I was deep into researching and getting the word out on forest fuels reduction from about 2001-2004;
TL;DR: There is a distinct lack of a sustained presence of well-educated and highly-experienced low-to-mid level employees on the ground in the Forest Service/BLM/FEMA/etc to look at the forest fuels reduction problem from a wide and long-term view and see reality for what it is and put something into motion that actually works.
Going to formal science conferences, logging conferences, fire safe meetings, visiting active wildfires, visiting experimental forests, writing responses to environmental impact statements/proposed forestry treatment plans, and even participating in a mechanized fuels treatment trial/demonstration in three different states over a period of a few months.
After being told at every location that our machine was “the star of the show” by multiple people – both public and governmental- we ended up pulling our name from the trial’s final report because the numbers we so biased. When pressed one researcher admitted they made up production rates for a competing product based on faith of what the operator told them their equipment could do “if it was installed properly and ran with a well-trained operator”, claiming they were slow only because it was their first time using the equipment! Of course, their production rate “estimate” was far higher than what was actually measured with ours.
What I took away from it was this: the powers that be wanted to make money/stimulate the economy off the biomass and mulching it in-situ to re-integrate with the forest didn’t interest them as much as extracting the biomass and hauling it to a planned network of micro-biomass burners that were to generate electricity for the grid, or hauling it off to mills to burn at a co-generation sites, processing it into wood pellets/pulp/chipboard etc.
At a forestry science conference one down-to-earth researcher pointed out that ~80% of the biomass that needs treated is not economically feasible to extract primarily due to high extraction and haul costs
Even with a network of new planned sites (processors/electrical plants) spread over the west. His conclusion was to focus on the other 20% for potential profit and admit that if we want to treat the other 80% of the forest fuels problem it needs to be paid for by tax dollars BUT that isn’t so bad because fighting active fires costs the tax payer many many times as much compared to pre-treatment – with a bleak terrain left over once the flames are all out in need of rehabilitation that itself ALONE costs much more than mechanical pre-treatment. Meanwhile the clock ticks, and countless high-risk communities/lives may be destroyed any instant – ostensibly the same lives the government were focusing on protecting in the first place.
Here I was trying to convince everyone: you have x number of taxpayer dollars to treat x acres of critical forest / Wildland Urban Interface – communities are on the line in a tinderbox and most all I hear about are complex subsidized schemes to generate a few jobs and make marginal amounts of money. 20 years’ worth of our well-proven equipment stands by with contractors at the ready, needing only one trained operator who can blow through most any terrain at the lowest cost per acre compared to any other treatment, with a low amount of noise (lest you disturb an owl) and the least amount of soil disturbance (compared to say, a skid-steer mounted mulching machine that needs to track multiple times over every inch of land with near ZERO ability to limb trees/fuel ladders not to mention material handling capability), obliterating and dispersing ladder fuels to rapidly decompose and arranging for larger coarse woody debris to be placed in specific locations for habitat and erosion. Follow that up with a well-controlled burn (especially in fire-dependent ecosystems) to reduce the fuel bed and again every 2-3 years to maintain regrowth, and it’s a no-brainer other than the public rightfully complaining about the health effects of smoke in the air. Small trade-off if you ask me, even if it means spending a bit more money to help re-locate those who are truly sensitive to it.
We seem to have unlimited taxpayer funds to spend when a fire is burning and little to no money to spend on reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire when the fires are out.
I understand and respect that the Forest Service has a directive to create jobs and resources for the economy but not every stick on the ground is worth turning into a commodity even with heavy subsidies. When seen from the backside I have observed a trend that every few years people retire and new people move in with a “big idea” that they want to make happen so they can get promoted out of their own self-interest. They get promoted, come up with another “big idea”, rinse and repeat. People are people, you can’t really blame them for chasing the government equivalent of the corporate ladder to provide for themselves and their families.
This seems to have directly led to a distinct lack of a sustained presence of well-educated and highly-experienced low-to-mid level employees on the ground in the Forest Service/BLM/FEMA/etc to look at this problem from a wide and long-term view and see reality for what it is and put something into motion that actually works.
That is what I helplessly saw 15 years ago, now look at the mess we are in. Add in politics and stir. Maybe if we could get congress to appropriate about 5 billion dollars to throw at this problem we would at least have a border wall high enough keep the all illegal immigrants out of our forests?