I take away a few key points:
The media distorts and simplifies things for easy reports, and that lends itself to a poor public perception of fire. I agree with that.
The answer is as varied as the forest type, and some forest may burn hot and intense. Lodgepole and spruce are examples of that, and no amount of thinning will prevent an inevitable high-intensity fire.
Thinning is a part of the "fix", but not a magic bullet as proposed and if we only do it one way, and we ignore the things we did that got us to this point in the first place, we aren't doing very much good.
and so on.
I agree with pretty much everything he said, but I question how much of a 500 year drought we are in. I think drought is the norm in the SW, not the aberration, and wet years led us to have a distorted view of this region. We have been dry this winter, but I read 2002 was drier still. It's been dry since the early 2000s, but we've had wet periods and last summer and winter were on the wet side. I'd like to know what he meant when he said 500 year drought, what was the time frame?
One thing he mentions is grazing. Cattle and sheep simply do not belong. We are going to have grazing again on the San Francisco Peaks, but we should barely have any grazing in Arizona. Our grasslands have nearly disappeared from the landscape, but we continue to extract from them. Fire is a part of our forests and we continue to put them out pretending that we can always do so. Even if we only had lightning fires, we should still have far more of them and they would be large. Aside from that, people have been burning forests for as long as they have been here. We really should be burning more often, and in much larger areas. The Coconino prescribed fire program is a joke. They burn in hundreds of acres and hardly touch most places. Ponderosa pine should have a fire return interval of less than 10 years, but the way we have fires and the way they burn, it's more like a 100 year return interval forest-wide.
I haven't seen most of the Wallow burn area on the ground, but from the satellite images, I can see a lot of parks and grasslands that will benefit from the fire, and there are also areas of recent fires that may re-burn. He is probably correct about the forest condition in that area, and the forest being "reset'. I think I actually referred to that in one of my posts or in a conversation with Liz. One thing that would be nice, would be if the Forest Managers would be supported by the politicians they answer to, and actually manage the forests as they say they do. I'm not talking logging, I'm talking burning. If this area is wilderness and is far from towns, they need to start having prescribed burns that aren't hundreds or thousands of acres, but tens of thousands. We need to start routine scheduled forest closures for management, particularly big block prescribed fires. We need to obliterate roads, and allow areas to burn and then burn again. A forest area that burned in 2005, even if a hot stand replacing fire, needs to burn again. How else do you think the fuel load will disappear? We can't put things back by pretending that once is good enough, when it use to happen at least once a decade, and we can't pretend that a forest should be protected and treated like a baby. But more to the point, we need to stop treating fire like an enemy and treat it like a friend.
The biggest problem IS the public. The public needs to have an understanding of forests, forest fires, and accept the practices of management, if they are going to have an important say in forest management. People need to accept that blackened tree trunks are better than blackened tree tops for thousands of acres (except where that is ecologically normal), that fire will burn through, and the public is going to have to learn to deal with large areas being scheduled for management and being closed to public entry. We need to live with more regular smoke on the landscape, and we should phase out grazing over most public lands. Historical cuteness does not equate to ecological compatibility or what should be practiced.
Taken in it's now post fire state, the Wallow Fire area could be completely re-designated, and management practices out there could be completely altered. We could close many of the roads, we could create 40 to 50,000 acre burn blocks with margins that can be lit-off in the event of a fire and the area could be allowed to burn naturally when a lightning fire occurs, or in a prescribed manner if that was to happen. We could bulldoze tanks, end the subsidized forest grazing, and reseed with native grasses in areas denuded of their grasslands. We could walk away from timber extraction, end the thinning protection of forest trees in that area and allow subsequent fires to burn as they please, within the burn units. We could do a lot of things, but we won't.
If the public was willing to see these things happen, then a lot could change. We have this ridiculous notion that a "wilderness" area is anything we call a wilderness. Most Arizona Wildernesses are a complete misrepresentation of the spirit of the designation and are far from anything resembling true wilderness. Aside from the roads, the centuries of high-grading logging, grazing and over grazing, and fire suppression that occurred in them and adjacent to them, they are often so small as to be little more than an area on a map, suited for an ignorant public to gobble up as a peaceful place to escape their cares and woes of modern urban Arizona life. The Gila is a decent sized wilderness, but it has problems. If nothing else, why was the FS suppressing the 987 acre lightning started "Horse Fire" last June? It started in the wilderness in Pine and should have been managed as a natural fire, but instead "hero" hot shots were airlifted to the site to put out the fire. And this was in a relatively "fire friendly" national forest.
I will now quote the wilderness act:
Historical relics and trails aside, fire suppression is far from an "untrammeled"landscape, and some areas are so dense they don't even come close to appearing as a wilderness. It would be one thing if we could set fires as much as we suppress them, but we do not.“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
If Wilderness Act were to be applied as it should, we would not have many of the joke wildernesses that we do in this state, since the Kendrick Mountain, the Kachina Peaks, the Red Rocks-Secret Canyon and many others, are far from anything that comes close to the wilderness designation language. You can't manage a forest, however poorly or well, for a century and then simply step back and say, "you are now on your own, though we will continue to exclude fire. The inevitable consequence will be a Taylor, Pumpkin, Schultz, or other unnaturally hot fire, but that will be ignored by the public, and we will treat a natural fire as a disaster, despite the historical evidence". This is effectively what we have done. And in addition, in a true wilderness area, we would never dream of ever extinguishing a naturally started fire in a fire maintained ecosystem, as was done in the Gila last spring. Also, if we want to believe a 5,000 or 10,000 acre area can actually be a wilderness, then we should study the landscape and have man caused prescribed fires in the wilderness ares, because a fire that started 5 miles west of Kendrick Peak would have been all over Kendrick Mountain in a day or two, and the fire would not respect the political boundary of a wilderness designation. As such, when we put out the fire on Sitgreaves last June, we should have started a fire at the base of Kendrick to ensure that the mountain re-burned, as nature would have done to the mountain.
Until we really change, and do what fits reality, and stop pretending that a forest is a park with no natural phenomenon that occur as either destructive or creative agents, then we will continue to suffer the consequence to the full extent of our hubris. The period of the last 9 years had shown us that large destructive fires can and will occur, and this will become normal. Just this year alone we've probably had close to 1 million acres burn. That could have been a semi normal thing with positive results for the most part, be that is not how it will probably end up.