Retired Forester Frustrated With Lack Of Fire-Fighting Common Sense

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By Karl Brauneis, guest column
Editors note: Karl Brauneis served as a USFS Hot Shot (Bighorn – Wyoming Hotshots), Smokejumper (Missoula), Forester, Range Conservationist, Fire Management Officer, Burn Boss, and Incident Commander during a long and distinguished career with the United States Forest Service.

After decades of first-hand experience, I have a few things to stay about the current situation when it comes to managing forest fires here in Wyoming and out on the West Coast.

Let me generalize with humility: If you get a toothache and go to an environmentalist or an attorney, you will end up with a mouth full of rotten teeth. If you go to a dentist, you will enjoy healthy teeth and gums.

If you go to an environmentalist or an attorney to manage your forest, you will end up with dead trees and a conflagration. If you go to a forester to manage your forest, you will end up with healthy trees and a healthy local community with jobs and material based on renewable natural resources.

For perspective:  The National Forests are approximately 30 percent commercial forest lands that should be managed for timber outputs and healthy forests to provide for local jobs that support local communities. We treat these areas after logging through the burning of “activity fuels”.

Forty percent of the National Forests are rangelands. These areas should be managed for livestock and wildlife to provide for local community stability and recreation.

Prescribed fire is often used to manage and enhance this resource. The remaining 30 percent of the lands are wilderness and back country managed in part through wilderness fire plans and prescribed burning. That’s the general idea.

Environmental activism through the “Environmental Industrial Complex” short circuits the system and takes management away from resource professionals and shifts it into the hands of the Environmental Elites.

Couple that with the numerous government programs of Cultural Transformation in violation of the Civil Rights Act (1964) as in hire and promote based on race, color, sex and creed opposed to merit and you have a real recipe for disaster.

 Forest expert Paul Gleason always said, “Generalize with Humility, Detail Counts, and It Depends,” in talking of forest and fire ecology.

This is why you must have trained resource professionals managing the forests. This is also why you go to a dentist when you have a tooth ache.

With good forest management much of this can be averted. With respect to fire – prescribed fire works best. As we all know and plan for; we burn while the target species and natives are dormant before green up when the soils are moist to achieve the best response and keep forage available for wildlife while we rotate our livestock.

While in California I once saw a Cal Fire Captain standing in waist high forage talking to the media about how the heavy fuel loading in the grass is causing the worst fire season in decades. I just shook my head.

Turn out the damn cows on that grass and get with a prescribed fire program and increase your grazing! I swear the knowledge lacking in forest management can only be equaled or surpassed in rangeland conservation. This is what happened when the California Department of Forestry (CDF) switched to Cal Fire and we went from treating the disease to bandaging the symptoms.

The third week in April was the last week I could prescribe burn our rangelands in the Wind Rivers. That is because within days the Idaho Fescue and other native bunch grasses and the bitterbrush and other native shrubs came out of dormancy.

The forage increase was simply amazing within weeks. The wildlife benefited in weeks because they were immersed in new forage while we rotated our livestock for two years out of the burn area.

We ended up with so many elk that the Game and Fish Dept.  had to go to both a bull and cow harvest for years following in the general season. We lost no livestock. I even proposed increasing the livestock grazing but due to a downturn in the market, the permittees asked me not to fight that battle. 

What the Forest Service needs are more foresters and range conservationists who truly understand the land and how to steward the land, care for the community, maximize production while reducing risk to wildfire.

Remember, those permittees, those families are dependent upon us to do a good job and add stability to their lives and operation. Why do we keep forgetting that part of the picture?

But then you all know that so I am simply preaching to the choir.

However, these two photographs (Ed Young Basin near Lander) say it all from one of my burns. You can have results like this with professional land management or let mother nature give you a burned landscape for months on end with dead wildlife and dead livestock with no forage available until the next growing season. But then you all know that.



Stop prescribed burning in drought when you do not get the desired effects you want and put out the wildfires fast.

It’s the Timing! It’s all about the Timing!

Even when you know the right thing to do. You don’t get that from Cultural Transformation. You get that from range management in college, age, wisdom, mentorship and experience. But we all know that. We just can’t get that across to the politically correct Forest Service leadership yet alone the public.

So, we get death and destruction instead. Go Figure. Stupid is as Stupid does.

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