Wildfire Weekend

wildfire, forest fire

A wildfire broke out west of town Friday afternoon.

Last Friday I posted Storm Clouds Brewing and talked about lightning and wildfire. Then Friday afternoon an aggressive wildfire broke out west of town. However, this fire wasn’t caused by lightning, it was caused because of an illegal marijuana grow.

wildfire, forest fire, lighting

It formed a huge column and began building it’s own thunder cloud.

air tanker, fire fighting, wildfire, forest fire

The fire crews were scrambled and the air-tankers took to the air.

The thing is, Mary and I were planning a weekend away camping in our trailer at our favorite spot. The problem was, the fire was less then five miles from our camp where we had already staged our trailer. We made the decision to retrieve our trail while the fire was relatively small, only 300 acres.

wildfire, forest fire

As we approached camp the sky became angrier.

wildfire, forest fire

After reaching camp, we packed everything, hooked up the trailer and pulled out. The smoke made it very dark.

wildfire, forest fire

Looking to the sky from camp.

wildfire, forest fire

The fire was two ridges away when we hauled out.

We got the trailer safely home and by the time we went to bed the fire had grown to 2,800 acres.

Saturday was a new day and the fire had not advance too much over night. It was reported at 2,930 acres. We decided to head back up to camp to pick the last of our equipment. Sailor and Kinta came with us this time.

golden retrievers

Sailor and Kinta are ready for an adventure.


It was still very smoky up near camp.

It was still very smoky up near camp. An inversion had settled the smoke into the canyons.

By the time we finished the truck was covered in ash.

By the time we finished the truck was covered in ash. Clearly the fire was still actively burning.

We had our remaining equipment loaded and beat a hasty retreat.

We had our remaining equipment loaded and beat a hasty retreat.

Sailor and Kinta find this whole adventure thing quite exhausting.

Sailor and Kinta found this whole adventure thing quite exhausting.

By the time we returned home the fire was still at 2,930 acres. Unfortunately, high winds hit Saturday night/Sunday morning and by Sunday morning it was up to 3,700 acres. The terrain is very steep and it is extremely brushy. Spot fires have been tormenting the firefighters. Just when they seem to getting a handle on it, another slop over occurs. It is now Tuesday night and the fire is reported at 8,100 acres. Today was overcast and calm. Hopefully, they made good progress containing it. The fire is now 1 3/4 miles from camp. We shall see what tomorrow brings.


Forestry Friday… Storm Clouds Brewing

thunderstorm, lightning, wildfire, forestry

A late afternoon thunderstorm builds over the Trinity Alps.

Billowing thunderclouds built up over the Trinity Alps last Wednesday. It was an ominous teaser of desperately needed rain. Our summer thunderstorms are the double-edged sword of rain and lightning. What will it be, soothing rain for parched earth or forest fires? These storms usually cause more grief than relief. I think we’re caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s not as if we get to choose what we get anyway.

Today the monsoonal moisture has returned. We’re already hearing thunder to the south. It could be an interesting day today.

The Blackberry Foxes

Along the road to our home are blackberry brambles. In one bramble patch is the den of a family of gray foxes. Some mornings I glimpse the foxes hanging out on the road. The foxes have lived in the area for years. They’re attracted to the area for the cottontail rabbits that also live in the blackberries. They appeared in my earlier post The Fox and The Song

pen and ink, drawing, fox, gray fox

“The Vixen”    pen and ink.

The other morning, I was on my way to work. I came around the corner and surprised the fox family. There were four kits and the vixen playing in the road. When they saw me coming they scattered. Foxes were darting here and there diving into the blackberry bushes. I grabbed my camera to get a picture of the group, but they had scampered away. When I stopped in front of their blackberry patch, two of the little kits were peeking out. Before I could focus my camera they disappeared.

This brave little fox graciously pose for me.

The gray fox kit.

However, a couple of days later, I was fortunate to have one brave fox kit sitting out in front of their thicket. This little one posed graciously while I snapped a few pictures. It is always a treat to see the fox family. I just hope they stay far away from our chicken house.


Forestry Friday … It’s Summer Loggin’ Season

Logging is in full swing and the dust is flying. It’s dry out there and the crews have their fire tools sharp and fire pumpers full.


logging, skidding, skid cat

Craig winds his dozer down the skid trail.

logging, skidding, skid cat

A skid of logs chattering toward the landing.

logging truck

A load of logs pulls out of the landing. I hope you don’t mind a little dust.

Forestry Friday … The Rim Fire

This Op-Ed ran in the San Francisco Chronicle. It is by Bill Keye, a friend and fellow Registered Professional Forester. It’s about the Rim Fire rehabilitation. The Rim Fire was the enormous fire that burned into Yosemite National Park last year. I’ve been thinking about posting on this topic for a while, but when Bill published this piece, I decide to use it, because it is so well written. National forests begin new era of cooperation after Rim Fire


National forests begin new era of cooperation after Rim Fire

Updated 1:14 pm, Saturday, May 24, 2014
  • The 2013 Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park has brought together timber industry representatives and environmentalists in a new era of cooperation. Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
    The 2013 Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park has brought together timber industry representatives and environmentalists in a new era of cooperation. Photo: Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

Disaster sometimes comes with a silver lining. Last summer’s 257,000-acre Rim Fire torched more than trees. The enormous blaze, which incinerated a large swath of the Stanislaus National Forest near Yosemite National Park, knocked out power transmission and threatened San Francisco’s water supply. It also cleared away some of the toxic social underbrush that has stymied federal forest management efforts for many years. This could lead to more fire-adapted, resilient and carbon-rich public forests across vast stretches of Northern California.

A Tuolumne County group, which includes both timber industry and environmental representatives, had been meeting prior to the Rim Fire, searching for – and finding – common ground on previously deadlocked issues of forest management. Formed under the auspices of a 2009 law promoting ecological restoration, the Yosemite-Stanislaus Solutions collaborative is at the forefront of a new approach that is bringing people together to heal broken landscapes. The old “spotted owl versus logger” polarities have given way to fresh consensus, with fire ecology at its core.

Collaborative participants agreed on a mission “to restore and maintain healthy forests and watersheds, fire-safe communities and sustainable local economies using a science-based approach.” Since the Rim Fire, the collaborative has been aggressively pushing recovery efforts, which will include clearing dead trees from roadsides and replanting some of the most damaged sites. These restoration treatments begin with salvage logging, and this is where the story gets interesting.

Environmental members of the collaborative are sending a message to fellow conservationists that the days of routinely demonizing timber harvest on public lands may be coming to an end. An April letter from the group to Regional Forester Randy Moore, who oversees all the national forests in California, explained, “While individual members in YSS may prefer one or another of the possible salvage treatment alternatives, we all agree that prompt implementation of the hazard tree and salvage logging projects is essential to move the restoration process forward. Once salvage plans are completed, reforestation, watershed restoration, fuel reduction, and habitat enhancement plans can be given priority attention.”

This kind of consensus has been a long time coming, but it reflects growing concerns about the sustainability of our national forests in a time of climate change and increasingly destructive wildfires. California’s national forests are racking up ever-greater acreages of what the U.S. Forest Service terms “deforested conditions” following extreme wildfires such as the Rim Fire. These are situations where most, if not all, of the existing trees have been killed. Without replanting with trees, many of these burned acres will become choked with brush species, which store much less carbon than healthy timber stands.

The trend is now so firmly established that the Forest Service projects that by mid-century, our national forests will emit more greenhouse gases than they absorb. In other words, federal lands set aside for broad conservation purposes are on track to becoming major carbon polluters.

Yet this outcome is entirely avoidable.

Besides tree planting, forest restoration work requires an increased use of tools proven to reduce wildfire risks; thinning, chipping and prescribed fire. In some cases, selective timber harvest may be ecologically desirable, especially to improve site-growing conditions for long-lived and drought-tolerant Sierra Nevada pine species.

In addition to wildfire concerns, there is renewed focus on watershed health. This is especially important in California where most of our fresh water supply originates in our mountainous national forests.

Some organizations will continue to fight the old timber wars from the 1990s, raising alarms, fundraising and litigating to maintain their prestige and power over public land policies. Others, like the Yosemite collaborative members Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center and Tuolumne Group of the Sierra Club, are helping to move the forest management debate forward. Similar collaboratives have formed throughout the West to begin the process of revitalizing depressed rural economies.

Environmentalists who support forest restoration and ecosystem resilience are leading the way. Those clinging to past misgivings and ideological purity are being moved toward the exits.

Will some interest groups litigate to try to put a stop to the Forest Service’s recovery plans? Probably, but I hope not.

Even if the federal government, with the support of the collaborative, authorizes salvage logging, there will be plenty of dead trees left to decay naturally. The state’s wood-processing industry isn’t what it used to be. Even if the Forest Service wanted to clear all the dead trees – which it doesn’t – California sawmills couldn’t possibly absorb that much timber before it decays and loses commercial value.

There is something for everybody in the Rim Fire’s aftermath, most particularly the prospect of a healing, and not just for the land, but for the people who dearly want to see that land nurtured and sustained.

William Wade Keye is a registered professional forester and a past chair of the Northern California Society of American Foresters. To comment, submit your letter to the editor via our online form at www.sfgate.com/submissions/#1

Forestry Friday … Bug Kill!

“Bug kill” or “beetle kill” are the terms we use for insect killed trees. Bark beetles kill more trees in our forest than any other insects. They are always present in the forest. At low population levels, the dead trees or snags they create are left for wildlife. When beetle populations spike up, we salvage most of the dead trees.

salvage timber, bark beetles, forestry

We salvage dead and dying trees to capture their value while the wood is still sound. Red or fading tops signal the problem areas.

bark beetle, pitch tube, ponderosa pine

This pitch tube is the entry point where the beetle first bored into the tree. If the pitch tube is amber in color, the tree successfully fended off the attack. When the pitch tube is pinkish like this one, the beetles successfully penetrated into the tree.

adult red turpentine beetle, Dendroctonus valens

This is the culprit, a red turpentine beetle, Dendroctonus valens. They bore into the trees to lay eggs. Trees in a weakened state, such as during severe drought, attract these beetles.

Red turpentine beetle, Dendroctonus Valens, bark beetle, Ponderosa pine

The red turpentine beetle adult, Dendroctonus valens,  normally attacks the base of the tree. Such a tiny creature can do so much damage.

bark beetle, larva, Dendroctonus valens

The larva of bark beetles are what kill the tree. The adult beetle chews a nursery gallery into the tree to lay her eggs. The larva hatch and spread out from that gallery creating more galleries as they feed. During this feeding process the larva girdle the cambium of the tree causing it to die.

bark beetle, Ips

The top of this Ponderosa pine is dead. This in an indication of a different beetle, Ips sp. Location of the attack on the tree can be a diagnostic tool for identification of the insect attacker. There a many species of bark beetles that attack trees.

I’ve been asked over the years what can be done to protect the trees from these beetles. The answer is very little. Keeping your trees thinned out reduces competitive stress between the trees. Reducing stress on the trees is the only effective way to reduce attack by the beetles. However, in years when the beetle populations peak, they will even attack healthy trees. Once you see evidence of beetle attack, it is already too late. Salvaging the dead and dying trees is all that can be done. You have to “log the problem away.”