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John Stewart

Forest Service Publishes Region’s Travel Analysis Reports

USFS LogoAnalyses will guide national forests toward sustainable road system in Pacific Northwest Forests

Portland, Ore -- The U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Region released 17 travel analysis reports this week that outline existing road systems and identify opportunities to achieve a more sustainable system of roads for each national forest in the Pacific Northwest. These travel analysis reports are part of nationwide requirement involving national forests across the country. 

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John Stewart

Fire - good, bad and ugly

Rough Fire - 2015

 

Wildfire is a growing concern for recreation as well as property owners within Wildlands-Urban-Interface (WUI).  With the movement of people from suburbia and inner cities to the country seeking open space, there is a growing risk (and danger).  These private property homes are often adjacent to public lands where fire is a constant risk, unlike urban living. (For more about WUI - The 2010 wildland-urban interface of the conterminous United States)Within the WUI, insurance requirements, and many state laws, demand the homeowner create a defensible space or face citation and fines; those same requirements do not apply to the government property managers of adjacent public lands.  Within the WUI and outside the WUI, public lands managers have been neglecting their charge to maintain public lands in trust for the public.  Public lands are overgrown and mismanaged by the very agencies charged with maintaining the public lands in trust for the public.  Water supplies are at risk from infrastructure damage to uncontrolled runoff causing erosion and lake and stream siltation.Mismanaged is a strong word.  Just what is meant by mismanaged?  For starters, consider a theoretical situation where no one has visited a forest.  No trees have been logged to build homes, nor space cleared for crops and grazing.  This theoretical “natural” forest would have periodic openings and trees of varying height, with wide spacing, creating a mosaic pattern across the landscape.  This is referenced as “basal area”.  Basal area is the area of a given section of land that is occupied by the cross-section of tree trunks and stems at the base.  The larger the calculated number, the denser the forest; i.e., more trees per acre.  More trees per acre means dense, over grown forests.Assuming the human interaction with western forests began about 150 years ago, during the following time frame, trees have been cut to provide wood for fuel and lumber for homes.  Native Americans and early settlers used fire to create open space for homes and crops. The result was increased open space for home, crops and grazing and a decrease in the basal area coverage. Those efforts kept the fuel loading down and the fires small. In recent years, management policies began to limit logging and aggressively fight fires resulting is an dense, over grown landscape. The actions from human intervention began to upset the ecosystem.Fire has always been part of the natural environment.  Fires have occurred at periodic intervals for thousands of years.  Those fires created the mosaic pattern of the natural forests where low to moderate intensity fires were the norm.  Studies of tree ring data indicate that “stand replacement” (high intensity) fires have occurred at 200-500 year intervals.  Stand replacement equates to sever, high intensity fires that sterilize the soil and burn everything in the path of flames.  That is the same type of fires now being seen in western forests at more frequent intervals.Fires are classed low, moderate and high intensity.  Historically, high intensity fires are (and have been) infrequent occurrences.  Typical fires (and beneficial to the ecosystem) are low to moderate intensity.  These burn dead, dying and downed trees and under growth.  These fires clean the forest floor and return nutrients to the soil - a natural fertilizer.A healthy forest will have more trees of larger diameter with greater spacing. Trees with upper story still intact. The forests are, and have been, mismanaged for decades. Natural fires were suppressed aggressively allowing uncontrolled growth of bio-mass. That mindset is giving way to a “let it burn” philosophy.  The result, more high intensity fires. One of the mismanagement aspects deals with the reduction (in some cases elimination) of logging.  As noted, human interaction contributed to the current condition of the forests.  Logging is a prime resource extraction industry - trees cut down, logs milled to produce lumber to build homes.Logging practices have adapted over the years to a “plantation” concept.  In other words, trees would be logged in sections designed to mimic the mosaic pattern of the natural forests.  (It should be noted that logging in many western forests is on its third or fourth cycle of logging.)  Current logging practices include removal of the dead and dying trees and thinning the forest to a desired basal area.  Each forest type has a different desire basal area which should consist of a mixture of standing snags, logs on the ground and trees spaced enough to allow some open space for wildlife forage.The current ecosystem cannot adapt, nor sustain, the scope of devastating fires currently being experienced. Yup, past management practices got us into this mess. Past logging logging practices of clear cuts and re-planting created “plantation” type forests where trees are a uniform height but smaller diameter. Multiple decades of aggressive fire suppression allowed uncontrolled growth of under story.

Small, controlled fire is good for the forest; just as rain and snow are good for the forest.  Many trees have adapted to where they need fire to rejuvenate the forests. Small, controlled fires remove the dead, dying and downed trees as well as thick under brush.  Leaving that biomass in the current condition of the forests is a prescription for disaster.  Fires in a healthy forest occur on average every five years.The controversial issue is moving from current conditions to a desired state. That transition period is going to be difficult and many people will need to accept radical changes. I have spoken with Forest Service fire officials that estimate 60+ tons of dead and dying bio-mass per acre along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains forest floors.  The 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Act did authorize (and fund) a number of thinning projects address this issue.If you set aside the theory and suppositions of forest management, consider what is known about fire activity within the past 150 years of human interaction in the west. Fires are now hotter in intensity and more frequent.Now, let's consider another important variable that is hard to quantify -- drought. Tree ring studies indicate that the 20th Century was one of the third wettest in the past 1200 years, or last 120 centuries.  And, forests are considered to be the headwaters of the water supply.The 200-500 year stand replacement burn cycle coincides with the "wettest century" observation. Within that big cycle spanning centuries is another cycle spanning decades.  Wet years are followed by dry years.  Wet years stimulate growth.  Dry years provide fuel for fires.Fires do occur and have been occurring for centuries. And, fire is beneficial to the ecosystem.  And, current data is recording more frequent and higher intensity fires.With high intensity fires, three things of note happen: 1) the soil is sterilized several inches to several feet down; 2) there are not many residual "charcoal" (carbon sequestration) and soil nutrients left behind; 3) uncontrolled runoff from rain and snow melt cause erosion.  The landscape lies fallow for several years.When you couple the increase of population in the Wildlands-Urban-Interface (WUI) and aggressive fire suppression, we have a situation where the active intervention of man has created an imbalance in nature.As good as natural fire is for overall system ecology, you will not achieve the desired condition in 1, 2, 5, or 10 years. It will take longer and it will take active management to reduce the fuel load where a beginning of introduction of fire can be started.Analysis of wildfire history over the last several decades tells us federal land management efforts are ineffective in preventing large catastrophic fires. In fact, recent experience in Idaho shows BLM management is aggravating the situation. BLM needs to change its biased, ineffective practices in dealing with fine fuel loads and employ all available options in fine fuel load management on Idaho’s rangelands. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, BLM began arbitrarily capping grazing in eastern Owyhee and Twin Falls county grazing allotments. This allowed large amounts of fuel to accumulate. In 2007, the Murphy Complex Fire burned 652,016 acres, the third-largest wildfire in the United States between 1997 and 2009, costing taxpayers well over $11 million in reclamation alone, with full recovery of natural systems taking years. The 2015 Owyhee county Soda Fire’s burned and blackened 284,000 acres and will have negative impacts for recreationists, ranchers, endangered species and the local economy for many years.  All of this because of a BLM institutional bias against using livestock for fuels management.  The institutional bias is also prevalent with the U.S. Forest Service.History shows that federal agency management practices have been a complete failure. It’s time for a change. It is time for the agencies to discard their institutional biases.  For the property owner, it endangers their home.  For the rancher, it endangers their livelihood. And, for the recreationist, it endangers the trails, hunting spots and fishing holes. For wildlife, it destroys their habitat. For everyone, it endangers their water supply.

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John Stewart

Forest OHV trails reopen for 2015; feature improvements

To protect trails and riders, OHV areas are subject to closure after prolonged or heavy rainfall when usage would result in forest damage. Before every ride, OHV users are encouraged to ‘call before you haul’ and check the recreation conditions report online at go.usa.gov/3jkxQ. “By treading lightly you can ride hard and still keep the trail beautiful, healthy, and open for future generations” added Jewett. For forest information, maps, and alerts visit:·         OHV maps: go.usa.gov/3gp3R·         Text message: text ‘follow chattoconeenf’ to 40404·         Smart phone/tablet app: go.usa.gov/Jwgh OHV trail riding areas and winter work:

Beasley Knob OHV TrailsOpenRoutine maintenance and approximately 4.5 miles of trail reroutes.Davenport Mountain OHV TrailsOpenNoneWhissenhunt OHV TrailsOpenTrail assessment to identify problem areas for future improvements.Locust Stake OHV Trail SystemOpenNoneOakey Mountain OHV TrailsOpenNoneHouston Valley OHV TrailsOpenRoutine maintenance, trail reroute, installation of size limiting gates, new information board and signs, and fencing upgrades.Rock Creek ORV TrailOpenNoneRocky Flats OHV TrailOpenNoneTatum Lead ORV TrailOpenNoneWindy Gap, Milma Creek, and Tibbs OHV TrailsOpenNoneRoberts Bike Camp OHV TrailsOpenNoneTown Creek OHV TrailsOpenNone

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests provide the finest outdoor recreation opportunities and natural resources in Georgia. Featuring nearly 867,000 acres across 26 counties, thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers, approximately 850 miles of recreation trails, and dozens of campgrounds, picnic areas, and other recreation activity opportunities, these lands are rich in natural scenery, history and culture. The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests is part of the Southern Region, with the Forest Supervisor’s office in Gainesville, Georgia, managing four District units in Blairsville (Blue Ridge District), Lakemont (Chattooga River District), Chatsworth (Conasauga District), and Eatonton (Oconee District).

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John Stewart

First phase of Mississippi’s Rattlesnake Bay OHV Trails reopens

(Left) Riders Nathan Tallman, Justin Robinson, Robbie Robinson, Bob Silles, Fred Pittman, Thomas Gut, Bradley Bryant, Mark Langston and Dale Tallman celebrate the reopening of phase one of the Rattlesnake Bay OHV Trails in Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest.

“We are elated that the Forest Service has begun the process of reopening these trails, and we want to thank the Forest Service officials and the Friends of Rattlesnake Bay member volunteers for their hard work that made this day possible,” said Dale Tallman Jr., volunteer coordinator for the Friends of Rattlesnake Bay.

The AMA became involved in the effort at Tallman’s request. Steve Salisbury, AMA government affairs manager for off-highway issues, assisted Tallman, Fred Pittman, Robert Rockco and other Mississippi riders in forming the Friends of Rattlesnake Bay to facilitate Forest Service negotiations with a unified voice.

The initial reopening was made possible by the February approval of a recreation fee structure from the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region Recreation Resource Advisory Committee and cooperation between the USFS and Friends of Rattlesnake Bay. Volunteers from the OHV group helped USFS crews complete the needed repairs to the trails in late August.

(Left) Riders Nathan Tallman, Justin Robinson, Robbie Robinson, Bob Silles, Fred Pittman, Thomas Gut, Bradley Bryant, Mark Langston and Dale Tallman celebrate the reopening of phase one of the Rattlesnake Bay OHV Trails in Mississippi’s DeSoto National Forest.

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John Stewart

2015 Public Lands Fee-Free Days Announced

Jan. 19: the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors the legacy of the civil rights leader and encourages Americans to participate in the MLK Day of Service
Feb. 16: Presidents Day, honoring our nation’s Presidents with particular attention towards commemorating President Washington and President Lincoln.
June 13: National Get Outdoors Day, a day when federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and the recreation industry encourages healthy, outdoor activities.
Sept. 26: National Public Lands Day, the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands
Nov. 11: Veteran’s Day, commemorates the end of World War I and pays tribute to all military heroes past and present.

The last fee-free period for 2014 is Nov. 8-11 in honor of Veteran’s Day.

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