Fire and Fuels.
The Decision to adopt Alternative 8-Modified was arbitrary and capricious with regard to strategic fuel reduction and improved fire protection for the following reasons:
1. Alt 8-Mod would provide very little reduction of total wildfire acres during the analysis period, compared to current acres burned, while other alternatives would significantly reduce those losses to wildfire. Violates: NFMA 219.1(a) and 219.4(a)(1) Maximize net public benefits; 219.1(b)(13) Sensitive to economic efficiency; 219.1(b)(14) Responsive to changing social and economic demands; 219.27(a)(12) Maintain air quality; 1500.2(f) Quality of human environment; APA Sec 706(2)(A) Arbitrary and capricious.
Figure 2.2.1b, "Diagram illustrating the highly interactive nature of the eight topic areas addressed in the adaptive management strategy" [FEIS Vol 1, Ch 2, pg 25] shows Fire and Fuels at the center, with the other seven topics circled around, all of them directly touched by Fire and Fuels. This well illustrates the fact that fire and fuels is the one issue that directly affects all others.
The analysis of "Projected Wildfire Acres - All Classes" [Appeal Appendix B, pg 1] shows that Alternatives 3, 4, and 6 would result in significantly fewer wildfire acres throughout the analysis period. Since QLG recommended a modified version of Alt 4 in its comments on the Draft EIS, we will state these fire and fuels comparisons in terms of Alt 8-mod vs Alt 4.
Regarding total acres burned, at 50, 100, and 150 years Alt 8-mod would produce 29.6, 34.7, and 20.5 percent more acres burned than Alt 4 would produce.
2. Alternative 8-mod would not be effective at protecting forests against lethal or stand-replacing fires.
Alt 8-mod would produce significantly more lethal or stand replacement acres burned on forested lands, compared with current losses, while other alternatives (especially Alt 4) would significantly reduce such losses. Same violations as under paragraph 1 above.
The analysis of "Lethal or Stand Replacement Acres Burned (Forest Lands Only)" [Appeal Appendix B, pg 2] shows that at 50, 100, and 150 years Alt 8-Mod would produce 15.7, 29.3, and 16.8 percent greater lethal acres burned than are currently lost, and 224, 276, and 258 percent of the acres that would burn at lethal intensity if Alt 4 were adopted. That is, on average Alt 4 would reduce this loss of forested acreage to lethal fire to less than half its current rate, while Alt 8-mod would cause more than two and one-half times the loss that would occur if Alt 4 were adopted.
But these analytical results that disclosed the selected alternative’s critical defect were not published in the FEIS, and thus the public was denied its review and comment on the most significant analyses concerning projected forest fire losses.
The FEIS presents a 150-year projection of the "‘Lethal’ or Stand Replacement Acres Burned [Includes Brush]" for each of the alternatives in Figure 3.5u [FEIS Vol 2, Ch 3, pg 293]. This comparison of alternatives is deceptive, because it includes brushy vegetation as well as forest vegetation, and the brush acres obscure the projected effects of alternatives on forested acres. Within the planning record for the FEIS there are projections of "lethal or stand replacement acres burned [forest lands only]" [in Appeal Appendix B, pg 2], which project very different and much more meaningful results from the various alternatives.
See the "Old Forest" section above for reproductions of the "lethal acres burned" graphs "with brush" and "forest lands only" for an expanded discussion of this issue.
The FEIS’s failure to disclose differences among alternatives in projections of forest land losses to lethal wildfires biased the overall evaluation and comparison of alternatives by the decision maker, and obscured a relevant difference among the range of alternatives. The FEIS did not "insure that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken." [40 CFR 1500.1(b)].
3. The scale and pace of treatments proposed in Alt 8-mod are not consistent with Forest Service policy as expressed by the Chief in Protecting People and Sustaining Resources in Fire-Adapted Ecosystems -- a Cohesive Strategy [USDA FS, October, 2000 ], whereas other alternatives would come significantly closer to being consistent with the Cohesive Strategy. Same violations as under paragraph 1 above, plus NEPA 1502.24 Insure professional integrity.
In his Decision the Regional Forester claims that "This decision...is particularly responsive to supporting the Cohesive Fire Strategy..." [ROD pg 31], and in the FEIS further claims that "This Final EIS specifically addresses fuels treatment needs and is, therefore, responsive to and consistent with the Cohesive Strategy." [FEIS, Ch 2, pg 19]. To the contrary, the FEIS shows not only that such consistency would not be achieved, but that under Alt 8-Mod it could not be achieved. This claim that the decision is particularly responsive to the Cohesive Strategy is false and deceptive because:
(1) The scale and pace of fuel reduction proposed by the FEIS and ROD would be significantly deficient as implementation of the Cohesive Strategy. The essence of the Cohesive Strategy is urgency in actually implementing fuel reductions at the specified scale and pace. The FEIS and ROD do not provide any meaningful data or analysis to show that such implementation would or could actually take place in the affected Sierra Nevada National Forests. By our computations, the decision proposes to treat only 43 percent as much acreage as would be required to implement the Cohesive Strategy. Our analysis of treatment acreage required versus treatment acreage proposed by the Decision is attached as Appeal Appendix I.
(2) The scale of fuel reduction actually permitted by the Decision standards and guidelines would be fatally deficient as implementation of the Cohesive Strategy. Nothing approaching full implementation of the proposed treatments could actually be achieved, due to numerous barriers established by the land use allocations and standards and guidelines adopted by the Decision. Appeal Appendix J is a paper written by Dr. Ron Stewart, former Regional Forester for the Pacific Southwest Region, on behalf of The National Association of Forest Service Retirees. It includes the following passage.
A Sierra Nevada national forest was asked to analyze a factual 30,000+/- acre drainage on the west slope of the Sierras using Alternative 8 modified and the draft S&Gs. Within that drainage, 10,500 acres (35 percent) were to meet the fuel treatment objectives, establishment of strategically placed area treatments (SPLATS). After applying all spatial constraints for wildlife, watershed, and slope limitations, only 600 acres (2 percent) were actually treatable. Also of consequence, the subsequent use of prescribed fire in a large portion of the drainage would not be feasible.
The Cohesive Strategy proposes fuel reduction on 40 million acres in a gross area of 134 million acres (i.e. 30 percent treatment of the whole area). In contrast, the FEIS and ROD propose to treat about 2.4 million acres of an 11.5 million acre area (21 percent), but according to the Forest Service evaluation of one large landscape reported by Dr. Stewart, the actual treatments permitted by the Decision standards and guidelines would be closer to 2 percent. That is, actual treatments are likely to be only 7 percent of what the Cohesive Strategy requires and only 10 percent of what the Decision proposes.
In contrast with Alt 8-Mod, the treatment rates proposed in some other Alternatives would come significantly closer to the rates required by the Cohesive Strategy. For example, basing an estimate on the FEIS graphs, Alt 4 would treat about 35 percent more acres than Alt 8-Mod during the first two decades. Furthermore, the standards and guidelines accompanying some of the other Alternatives would permit actual implementation of a significantly higher proportion of the proposed treatments.
4. The strategy and methods of fuel reduction proposed in the Decision and permitted by restrictions imposed by the Decision would be significantly less effective than the strategy and methods proposed and permitted by other Alternatives. Same violations as under paragraph 1 above.
Alt 8-mod would not and could not reduce the risk and hazard of large scale high intensity wildfire to an acceptable level. Part of Alt 8-Mod's deficient effectiveness is because fewer acres are proposed for treatment than in some other alternatives, for example significantly less than Alt 4, as noted in the above discussion of the Cohesive Strategy. But perhaps the greater part of Alt 8-Mod's shortfall in effectiveness is because it employs "Strategically Placed Areas of Treatments" (SPLATs) to provide protection in the Threat zones around communities and for such treatment as would eventually be done in other forested areas.
The SPLAT strategy for fuel reduction in the forest is based entirely on a theory that was misunderstood by the ID Team and is misrepresented and incorrectly implemented by the FEIS and ROD. Violates: NEPA 1502.8 Written in plain language; 1502.9(b) Responsible opposing view; 1502.24 Insure professional and scientific integrity; APA Section 706(2)(A) Arbitrary and capricious.
The FEIS and ROD make exaggerated claims for effectiveness of the SPLAT strategy that:
(1) Cannot be supported by data or analysis in the FEIS.
(2) Are contradicted by expert opinion known to the ID Team and to the decision-maker but not revealed in the FEIS.
(3) Cannot be achieved by the treatment program adopted in the Decision.
Claims for effectiveness of the SPLAT strategy.
These claims are summed up in following passage from FEIS Vol 2, Ch 3, pg 278:
The effectiveness of treatments is based on ... [the assumption in] ... the SPECTRUM analysis ... [of] ... either a 1:1or 2:1 ratio of treatment effectiveness. Each acre that gets treated gets the benefit of being treated and if the total numbers of acre treated in the planning watershed (3000 to 7000 acres) reaches 30%, it receives a 2:1 benefit. The benefit is a reduction in flamelength on the treated acre when the vegetation on that treated acre burns (1:1) the landscape benefits when the 30% area is treated (planning watershed 3000 to 7000 acres). The flamelength is reduced not only the acre treated but on the adjacent acre as well, so for every 2 acres treated 1 untreated acre receives the reduced flamelength when those acres burn. The reduce flame lengths means lower mortality and is reflected in those alternatives that actively achieve the 30% or greater standard in the planning watersheds.
It must be noted that parts of the above paragraph conflict with other parts. First it says the advantage if treatment is 30 percent or more is 2 to 1, which would normally mean that for every acre treated you get two acres-worth of benefit, i.e. one untreated acre gets the same benefit as each acres that is actually treated. This interpretation is apparently confirmed by the statement "The flamelength is reduced not only [on] the acre treated but on the adjacent acre as well..." Unfortunately the FEIS then goes on to make a statement in conflict with the previous assertions, "...so for every 2 acres treated 1 untreated acre receives the reduced flamelength when those acres burn." This last would be a 3 to 2 advantage, not a 2 to 1 advantage, so we assume the first two attempts are closer to the intended mark. That is, if the treated area reaches 30 percent of the total area in a 3,000 to 7,000 acre watershed, then for purposes of computing fire effects and mortality, 60 percent of the area is assumed to have been treated.
But it turns out that the final analysis of fire effects was based on an even more optimistic assumption, so the uncertainty about whether the FEIS means a two-for-one benefit or a three-for-two benefit is probably beside the point. According to the Forest Service analyst who ran the computer projections, the ROD is actually based on the assumption that if 30 percent or more of a landscape unit is treated, then that whole unit is credited with the reduced flame length, as if it had all been treated. That is, a 30 percent treatment rate would produce a 3.3-to-one benefit.
As we demonstrate below, the proposed implementation of the SPLAT strategy does not and cannot deliver on any of the claims made for it, whether the benefit is said to be three-for-two, two-for-one, or three-for-one.
Dependence on the Finney Effect.
The claimed effectiveness of the SPLAT strategy is almost entirely dependent on what is known as the "Finney Effect," a theoretical construct set forth in Design of Regular Landscape Fuel Treatment Patterns for Modifying Fire Growth and Behavior, by Mark A. Finney. This paper and another paper co-authored by Finney are reproduced in full in FEIS Appendix G, Vol 4, pages G-30 to G-68, and they are introduced with the following paragraph.
K. Supporting Science. There were two key scientific papers (in press) that were used to develop and support the fire strategies outlined in the Preferred Alternative. With permission from the author and Forest Science these two peer reviewed papers are published here to assist the readers of the FEIS.
The Finney Effect is summarized in the first sentence of the Abstract of the first paper.
Patterns of disconnected fuel treatment patches that overlap in the heading fire spread direction are theoretically effective in changing forward fire spread rate.
There are two main difficulties with accepting this concept as "supporting science" for the decision.
First, the Finney Effect is based on theory, not any practical experience, so the obvious question is whether the SPLAT strategy so heavily dependent on Finney's theory should be tried out for the first time across the whole Sierra Nevada or in such sensitive areas as the Threat Zones around communities and Old Forest Emphasis areas. This objection was raised by Forest Service experts at least as early as September 2000. Phil Weatherspoon and Carl Skinner, two prominent scientists employed by the US Forest Service Pacific
Southwest Research Station, whose peer-reviewed chapter on fire protection and fuel reduction strategies was part of the SNEP Report, said this:
We recommend an approach that (1) directly and openly acknowledges these and other major uncertainties inherent in analyses of the EIS alternatives; (2) acknowledges that because of this high degree of uncertainty, and because of the great natural variability within the Sierra Nevada, a "one-size-fits-all" management approach for Sierra Nevada National Forests is unwise and difficult to defend; and (3) consequently proceeds to lay out an explicit adaptive management framework within which the Forests, the Region, and PSW Station and other scientists can jointly begin to resolve the uncertainties and adjust management accordingly.
Such an adaptive management framework, we believe, should incorporate the concept of actually employing contrasting management strategies on a number of large landscapes, at least initially.
(Statement for Regional Forester Bradley Powell Concerning Landscape-Level Fuel Management Strategies and the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Phil Weatherspoon and Carl Skinner, PSW Research Station, September 11, 2000. [Emphasis added]
This statement is referred to in FEIS Vol 1 references as "Weatherspoon, C.P., Skinner, C.N. 2000, personal communication, September 11, 2000." The statement is attached as Appeal Appendix E.)
Instead of "contrasting management strategies on a number of large landscapes," the FEIS and ROD adopt one strategy and one set of Standards and Guidelines to be implemented on the entire Sierra Nevada.
Second, and perhaps more to the immediate point, the methods of treatment specified in the FEIS and ROD could not achieve any significant Finney Effect on the general forest, even assuming the theory were valid.
An adequate explanation of the Finney theory is required for a person to understand how badly the FEIS and ROD misrepresent it and fail to implement it, but the FEIS fails to provide any plain language explanation of either the Finney Effect or how it would be implemented with the SPLAT strategy. Therefore we have attached, in Appeal Appendix F, a plain language explanation of the Finney Effect and its relationship to the FEIS SPLAT strategy.
Example of SPLAT implementation, taken from the FEIS.
The fact that the proposed treatments, whether in the Threat Zone or across the general forest, would not achieve the claimed Finney Effect is shown by an example taken directly from the FEIS.
FEIS Vol 1, Chapter 2, page 12 includes a diagram (reproduced below) that represents SPLATs on a landscape, with two possible paths (the white lines) along which wildfire is assumed to move through the landscape, in one case with a south wind driving a fire northward, and in the other with a southwest wind driving a fire northeastward. The obvious implication is that this represents the effect of implementing the SPLAT strategy to achieve the Finney Effect, because the diagram is credited to Finney, and FEIS Appendix G contains the papers by Finney and explains that the FEIS strategy for fuel reduction is based directly on the Finney theory.
There are at least three ways in which this SPLAT diagram from the FEIS is deceptive:
First deception: The diagram depicts fire paths with more steeply angled zig-zags than a fire would actually follow in those situations. For example, the fire moving from south to north before a south wind would not follow the white line shown in the above diagram. It would instead tend to take the black line we have added to a copy of the diagram below.
In reality a fire would advance by moving from the first point where it cleared one obstacle to the point at which it would clear the next obstacle in the shortest time. It wouldn't zig out into the middle of one opening, then zag back at an exaggerated angle to the middle of the next opening, as the white line does. In this example it would follow the black zig-zag line we have added to the diagram. The difference is very significant, because the Finney theory depends entirely on the claim that a pattern of overlapping treated areas will create barriers that cause the fire to move at steep angles to the direction it would otherwise go without obstructions. For example, in Finney's paper reproduced in FEIS Appendix G, the average angle of the zig-zags in his main example (view C) is about 40 degrees.
Comparing the black line to the white line in the above diagram, it is obvious the distance from A to B is shorter along the black line, and that on average the black line segments are at very much smaller angles to the direct line from A to B. Thus the original white line significantly and deceptively over-states the "Finney Effect" that could be achieved with this configuration of SPLATs. In Appeal Appendix F we provide an expanded analysis of the actual Finney Effect that is claimed by the white line and compare it to the actual Finney Effect that would be achieved by this pattern of SPLATs. That analysis shows that the FEIS claims a 69 percent reduction in the fires overall forward spread rate, while the actual reduction would be 19 percent, even if Finney's theory worked perfectly in the FEIS SPLAT example.
Second deception. If these SPLATs were treated according to the ROD standards and guidelines, which require only a 51 percent reduction in a fire's rate of spread in treated areas, then the fire would simply burn straight through the treated areas along the straight line from A to B. The resulting overall Spread Rate Fraction would be 88 percent, only a 12 percent slowing of the fire. Our point is this: The FEIS invites, in fact guarantees, an incorrect interpretation of the SPLAT diagram, and strongly implies that such a pattern of treatment would achieve a Finney Effect similar to that illustrated in FEIS Appendix G (i.e. a Spread Rate Fraction of about 40 percent); but neither of these implications can actually be justified by the Finney Theory or any other data or analysis presented in the FEIS or ROD.
Third deception. Even if the theory were correct and could be applied to the ground as the Finney paper specifies, the fact is that standards and guidelines imposed by the FEIS and ROD do not permit as much treatment as required across the landscape, and they do not permit treatment that would be sufficiently effective in reducing a fire's forward rate in the treated areas.
It is clear that no actual analysis of the SPLAT strategy was done. They simply chanted the magic words "Finney Effect, Finney Effect," waved a magic wand, and on that basis made unsubstantiated false claims for much greater effectiveness when only 30 percent of an area is actually treated according to the Decision standards and guidelines.
These were knowing misrepresentations regarding SPLATs and the Finney Effect.
It is not as if these potentials for misunderstanding and misrepresentation were not made known to the ID Team and the Regional Forester before the EIS was finalized and the decision made. In their September 2000 statement [Appeal Appendix E], Weatherspoon and Skinner raise at least two significant questions about whether the Finney theory would or could actually be implemented. The first has to do with whether the amount of change in a fire's Rate of Spread (ROS) that is required in theory to achieve the Finney Effect would actually result and persist from the treatments proposed.
"One important basic assumption of Finney’s (in press) theory is that treated areas will support a much lower rate of spread than untreated areas... [This assumption] is well-founded and perfectly logical for some short period of time after treatment. But in the generally more open environment of treated stands, an increase in relatively flashy herbaceous fuels will often—and sometimes quickly—occur. Furthermore, treated stands will tend to dry out faster (more insolation and wind) and have higher surface windspeeds. Taken together, these factors could substantially increase rate of spread in treated units (although intensity would continue to be low), which might significantly impinge on the basic rate of spread assumption over much of the life of the treatment."
Weatherspoon and Skinner were commenting on the Draft EIS, so perhaps they did not know that the Final EIS and Standards and Guidelines would fail to require, even initially, that treated acres have a "much lower rate of spread than untreated areas." Finney's paper [FEIS Appendix G, pgs G-30 to G-50] shows that, to achieve the Finney Effect illustrated in the paper and claimed by implication in the FEIS, the treated areas would have to burn at only 1/10 the Rate of Spread in the surrounding untreated areas. The Standards and Guidelines fail to require a reduction of that magnitude in the treated area ROS. Instead, S&G FW-F051 requires only "...ROS is less than 50 percent of pre-treatment ROS..." i.e. anything a bit smaller than 1/2, not 1/10. In other words, the actual initial treatments could and probably would be only one fifth as effective as the Finney example illustrates.
Furthermore, 51 percent reduction in ROS is the target for immediate post-treatment conditions, and, as Weatherspoon and Skinner point out, the initial effect on a fire's rate of spread is not likely to persist for long. The Finney Effect, if it existed at all, would be small and short-lived as implemented by the Decision.
The second point raised on this issue by Weatherspoon and Skinner has to do with the impracticality of reproducing Finney's theoretical conditions on the landscape.
"The theory underlying SPLATs ... assumes quite specific repeating geometric patterns of treated blocks on a flat surface. As Finney ... points out, however, these idealized and artificial treatment patterns would probably never be achievable or even desirable in practice."
The Finney Theory specifies repeated geometric patterns of treatments with particular relationships in their spacing, overlaps, and the percent of total area that is covered by these overlapping treatments. Except possibly for percent of total area treated, these minimum requirements of the Finney Theory are not described in the body of the FEIS, nor are they implemented by any of the standards and guidelines in the FEIS or ROD. And even with regard to percent of area treated, the standards and guidelines do not require any particular landscape to have any given percentage of treatment, only that on average 30 to 40 percent of some large landscape units be treated. The net percentage of the whole landscape proposed for treatment would be about 21 percent (2.4 million acres divided by 11.5 million acres), and the study by Dr. Ron Stewart we referred to above [Appeal Appendix J] shows that actual treatments are very unlikely to be more than a small fraction of the proposed treatments.
It is not just that standards and guidelines to implement the Finney Theory are missing. In fact, the standards and guidelines that are included in the FEIS and ROD put so many restrictions on the placement, extent, and method of fuel treatments, that achievement of the Finney Effect is made impossible in practice by the very document that claims to adopt the Finney Effect as its strategic concept.
Only SPLATs in the forest, or DFPZs plus SPLATs?
The FEIS and ROD specify quarter-mile-wide treatments in the Defense Zones around communities that are virtually identical to the treatments that characterize Defensible Fuel Profile Zones (DFPZs, i.e. shaded fuelbreaks), and the adjoining mile-and-a-quarter Threat Zones are treated with SPLATs. In effect the fuel reduction strategy in these urban wildland intermix zones is "DFPZs first, followed up with area treatments."
Why was no alternative ever considered that extended the DFPZ strategy or DFPZ plus follow-up area treatments into Old Forest Emphasis areas and the general forest?
In their Statement for the Regional Forester, Weatherspoon and Skinner lay out a persuasive case for the necessity of considering such an alternative.
"A key point is that DFPZs should not be regarded as "an alternative" or standalone strategy. Rather, the DFPZ component of a broad fuel management strategy is best viewed as a set of initial, strategically located entries into the landscape—places from which to build out in treating other appropriate parts of the landscape—not as an end in itself. The "theory" is that DFPZs may provide a measure of protection against large fires (assuming suppression forces are present) while longer-term, area-wide treatments are being implemented (Agee et al. 2000). If SPLATs turn out to be both effective and practical on real landscapes, then much of the focus of subsequent area-wide treatments in an initial-DFPZ strategy probably would be on implementing SPLATs. An either/or dichotomy—DFPZs or area treatments—is not consistent with the initial-DFPZ approach envisioned in Weatherspoon and Skinner (1996) and Agee et al. (2000)."
The DFPZ strategy proposed by QLG and included in the HFQLG Pilot Project is intended within five years to put a network of strips of fuel reduction over the forest, based mostly on existing roads chosen to divide the forest into areas averaging about 10 to 12 thousand acres apiece, and adjacent to communities to protect the community from fires originating in the forest and the forest from fires originating in the community. In quarter-mile-wide strips those treatments would involve about 13 percent of the forest. It was QLG's concept from the beginning that DFPZs were just the first step in a comprehensive fuel reduction program, to be followed by area treatments at a scale and pace that would provide greatly improved fire protection for the whole forest within thirty years.
The SPLAT strategy requires treating as little as 30 percent of each area where treatment occurs at all, reverting after 20 or 25 years to maintenance of that fraction of the landscape, and depends on the Finney Effect for overall protection at landscape scale.
If we assume for the sake of argument that SPLAT treatments on the landscape would be completed to the proposed level, which is apparently the situation illustrated by the SPLAT diagram reproduced earlier from Vol 1, Ch 2, pg 12 of the FEIS, then an approximation of DFPZs plus SPLATs can be illustrated by moving a few of the illustrated treatments to positions that link up into a continuous line that approximates a DFPZ using about half the total treated area.
Comparing these two diagrams, consider the following questions:
1. How good would protection be at the half way point? (Within 10 years all DFPZ segments are completed but only half the SPLAT treatments in the original FEIS diagram.)
2. At the end of all treatments, which pattern looks like the best protection? (Assume that this part of the landscape connects with others to make the DFPZ segments into a network.)
The DFPZ plus SPLATs strategy has obvious advantages and it has been recommended for serious consideration by widely held expert opinion, but it was discarded without serious consideration by the ID Team and decision-maker.
The FEIS and ROD are incorrect and deceptive in claims made for the amount of fuel reduction that could be done under the standards and guidelines adopted. Violates: NFMA 219.1(a) and 219.4(a)(2) Maximize net public benefits; 219.1(b)(13) Sensitive to economic efficiency; 219.1(b)(14) Responsive to changing social and economic demands; 219.27(a)(12) Maintain air quality; NEPA 1502.24 Insure professional integrity; APA Sec 706(2)(A) Arbitrary and capricious.
The standards and guidelines erect a maze of interlocking vetoes that in fact would prohibit most of the fuel reduction treatments from ever taking place in a safe, effective, and affordable manner. Appeal Appendix J is a paper written by Dr. Ron Stewart, former Regional Forester for the Pacific Southwest Region, on behalf of The National Association of Forest Service Retirees. In addition to the passage from this paper that we quoted earlier, regarding the small amount of treatment permitted by the standards and guidelines, Dr. Stewart raises additional questions about whether there will be long term financial and industrial capacity to implement such treatments as are permitted.
"It is unlikely that the amount of funding needed to reduce fuel loads in a reasonable timeframe will be available from Congressional appropriations alone. Therefore it will be necessary to maintain a viable timber industry to both harvest and utilize as much of the material as possible...
"... At the level of harvest projected in the ROD, a viable timber industry is not likely to exist beyond the first decade of implementation..." [Appeal Appendix J, pgs 6 and 7.]
Dr. Stewart raises a valid point that the FEIS and ROD completely ignore. There are not just economic and social motivations for assuring survival of the workers, equipment, processing capacity of the timber industry. A viable timber industry is also an ecological necessity. There is no other way to remove enough material from the forests to accomplish the required fuel reduction, and do the job within a reasonable time, with adequate safety, and without converting a huge amount of biomass to health-threatening atmospheric pollution by open burning.
The FEIS and ROD are incorrect and deceptive in how they use Crown Bulk Density as a measure of fuel reduction effectiveness. Violates NEPA 1502.24 Insure professional integrity.
Tables 1.C.1 and 1.C.2 [ROD Appendix A, pg A-11] specify desired stand conditions after treatment for the Defense and Threat zones of the urban wildland intermix zone. These tables specify that post-treatment Crown Bulk Density (kilograms per cubic meter, kg/m3) should be 0.05 in stands with 40 percent or less crown cover, 0.10 in stands with crown cover from 40 to 70 percent, and 0.15 in stands with crown cover 70 percent or greater.
The meaning of "Crown Bulk Density" (CBD) as used in the FEIS is illustrated in Figure 3.5 [FEIS Vol 2, Ch 3, pg 288], which shows a stand of trees with a box drawn around the crowns of trees within an area covered by that box. The vertical dimension of the box is from the Crown Base Height (lowest live limbs of the trees) to the tops of the dominant trees. Crown Bulk Density is defined as the weight (in kilograms) of all the foliage of those trees (including the flashy fuel but not the main stem and heavy woody parts of the branches), with that weight divided by the volume of the box (in cubic meters) to determine the Crown Bulk Density.
CBD is said to be significant because it relates to the probability of crown fire initiation and propagation.
Crown bulk densities of 0.2 kg/m3 are common in mixed conifer forest that burn (Agee 1996), levels below 0.10 kg/m3 crown fire spread was unlikely, but no definitive "threshold" is likely to exist (Agee and others 2000). [FEIS Vol 2, Ch 3,pg 289]
Achieving safe crown bulk densities in treated stands must be an important consideration in any viable fuel reduction strategy; however the FEIS attempt to deal with CBD is insufficient and misleading for at least two reasons:
(1) There is no reliable method for determining CBD with reasonable accuracy in the field. It cannot even be "estimated," as required by Tables 1.C.1 and 1.C.2 of the ROD, by any method described or referenced in the FEIS or ROD. The only method that might give a reasonable approximation would be to employ tables that have been developed on the basis of limited experiments. Such tables, for example those contained in The Influence of Forest Structure on Fire Behavior, James K. Agee ( in the report on 17th Forest Vegetation Management Conference, Redding California, pgs 52-68), relate CBD in various forest types to the average DBH and stem count per acre.
Unfortunately such tables have not been refined or verified to the point where they could be employed in the field, even for "estimates" of crown bulk density.
(2) In any case, the methods of thinning and the limits imposed on them by the Standards and Guidelines would not usually permit thinning to the degree required to meet the specified CBDs. Inadvertently the FEIS illustrates this problem in Figure 3.5r [FEIS Vol 2, Ch 3, pg 291], which shows a stand before treatment and after treatment, where "...crown base height is raised, crown bulk density (CBD) is reduced and surface fuels... changed to match the post treated desired conditions." Labels on the Untreated and Treated stands say the CBD was reduced from 0.24 kg/m3 to 0.15 kg/m3 by the treatments.
This figure clearly shows that significant reduction of CBD cannot be achieved by "thin from below" methods that do not also permit the removal of some trees that comprise the dense overstory. The illustrated change from 0.24 to 0.15 kg/m3 is a 37.5 percent reduction in CBD. This cannot be accomplished by removing only the small trees, which is said to raise the crown base height from 1 meter to 4 meters. It could only be achieved by removing one out of three large trees, as shown in the figure. That is, 33 percent of the illustrated change in CBD was accomplished by removing the large tree, and only 3-1/2 percent of it was from removing the small trees. This great difference in effect between removing only small trees and removing the occasional large tree is not a fluke of this particular illustration, it is a basic fact that cannot be avoided.
The fundamental problem is that, while the FEIS and ROD do specify appropriate targets for post-treatment Crown Bulk Densities, the FEIS and ROD require only modest reductions in crown cover that would seldom if ever produce the specified CBDs. The reason for this is that the contribution of a tree to crown bulk density depend on the volume it occupies whereas its contribution to crown cover depends on the area it covers. The effect of this difference can be seen by comparing a small tree to a larger tree with the same general shape. If the large tree has three times the crown diameter of the small one, the large tree will contribute about 9 times as much to crown cover and 27 times as much to crown bulk. (These comparisons of bulk are only approximate, because large trees don't often have exactly the same shapes and foliage densities as small ones; but the underlying principle is correct, whether the exact numbers are 9 and 27, or only 9 and 23 or some other numbers based on reality.) Therefore, reducing crown cover by removing mostly small trees from stands that contain normal numbers of medium- and large-size trees will not produce the reduction in Crown Bulk Density that is usually required to meet the goals appropriately stated in the FEIS and ROD.
In short, the ROD specifies what appear to be reasonable crown bulk densities that should be achieved for safe fuel conditions in the urban wildland intermix zone, but it fails to provide any method to measure compliance with that specification, and worse yet imposes restrictions on the extent and methods of fuel reduction that make it highly unlikely, usually impossible, that the specified CBDs could actually be achieved.