Wednesday, October 21, 2015

KICKSTARTER: Buckskin Fire Report

The Siskiyou Crest Blog and Klamath Forest Alliance have initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Buckskin Fire Report.

The Buckskin Fire Report will explore the impact of discretionary fire suppression actions, the mosaic of this wildland fire, and the potential management implications of the Buckskin Fire and its suppression. The report will also identify policy recommendations to reform the suppression of fire throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and beyond. 

 The Buckskin Fire Report is a continuation of the Klamath-Siskiyou Fire Reports, sponsored by the Klamath Forest Alliance. The project has focused on wildland firefighting policy and strategy, as well as fire suppression actions and their impacts in the wildlands of the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion. In the last three years we have published five fire reports, investigating the fire suppression actions and impacts approved by fire managers on public lands. We have documented the discretionary impacts of fire suppression actions to wildlands, old-growth forests, botanical resources, fisheries resources, watershed values, fire severity, and other important natural resources and services provided by our public lands. 

In the reports, we analyze the natural fire mosaic, document the impact of fire suppression, and provide management and policy recommendations. The reports have played vital roles in canceling post-fire logging proposals, creating more transparency within the local firefighting community, and advocating for appropriate wildfire management. 

The Buckskin Fire Report will explore the wild, remote, and controversial South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The South Kalmiopsis is the largest and most inaccessible, unprotected wildland in the state of Oregon. The area harbors an unusual serpentine habitat, supporting extreme botanical diversity and many rare plant species. It was also effected by the 2002 Biscuit Fire, a large 500,000-acre wildland fire, infamous for its fire severity, huge financial cost associated with its suppression, and it is now iconic fire-adapted landscape.

On June 11, 2015, a lightening fire started in the depths of the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, on Baldface Creek, a wild tributary of the North Fork of the Smith River. Baldface Creek is a pristine stream and the largest producer of steelhead and coho salmon in the North Fork Smith River watershed. 

Baldface Creek is one of the most pristine streams in the Siskiyou Mountains. It is also a large roadless watershed within Oregon's largest unprotected wildland: the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.

The area was burned in the 2002 Biscuit Fire and was not subjected to post-fire "salvage" logging. Many in the logging industry and federal land management agencies have promoted a fear of the "Biscuit re-burn," telling the public that the lack of post-fire logging in many portions of the Biscuit Fire promotes high severity re-burns and impacts the forests' ability to regenerate following wildfire. This rhetoric — despite numerous scientific studies refuting the claims — has led to extreme paranoia within the agency and firefighting community regarding new fire starts in the Biscuit Fire Area. The rhetoric has also encouraged irresponsible and overly zealous firefighting actions that have potentially dire environmental consequences.

It is clear that fire managers and agency officials decided very early on, that full suppression would be utilized in the Buckskin Fire. The fear of high intensity fire, although very real in managers' minds, was not actively playing out on the landscape, despite unseasonably hot weather and strong winds. Nonetheless, large firelines cleared with bulldozers were built along unroaded ridgelines, through rare plant communities and over non-motorized hiking trails in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, to the very boundary of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Large scale tree falling in the roadless area was approved by fire managers and crews cut their way through the roadless wildlands to create fireline. This fireline was designed to be free of snags and woody vegetation, to facilitate large, purposefully set backfires.

The natural fire, burning in unlogged, post-fire forests, burned slow and cool, never actually reaching the agency's raw, bulldozed firelines. Fire managers responded by burning the area between the fireline and the head of the fire, which was far below in the canyon of Baldface Creek. A management tactic, called Minimum Impact Suppression Tactics (MIST), was mandated in the area, but not implemented initially, allowing for larger, more intrusive environmental impacts in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. The outcome of these actions is currently unknown and many fear that the vast, wild region has been irreparably harmed by irresponsible fire suppression actions. 
The Buckskin Fire burned entirely within the fire footprint of the 2002 Biscuit Fire. An in-depth review of the Buckskin Fire could provide an opportunity to explore fire severity in post-fire landscapes that were not effected by salvage logging.

It appears that much could be learned from exploring the impact of fire suppression in the Buckskin Fire area. It also appears that much could be learned from investigating the natural fire mosaic and fire severity of the Buckskin Fire, as well as the positive management implications of naturally regenerating post-fire landscapes in the Klamath-Siskiyou. 

Please help us create the Buckskin Fire Report. The report will be submitted to the appropriate land management agencies, politicians, and media outlets. It will be utilized as a tool in the effort to reform wildland firefighting policy on public lands throughout the west, and in the Kalmiopsis Region. We believe that fire suppression is one of the most persistent and urgent threats to the wildlands of the Klamath-Siskiyou. Until we address this problem, no landscape is truly protected and our wilderness is not truly wild. Join us and support the Buckskin Fire Report.

To view and contribute to the Buckskin Fire Report Kickstarter Campaign follow this link:  Buckskin Fire Report Kickstarter Project

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Klamath River TREX

 A TREX participant igniting a night burn at the Rainbow Mine on South Russian Creek near Sawyers Bar, California. October 2015.

This past week I attended the Klamath River TREX, a prescribed fire training program facilitated by a coalition of partners in Northern California, including the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, the Salmon River Restoration Council, Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, the Nature Conservancy, the United States Forest Service, Cal Fire and others. The project implements prescribed fire for fuel reduction and community safety on private and tribal lands. Currently, the Klamath River TREX is running prescribed fire crews in Happy Camp and Orleans on the Klamath River, and near Sawyers Bar on the Salmon River. I was working with the good folks on the Orleans and Salmon River crews, on the Bacon Flat, Butler Flat, and Rainbow Mine Burn Units. All units were safely and successfully conducted by hard working locals, professional firefighters, and burn bosses.

The TREX program offers private landowners the opportunity to implement prescribed fire treatments on homesteads and adjacent to communities, while providing training and experience to local residents and fire professionals. The program has brought experienced fire professionals, tribal leaders, and local residents together to learn, burn, and protect rural communities. Most of those involved are volunteering their time and resources in a grassroots effort to restore fire. 

A cool night burn on the Rainbow Mine consumed understory fuels and maintained fire safe conditions near private residences. October 2015.

The concept is to allow prescribed fire treatments to reduce fuels and maintain habitat conditions adjacent to rural communities, enabling wildfires to be managed for resource benefit in the backcountry. This is especially important in the Klamath River watershed where large swaths of roadless and wilderness lands can be found in or adjacent to the Trinity Alps Wilderness, Russian Wilderness, Marble Mountains Wilderness, and the Red Buttes Wilderness. 

These large and invaluable wilderness resources are threatened nearly annually by discretionary fire suppression tactics, including fireline creation, high severity backfiring, and other forms of impactful fire management. These areas are also impacted by fire suppression and its influence on natural fire regimes, vegetative structure and composition. By maintaining fire-resilient and fire-adapted landscapes near human communities, these impacts can be greatly reduced and more backcountry wildfires can be allowed to burn. 

The Klamath River TREX is also located within Native American country, traditionally and currently inhabited by the Karuk Tribe. The TREX program is coordinated with Karuk tribal members and authorities, implementing significant cultural burns, such as the annual Tshaniik Burn, at ceremonial grounds near Orleans, California. 

Folks on the Klamath are building resilience in their forests and communities through the utilization of fire. They are also reinitiating a long tradition of fire that has been central to the subsistence, ceremony, and culture of the Karuk Tribe. 

For time immemorial fire has played a moderating role in forest ecosystems and maintained culturally significant resources, including wild game, basketry materials, indigenous plant-based foods and medicinal herbs in the Klamath River region. 

Wildfires have also burned in the summer months due to frequent seasonal thunderstorms and lightening ignitions. These fires burn at mixed severity. The mixed severity fire regime in the Klamath Mountains is one of the most complex, fire-adapted systems in the west, promoting high levels of pyrodiversity. Combined with steep environmental gradients, diverse geology, a transitional climate, and high levels of landscape connectivity, the region is a hotspot for biodiversity. 

 Klamath River TREX: Bacon Flat Prescribed Burn near Orleans, California. October 2015

It is vital to our human communities and fire-adapted forests that we build a more productive and interactive relationship with fire. We must strive to promote more natural fire regimes, plant communities, and habitat conditions, while protecting communities at-risk to wildfire related impacts. These are the goals of the TREX program. Goals that have been achieved successfully this fall in the Klamath River country. For more information about the Klamath TREX program check out the following links: Salmon River & Orleans Complexities facebook page, The Mid-Klamath Watershed Council Prescribed Fire Program webpage, or the Catching Fire Movie made about previous TREX programs.