Thursday, February 6, 2014

HCN and False Narratives.

I have been banned from am being moderated on the NH open forum for getting into an argument with the sock puppet Remsen Belvedere. Since I cannot respond on the forum to a post by Jerry Baer, I will respond here.

Let me begin by correcting the numerous factual errors.
Upper Claremont Canyon, near the Grizzly Peak/Claremont intersection; on a warm, dry, windy Red Flag Day. 
It was warm and dry, but not windy. The wind speeds that day were on average 2mph. Nor was it a red flag day, the red flag warning was issued a week earlier on the 14th, and expired at 10am on the 15th.
wildland fire breaks out in an area that had not burned in a hundred years. 
There have been fires in the canyon over the last 100 years. This fire did not spontaneously break out, it was anthropogenic in origin.
This wasn't supposed to happen because the "problem" trees--those we we told are a fire hazard--had been removed six years ago. In vegetation management lingo, this area had been "treated."

This is what is known as a straw man fallacy. Removing the high risk vegetation was never intended to prevent fires, that is simply false. Removing the highly flammable tall trees reduces the risk of a fire being catastrophic. Which is exactly what happened. A fire was started on a hot dry day in a native riparian woodland. Before it could spread more than 50 feet, it was spotted, responded to, and extinguished. Had this fire occurred in an untreated area with plenty of ladder fuels and combustable canopies... this fire could very well have made national news. Because the fire occurred in the managed riparian woodland, it was a routine fire easily controlled.
But after the tall trees were chopped down, the forest canopy was gone, and the understory was no longer shaded.  Given the increased sunlight, growth was encouraged--but the growth was primarily small weedy plants that became fine fuel--"fine" meaning thin, small-diameter--the stuff that ignites quickly, burns hot, and spreads flames to larger vegetation.
This is nonsense, the fire occurred under a redwood grove. Redwood canopies are much denser than the eucalyptus canopies. Not only was the forest floor cooler than under a eucalyptus, it was also wetter, since redwoods are highly efficient at generating fog drip. Jerry is justifying his belief, not reporting reality.
Crews of well-meaning volunteers had been working through the area, pulling and chopping undesirable growth. Unfortunately, they failed to remove the cuttings, and those too were drying. 
This is an outright lie. There have been no crews of volunteers working in that area since the trails were completed.

Here is a picture of the area from June 2013.
The fire started to the left of the trail.

Here is the same angle after the fire.
Most of what burned was the laid down eucalyptus logs.

Here is another picture, just to the left of the first one.
Area just to the left of where the fire started.

Same angle after the fire.
Burned area from the January 21 fire.

The source of the ignition is not known, but it would not have taken much--just a spark from a chain saw or a cigarette. 
There were no chainsaws, but a cigarette could have started the fire. However, given that the ground beneath the redwoods was still moist from fog drip just two days prior, this is an unlikely scenario as well.

The fire primarily burned brush and slash, but it also ignited and scorched some redwoods in a nearby grove. Potentially, the blaze could have started a conflagration--it was, after all, a high fire danger day--but the firefighters jumped on it quickly and aggressively, and it was extinguished in less than an hour.

The fire primarily burned eucalyptus logs that had been lain down to decompose during the eradication process. There was not enough brush to generate a big enough fire to ignite the fire resistant redwood canopy. Had the eucalyptus trees still been there, with their high fat content and flammable nature, the fast response could have been for naught. The fire was centered under the redwoods but did not spread into the upper canopy. A testament to the fire resistance of redwood trees.
The fire's location is UC property, an area that has been subjected to repeated, ongoing vegetation management by UC and untrained volunteers. Their vegetation management included removal of "invasives," weeding, chipping, planting and trail maintenance, as well as cutting trees.  The site has been featured in local media; it was supposed to demonstrate what UCB claims is the correct method of fire hazard mitigation, a model for what it proposes FEMA should fund. Young native bays and oaks are flourishing in upper Claremont Canyon now that the tall trees have been removed--but what does this have to do with mitigation of fire risk? In 1991, oaks and bays burned just as ferociously as pines and acacias; they slowed the fire not one iota; they too became black skeletons.
The February 21 fire is proof of concept. A fire started but did not spread. That is the concept of fuels reduction, particularly tall flammable trees like eucalyptus that explode into flames and toss long burning embers of bark thousands of feet into the air.
But this fire demonstrated the opposite truth: all this vegetation manipulation does not reduce risk. 
There is no way to control human behavior. The idea that fuels reduction reduces the risk that humans might start a fire is so illogical that it is laughable.
An expert in wildland fire management reviewed UCB's proposals to FEMA and concluded that UCB's methods actually increase fire hazard, because the "treated" area is more prone to ignition.  

IE, a paid hack for the HCN concluded what the HCN paid him to conclude.

UC has argued that fire potential is reduced because, by cutting tall trees, fuel load is diminished.  

This is another straw man fallacy. UC is removing the eucalyptus, pine, and acacia to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire. IE, without the flammable canopies, fires are easily contained and extinguished. It is not the potential for a fire that is being mitigated, it is the potential for a catastrophic fire.

But what is left is a higher percentage of fine fuel, ground fuel, the stuff that dries out in drought and fire season, the stuff that fire behavior studies have shown to be the major determinant of a fire's intensity and spread. So this small wildland fire should teach important lessons:

It does teach us a lesson. It is proof of concept that removing the tall flammable trees reduces the risk of catastrophic fire.
1. Removal of mature tall trees is a mistake, because when canopy is destroyed, weedy undergrowth is encouraged and the understory dries out, increasing fire danger (to say nothing of the loss of habitat, carbon sequestration or aesthetic values).Reducing fuel load may be a viable idea, but the fuel that should be reduced is ground fuel and fine fuel, not healthy trees.
Eucalyptus trees do not close their stomata during drought and their roots are very efficient at high soil moisture tensions. Eucalyptus canopies are sparse, therefore they do a poor job of shading the understory, while their roots suck up all available moisture and their leaves evaporate it into the atmosphere. Removing the eucalyptus results in a moisture forest floor, not a drier one.
2. Vegetation management should not be left to untrained, or unsupervised volunteer workers, especially those whose scope of work does not include removal of the ignitable slash they create. On this site, UCB is responsible for allowing this to happen, and for the conditions thus created.
This is blatantly false, there are no untrained or unsupervised volunteers working in the Claremont Canyon preserve.
3. Quick and aggressive response of firefighters is essential; fire doubles in size every few minutes. In a brush and grass environment, the fire quickly becomes a fast-moving situation too dangerous to be fought on the ground.
Fire only grows if it has fuel and air. As this fire clearly demonstrated, the eradication and conversion to riparian woodland slows the speed at which a fire can travel.
It is not an exaggeration to say a disaster was averted by the excellent performance of the firefighters. In the final analysis that is what they are there for, and that is why we depend on them for our safety. But we should not make their jobs more difficult by creating ignition-prone wildland environments.
Nor is it an exaggeration to say that disaster was averted because all the eucalyptus trees were removed years ago, making a catastrophic fire unlikely.