Utah Environmental Congress

1817 S. Main Street; Ste. 10 · Salt Lake City, UT 84115 Ph (801) 466-4055 · Fax (801) 466-4057 www.uec-utah.org

September 2002

Information Sheet on Bush Fire Plan

As you may know, George Bush has come up with a "Healthy Forests Initiative" that will negatively affect our National Forests across the country. This proposal will dramatically increase the level of logging on national forests and will in no uncertain terms cause grave, and in many cases irreparable harm to native ecosystems and wildlife habitat. In addition, he intends to 'relax' compliance with environmental laws and deny the public the right to appeal or litigate the 'logging without laws' his plan will allow. It is imperative that we get the following information out to as many people as possible. The Utah Environmental Congress came up with some talking points to reflect how Bush's 'one size fits all' logging proposal for the nation will be disastrous for Utah's National Forests. Bush's plan will not work for Utah's forests and it is wrong to exclude the public from decisions affecting OUR public land.

UEC: Bush Addressed Forest Condition in his 'Healthy Forest Initiative' for low elevation dry ponderosa pine and low elevation Northwest Douglas Fir/Hemlock Forest types. Nothing in his proposal even closely relates to the high elevation dry, slow growing forest types that cover Utah and the intermountain West with the exception of the Ponderosa Pine Belts. However, Utah only has about 5% of its Ponderosa Pine Belt left because the Forest Service has systematically logged 95% of their fire resistant component, all the while knowing full well that it was changing the fire regime in Ponderosa Pine from cool under burn to hot stand replacement fire. (This is introductory forestry 101 reading dating back to the 1950;s) Nothing in Bush's proposal relates to Utah's spruce, fir, aspen, mixed conifer, lodgepole, pinyon-juniper, or scrub oak, which largely comprise Utah's forest types, and all of which have evolved and adapted to stand replacement fire events and not cool burns on the forest floor.

BUSH: "While most natural fires burn at ground level and at relatively low temperatures, these catastrophic fires burn at extreme temperatures, destroying entire forests and sterilizing soils. These extreme fires can even kill giant sequoia trees that have survived centuries of natural fires. It can take as long as a century for forests to recover from such severe fires."

UEC: Wrong, the overwhelming majority of 'natural burns' in the Intermountain Region have been, are, and will continue to be hot stand replacement fires.

BUSH: "These fires tend to burn at ground level, generating low temperatures and moving relatively slowly. When burning through forested areas, these fires remove underbrush and dead growth while healthy, mature trees survive."

UEC: In Utah and the Intermountain West forests, the overwhelming majority of forest types evolved with and need hot, uncontrollable, stand replacement fires, not cool understory burns.

BUSH: "This fire season is among the worst in modern history." More than 5.9 million acres have burned so far this year, 500,000 acres more than the previous record-setting 2000 fire season, and more than double the acreage of the 10-year average. "

UEC: Correct, If modern history spans only the last 10 years. The 80 year average is around 14 million acres burned each year. (When building on a river flood plain, only the criminally negligent developers use 10 year flood averages when data is available for 80 years.)

BUSH:" Fires are burning with greater speed and intensity than ever before"

UEC: Not in Utah. Here, they are burning far less acreages. Studies of stand structures and tree rings indicate that 400,000 acre + stand replacement fires have been the rule, not the exception, in the high plateau forests of south and central Utah.

BUSH: "Property Damage: This year more than 2,300 homes and structures were destroyed by wildfire, causing millions of dollars in damage."

UEC: How many homeowners were adequately prepared for fire, with non-flammable roofs and woody fuels cleared from the perimeter of the structures? People who choose to live in or near a national forest must take the personal responsibility to protect their personal property.

BUSH: "Spread of Invasive Plant Species: Non-native woody plant species frequently invade burned areas. When weeds become established they can dominate the plant cover over broad landscapes, and become difficult and costly to control."

UEC: Logging and thinning will not fix that problem. Grazing, roads and motorized OHV trails introduce the exotic seed stock to the area, not the fire

BUSH: "Disease and Insect Infestations: Unless diseased or insect-infested trees are swiftly removed, infestations and disease can spread to healthy forests and private lands. Timely active management actions are needed to remove diseased or infested trees."

UEC: In Utah and the Intermountain West, insect epidemics are an integral part of the historical forest cycle. Big game species and non-game wildlife, particularly many bird species, thrive in forests after insect outbreaks. This is especially the case in Utah's high elevation spruce-fir ecotype.

BUSH:" Faced with conditions that are ripe for catastrophic and uncontrollable fires, firefighters are doing an outstanding job this year, controlling over 99 percent of wildfires on initial attack. For example, on July 14, 504 new fires started, but only five grew to burn more than 500 acres). In this fire season alone, more than 500 large fires have already been contained. But when fires escape initial efforts to control them, they can become uncontrollable, costly and environmentally destructive."

UEC: In Utah, it is still a big mistake in terms of 'forest health' to put these fires out. The forests need and have evolved with stand replacement burns.

BUSH: "Another 2.5 million acres of federal and private lands have been protected from insects and disease that contribute to fire hazards."

UEC: In Utah, most of the insect epidemics are in the spruce fir ecotype. It is actually harder to maintain a stand replacement fire in this ecotype after an infestation. Either way though, the spruce-fir needs to burn with stand replacement fires and not cool understory burns.

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