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My forest is burning!
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Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
My forest is burning! on 07/11/2013 13:32:55 MDT Print View

My favorite hiking and backpacking area, the Spring Mountains forest is burning just outside of Las Vegas. It is estimated that up to 30,000 acres will burn, an area larger than Manhattan Island. I'm sick about this and wonder why the US Forest Service, KNOWING the tinder-dry conditions after our record heat wave (high of 117 F. in the 'Vegas valley), did not jump on the Carpenter Canyon fire when it first started.

I'm no fan of the Forest Service, given the way they "service" the timber industry and make all the logging roads for them at taxpayer's expense. Their damn bureaucracy is always getting in the way of fast action when time is of the essence.

The USFS policy of waiting until a fire is large before dedicating adequate resources is patently wrong! Now there are over 1,000 firefighters working on it when, a week ago a heavy fire retardant bombing of the initial fire would have ended it.

Now, at long last, today it is raining in Las Vegas. Hopefully that will spell the end of the Carpenter Canyon 1 fire and spare our small ski resort and the home of my friends. We'll see.

And for all you global warming deiners out there, can you ignore the many big fires in the west in the past few years? This was predicted decades ago by biologists and climate researchers.

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
My forest is burning! on 07/11/2013 13:59:57 MDT Print View

Sorry to hear that Eric. I live in the woods, so I know of which you speak.

former Logging industry employee, Petroleum Jobber employee, convenience store mgr.

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - MLife

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: My forest is burning! on 07/11/2013 14:01:04 MDT Print View

"And for all you global warming deiners out there, can you ignore the many big fires in the west in the past few years? This was predicted decades ago by biologists and climate researchers."

Eric, many of these large forest fires are occurring now because of decades of fire suppression policy. Here's how it began:

The forests in much of the West are far denser than what may be natural. I know AZ has been trying to thin out much of its forests in an effort to rectify this. I feel very conflicted about forest fires: part of me knows they naturally occur and have been occurring for millions of years, but the other part of me wants my forests to stay the same.

I will agree that it is very sad to see one's forest burn, particularly if your friend's home is in danger. If homes and towns are in danger, I'm surprised the FS did not react more quickly.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: My forest is burning! on 07/11/2013 14:05:51 MDT Print View

John is right. If you step off trail in any forest in California you will find massive amounts of dead wood. So much that it impedes travel. In some places it's like 90% dead wood and 10% living wood. When these forest burn they incinerate large living trees. This was not the case when low intensity brush fires regularly cleared out fuel. On some of our creek bushwacking trips to big sur, we have built huge bonfires to clear out fuel under old growth redwood trees that were in serious danger.
Until we find a way for our forests to burn safely and regularly without endangering homes and cities, we are stuck with these huge, out of control fires that are excessively expensive to control.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
let it burn, perhaps ... on 07/11/2013 14:06:38 MDT Print View

it's a complex subject, but a fire now and again is a fine thing.
we in california are victems of over 100 yrs of misplaced intentions and fire supression.
the problem with putting them out is, the forest keeps growing, and it gets too much of what burns good, then .. when it does finally light off, you got a mess and half on your hands.

what was it down near LA. "ohh dear god, the 50' high manzanita is ablaze, and nothing short of an atomic blast can put it out ! "
while all along, the reality of it is that manzanita is never meant to grow that huge, being as it burns well (quite) in smaller fires if they happen every so often.

so, that may be part of the deal. BIG chunks of the west pretty much NEED to burn.
(some may note that peter is not openly advocating incineration of Marin County)

i am sorry your favorite palce in the entire world is aflame, but rest assured, it will come back, better , or different , than before.
walking thru yellowstone after the big one of 88 was a fantasy. open fields of solid masses of orgasmic assaults of COLOR !
toss another value judgement at the issue perhaps. give it a try.
embrace the burn. love what comes of it.

good luck,

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: let it burn, perhaps ... on 07/11/2013 14:28:14 MDT Print View

huge tracts of trees in Oregon and Washington have been killed by beetles, so now they burn more vigorously. It used to get colder and kill off the beetles.

Yeah, improper fire suppression plays a role too.

Complex problem, can't lay blame on just fire suppresion or global warming

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
My forest is burning on 07/11/2013 15:30:55 MDT Print View

According to the USFS, over 2.3 million acres has burned in my local National Forest (Los Padres) since 1912; that averages out to almost 25,000 acres of forest burned per year. That's a lot of fire!

I too see wildfires as a mixed bag. I understand and appreciate the role wildfires play in restoring ecological balance to an area that has been left to grow too thick for too long, but I also lament seeing some of my favorite places go up in flames, knowing some of those areas won't ever fully recover to a mature forest in my lifetime.

Several large fires have torn through my backcountry in the last few years (2007's Zaca Fire burned more than 240,000 acres over a 3-month span). It has been interesting, and rewarding... in some ways... to experience these familiar areas in their varying stages of regrowth. Rare wildflowers, watching the animals return, finding new areas I hadn't previously known about because they were obscured by brush, etc. It's been really amazing to watch these areas fill back in. In some cases, particularly in amongst the chaparral, it's been incredible to witness areas return to impenetrable brush only a few short years after being cleared by fire. The forest really can bounce back.

Regarding the FS fire suppression strategies... I was under the impression that the new "accepted" approach was to let these fires more or less burn themselves out with only limited interference by humans in order to protect private/public development, historic sites, critical ecosystems, etc. Basically, the fire crews try to steer the fire in a certain direction, or at least steer it away from certain directions, and then let it do its thing until other amenities become threatened and require additional boundaries to be set.

Edited by NickB on 07/11/2013 20:00:36 MDT.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
Re: My forest is burning! on 07/11/2013 16:47:10 MDT Print View

Only 30,000 acres? Consider your region fortunate.

Welcome to the club.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Fires on 07/11/2013 17:13:36 MDT Print View

The effect on off-trail travel efficiency from a fire burn is always a bit of a bummer, but from an aesthetic point of view I try not to get too bummed out about fires since they play an important ecological role. There's a lot of new beauty too.

Fire 1

Fire 2

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
My forest is burning on 07/11/2013 17:15:37 MDT Print View

Nico, they are only letting fires burn in Parks unless threatening structures etc.

Environmentalists are getting in the way of the FS doing controlled burns around communities to lessen damage if a fire comes thru. They obstructed projects briefly where I live on the Plumas NF in N Kalifornia. Much of the small community I live in has had some work done around it to thin small trees and pile down debris and burn it in the Fall. Still, I hate to have to hike thru areas that were burned, many I have seen are not pretty, have yet to get back to Jellystone since the fire there, I left a day or two before that fire started.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
The answers aren't clear on 07/11/2013 18:30:43 MDT Print View

First of all Eric, I can empathize with you not wanting to see your favorite hiking area burn.

I was a career wildland firefighter and I have to say that the answers aren't always clear to those in charge and those doing the firefighting. The Forest Service and BLM probably fought too many wildfires over the last hundred years, but if they were wrong for doing so, then the public was also wrong because they were demanding that firefighting.

In my experience large numbers of people are all in favor of "let burn because it's natural" yet there is inevitably a huge outcry if a let-burn fire eventually nears homes or huge palls of smoke hang over an area for long periods of time. Controlled burns are subject to a certain degree of risk. People tend to ignore the ones that go well. When they don't go well, just like things sometimes don't go well in other pursuits where the weather tends to call many of the shots, the public will be in an uproar. Fire policy and public opinion pendulums swing from more firefighting to less and back again. It's not going to stop anytime soon.

Periodic fire IS good in many respects as mentioned, among the advantages are reducing fuel loading and renewing plant succession. There have always been periodic huge, destructive fires since prehistoric times. In historic times some of the worst fires occurred over 100 years ago, like the Great Fire of 1910. The Peshtigo Fire in 1871 probably killed more people than all the U.S. wildfires in the last 75 years.

So to sum up: Fire is Good. Fire is Bad. It depends. For the people looking at the wall maps and weather reports and policy papers and available resources it's often a tough call on what actions to take. Those making those calls will often be judged wrong regardless of the decisions they make or even the outcome of those decisions. They will also often be judged as heroes when they don't necessarily deserve it.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: The answers aren't clear on 07/11/2013 18:45:53 MDT Print View

I couldn't agree more with all of what has been said. Some of my favorite Midwestern hikes...the ones I'll do 3-4 times a year, are so overgrown it looks rather dangerous. I watch the dead wood pile up...just this past weekend we hiked the entire Porcupine Mountains in the UP of MI and the sheer number of huge downed trees was literally mind boggling.

Another Michigan loop I do often is so littered with dead and downed trees the trail is barely passable...and when you look into the forest all you see is fallen stuff. To my very amateur eye, these places look like they need a fire. Desperately.

What to do?

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: My forest is burning! on 07/11/2013 18:54:53 MDT Print View

Burn, baby burn! It's nature. She'll do as she pleases. I moved out of San Diego county after the big fires there 8 years ago. Many of my favorite hikes were forever changed. I can't wait to go back and see what she's done.

Yes it sucks. But change is the only constant.

Scott Bentz
(scottbentz) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
My forest is burning on 07/11/2013 19:33:24 MDT Print View

When I was on the JMT I crested Forester to there meet some other hikers that told me where I live (La Canada-Flintridge, CA) was "all on fire". We lost 650,000 acres in the Station Fire. Fortunately, due to the lack of high winds we lost very few homes and also did not hit my favorite ski area, Mt. Waterman. It's now 5 years later and things are looking a bit normal. Interesting how that is.

As for this comment: "And for all you global warming deiners out there, can you ignore the many big fires in the west in the past few years? This was predicted decades ago by biologists and climate researchers."

Well, my answer to this is that even those those used to believe in global warming had to change the name to "global climate change". Therefore, does this make the old global warming advocates that now call it climate change "deniers". Enquiring minds want to know.

I agree with some of the sentiments above. Suppression is good and bad. It is what was the norm. We are paying a price for so much suppression.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Yeah, Nature can be a Mother______ on 07/11/2013 20:52:24 MDT Print View

Especially when it's in your own back yard.

And having taught environmental studies in high school in Pennsylvania for years I used to teach of the necessity of "under-storey fires" to avoid raging crown fires.

I wish that more had been done with controlled fires in my area when conditions were not tinder dry, such as early spring.

Now I'm praying this fire doesn't reach my ski area in the next canyon east. Burning embers can travel miles.

Thanks for all your info., much of which I already knew but hated to accept. Fires are necessary, even for some plant species to exist it takes the heat of a fire to open seed pods or cones.

Now maybe controlled fires will be accepted in my area of the Toiyabe National Forest. And perhaps homeowners in the mountains will clear trees away from their lodges and cabins as they should have in the first place.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Fire frequency. on 07/11/2013 22:55:51 MDT Print View

Something to consider is that the natives intentionally started wildfires for various reasons. Yes, some fires are started by lightning but the majority were started intentionally by the natives. The natives have been starting fires for so long that many plant/tree species have adapted in a way that need frequent fires.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
sort of on 07/12/2013 17:41:19 MDT Print View

climate change is the technical term, global warming is the popular term. Trying to make some point out of this type of terminology shows a certain desperation in my opinion. The reason they started using the term 'climate change' is that it's more scientifically accurate, when the globe heats, the climate changes. That helps in theory get around the localization of weather, something that people who are uncomfortable with the concepts involved frequently point to as a 'rebuttal', ie, it was cold/rainy here this winter, even though it never was before etc. In a sense though I agree, they should stick with global heating, warming is too nice sounding, it makes it sound like a warm spring day instead of a roasting hot day that kills thousands. Climate change is a bit wishy washy, after all, global heating causes the climate to change, global cooling causes the climate to change, so it's not a very good description, better to note that global heating causes climate to change and leave it at that.

Fire suppression has been unfortunate, but as long as people, often very well to do, insist on building their dream houses right at the edges of large wild or forest areas, then they will insist that firefighters come in and risk their lives protecting those 'homes', while endangering the actual ecosystem, which really should be burning the underbrush. I know that the Pine Ridge fire in big sur killed almost all those trees because it was far too hot due to the accumulated underbrush, hotter than the fire adapted pines could handle, or their seeds. That may never recover, hard to say, now that climate is changing and getting warmer, some of these things will never really recover. I believe the bark beetles are pretty directly linked to warming climate, and dryer climate, at least I've never seen anything that said otherwise that was serious. It's odd how someone can look at entire forests dying and not see it, but I guess that's how we get along day to day, let in what we can handle, keep out what we can't.

The worst place I've seen around the bay area in terms of really needing a major fire every few decades is Point Reyes, the forests there are essentially impassable, that's why the Indians burned them when they lived there, it kept them groomed and open and most important, passable. The original colonists in the pre USA northeast noted the park like character of the forests, that park like character was the direct result of millenia of good forestry management by the natives. John Muir, although a great man who saved much for us, made a huge error in believing that the recently overgrown and essentially weed filled 'garden' that was the 'wilderness' he saw in his travels was nature's 'natural state', a 'wilderness' that was essentially what happens when a garden is no longer maintained, it's first filled with weeds, then after a 100 years or so, nature corrects the non natural parts and things continue, unless of course stopped by decades of fire suppression, that error continues to ripple out today here on bpl as you see people talking about lnt and wanting their 'pristine' wilderness 'preserved', even though that condition has never existed in history except for here and now.

My hats off to justin, he's got the right idea, save a few big redwoods and burn the underbrush if it's safe. I believe the Indians burned in fall right after the first rains, if I remember right.

Edited by hhope on 07/12/2013 17:53:43 MDT.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Is it wilderness if it's managed with fire? on 07/12/2013 20:22:21 MDT Print View

The original colonists in the pre USA northeast noted the park like character of the forests, that park like character was the direct result of millenia of good forestry management by the natives. John Muir, although a great man who saved much for us, made a huge error in believing that the recently overgrown and essentially weed filled 'garden' that was the 'wilderness' he saw in his travels was nature's 'natural state', a 'wilderness' that was essentially what happens when a garden is no longer maintained

No offense intended, but I don't think a true wilderness is a park-like garden maintained by people burning it periodically.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: sort of on 07/13/2013 10:08:56 MDT Print View

are not the pine beetles rather controlled by small fires ?
do i have this right ?? not totally sure. (Buck knows ..)
like, when a tree is infected, it turns brown and burns Very Very Well if lit.
so, when a small fire comes along, the tree torches, kills those pesky beetles (most of them) and the other trees are to a degree protected. thusly, as long as the fires keep coming, the beetles never get an op to really destroy the place.
this keeps us in a livable balance of trees vs beetles.

moral ; if you never ever ever allow a burn, the beetles will sure as xhit kill your forest trees anyway.
pithy one-liner : there's no free lunch.

the big Berkeley fire that so thoroughly toasted it's hills/homes, was predicted with astonishing accuracy 40 yrs earlier in the novel The Quiet Earth.
it's not rocket science.


Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
it doesn't exist on 07/13/2013 13:27:19 MDT Print View

"No offense intended, but I don't think a true wilderness is a park-like garden maintained by people burning it periodically."

a true 'wilderness' could only exist if humans were not present in the ecosystem. To make this clear, there is not one square inch of 'true wilderness' in the United States. All of it is impacted by human activity, either fire suppression, global heating, pollution, species deaths due to human encroachment and ongoing mass scale destruction of primary ecosystems. So the idea of a 'true wilderness' is a pure fantasy, particularly in the context of someone driving up on a paved road in a car spewing out various gases into the environment then having the audacity to preach LNT to anyone.

One thing is absolutely certain, the people who lived here before us took MUCH better care of this environment than we did, species diversity was higher, sustainability was higher, what we have damaged severely in only about 300 years or so, 400 maybe, they had occupied for between 15,000 and 40,000, and it was in EXCELLENT condition when we arrived, a fact noted by many Indians with extreme sorrow when they saw us destroying basically overnight systems that had sustained people for thousands of years. The concept of 'wilderness' is in my opinion a way to try to avoid taking responsibility for our actions, to create an abstraction of perfection while we destroy the vast bulk of our ecosystem.;

Even the Arctic tundra, which I would have considered a the closest to 'wilderness' in the world, is now being seriously and massively impacted by human activity, to a degree that is shocking everyone who is studying it seriously, so even the tundra can no longer be considered as wild and untouched, it's all undergoing massive and very rapid changes, far too rapid for natural systems to adapt to as they generally can.

The point is that there never has been a 'true wilderness' in this country, at least not for about 30,000 years or so, give or take 10k. Fires are fairly natural, it's us who stopped them via those absurd 'smokey bear' campaigns over the last century, creating a situation of very bad fires that would have never happened in 'nature'.

All 'wilderness' I have ever been in is the direct result of human action and tampering, from replacement of almost all california wild grasses with invasive imports brought in for ranching purposes, to artificially controlled burns that have led to fundamental changes in the forest ecology, to invasive species destroying habitats and breeding patterns of creatures like woodpeckers, to either death of species, like Grizzlies in most of california, or to absurd population explosions, like black bears and raccoons, etc, to a huge range of human altered factors, one of the main ones being a slow killing of the overall forest fauna as human development pushes in on the edges of so called 'wilderness areas', to widespread poisoning and 'predator control' done for the ranching lobby, which creates a profound imbalance in the 'natural order' of things. If you want me to go on I will, but you should probably read up on this a bit between hikes, it's not like it's hard to find this material, might help you see what you are walking through a bit better.

Those of us who listen and stop long enough to hear these changes can spot them without any external information, one guy studied this issue in terms of the overall presence of species and has found that there is a 'quieting' of the forests, a fact I have also heard here on the west coast, almost to a shocking degree. The spread of poison oak is another one, it's fond of CO2, and CO2 is what we are feeding it. I saw the melting glaciers of Mount Hood and didn't need to read a word about global heating to know that the thing in front of my eyes was a tiny fraction of the size it was on my map, in Iceland glacier retreat is so extreme some are now kilometers away from the stations built to observe them.

What we have now is nature in serious flux as it tries to adapt to man's activities, serious ecosystem degradation and ongoing pressure on all sides of any protected areas.

My hats off again to Justin, he gets it, what he does there is actually saving trees that would not have needed saving were it not for our actions.

When you do read old accounts of what it was like before humans appeared on some islands, it's truly amazing, the animals were almost completely tame, not fearing at all, but all inhabitants of natural non human systems, ie, animals, learn to fear humans in short order or they become extinct in short order. So the idea of a 'wilderness' is a pure and utter 20th century fiction.

It's still excellent to be in a 'less human impacted area' however, and they are most certainly worth every effort to preserve and conserve since they are the closest thing we have to a bank account of ecosystems to rebuild from should we be fortunate enough to not fully destroy our ecosystem.

Edited by hhope on 07/13/2013 13:46:27 MDT.