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Message #3477 of 4034  *NEW*
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Carol & Larry & All
PCase
The Washington Tree
10/5/06, 1:45am
Hi there,

I read a dialog between Carol and Larry in 2005 regarding the death of the Washington Tree the 2nd largest living tree on earth...until 2003. So here I am now with a few thoughts. Better late than never.

1. When the burn was headed to the Washington Tree...there was internal debate at the park and it was decided to let the fire burn.
2. As far as I know...noone suspected the tree had a hole at the base that would allow fire into the hollow portion and having seen the tree in it's pre-fire condition...it certainly looked impregnable at the bottom.
3. When they discovered the fire INSIDE the bole of the tree in the debate was renewed and I had heard the staff decided to act...but their efforts were too late...I can't verify this however as I don't remember my source....
4. In any case...it was a a real tragedy...as the Washington was more impressive than Sherman IMO. What irritates me about the park is to a small extent the lack of foresight....I understand the policy that allowed the staff no vote "let burn" but really....this wasn't just any tree...and the disaster was very preventable.
5. The real shocker here is the spin the park service put on the story...What an absolute blatant cover up. Problem 1: They feign ignorance in the initial October 2003 reports and claimed the tree is still living....true...but grossly over stated...anyone who knew anything about anything knew that fire killed the tree from the inside...getting clear through to the heartwood in many places...it was done and buried...October 2003...they should have just admitted it was on its last limbs then and that they made a mistake in judgement....Problem 2: The real spin took place in Feb 2005 when there was a 2nd press release...blaming the imminent death of the tree on bad storms which had removed 100' of the trunk....DUH! Of course it lost 100' It was burned to death...20 tons of snow and 70 mph winds tend to rapidly destroy dead trees. When have we ever seen a press release to announce a tree had lost 100' of trunk? Why ? to what purpose....oh the tradgedy of the big snow storm...
NONSENSE...the tradgedy was the fire...and the policy decisions made by the park...the storm 18 months later was a footnote.
6. Lastly there was reference to an article that was critical of the park (THOMAS M. BONNICKSEN) where the author advocated using chain saws to thin the forests....OYE???? The authors criticism was justified and accurate. The author's premise that the forests are DANGEROUSLY over timbered is also correct....too many trees per acre = dead and diseased trees = massive fire with a lot of dead and dry fuel. The author loses me with chain saws.....which require trucks...and roads...and humans and mechanical harvesting devices...and really the author misses the point entirely....and I'd like Carol's feedback as she has a lot of cross-country experience.....The danger is not dead and dying trees within Sequoia forests...Why? Because sequoias create shade and use up all the water resources so that massive overforestation isn't really possible....The real danger is....
7. Downslope of most groves is 2000 - 3000' of hills covered in 8' of chapparall, manzanita, poison oak...It is a barrier of shrubs impenatrable to man and beast. As we all know fire races uphill at high speed...the fuel levels of the brush will carry the fire at extremely high temperatures right to the doors of the sequoia groves. The East Fork and South Fork Groves are big gasoline bombs waiting for a match....And when fire hits there will be no survivors...it's not an if...just a when. That's why the THOMAS M. BONNICKSEN article is so naive. Excess timber isn't the problem...it's the dry foothills of the southern sierra that will fuel the sequoia fire storms of tomorrow. No chain saw can get through that brush...no chain saw will cut through 20' vines of poison oak....fire is the only tool...controlled fire. If you have doubts look at the 1955 McGee Fire....Started at the bottom and took out the whole Converse Basin....4000' uphill in a few hours... and they had roads....The East and South Forks have no real good places to strategically deploy firefighters if a grove fire is ignited from the downhill slopes on a warm windy day.

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Message #3479 of 4034  *NEW*
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PCase
Rob Reed  
Re: The Washington Tree
10/5/06, 9:13am
graphic
Welcome to the BBS, PCase. I defer to the more knowledgable folks on the subject here for comment... interesting, nonetheless.

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"Treat the Earth not as if it was given to you by your parents, but as if it was lent to you by your children." - Kenyan Proverb

"The power of accurate observation is often called cynicism by those that do not have it." - George Bernard Shaw
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Message #3480 of 4034  *NEW*
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PCase
Larry Levy  
Re: The Washington Tree
10/5/06, 9:52am
graphic
Hi, PCase,

Welcome aboard!!! I'm glad you are here and thanks for taking the time to write such a well thought out response.

I'm not an expert on the subject, so I too will defer to Carol, our USFS Naturalist on this one.

I'll just add that controlled burns are generally a good thing. Getting rid of the fire load will prevent a fire from "crowning out" and burning mature healthy trees, along with the undergrowth. I've read that when John Muir walked the Sierras, he could look down a forested slope and see as far as a quarter mile or more through the trees. It's certainly not that way today throughout the Sierras. We're simply too good at controlling most fires. The aspect of having a major fire within a Sequoia grove is a frightening thought.

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" I lift up mine eyes to the hills, whence cometh my help.", Psalm 121
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Message #3481 of 4034  *NEW*
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PCase
Robert Jones  
Re: The Washington Tree
10/5/06, 7:53pm (Last Edited: 10/6/06, 1:58am)
I am no expert on burn policy, I tend to think that nature if left to her own devices will take care of herself...but nature's course of action has been interfered with so much now that naturally occurring phenomena such as fire can become harmful to nature because of man's meddling.

From what I do know of the Forest Service and the Park Service is that they are so embattled that there is no correct way to turn. It seems as if both agencies have no friends and are makers of fierce combative often contradictory enemies. If they take one course of action they get sued by one interest, if they take the other course of action they get sued by the other and if they take no action they can be sued by both interests.

Personally I am not thrilled with the bureaucratic nature of either entity nor am I thrilled with the privatization of concessions at our parks.

As far as the Washington Tree goes, I think it was a tragic loss. I care not to place blame and point fingers and I donít feel that the chain of events that lead to its death was malicious. Perhaps the tree had exhausted its natural lifespan and the opening that allowed the fire inside was a natural occurrence that nature creates, an Achillesí heel, if you will, that lead to the death of the giant tree. I have been in the company of the silent giants...they seem timeless and one feels that they will remain as they are forever...the lesson is that they will not live forever as they are merely mortal. I shanít debate policy just provide some dialog and insights. The giants have a loyal friend in me. Perhaps Carol can provide more dialog regarding the debates of let it burn policy over controlled burns.

I do want to welcome you to the forums here at RRBBS and invite you to share more thoughts on more issues and more topics. Perhaps Carol will chime in soon.

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Friends are the best collectibles
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Message #3489 of 4034  *NEW*
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PCase
Carol  
Re: The Washington Tree
10/9/06, 9:12am
graphic
Thanks for your knowledgable feedback and debate. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to what happened to the Washington Tree. I saw the tree a few times before the fire and subsequent winter storm collapsed it. It was indeed a huge, magnificent tree, and one of my favorites. I saw it just a few weeks after it collapsed and it was a sad sight. But I guess I can see it both ways. What I don't agree with is the Park Service's position that it should still be considered to be the 2nd largest tree in the world. It is very clearly no longer. And I think the Grant Tree should rightly be considered #2 now.

Most sequoia groves I have seen, besides the highly developed Giant Forest, Grant Grove, Mariposa, and Long Meadow Groves, are very much overgrown with highly flammable timber. One little ground fire gets in there and even the largest giant sequoias which will withstand most low to moderate intensity fires may succomb. I am thinking mainly of the recently visited Cunningham Grove which the McNally Fire of 2003 got dangerously close to. It is extremely difficult to walk around in that grove due to the density of downed fuels. There is literally no bare ground - it is covered with downed trees and limbs in there! I found similar conditions in the Evans Grove where the Ishi Giant Tree grows and portions of the Converse Basin Grove where the Boole Tree grows. Oh, yeah, the Freeman Creek Grove is also very overgrown, especially with young white fir trees which are shade-tolerant and grow profusely in the absence of fire.

I think we should be using prescribed fire whenever possible to clear out the dead and down stuff. But I don't believe prescribed fire can do the job alone. Especially in regards to air quality. The air quality in the Southern Sierra is lousy and if we tried to restore every forested area here with prescribed fire alone everyone in the Central and Owens Valleys would probably have asthma and other ailments by the time it was done. Also, conducting prescribed fire operations is rather costly and the Forest and Park Services definitely don't have any extra monies to spare these days.

So I think, in some areas, we can do some mechanical treatment and thinning. I've seen some thinning done in as environmentally sensitive manner as possible to make a real difference in the area. The last sawmill left in our area has converted much of its operations over to handling smaller timber and they can get into an area and clear it out and I believe do a world of good. No, it wouldn't be advantageous for all and everything. Sensitive species such as Spotted Owls and Goshawks and Fishers would probably be disrupted. So I don't think we should do this everywhere. But for the sequoia groves that already have good road access and are on relatively flat terrain and in non-riparian areas and where there are no cultural sites we could disturb, well, I think we should give it a shot. Unfortunately there are people who believe that no trees should ever be cut down no matter what the circumstances, and they are not shy about suing and appealing and it's gotten to the point where said sawmill is probably going to shut down.

I consider myself to be an environmentalist, not one that has extreme views, but one that is very knowledgeable and cares deeply about this planet Earth and is willing to work with land management agencies, not against them, to find ways to co-exist and do the job that very much needs to be done together.

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The mountains are calling and I must go. ~ John Muir ~ www.tarol.com
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Message #3493 of 4034  *NEW*
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Carol
Larry Levy  
Re: The Washington Tree
10/9/06, 2:48pm
graphic
Hi, Carol,

Great post!

I especially agree with your closing paragraph Well said. That echoes my beliefs too.

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" I lift up mine eyes to the hills, whence cometh my help.", Psalm 121
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