USA–– The so-called Fire Program Analysis — a cost-effective firefighting strategy that coordinated activities and budgets of several federal agencies — died soon after it was developed in 2005. Why?
Chester Joy, a retired U.S. Government Accountability Office natural resources expert, said the initiative “got strangled in the crib.”
He said the Forest Service was unwilling to take on Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who served as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
In Interior, “the Bureau of Land Management was on board. The BLM was willing to do it. The Forest Service sunk it,” Joy said. “The Forest Service responded, ‘There’s no way we’re taking this to the Hill. There’s no way.’ And that was the beginning of the end.”
Jim Hubbard, deputy chief of the Forest Service, paints a different picture.
Hubbard said complaints poured in from across the county — from both Forest Service and Interior bureaus — that the test results “just didn’t make sense.” Even units with the largest number of fires recommended a closer look at the model, he said.
“It was more a matter of the feedback we got from the planning units,” said Hubbard, a former Colorado state forester who authored the seminal firefighting strategy report that led to FPA’s creation. “The politics just didn’t come into it.”
John Phipps, a Forest Service official working on the revised model, has said agency field officers feared “they’d become victims of some scientist’s planning model.”
The agencies involved did convene a team of scientists for a technical review of the original FPA model. The group questioned its ability to deal with fire conditions that deviate from expectations, among other items.
The original FPA’s methodology, however, passed a peer review in a scientific journal last year, said Douglas Rideout, a Colorado State economist. Wally Josephson, the FPA project leader in 2005 and 2006, said when the test of the new system was run, “I think it worked. It was a good start.”
The original model was intended to get maximum results for the money, regardless of which federal agency owned the land.
The new version lets agencies look at “a number of national budget alternatives,” according to a report this year from a consultant hired by the government to review FPA. But it is more limited in scope and designed for fire suppression, not other uses of wildfire dollars, such as reducing hazardous fuels.
Two reviews of the new system this year from a government consultant and the Department of Interior mentioned these flaws:
The new version doesn’t differentiate between highly valued resources, such as houses and endangered species, and acres in remote forests. And it allows federal agencies to tinker annually with the factors that determine how wildfire dollars should be spent, potentially enabling them “to justify a predetermined outcome.”
Hubbard, the Forest Service’s deputy chief, said it has other methods of weighing those questions, and the FPA model will be able to produce comparisons that evaluate the most important places to protect.
FPA “took longer than we thought and cost more than we thought, but we think it’s now becoming a useful tool,” he said. When the Fourmile Canyon Fire erupted west of Boulder in 2010, smoke from the wildfire poured into parts of the city including a site housing scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-evidence-heat-trapping-effects-wildfire-particles.html#jCpWithin 24 hours, a few researchers at the David Skaggs Research Center had opened up a particle sampling port on the roof of the building and started pulling in smoky air for analysis by two custom instruments inside. They became the first scientists to directly measure and quantify some unique heat-trapping effects of wildfire smoke particles.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-evidence-heat-trapping-effects-wildfire-particles.html#jCpWhen the Fourmile Canyon Fire erupted west of Boulder in 2010, smoke from the wildfire poured into parts of the city including a site housing scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Within 24 hours, a few researchers at the David Skaggs Research Center had opened up a particle sampling port on the roof of the building and started pulling in smoky air for analysis by two custom instruments inside. They became the first scientists to directly measure and quantify some unique heat-trapping effects of wildfire smoke particles. “For the first time we were able to measure these warming effects minute-by-minute as the fire progressed,” said CIRES scientist Dan Lack, lead author of the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers also were able to record a phenomenon called the “lensing effect,” in which oils from the fire coat the soot particles and create a lens that focuses more light onto the particles. This can change the “radiative balance” in an area, sometimes leading to greater warming of the air and cooling of the surface. While scientists had previously predicted such an effect and demonstrated it in laboratory experiments, the Boulder researchers were one of the first to directly measure the effect during an actual wildfire. Lack and his colleagues found that lensing increased the warming effect of soot by 50 to 70 percent. “When the fire erupted on Labor Day, so many researchers came in to work to turn on instruments and start sampling that we practically had traffic jams on the road into the lab,” Lack said. “I think we all realized that although this was an unfortunate event, it might be the best opportunity to collect some unique data. It turned out to be the best dataset, perfectly suited to the new instrument we had developed.” The instrument called a spectrophotometer can capture exquisite detail about all particles in the air, including characteristics that might affect the smoke particles’ tendency to absorb sunlight and warm their surroundings. While researchers know that overall, wildfire smoke can cause this lensing effect, the details have been difficult to quantify, in part because of sparse observations of particles from real-world fires. Once the researchers began studying the data they collected during the fire, it became obvious that the soot from the wildfire was different in several key ways from soot produced by other sourcesdiesel engines, for example. “When vegetation burns, it is not as efficient as a diesel engine, and that means some of the burning vegetation ends up as oils,” Lack said. In the smoke plume, the oils coated the soot particles and that microscopic sheen acted like a magnifying glass, focusing more light onto the soot particles and magnifying the warming of the surrounding air. The researchers also discovered that the oils coating the soot were brown, and that dark coloration allowed further absorption of light, and therefore further warming the atmosphere around the smoke plume. The additional warming effects mean greater heating of the atmosphere enveloped in dark smoke from a wildfire, and understanding that heating effect is important for understanding climate change, Lack said. The extra heating also can affect cloud formation, air turbulence, winds and even rainfall. The discovery was made possible by state-of-the-art instruments developed by CIRES, NOAA and other scientists, Lack said. The instruments can capture fine-scale details about particles sent airborne by the fire, including their composition, shape, size, color and ability to absorb and reflect sunlight of various wavelengths. “With such well-directed measurements, we can look at the warming effects of soot, the magnifying coating and the brown oils and see a much clearer, yet still smoky picture of the effect of forest fires on climate,” Lack said. CIRES is a cooperative institute of CU-Boulder and NOAA.