The Sierra Forest Voice
Vol. 10, No. 4, December 12, 2017
'Tis the season for giving.
Please consider a donation to Sierra Forest Legacy, the number one non-governmental, charitable organization in California working exclusively to protect and conserve the plants, animals, and ecology of the Range of Light and its eleven publicly owned national forests. You can make a safe and secure donation through the Tides Center Foundation here. Thank you.
Increases in Prescribed and Managed Fire Benefit Forest Ecosytems and People
Since late 2015, Sierra Forest Legacy has been leading a new partnership aimed at
increasing the use of fire to meet ecological and other management objectives. Agreement
among the partners--a group of federal and state agencies, NGOs, prescribed fire
councils and others--to work together to reduce barriers to the use of managed
fire to improve forest conditions, has resulted in a three-fold increase in the
area managed with prescribed fire in 2017 compared to the prior year. Another 130,000
acres of national forest lands in the Sierra Nevada were managed this year for resource
Figure above: Prescribed fire acres, 2017 and 2016 compared. Data source: US Forest Service and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
In addition to the well documented benefit of using fire to improve the health of forest ecosystems and reduce fire hazard, recent research confirms that fires managed within the natural range of variation for existing vegetation types result in preferable public health outcomes and reduced emissions compared to unmanaged fires (Long et al. 2017; Schweizer et al. 2017).
The Fire MOU Partnership is a unique collaboration that grew out of the settlement of a longstanding lawsuit
among Sierra Forest Legacy and other environmental organizations and the Forest
Service. The eleven initial signatories has expanded over the past two years to
over 25 partnership members with a growing diversity of interests ranging from air
quality to private lands and natural resource perspectives. Recent additions to
the Fire MOU are two forward-thinking Air Pollution Control Districts (APDCs) located
in the Sierra Nevada, El Dorado County APCD and Butte County APCD. In fact, air
regulators across the board (federal, state, regional and local) are in general agreement that restoring fire in a manner where we have some say in how fire events proceed is a better choice than unplanned fires of uncharacteristic scales and intensities.
In addition to the increased acreage in 2017, we saw increased cross-jurisdiction collaborative burning with the Forest Service, CAL FIRE and private contractors working closely in the wildland-urban interface, using fire to protect communities and restore a more natural fire regime. The USDA, Forest Service has stepped up its commitment to burning in the southern Sierra Nevada. The best example is in the Dinkey Creek Collaborative landscape where, based on a request from a broad group of stakeholders, Region 5 committed to support 10,000 acres of prescribed fire in 2017/2018.
Our Partnership is achieving our goal for changing agency fire suppression culture. We are seeing increased stated support for active fire use among agency leaders such as the new Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke and a better understanding of fire's role in preventing large, damaging wildfires (Gonzáles-Cában et al. 2017).
The photo below of the wrap-up of the collaborative Vincent Prescribed Fire on the Sierra National Forest/High Sierra Ranger District signifies an import positive impact of the Fire MOU Partnership showing the Forest Service and CAL FIRE working together on a prescribed burn. The burn will benefit forest resources and protect communities in and around Shaver Lake, a popular year-round and recreational community east of Fresno, California. Expanding collaborative fire work across jurisdictions is one path to expanded reintroduction of fire in California. Living with Fire is critical in addressing the past two centuries of fire exclusion and climate warming that is resulting in expanded fire seasons.
Spreading the word through local, state-wide, and national media outlets, at professional symposiums, and engaging policy makers and stakeholders have made for a very successful year for the Fire MOU Partnership.
Image above: CALFIRE and US Forest Service team up on the Vincent Prescribed Fire, Sierra National Forest
Gonzáles-Cában, A. et al. 2017. Do fuel treatment costs affect wildfire suppression costs and property damages? An analysis of costs, damages avoided and return on investment. Final Report. Joint Fire Science Program Report ID 4-5-01-12.
Long, J.W., Tarnay, L.W., and M.P.North. 2017, in press. Aligning Smoke Management with Ecological and Public Health Goals. J. Forestry 115:000-000. Published online January 19, 2017.
Schweizer, D. et al. 2017. Using National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter to assess regional wildland fire smoke and air quality management Journal of Environmental Management 201 (2017) 345e356.
Got 14 minutes? Enjoy listening to this relevant Ted Talk by forest research ecologist Paul Hessburg: "Why wildfires have gotten worse--and what we can do about it."
Public Lands Watch:
Update on Federal Forest Legislation, December 2017
After the most expensive year on record for wildfire suppression federal legislators on both sides of the aisle are working to reform the way we fund and manage our public forests. While broad agreement exists on the need to mitigate the legacy of fire suppression, there is much less common ground on how this should be accomplished. One major challenge is that some see the "fire fix" as an opportunity to weaken some of our nation's most basic environmental laws, most significantly, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) In this issue's Public Lands Watch, we'll give an update on three forest management bills - one good and two bad - that are currently moving in Washington D.C.
:The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 S.1842, (the "WDFA"), introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D) of Oregon, is by far the simplest of the current forest bills. The WDFA - sometimes called a "clean" fire fix - changes the way that the federal government funds fire suppression by enabling agencies to access federal disaster relief funds for the largest, most-costly fires. This addresses the long-term problem of fire borrowing where agencies are forced to transfer funds from non-fire programs towards essential suppression activities. In recent years, fire suppression has accounted for more than 50 percent of the Forest Service's annual budget. Passing the WDFA would help the agency fund proactive projects like prescribed burns that can help reduce fire costs over the long term.
The WDFA has already drawn bipartisan support from Senators across the West, including
both Feinstein and Harris in California. This fall, Sierra Forest Legacy joined a diverse group of 261 organizations to send a sign-on letter
supporting the WDFA to the House and Senate leadership. We strongly support this
bill to better protect communities, while freeing up critical funding for ecosystem
Perhaps the worst news in forest policy of 2017 occurred on November 1st, when the U.S. House passed the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (HR 2936): a thinly-veiled giveaway to the timber industry disguised as a forest health bill. We profiled HR 2936 at length in the September issue of the Sierra Voice but in a nutshell, the bill:
- Allows logging and salvage logging projects up to 10,000 acres to escape environmental review
- Allows logging projects up to 30,000 acres to escape environmental review if they are developed by a vaguely-defined "collaborative process"
- Cripples stakeholders' ability to hold the Forest Service accountable in court
- Weakens protections for roadless areas
- Weakens Endangered Species Act protections for forest management projects
Supporters of HR 2936 claim that these provisions will solve the fire suppression funding problem and streamline environmental review, but in reality this bill does nothing to improve forest health. Sierra Nevada region Congressmen McClintock, Lamalfa, McCarthy, and Knight all voted yes.
As forest reform legislation now moves to the Senate, Senators are considering a variety of options. One of these involves incorporating provisions of the Resilient Federal Forests Act (such as the categorical exclusions for logging projects) into the 2018 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill included a categorical exclusion (CE) for collaboratively-developed insect and disease treatment projects up to 3,000 acres, but HR 2936 provisions could allow CEs ten times that size while eliminating protections for old growth forests. The conservation community is tracking this piece of must-pass legislation closely, and we will send out timely action alerts if forest issues arise in the Farm Bill.
Apart from the Farm Bill, the Senate is also considering the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act (S.2068) authored by Senator Barrasso (R-Wyoming). While slightly less egregious than H.R.2936,
the Barrasso bill includes many similar provisions that would greatly increase logging on federal forests. There are too many provisions in the bill to list here, but key sections include:
- Eliminating Environmental Impact Statements for forestry projects
- Limiting the Environmental Analysis (EA) to just two alternatives (the Proposed
Action, and No Action), and the document length to one hundred pages or less
- Allowing state forestry agencies to build permanent roads on National Forests
- Severely limiting citizens' ability to challenge forest management projects in
- Creating a series of 6,000 acre categorical exclusions for logging, including
clearcutting, under the guise of forest restoration and wildlife habitat improvement--while
eliminating the requirement that the Forest Service consider the cumulative effects
of nearby projects
For a more complete analysis of S.2068, see Mike Anderson of the Wilderness Society's analysis of the bill. Neither of California's Senators currently supports S.2068, and it currently only has three cosponsors, all of whom are Republican. The bill was introduced in the Senate on November 2nd, and has yet to be assigned to a committee. With less than a month left in 2017, we will be keeping a close eye on this bill and will organize a response if it progresses further.
Speaking up for the Giant Sequoia National Monument
In April, the Trump Administration launched an unprecedented attack on twenty-seven national monuments. Seven of those are in California, and one - the Giant Sequoia National Monument (GSNM) - is in the Sierra Nevada. As soon as the GSNM was in the cross-hairs, citizen activists in the bioregion joined together to alert their friends and neighbors and organize opposition to the proposal. From the outset, effort was focused on communicating the value of the Monument and building broad support for its protection. Together with our partners at Resource Media and the Sierra Club, California's conservation community reached out to local as well as regional media outlets to make the case for retaining full protection for the Monument. Citing impacts to our local economies, impacts to recreational outdoor experience, and wildfire risk, local residents and scientists alike addressed decision makers and people of influence, and their voices are being heard.
Image left: FIre-scarred giant sequoia. Image by V. Parker
For example, two opinion pieces were of note. One was by two UC Berkeley scientists on the importance of GSNM protections in regard to wildfire and a fire-resilient forest. The other was from a local business owner emphasizing the importance of the Monument designation to the successful operation of his working cattle ranch and special event center that borders it.
Last week President Trump declared sweeping changes for several monuments - Bears
Ears and Staircase Escalante, both in Utah, being among the first on the chopping block. His action removed protections for more than two million acres of public
lands in the American West - an area more than six times the size of the Grand Tetons.
This amounts to the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history. Only
Congress - not the President - has the authority to change existing national monuments.
These declarations to eliminate vast portions of these monuments have already been
challenged in court, including by the five tribes who advocated for Bears Ears. The Trump Administration has indicated that their actions against Utah's national monuments are only the first phase of their attack on America's national monuments and protected areas. We may see reductions in size and changes in management to allow logging, mining and other extractive uses on other monuments roll out in the weeks to come. One thing that has emerged though is the strong and diverse support for national monuments. Tribal, religious, business, and cultural leaders have all been speaking in defense of these cherished landscapes. This movement of the well-informed will not be silent about the social, economic, spiritual and ecological values of these extraordinary places and will continue to promote their protection.
Highlighting what's new in published science that's relevant to Sierra Nevada forest conservation
Bumble Bee Use of Post-Fire Chaparral in the Fred's and Power Fire Areas
Recently, a first-ever study of bumble bee use of post-fire montane chaparral in the Sierra Nevada was conducted by the Institute for Bird Populations, funded by and in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service. The results of the two-year study, which took place in 2015 and 2016 in the Eldorado National Forest, were published this May in the Journal of Wildlife Management. The goal of the study was to measure bumble bee abundance and species richness in a post-fire landscape, and to compare bumble bee use of montane chaparral in the upland forest versus riparian areas.
Image right: Yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) foraging on bull thistle ( c) Abe Lloyd
Better understanding of the relationship between land management activities, habitat characteristics and bumble bee diversity may help land managers plan activities that will improve conservation outcomes for bumble bees and other pollinators. Bumble bees are in decline in many regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) is in decline throughout its range, and it has been listed as a sensitive species by the Forest Service in Region 5. It is currently unknown how this species will be treated under the new forest plans.
The study area was located within the fire footprint of two 2004 fires, Fred's and Power Fires. Since the fires, both areas have been salvage logged and replanted as conifer plantations, and mechanical methods of brush control were used to reduce competition of other forest plant species. In the Fred's Fire area, herbicides were used for this purpose as well, but have not yet been used in the Power Fire footprint since this fire (the EIS for that phase was just completed this year, and widespread herbicide use is planned). As reported by the researchers, these are standard practices in forest environments.
During the study period, 2,494 bumble bees of 12 different species were captured, identified, photographed, and released back to their environment on 413 upland plots and 82 riparian plots, during a total of 987 surveys taking place between May and mid-August in 2015 and 2016.
By far the most commonly encountered bumble bee was the yellow-faced or Vosnesensky bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii (69 percent), followed by the van Dyke bumble bee, Bombus vandykei (12 percent), and the black tail bumble bee, B. melanopygus (10 percent). Western bumble bee was not encountered.
Bumble bees were observed foraging on a total of 106 flowering plant species and two plant complexes identified by genus (Phacelia spp. and Hackelia spp.).
The three most commonly utilized plants were species of Phacelia, followed by bear clover (Chamaebatia foliolosa), and the non-native species bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare). Bear clover accounted for 17 percent of all captures, utilized by six bumble bee species. Bear clover was also the most abundant blooming plant species. Bumble bees in this study also favored stickseed species (Hackelia), sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii), Parish's yampah (Perideridia parishii), two species of Monardella (pennyroyal or coyote mint), as well swamp onion (Allium validum) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).
Image above: Rock phacelia (Phacelia egena) (Image (c) Steve Matson 2016, Creative Commons licensed use
Image above: Mountain misery, also known as kitkitdizee (Chamaebatia foliolosa)
Image (c) Keir Morse 2009, Creative Commons licensed use
The authors were surprised that deer brush and mountain white-thorn were rarely utilized by bumble bees in this study, and bumble bees were never found utilizing green leaf manzanita. The authors acknowledge, however, that the manzanita in the study area was not in bloom at the time of the study, as its bloom period preceded the study time, which began in May. As noted by the researchers, others have documented the importance of manzanita and ceanothus for multiple genera of bees and other species of pollinators.
Bumble bee abundance was significantly greater in riparian areas, but only when habitat was extensive. Areas of riparian vegetation occurring as clusters, and not contiguous, supported fewer bumble bees than upland areas.
The authors did not report on differences between chemically treated areas of the Fred's Fire versus those that had not been so treated. Observed differences in vegetation composition and bumble bee usage would have been interesting to report; although it is likely that the short-term impacts to bumble bee diversity from either mechanical or chemical reduction of chaparral composition would be similar. The authors recommend that land managers minimize impacts to non-target vegetation in post-fire tree plantations, whether utilizing chemical or manual control methods, concluding:
Taken together, these broad-scale findings support retention of forest openings dominated by herbaceous vegetation and chaparral as bumble bee habitat, even in areas where the primary management goal may be forest regeneration. Indeed, in our study areas, estimated pre-European fire return intervals average just 16 years, suggesting that prior to the fire suppression era, frequent fires maintained a dynamic matrix of forest and open areas by intermittently removing overstory trees and chaparral shrubs from portions of the landscape (Van de Water and Safford 2011). Mimicking the landscape-level effects of the past fire regime through thoughtful retention of patches of herbaceous vegetation and chaparral would likely benefit bumble bees (Nyoka 2010, Strahan et al. 2015, Hanula et al. 2016).
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The work we do to protect the forests, with all of their unique and rare plants and animals, and the many wild places of the Range of Light cannot be done without the generosity of our supporters. Please help us to keep up our efforts. You can make a safe and secure donation from this website. Thanks to all who have so generously supported our work - together we form a multitude of voices. Join us in saying, "Si, se puede" on behalf of the wild forests of the Sierra Nevada.
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise."