EPIC Collaborates to Improve Wildfire Management

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Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
Moonlight_Fire2007

Moonlight Fire 2007

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) monitors activities on more than 5 million acres of federally owned public land in Northwest California. We caught up with Kimberly Baker, EPIC’s Public Land Advocate, between one of her many trips to our National Forests to check on projects, as well as attend meetings to continue ongoing conversations with the Forest Service, diverse stakeholders, and conservation partners about the management of our public lands. The issue of wildfire is without question one of the “hottest topics” that Kimberly is engaged on, and we recently asked her a few questions about how EPIC is taking a proactive stance as a stakeholder with a strong local constituency that is invested in the promotion of long term ecosystem health on our region’s national forests.

Kimberly, you have been traveling lately to represent EPIC in new stakeholder processes concerning wildfire management on National Forests in Northern California. Describe the different endeavors that you are taking part in.

EPIC has been invited to be on the design team of FireScape Mendocino. It is a collaborative approach that will look at natural resource management in order to develop resilient, fire-adapted communities and ecosystems across the landscape. The Upslope Working Group on the Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests is doing the same. Both groups are being facilitated by the Fire Learning Network, an organization that has been successful in developing these grand collaborative visions all over the country.

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest will be convening an interactive meeting to discuss “Continuous Improvement in Wildfire Management.”  This will not be facilitated by the FLN, nor is this a long-term planning process — but it is a continuation of similar meetings that have been held annually over the last three years.

Who are the other stakeholders in these processes, and how do participants actually engage with each other?

There is a long list of stakeholders including Native Tribes, local FireSafe councils, US Forest Service staff, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the local counties, which are represented by various Resource Conservation District representatives. As well, there are representatives from the timber industry and other conservation groups, on the Mendocino the Blue Ribbon Coalition, as well as various agencies and local community members.

The FLN facilitated groups have well established ground rules. We are here to find common ground, albeit not to avoid discussion of dissenting view points respectfully. Humor is often used in place of anger or disagreement.

What is at stake in these sorts of engagements? You have been involved with similar processes in the past, what makes this round of stakeholder talks different from what you have experienced previously?

The future of our forests is at stake here. We are talking essentially about how to treat and manage thousands of acres of Northwest California forestlands, all of which are ecosystems that to one degree or another have evolved naturally to need fire for maintaining resiliency and health. What makes this different is that the plans coming out of this process will entail only those actions that people can agree upon.

How much disagreement exists in this broad stakeholder group about the importance of wildfire in maintaining forest ecosystem health in Northwest California?

As far as letting fire maintain landscapes in the long run, I do not believe there is much disagreement. However, how we get there is another question. There is no doubt that creating a more fire resilient landscape is going to require a lot of time, work, planning, and money. The idea is to start where there is agreement, which is yet to be determined.

EPIC has a reputation for challenging bad projects, but you also do a lot of monitoring of the implementation of projects. Are there concerns that you have identified in project implementation that will be addressed in these stakeholder conversations?

The EPIC stance upfront is that timber sales are not the way to establish fire safe communities, or to steward for fire resilient forests. Effective treatments must retain canopy and large fire resistant trees. Thinning previous clearcuts and small diameter trees could attain potential commercial gain; EPIC believes that treating plantations is one key area to focus on.

What can folks expect to see happen this summer around wildfire, and how can we be attentive both to the needs of rural residents as well as a forest ecosystem in which fire may be less frequent, but is clearly as natural as rain?

The fact is preparing a defensible space around homes and communities is the best way to protect life and property.

Unfortunately, as far as fire goes this summer, we can expect to see the same military style of fire suppression as seen from recent years, such as bulldozing miles of ridge tops, cutting snag habitat, and high severity back burning, followed by subsequent post-fire logging proposals like this years Mill and Stafford Fire projects, which are clearly destructive and unsustainable. These are the reasons EPIC is dedicated to finding a better way.