Catastrophic Wildfire and Toxic Smoke Evolved From Ecological Imbalance: Are DOI Secretary Zinke / USDA Secretary Purdue Ignoring Cost-Effective Wildfire Solution?.
Former logger, author and naturalist-rancher William E. Simpson II of Wildhorse Ranch Productions disagrees with Sec. Ryan's perspective, pointing to science and natural history.
"Secretary Zinke failed to recognize the major role played by prodigious grass and brush as both kindling and primary fuel for the massive wildfires that have and continue to burn and produce deadly toxic smoke in western states. A CAL-FIRE document classifies these fine fuels as '1-hour time-lag fuels' and as being responsible for ignition and generally as the primary carrier of fire."
"In the 1960's-1970's deer populations in western landscapes of California and Oregon had about 2-million more deer than today. When we thinned and logged trees opening-up the forest canopy and allowing more light to support the growth of more grass and brush, we had plenty of deer and elk to keep it all grazed-down, maintained year-round. Due to those large-bodied herbivores (nature's grass and brush mowers) wildfires were infrequent, relatively small with low intensity and short-lived; nothing like the catastrophic wildfires we are experiencing today. We cannot control climate, just key fuel loading."
A scientific study published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science supports the thesis that the depletion of large-bodied herbivores leads to the evolution of catastrophic wildfire.
According to Science: "By altering the quantity and distribution of fuel supplies, large herbivores can shape the frequency, intensity, and spatial distribution of fires across a landscape."
Simpson points to the Mendocino Complex, the Carr Fire, the Sonoma Fire, the Thomas Fire, and the Kalmiopsis Chetco Bar Fire, as a few examples of catastrophic wildfires that were significantly fueled by prodigious grass and brush in landscapes with depleted native-species large-bodied herbivores.
An article at Missoulian.com stated: "Examinations of that fire [Rice Ridge Fire near Seeley Lake] and the Lolo Peak fire, also in 2017, showed that even heavily logged timber stands had little effect on the big fires' progress."
Based-on his research, Simpson believes: "If we engage in a solo logging and heavy-fuels removal solution for wildfires and smoke in the absence of proper large-bodied herbivore populations, as Secretary Ryan Zinke is positing, that method will fail, and we have empirical evidence of that.
"Prescribed burning has only proven to be a risky and costly enterprise they can become wildfires, adding even more highly toxic air pollution (deadly gases and particulates that are already killing Americans. It's just more tape and bailing-wire on a flawed management paradigm. The trendy for-profit meme of 'prescribed burns' (costs taxpayers about $400/acre) has the illusion of being supported as some scientists and forest managers ignorantly assert 'the Native Americans did it'. However, those who venture that assertion are clearly lacking a working comprehension of North American natural history and the effect that many tens of millions of now depleted megafauna had been maintaining fire-resilient ecosystems that were present back when fire was used by the Native Americans on the North American continent. Furthermore, areas where expensive (~$800/acre cost to taxpayers) mechanical mowing might be used is very limited due to terrain.
"The landscape in California (and to lesser extents in other states, including Oregon) is missing about 80% of its former (1960's) native-species grass mowers, the large-bodied herbivores (primarily western deer). It's clear that substitute native grazers are the answer.
"However, Secretary Zinke and Secretary Purdue's agencies are keeping native-species large-bodied herbivores, our American wild horses, corralled at a time when they are desperately needed back in key areas of the landscape where they would abate wildfire fuels. And while preventing the corralled wild horses from abating wildfire fuels, the BLM is charging American taxpayers about $100-million annually to keep these native grazers from doing a job that is desperately needed. This must be immediately addressed.
"A modernized and ecologically-balanced sustainable logging industry could devolve catastrophic wildfire and toxic smoke while contemporaneously enhancing local economies. But such a vision requires the reestablishment of depleted megafauna in and around our forests.
"It will take many decades of sound wildlife management to rebuild the former deer populations. And in the meantime we desperately need a substitute large-bodied herbivore doing their job. It's clear that re-wilding native-species American wild horses is part of an intelligent cost-effective and holistic solution."
"There is a plan titled the Natural Wildfire Abatement And Forest Protection Plan, aka: Wild Horse Fire Brigade; 'WHFB.'
"The WHFB plan outlines a proposed pilot-test and possible larger deployment of American wild horses from BLM-USFS corrals back into and around carefully selected remote forest-wilderness areas, which are the most difficult areas to manage due to little or no access, rugged terrain and remote location. These areas pose special problems (costly) for wildfire suppression, so reducing the frequency and intensity of wildfire in these areas via a natural grazing herbivory, as it was in the past, is very cost-effective. In these same areas apex predators are the naturally evolved predators of wild horses and burros and are an integral part of a balanced ecosystem and a functioning evolutionary process of natural selection, thereby preserving the vigor of the species in the wild, including wild American horses.
"Given wildfire losses in just California during 2017 wildfire season totaled $180-Billion, if Wild Horse Fire Brigade made even a 2.5% impact that would save $4.5-Billion annually.
"In other areas that are far more accessible (less predators = increased livestock production) and manageable with mechanized means, other herbivores can be deployed, such as cattle and sheep. In and around urban areas, goats could ostensibly provide cost-effective grass and brush abatement."
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