Shooting Strategy Stuck With Old Tactics, Experts Warn | State and Region

ROB CHANEY

Despite using the words “paradigm shift” 13 times, the US Forest Service’s new wildfire crisis strategy appears stuck on old tactics, according to area fire experts.

“I didn’t see any new strategy, but rather a potential increase in the same ‘fuel treatment’ firefighting strategy to improve firefighting,” said retired fire specialist Jack Cohen. from the Forest Service, after reviewing the documents released on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced plans to spend more than $50 billion to fight a catastrophic forest fire. The strategy focuses on “hot spots” – forest landscapes of approximately 250,000 acres that are susceptible to burning and have many homes and infrastructure at risk.

These fire basins would get labor intensive to return 35-45% of their area to fire-safe conditions through the removal of hazardous fuels, logging, and prescribed fires.

The plan identifies five fire basins in Montana, including four along the Idaho border in the Lolo, Bitterroot and Nez-Perce/Clearwater National Forests, and one in the Flathead National Forest surrounding Kalispell.

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The strategy calls for addressing up to 20 million acres of national forest lands and up to 30 million acres of other federal, tribal, state and private lands over the next 10 years. Nationally, the strategy will create 300,000 to 575,000 jobs, protect property values ​​and boost local economies.

This represents a work rate four times greater than current activity in the West, the report states.

It is also expected to reduce the Forest Service’s annual firefighting costs, which averaged $1.9 billion per year between 2016 and 2020.

The report notes that wildfires in 2020, 2017 and 2015 burned a total of more than 10 million acres. The National Interagency Fire Center has stopped calling fires over 100,000 acres exceptional events because they have become so common.

Missoula is home to the Forest Service’s Fire Science Laboratory as well as a large community of academic and professional forestry and fire experts. He began to develop a Community Forest Fire Protection Plan in 2005 and updated in 2018.

“The use of tired, old and ill-defined language such as ‘hazardous fuels’ hardly describes what fuels (i.e. wild vegetation) are hazardous,” said the county commissioner of Missoula, Dave Strohmaier, who helped revise the latest version of the plan. “We seem to have learned nothing from recent fires that have resulted in the destruction of communities, such as in Denton, Montana. This was a grass fire, and there were no forests to clear or otherwise eliminate the risk of a crown fire. »

The West Wind Fire on November 30 destroyed 25 homes and six commercial buildings in Denton, including the town granary. The Marshall Fire on Dec. 30 burned nearly 1,100 homes with total damage estimated at $513 million. It was mostly a grass fire pushed by 110 mph winds.

And despite 11 of the report’s 23 photographic illustrations depicting burned homes or neighborhoods threatened by fires, Strohmaier could not find the words “domestic ignition zone” anywhere in the document.

“Community destruction is (a home ignition zone), not a firefighting issue,” Strohmaier said. Pouring more money into treatments that won’t achieve the expected results “does no good and creates false expectations about what will actually reduce the risk of community destruction and improve ecological and community resilience.”

Cohen found no evidence that the authors considered the best available science, which shows that urban and wild disasters are primarily a factor in how homes catch fire, not forest management, he said. -he declares.

He cited extensive research explaining how community destruction from wildfires (incidents in which more than 100 homes are destroyed) occurs when fires overtake fuel cuts and forest treatments intended to control them. But it is not the “large flames of the high intensity wildfires (that) cause the total destruction of the house”, but rather “the burning embers (brandons) on the house and the low intensity surface fire spreading to get in touch with the home” that did the damage, often hours after the main fire has died down or moved elsewhere.

At the same time, Cohen noted that the firewall approach seems to be headed in two contradictory directions. On the one hand, it recognizes the need for large-scale burning to improve forest health and ecology. But he fails to acknowledge “the inherent aversion of Forest Service management to landscape-scale burning fires that cannot be brought under tight control.”

“The press release and the full document are just more of the same management that allows the wildfire problem to continue,” Cohen concluded.

the Forest fire today blog reviewed the strategy with its funding in mind. He noted that the Forest Service has requested an additional $2 billion a year to get ahead of its backlog of hazardous fuels.

“The growth of the climate crisis, which has contributed to the ‘wildfire crisis,’ appears to be exceeding scientists’ estimates,” Wildfire Today moderator Bill Gabbert wrote on Tuesday. “The changes are happening even faster than expected. So cutting funding for Protecting Our Homeland will mean we fall even further behind in dealing with fuels and try to prevent the fires from wiping out more communities.

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