Wildfire Conflagrations & Obtuse Thinking

by Capt. William E. Simpson II


Unmanageable wildfire conflagrations that kill people and destroy thousands of homes and many millions of acres of forest annually are due to abnormal amounts of ground fuel matrix (hot-burning grass and brush) in and around the forest and urban wild land interface ('UWI'). The recent evolution of the presence of these prodigious amounts of ground fuels is the direct result of an ecological imbalance caused by inept wild life management. The ungulates (deer) that had in previous decades grazed-down these dangerous ground fuels are now in serious decline because of over-predation by excessive numbers of mountain lions (aka; Cougars, Puma).

In California alone, we have at least 6,000 or more mountain lions, each one of which kills about 50-60 deer annually. As we see from some simple math, up to 360,000 deer are killed in CA annually by mountain lions, along with thousands of people's pets and livestock. Unlike many writers today, I tend to write about subject matter where I have personal and practical experience, as opposed to attempting to locate and cite what others have observed and may even have some practical experience with, in the creation of an article. In the case of California mountain lions and the acute population decline of deer (down about 2,000,000 deer since 1975), I have in fact written several articles about the bungling management of our wildlife resources.

The 2-million California deer that are no-longer grazing in and around our forests and UWI areas formerly reduced ground fuel loading by about 3-million tons of grass and brush annually!

The current deer population in CA alone is in peril of imploding with an estimated remaining total population of about 350,000 deer. And with lions arguably killing a similar number annually we seem to be on track for yet another 'big fail' through management by people who have little practical experience and/or who are allowing environmentalists without experience to disproportionately influence management policies, which is what got the lion problem rolling to begin with.

The remaining numbers of deer and other wildlife are now under even greater pressure through death by wildfire and smoke inhalation; yes fire and smoke kills deer and people too as we can read here.

So, when we read the following excerpt in light of the foregoing and in consideration of our ongoing wildfire mismanagement train-wreck, it makes a lot of sense.

According to Science Magazine: “By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape. There are even unique interactions among large herbivore populations that can influence fire regimes. For example, facilitative interactions between white rhinoceros and mesoherbivores result in reduced fuel loads and fuel continuity, and consequently fewer large, intense fires (71). Other factors can influence the frequency and intensity of fires, particularly in locations where the total area burned is strongly related to ungulate population size.

But it was some time back when we had about 2.5-million natural grass and brush mowers (deer) doing a very important job for us; but, this is now.

Many scholars (including some so-called scientists) have in some cases little or no meaningful practical experience in the areas where they posit highly theoretical conjectures to affect resource management policies, many times allegedly supported by the posits of other third parties. And sometimes these opinions are positioned as thesis papers or in the case of Mr. Dominick DellaSala, as 'Testimony' as it applies to his paper as presented to the House Natural Resources Committee (as cited herein below). What's critically important about this is; his opinion may very well influence policy makers into possibly making policy that could lead to greater losses of human lives, forests and private property. And because I am a stakeholder in our public resources that may be adversely affected by Mr. DellaSala, I also have a right to call his opinions into question.

Testimony of Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala
Chief Scientist, Geos Institute, Ashland Oregon
Before the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee
on Oversight and Investigations
September 27, 2017
Oversight Hearing “Exploring Solutions to Reduce Risks of Catastrophic Wildfire and
Improve Resilience of National Forests”

From my cursory review of his webpage and C. Vitae (I encourage others to form their own opinions), it's my current opinion that Mr. DellaSala has little or no practical experience in actual firefighting, forest or wildlife management, nor can I determine from his C. Vitae that he has much of any experience beyond being a facilitator of politics and environmentalism into science, and injecting environmentalism into natural resource management policy. Interestingly, his doctorate is in Philosophy.

Most people who hire others look to add value (and safety) by hiring people with a first-hand knowledge and experience base. When the FBI was having trouble with an epidemic of check counterfeiters they were intelligent enough to hire an expert in that area with practical experience, as many readers recall from the book and movie about Frank Abagnale.

In the commercial transport industries (airlines and ships) you don't get to pilot any commercial aircraft or ship after reading some books and flying a Cessna 152 around a bit or sailing a small boat; too many lives are at stake. But isn't that the same issue we have with forests today? And let's not forget that people do die when forests are mismanaged.

It occurs to me that we have far too many people in the policy-making and regulatory mix who don't have the experience needed to even provide adequate oversight, let alone determine valid management methods from flawed methods that are premised upon obtuse thinking and the dogma of rabid environmentalism and globalism

Look at the spotted-owl debacle for example, which needlessly devastated the financial economy of the Pacific Northwest lumber industry, as yet of another example of a huge fail that was by the way supported by Mr. Dominick DellaSala. It turns out it wasn't logging but another owl (barred owl) was displacing the spotted owl as we read here: 'Threatened spotted owl in decline due to barred owl'

The same article goes-on to state:
Environmentalists have informally argued that despite the decline in the spotted owl, the protection of the ancient forests far outweighed the owl issue because many other animals and plants were protected in the process. It would have been overwhelming to try to protect them one by one using the endangered species act and other regulatory methods.

Of course many of these enviro-scientists are, according to them, never wrong, and at times even argue against their own current and recent positions, as we now are reading with Mr. DellaSala, who in regard to forest management seems to abandon saving the forests in light of the newer enviro-craze of global warming, which according to his so-called testimony will burn our forests as part of a natural process, so that's OK. But is it OK, and is it natural? The correct answer to both questions is of course, 'no'.

Men like DellaSala mucked-around in wildlife management policy and now we have a serious depletion in cervids (deer and elk) leading to catastrophic wildfires, and we have to pay the price for their lack of experience - many times, with human lives and property!

According to this fellow (DellaSala), and his perspective (it's apparent he needs to bone-up on thermodynamics and chemistry) anything that burns should be subject to spontaneous combustion right now as a result of Global Warming.

Mr. DellaSala seems to have little understanding of the chemistry and thermodynamics of combustion, and that the clear and obvious culprit for our unnaturally hot wildfires are the prodigious grasses and brush that are now endemic in and around forests and urban areas (like in Sonoma County, CA), which are resulting annually from a significant decline in cervids in and around our forest ecosystems; and that science is well understood and quite basic.

I have to say that I am beginning to wonder if students take math in graduate school anymore?  We are down 2-million deer just in CA alone (other states also have acute declines). Each of those deer (on average) previously grazed about 7-8 lbs. of grasses and brush daily (highly flammable fuel)... that's 2,737 lbs. of grass and brush per year, per deer (white tail, mule deer and elk populations are also generally down, and of course, they eat more).

So as to black tail deer, they eat about 1.25 - 1.75 tons of grasses and brush per deer annually. And when we multiply that by 2-million deer no longer grazing, we arrive at 3-Million tons of grass and brush annually, on average. That's a huge amount of kindling in and around the forests.

In the past, when those 2-million deer were present in and around forests and urban areas, they removed 3-million tons of highly flammable fuels (otherwise called kindling or 'accelerants').  Again, that's 3-Million Tons of fuel, which when burning discharges the energy (BTUs) of many nuclear weapons into the surrounding area, which can be trees, logs, or just homes as we witnessed in Sonoma where over 5,700 homes were obliterated!  fed.us/documnts/techline/fuel-value-calculator.pdf  ... think Hiroshima! Or now, CA.

In fact, when there is the abundance of these fuels, the result is a firestorm: wikipedia.org/wiki/Firestorm

Climatic cycles have nothing to do with combustion and the required thermodynamics of heat (energy) transfer from accelerant fuels to heavier fuels (trees, logs, etc) required to drive wildfires.

The only thing a marginally warmer climate (6-degrees max in the next 100-years) affects as far as wildfires is the length of the fire season is longer and warmer, and that makes the accelerants (grasses and brush) prime for initial combustion over a longer period. But the nature of fuel loading is not affected by climate; only by less vegetative abatement by millions of missing cervids. Frankly, I am shocked that wildlife biologists don't see this obvious correlation to the wildfire problem.

Given that grasses and brush generally ignite at temperatures well above 230 degrees Centigrade (230-300 C), even if Global Warming was at the upper end of the what is considered the high-end prediction of 6-degrees C, the differential is not meaningful in any way as far as increased frequencies of combustion, regardless of the amount of fuel present, as we learn here.

Mr. DellaSala has essentially written in support of a tired-out pleading for a continuation of a 'do nothing in forests method of management', which is the same management methodology that has brought us to disaster. And that paradigm is without any doubt, responsible for the deforestation of America we now see, which is trending to eclipse 9-Million acres annually in America. So what happened to his 1980's mantra of saving forests, wildlife habitat and owls? Did he trade it in for a trendier paradigm related to Agenda 21? Or is he positioning as a leg under the Al Gore stool of Global Warming?

DellaSala's paper even argues against the evolutionary fire resilience of certain conifers, which have evolved over the millennia to withstand normal fire-cycles and which had continued in existence through ancient times of much hotter climates. Yet the very same conifer gene lines are quickly destroyed by the super-hot highly-fueled wildfires of today that devastate even fire-resistant conifers that had withstood normal fire cycles. As it becomes apparent, this new breed of unnaturally hot wildfires are the result of unbalanced ecosystems due to depleted and declining cervid populations. Here we have a case where the math doesn’t lie.

DellaSala has also listed lots of cites purportedly to support his own paper to the House Committee that seem to me, takes the authors of those paper’s posits out of context and/or don't seem to support his interpretation and application of the other authors papers in regard to the perspectives of his own conjectures.

As far as the summary conclusions reached by Mr. DellaSala in his paper, I have commented under each of his summary points just below; [Simpson's remarks in brackets].

In sum,

§§ Recent increases in wildfires and insect outbreaks are a result of a changing climate coupled with human-activities including expansion of homes and roads into the WUI that will only continue to drive up fire suppression costs.

[This is an extremely myopic perspective and exhibits virtually no holistic or interdisciplinary understanding of the evolutionary mutualisms between large herbivores and the biome as it applies to natural fire cycles.

Forest fire suppression costs are directly related to the frequency of wildfire and wildfire prevention as a function of ground-fuel abatement (the genesis of wildfire), which fuel abatement can be easily and ubiquitously accomplished with virtually no cost naturally via the re-introduction of native species herbivores (wild horses) in and around selected forests and wilderness areas.

This is especially true in light of the well documented decline in large herbivores and their proven relationships with wildfire, as is cited again hereto:

According to Science Magazine: “By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape. There are even unique interactions among large herbivore populations that can influence fire regimes. For example, facilitative interactions between white rhinoceros and mesoherbivores result in reduced fuel loads and fuel continuity, and consequently fewer large, intense fires. Other factors can influence the frequency and intensity of fires, particularly in locations where the total area burned is strongly related to ungulate population size.]

§§ Policies should be examined that discourage continued growth in the WUI; any new development must include defensible space and construction from nonflammable materials.

[This is an obtuse statement, and suggests that legislators and officials make land use polices that may infringe or violate the Constitutional Rights of citizens and property owners in order to allegedly support a highly flawed conjecture about wildfire management, which is premised on a wildly ridiculous Global Warming connection to the chemistry of the oxidation of fuels, while concurrently overlooking the increased fuel loading related to energy discharge into other heavier fuels (trees, logs, structures, homes).

Polices that are currently in place (from people like DellaSala) as to forest management, are why the United States is suffering a national epidemic of catastrophic deforestation from unnaturally hot wildfires and the related loss of life, economic damages and the incalculable damages to wildlife, watersheds and fisheries, which damages and losses will, without any doubt, continue trending upward annually under existing policies, including those suggested by DellaSala.

DellaSala talks about 'defensible space' and clearly he has no idea of what that is. The scope of any useful defensible space varies greatly with the intensity of an oncoming conflagration. Sadly, as we witnessed in the tragic California wildfires, even up-to code fire resistant (even stone) structures were devastated, in a community surrounded by roads and sidewalks. Millions of Americans watched on TV as a community with its firefighters were facing an oncoming firestorm, which was largely fueled by grass-brush matrix in Sonoma County, CA. In this tragedy, over 40 people were burned alive and more than 5,700 homes built to modern codes were incinerated. The same fuel loading provides the basis for today's unnaturally hot wildfires and megafires]

§§ The most effective way to protect homes is to create defensible space in the immediate 100 feet of a structure and use of non-flammable materials. Wildland fire policy should fund defensible space, not more logging and thinning miles away from communities.

[Here again above, we read DellaSala speaking as someone who seems naive when it comes the heat and speed of a wildfire (conflagration), as was recently seen in both Sonoma, CA and in the Curry County (Oregon) Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, where nearly 200,000-acres was re-burned as the result of a super-hot, fire-fueled, primarily grass-brush matrix. Defensible spaces on the magnitude of 100-feet in a conflagration wildfire seemed ineffective, so even though "100-feet" might be helpful in smaller fires, but do not seem effective with these new breeds of unnaturally hot wildfires.

A clear example, one would think for scholars, would be the defensible space created by a river. However, even a large river like the mile-wide (5,280 feet) Columbia River, did not prevent the Eagle Crest Fire of 2017 from jumping from Oregon across a mile of water to the Washington side and start burning there. Cited here.

One Oregon city in particular is primed for a disaster; that city is Ashland. If the fuel-laden forests that surround that town should ignite it could easily evolve into a firestorm, and in the location there, which is lodged in a small narrow valley, the city would likely be engulfed and the largely older wooden structures of the area would be quickly devastated. The death toll from such a disaster could number in the hundreds, and given the immediate proximity of Southern Oregon University and it’s thousands of students, many casualties could be students and teachers.

The obvious solution is effected by making the areas in and around forests more fire resilient by reducing the ground fuels (prodigious grasses and brush) which are the deadly accelerants that drive these powerful wildfires.

These ground fuels can be abated by the reintroduction of large native species herbivores]

§§ No amount of logging can stop insect outbreaks or large fires under extreme fire weather. Logging may; in fact, increase the amount of unnatural disturbances by homogenizing landscapes with more even aged trees, residual slash left on the ground, and compounding cumulative impacts to ecosystems.

[He is correct that logging alone cannot stop wildfires, since logs don't start fires; they fuel fires once they are well underway. Anyone who owns a wood stove knows that; even if it's 120 degrees outside, you still need to put kindling under the logs in the stove to get the larger wood to burn, regardless of how dry it is. Removing the kindling grasses and brush using large native species herbivores prevents fires. It's really that simple... maybe that's why Mr. DellaSala completely misses the solution?]

§§ Thinning of small trees in certain forest types, maintaining canopy closure and in combination with prescribed fire can reduce fire intensity but treatment efficacy is limited in extreme fire weather, and by the small chance that a thinned site will encounter a fire during a very narrow window when fuels are lowest.

[So called controlled burns quickly become uncontrollable when prodigious grasses and brush are present and ignite, making a so-called ‘controlled burn’ into a raging wildfire out of control, as we saw in the Ashland, Oregon watershed, the home of Mr. DellaSala (guess he missed that one too?).  So, here is that embarrassing contradiction, as well.

The re-introduction of large-bodied native species herbivores (wild horses) can safely graze year-round and cost effectively abate the deadly ground-fuel matrix of grass and brush, thus reducing fire accelerants back to the natural levels that were present when the deer populations were adequate and able to perform this vital job in the ecosystems… an ‘ecologist’ should know this!]

William E. Simpson II
Wildhorse Ranch
Siskiyou County, CA

Further reading in support of my foregoing comments:

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.