas burned during past summers. When there is more rain as is the case in some years, there is even more grass and brush than in drier years. During years of abundant forage, assuming a proper population of deer, more fawns will survive and hence, the grazing capacity of the total population will increase as needed in real-time to control abundant fuels on the landscape. This is also true for native species American wild horses, which originated and evolved on the North American continent as symbionts to the ecosystems across the landscape. This perspective is consistent with all credible paleontological ecologists, such as the curator of vertebrates at the American Museum of Natural History, Dr. Ross MacPhee.

2.   The herbivores that made-up our North American native-species herbivory, such as deer, elk, buffalo and wild horses, which had evolved consuming these vegetative materials (grass & brush), have been significantly depleted from the landscape over the past 300-years. Three-hundred years ago when native Americans occasionally used a token amount of fire as a tool to manage small areas of the landscape, there were about 100-million more large-bodied herbivores on the North American landscape than there are today, which included about 50-million buffalo and 20-million wild horses. The past balance in the ecosystems across the landscape, which included a proper herbivory, prevented the fire being used by native Americans from becoming catastrophic in nature. Today, the numbers of large native species herbivores are severely depleted, and much of the grass and brush that they consumed remains un-grazed and ready to combust. A significant portion of the areas that were previously served by this collapsed herbivory is not serviceable by invasive-species livestock due to such areas being extremely remote, rugged, the presence of rare and endangered species of plants that would be stripped by invasive grazers, and the presence of many predators that would make fast work of cattle, sheep or goats. These now wildfire-prone wilderness areas are being coined as ‘firesheds’. When catastrophic wildfires occur in these rugged and remote areas, aerial fire suppression is usually required costing as much as $1-Million per hour.

3.    Climate Change is not the primary driver for catastrophic wildfire.  A warmer climate has some impact on the speed in which vegetative materials (grass & brush) dry-out (moisture content) and makes these fuels more flammable sooner in the season, and keeps them drier for a longer period. Generally, most dried grass and brush fuels reach the threshold for combustion at around 550-degrees Fahrenheit. So, contrary to some uninformed posits, even if the global or regional climate warmed by 10-degrees today, that would not make any material difference in when a fuel reaches the ignition threshold. A warmer air mass merely helps fuels to dry quicker, and assuming a longer summer, stay dry longer, which extends the window of time for ignition. One-hour fuels are ‘accelerants’ and quickly disburse heat into the surrounding environment and other fuels leading to the combustion of any heavier, longer-burning fuels present such as trees and structures. When it comes to wildfires, especially catastrophic wildfires, 1-hour fuels are the main event. [4]

4.   Letting forests burn catastrophically is just plain stupid and the heat of these unnatural fires even kills the conifers that have evolved to be fire-resistant. Let It Burn scientists and foresters engage in an occult, usually unspoken policy, which is embedded at the USFS. In addition to some USFS personnel, the same misinformed environmentalists and so-called fire-ecologists who think catastrophic wildfires are a good thing are also talking out of both sides of their faces. Many of these people (hypocrites) also engage in the climate change debate, claiming that we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Now, that’s what I call double talk, since burning wildlands puts hundreds of millions of TONS of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere annually! When vegetative materials and trees are burned (grass, brush trees, etc.) the carbon that is sequestered in them is released into the atmosphere. However, when vegetative materials are grazed, the carbon remains sequestered. In fact, in addition to a host of carbon compounds that are released, deadly carbon monoxide gas is released. In 2017, just the wildfires in Oregon released 3.3-Million Tons of carbon monoxide gas and that’s more than all the on-road CO emissions in a year! [5]

Here is what an intelligent forest management plan encompassesThree synergistic actions

1. Correcting Unnatural 1-hour Fuel Loading:
First and foremost, correcting the core fundamental problem of prodigious 1-hour fuel loading in and around forests and wildlands that stems from an ecological imbalance; severely depleted herbivores due to overly abundant predators, especially mountains lions.

a. Prescribed burns generally are not the answer because; (i) they cost a lot of tax-dollars and must be repeated often compared to the free-of-cost year-round mixed-herbivory method proposed in this Mixed Herbivory Plan, and (ii) prescribed burns release even more sequestered carbon compounds into the atmosphere, and (iii) prescribed burns can quickly turn into dangerous uncontrolled wildfires, and (iv) more burning is illogical when a mixed herbivory program can accomplish much of the needed 1-hr. fuel abatement, especially in remote rugged areas (aka: 'firesheds') where aerial fire suppression costs are about $1-Million/hour.

It's important to note that: When native Americans used fire to manage the landscape, there were about 100-million more large-bodied herbivores grazing on the landscape than today. Those now missing native-species herbivores consumed about 273-Million tons of annual grass and brush (1-hour fuels), based on an average grazing of 15-lbs/day across various native species herbivores. The best science informs us that when native-species herbivores are depleted, catastrophic wildfire evolves.

Reducing the current prodigious 1-hour fuel loading requires the reestablishment and re-wilding of; (i) large-bodied native-species herbivores (cervids and wild horses); and (ii) applying intelligent application of invasive-species grazing herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats) into suitable areas that do not contain abundant predators or sensitive ecosystems with rare and threatened native flora. We know that the key in using any 'invasive species' of herbivore is careful application and management of their deployment. This lesson was learned in Salem, Oregon. Cattle and sheep can present the same problem to some extent or another as well.

Unfortunately, we are having to address all of the intentional misinformation put into narratives by the BLM about native-species American wild horses, which do not harm riparian areas, and are actually used in Europe to reestablish riparian areas as we see in This Video.

2. Logging And Thinning Forests:

a. Forests must be managed by experienced managers who have a holistic approach to forest management. Overstocked (high tree densities) forests must be culled so tree densities are optimal (based on species and carrying capacity of landscape) in order to preserve water and light resources for the best trees and this requires intelligent thinning.

In ecologically sensitive areas containing rare flora and fauna, domestic draft horses have been well-proven to be a successful method for both logging and thinning in ecological sensitive forests. In other less sensitive areas, traditional methods (mechanized) can be employed with proven success.

b. Access Roads: Fewer access roads are needed when logging and thinning the interior areas of ecologically sensitive forests and wilderness areas is accomplished using horse logging as seen in just one of many videos on this subject (OPB Video on Horse Logging In Oregon).

For other non-ecologically sensitive areas, traditional well-designed and maintained 2-blade (two track) roads provide access into and around forest areas and also provide needed points of access for wildfire suppression by ground crews.

3. Wildfire Suppression: With the assumption that the foregoing programs and methods are implemented, full wildfire suppression is logical and made far more effective by the implementation of the best-practices as outlined herein above, and therefore must be set as established policy by all agencies.

References:

[1] Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition - Marc A. Edwards and Siddhartha Roy

[2] http://www2.nau.edu/~gaud/bio300w/frsl.htm

[3] Fire grazing: Why wild horses can do better than cattle in wildfire battle – William E. Simpson II

[4] http://calfireweb.fire.ca.gov/library/handbooks/7800/7823.pdf

[5] https://healthyforests.org/2018/02/2017-oregon-wildfires-emitted-nearly-3-3-million-tons-of-carbon-monoxide/

[6] Natural Wildfire Abatement and Forest Protection Plan – William E. Simpson II (https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/6a30c6_39c677396bba4fbea3e2b49c94d3b97c.pdf)

William Simpson is the author of Dark Stallions – Legend of the Centaurians, proceeds from which go towards supporting wild and domestic horse rescue and sanctuary.

Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family for years at a time. He holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial-inspected passenger vessels and he is also a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot.

Simpson spent his formative years growing up on the family’s working ranch in the mountains of Southern Oregon, where horses were an integral part of the daily life. William left the family ranch to attend college, which turned out to be a stepping stone into a bizarre lifestyle that led him around the world on an entrepreneurial quest. An adventurer at heart, Simpson and his best friend and wife Laura, spent many years at sea during two sailing expeditions (1991-1994 and 2008-2011) where they experienced some of the many wonders and mysteries of nature. Since retiring, Bill and Laura have changed lifestyles and are once again engaged in a new adventure; living an off-grid lifestyle in the remote wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains, where they enjoy coexisting with herds of wild horses, along with a myriad of other wild animals. The staggering beauty of the local mountains and valleys is awe inspiring and has influenced Bill to frequently write on subjects related to wild horses as well as wild and domestic horse advocacy, rescue and sanctuary.

The opinions expressed on MyOutdoorBuddy are those of the author and do not represent the opinion of MyOutdoorBuddy or that of the author's employer unless otherwise stated.