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Thread: Which is more expensive:brush removal or prescribed burn?

  1. #1
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    Which is more expensive:brush removal or prescribed burn?

    I read about all these fires in the west and it made me wonder. Say you have the political will to be proactive. Your choice is to remove the flammable materials or se a fire yourself and try to control it. If you do a prescribed burn, you have to have a lot of people to keep it from getting out of control. If you remove the material, you have to stash it someplace.

    would anyone know the economics?

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    We have this either-or approach going on that just strikes me as being pretty short-sighted. Either the place is clear-cut or it’s protected both have negative impacts. It would seem a moderate path of cutting the oldest growth in the forest annually would keep the inventory down.

    Rrmoving the largest growth opens up the canopy allowing new growth to Form and occupy that space.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  3. #3
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    Economics aside, I live about 2 miles from the edge of a ~180,000 acre fire that occurred in June/July of this year. The area's about 95% impossible to get to with equipment, and about 65 to 70% is impossible on foot (the people complaining that the firefighters weren't going into these areas to put it out was incredible, but I've spent a lot of time in the area on foot). The geographies many of the fires are occurring in make both impractical choices.

    The area here is also a mix of chaparral, grassland, desert, pine, and oak forest. A good chunk of it had burned about 10 years ago. I do not believe you can keep ahead of it when you have 15-20 year drought.
    ~mike

    reading. it helps.

  4. #4
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    "rake the forest" Haha. Wasn't that the "solution"?

    Seriously though - wasn't one of these new ones set off by an idiot with their super critical gender reveal party going awry? Step 1 is stopping the stupid *&&#.

    A thinning of the forested areas may be a step in the right direction, but I'm not sure anything is going to help the tinderbox conditions out there at this point. One can imagine the firebreaks and cut lines in the managed areas, but in some spots the winds are to the point that no gap in the vegetation is going to help.

    I'm not sure there are economics to fix such a huge area.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roger Feeley View Post
    I read about all these fires in the west and it made me wonder.

    ...would anyone know the economics?
    Scale is important, when thinking about firebreaks.

    The three largest Oregon fires cover 450,000 acres or roughly 700 square miles. That's nearly the size of Rhode Island. This year is exceptional, mainly because the fires are near population centers.

    Oregon is nearly 95,000 square miles - much of it steep and only accessible on foot. Figure a fully laden smokie can manage 4 miles a day if they're cutting firebreaks and you get an idea of why it *can't * be done.

    The only way for most States to afford prescribed burn an area that size is with inmates providing labor.



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    Last edited by Jim Matthews; 09-13-2020 at 10:41 AM. Reason: Schpelink

  6. #6
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    Thanks for the perspective, folks. I freely admit my ignorance in this matter. I’m from Kansas where the terrain is much less lumpy. In fact, someone did a study that found that Kansas is almost flatter than a pancake. There’s a high point out west that made it less flat.

  7. #7
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    True, we are short-sighted. I am not a forester, but from reading I understand that the under-story (mid-level) trees can enable a fire to get to the canopy of an old growth forest - and so spread catastrophically. Without that middle layer of fuel, a fire can burn the detritus 2-3 feet off the ground and never seriously impact the larger trees. If this happens periodically, there is limited opportunity for un-controlled fire conditions.

    We forget that fire is a natural part of any ecosystem. It is so easy to blame climate change, but at some point you have to look in the mirror and re-consider the impact of your land management practices.

    As example, mesquite is a plague on Texas ranchers (et al.). 100 yrs ago, it was largely unknown; today you'd think it was the state tree. It is an invader over much of the state, consumes massive amounts of water, and shades out grasses that dominated the plains for millennia. It was held in check by lightening-caused fires. Then humans built houses and fires had to be fought. Now mesquite has taken over. In many areas where/when wind conditions allow, ranchers will do controlled burns of their range. Grasses burn as low as 3-4 inches off the ground, kill the mesquite, and the grass is back in 6-8 weeks. Many areas have even had surface water (magically) re-appear - and streams flow. An alternative is root-plowing (bulldozers), but is expensive and less effective.

    I am going to guess that CA has applied similar absolute fire control practices for the last 100 yrs or so. Look at old photos of an area. Was it grass, or brush, or trees 150 yrs ago? (Watch the 1956 movie "Giant", filmed near Marfa TX. Look at the range land in the film. Then go visit the area. You won't think they filmed anywhere near Marfa.)

    Any way you look at it, humans have altered their environment. We can either stay out, leave it alone, and allow it to return to its native state - fires and all, or learn to live with the results of our land management practices; and maybe concrete houses.

    Edit.....
    Sorry. Just realized this is very 'either-or' sounding - and not my intention at all. I thought it might be obvious we could adjust our land management practices to some middle ground too. Maybe it was obvious; maybe not.
    Last edited by Malcolm McLeod; 09-13-2020 at 12:19 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Yea, I forgot the bufflegrass. It's an invasive, fire loving, species. The saguaro's, mesquites, palo verdes, etc.. that also occupy chaparral and grasslands here.. are not. Leaving a more barren, and unnatural/unsustained, landscape post fire.
    ~mike

    reading. it helps.

  9. #9
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    The only way for most States to afford prescribed burn an area that size is with inmates providing labor.

    Due to covid California inmate crews are at 2/5 of normal and will stay that way for the duration.

    The federal fire crews have finally recovered from the 2001 forced replacement of all fire fighters over 35. They finally have firefighters with 20 years experience. Something they did not have 10 years ago.
    Bill D.

    https://www.fs.usda.gov/news/release...e-firefighters

    https://www.hcn.org/issues/208/10653
    Last edited by Bill Dufour; 09-13-2020 at 1:09 PM.

  10. #10
    If they have 3 trillion bucks to throw at the economy during a pandemic to put food on people's tables, seems a piece o' cake to hire - read: decrease unemployment and add economic growth- lumberjacks and heavy equipment operators etc. to clear deadwood so people have a table that's not on fire...

    Too simplistic, maybe, but what's the cost to the taxpayer to hire 'fire preventers' versus the cost of paying to fight the fires, and the FEMA costs of rebuilding? And how many lives will be lost preventing the fires in the first place versus those lost to the fires?

    As to 'prescribed burn', they do that around here all the time. Good idea, until the 'prescribed' fire turns into an 'Oh, S*^# fire
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  11. #11
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    Roger, I have no idea, however I think it’s the wrong question.

    I believe the question should be “what is the best solution for the ecosystem?”

    Selective logging, using animals such as goats to reduce material, removal of dead trees as tinder by felling.

    There are lots of things to do, there are many experts who could fashion a solution and I would expect it would vary by area or situation.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Dufour View Post

    The federal fire crews have finally recovered from the 2001 forced replacement of all fire fighters over 35.
    I would be surprised if anyone over the age of 35 could handle the demands of humping a full pack in today's heat, only to jump into a Shake and Bake more than once.

    Yikes

  13. #13
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    Here in the southeastern part of the country, its a normal occurrence to control burn every year during late winter, early spring before the green starts shooting up. We have experts here, and I do mean experts, with several big plantations who have offered to go to the western part of the country to give advice on how to manage their resources. They were pretty much laughed out of the state of Cali from all the tree huggers and green deal hippies over there. Outside of the occasional Okefenokee fires, it's not much of a problem here. It all has to do with management. Oh, and by the way, the reason the Okefenokee burns out of control occasionally, is because much of it is Federal land that will not allow prescribed burns. Only natural fires can occur so the tinder builds up significantly because most of it is pines.
    SWE

  14. #14
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    Brushing requires tools gasoline/oil and workers then chipping and haul off costs.
    Burning requires one match. and a good pair of running shoes.
    Bill D

  15. #15
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    I have a wilderness cabin in California and yes it is the fire area.

    Forest Management is an entire four year course at Agricultural Colleges. There are a lot of theories, the most recent, and I believe the best, is cutting down small trees and letting the larger ones grow. I forget what the spacing is but it is something like 20-30 feet between trees. Another good practice is limbing or skinning the trees, which is cutting down small limbs below 12'. So even if there is a fire, it will burn the needles and brush and not catch the trees on fire with small limbs. The larger trees with thick bark are actually quite fire resistant, evidenced by controlled burns. I use a 12' Stihl power pole pruner (chain saw on a stick) to limb trees within 20-30 radius around the cabin.

    We use a McLeoud type rake to yes, rake the forest, as stupid as that sounds, to rake up and remove pine needles in a 20-30 circle around homes. The needles and brush are thrown into canyons and dry creek beds for erosion control. I think the cabin owners around my immediate area dumped nearly 25 pickup truck loads of pine needles this way. I do this once a year. Others are no so diligent.

    All trees which are under 16" in diameter are cleared from around the cabin, in a 20-30 foot radius.

    All pine needles are removed from the roof. All combustible products (firewood, chairs, etc) are removed from outside the cabin and kept, you guessed it, 20-30 feet away from the cabin.

    The above are requirements from our insurer and requests by the US Forest Service.

    Controlled burns are no longer an acceptable way in our forest--there are just too many ways they can get out of hand.
    Regards,

    Tom

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