Our Position on Linville Gorge Burns

Wild South supports the use of prescribed fire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness and adjacent lands for the following reasons:

1) Linville Gorge is a fire adapted ecosystem, unique to the area, with several fire dependent species and plant communities. These plant communities are in decline and two species are federally listed as “threatened”.

2) Fire suppression has caused significant damage to the wilderness character and the ecology of the area.

3) Scientific evidence supports that the Linville Gorge ecosystem was shaped by fire with a fire return interval of every 3 years before fires were actively suppressed. In fact, in the years 1955 through 1985 17 lightning strikes ignited wildfires and 10 of these had the potential for large scale wildfires.

4) Recent wildfires, although suppressed, did result in the increase of populations of Mountain Golden Heather.

5) Fire Suppression over the past half century has resulted in unnaturally heavy fuel loads and the encroachment of mesic species such as laurel and rhododendron, suppressing the regeneration of mixed hardwood and pine forests. These fuel loads have also left the Gorge susceptible to catastrophic wildfires which could devastate human settlements, the intensity of which would likely be outside of the natural range of variation for disturbance caused by fire.

6) With changing climate, we are likely to experience extended droughts and warmer temperatures, increasing the risk of catastrophic fire.

7) Continuing a policy of fire suppression undermines the wilderness character and the intent of the Wilderness Act as it constitutes perpetuating an unnatural condition forced upon  the land by man, leaving it “trammeled” indefinitely and inhibiting natural processes.

If you would like to submit comments on this project please click here.

 

Wild South supports an alternative in the Environmental Assessment that:

1) Sets up a monitoring program that effectively measure the vegetation response and fuel loads.

2) That establishes a “cut off” for all management ignited fires based on achievement of satisfactory fuel loads allowing for naturally ignited fires to burn.

3) That recognizes that non-native invasive plant species must be eliminated and effectively controlled before and after any prescribed fires or wildfires.

4) Carefully considers the “minimum tool” required to achieve management objectives and maintain wilderness character.

5) Ignitions are carried out along ridges and are only set in areas that contain fire adapted vegetation.

6) Natural fire breaks be utilized to the extent practical and no machinery be used whatsoever within the Wilderness unless needed to protect human life.

7) No fire-retardant or any artificial means of control is used.

If you would like to submit comments on this project please click here.

To read the Forest Service proposal click here.

To learn more about the role of fire in the mountains click here.

38 Comments
  1. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    This approach to manage the Gorge by setting fires to make it better has been likened to gardening, and the antithesis of Wilderness.
    • Ben Prater Reply
      This approach to repair past damage to the ecosystems and wild character of the Gorge has been likened to restoration and will free the Wilderness from man's continued trammeling and interference via active fire suppression and the continued degradation of the ecological conditions of the Wilderness.
      • Mike Jones
        You will not "free the Wilderness from man's continued trammeling" with continued trammeling.
      • Ben Prater
        Mike, You are correct, fire suppression equals trammeling. If you read our position statement you will note that we support a period of prescribed fire not a "blank check" to manage the Gorge indefinitely.
      • Mike Jones
        Just quit trammeling, period. You sound like a little kid trying to stay up past his bed time. "Just a little longer..."
      • Ben Prater
        I'm not sure I understand your point but I'll simply assume its just an insult.
  2. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    Not sure why the absence of facts regarding "returning" fire to the Gorge continues to be suggested. Fire in the Gorge has not been controllable in the past, nor will be in the future. A minimum of 4,000 acres of the 12,000 acres of the Gorge has had fire since the year 2000. The upper third of the Gorge is a temperate rain forest with an average of 67" of rain annually. The rain forest has steep inclines that retain that moisture and conditions that do not allow for widespread fire. Why be stuck in a box? No fire load or risk assessment studies were performed prior to proclaiming the Gorge needs to be burned. Additionally there are a number of studies that will dispute the frequency of fire in southeastern forests environments such as the Gorge. The Gorge is a perfect example of Wilderness at present., why not hang with those that love the Gorge for its wilderness character. There will be no where else to go for wilderness if this great expression of nature is snuffed out.
    • Ben Prater Reply
      Lonnie, The Linville Gorge Wilderness is a prime example of a Wilderness that has been "held under the boot" of man's hubris. I don't understand why you think fire suppression is acceptable. The ecosystems of the Gorge have suffered for nearly a century as we have denied nature the ability to function unfettered. It continues to be obvious to me that you are a champion against fire and not a champion for Wilderness. And I challenge you to produce a single study that refutes the fact that there are fire dependent ecosystems in Linville Gorge.
      • Mike Jones
        Why are the only 2 choices to suppress fire or to prescribe fire? Hegel's dialectic, the preferred tool of tyrannical governments since 1917.
      • Ben Prater
        These are the two choices available the Forest Service. Allowing prescribed fire will get us on a path to allowing wildfire to be allowed and nature can take its course.
  3. Sue Crotts Reply
    Is the photo presented on this site a photo of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area recieving prescribed fire treatment? If so was this a manually conducted project or a mechanical treatment involving helicopters dropping golf ball sized napalm agent over the 12,000 acre wilderness area? It looks like this is a photo of a very limited boots on ground manual treatment in the Gorge. The area on fire appears to be very small and limited to the specific "tundra micro climate" rock outcropping that would potentially host hudsonia montana plants in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area (as opposed to the entire acreage of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area). I feel it is important that any graphic representations of the proposed plan to burn the entire apporximately 12,000 acre Linville Gorge Wilderness Area with helicopter dropped ping pong ball sized petrochemical agents every 3-5 years be depicted accurately in the images and messages here. It appears that the treatment you are showing images of is not the treatment that is proposed for the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. I hope that you will look at and consider what is on your web site as you present your facts to the public and work to represent the proposal for burning the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area in the most accurate way possible, including descriptions of images that may mislead the public to think that the image portrayed represents the proposed mechanical treatment project for the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Thanks for your consideration.
    • Ben Prater Reply
      Sue, This photograph is of a small prescribed fire in the Linville Gorge Wilderness. While the scale of this burn is smaller that what is being proposed, what you suspect is being planned is well exaggerated. The "entire" Gorge is not going to be burned. Fire will be set along ridge lines that are predominately fire adapted an allowed to burn down slope where it will extinguish itself. The reason the Forest Service mentions the whole Gorge in their scoping notice is because they have to analyze the impacts to the entire landscape as a single management unit. This does not mean the entire area will be burned. This is a common misconception by those opposed to the project. And, it is not our intention to mislead the public with the photograph. This is more than I can say for the photos and materials that appear on your website.
  4. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    There is nothing wrong with the Linville Gorge Wilderness as it exists today. It is wilderness and perfect in its imperfectness and is intended to be unmanaged by man. Wilderness is a rare opportunity for nature to exist on its own. Please know that I only advocate against deliberate human ignition of fire in the Wilderness and have never wavered from that conviction. Please reconsider the need for managing the Linville Gorge Wilderness.
  5. Sue Crotts Reply
    As we correspond, please understand that I believe that the CFLR partners are valuable organizations in our region. At the same time, with respect to the 2009 Grandfather CFLR Proposal, it is important for the “Proposal” partners to realize that the lack of objectivity, specificity, comprehensiveness and due diligence represented within this proposal as it relates to the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is problematic for generating public trust. Furthermore, understand that I do not state this to suggest that the collaborative partners are not well intended or are not sincere in their commitment to the environment. Time constraints to submit for this funding were no doubt a factor in the development of this proposal, which largely failed to include key local stakeholders who lare connected to the Linvillee Gorge Wilderness Area through community, business or recreational interests. In terms of the public opposition I am aware of, most significantly, the proposal has not addressed the risk of fire in the Gorge, only the "anticipated" benefits, and it does not conform with Wilderness Act guidance, which does not allow prescribed fire in wilderness for landscape management purposes. Furthermore, the estimation for projecting cost savings for preventing wild fires lacks facts regarding site specific analysis of the risks of prescribed fire in any location targeted for the mechanized burning treatment (arial napalm drop method). A number of fire experts have conveyed their opinion that fire in the Gorge can not be controlled and mechanical fire treatments must also include mechanical thinning to be effective, which will not apply in the Gorge. Nor will the economical benefit to local rural economies who would have thinned forest products to make commercial products such as furniture apply in this proposal, which is a criteria for funding qualification. US Forest Service officials publicly conveyed the scope of this proposal in December 2012 when the US Forest Service told the Asheville Citizen Times "it's one of the bigger if not the biggest prescribed burns we undertake in the mountains." You may have some inside information on an alternative plan, but the plan needs to be accurate and transparent for the public. I only speak for myself here, but want to express that I am comfortable with letting nature do its work and allow lightning caused fires to burn without suppression efforts to the extent possible in accordance with the responsibilities of the US Forest Service. There are many reasons I see that the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area is not a fit for a federally funded Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, but I do appreciate the ecological concerns of environmental groups and the US Forest Service that include threatened and endangered species protection and the spread of invasive species. I am engaged with a large and growing number of people, who support alternatives that should be considered to address issues concerning the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Some of us would gladly volunteer to support agencies that conduct work to positively impact ecology if it can be done without trammeling the wilderness area. I'd like to see us approach some of the issues this proposal suggests in partnership rather than on adversarial basis. I truly look forward to supporting your organization with an alternative proposal. I appreciate your engagement in this process and look forward to working with you as we move forward.
  6. Bob Underwood Reply
    Excuse me Ben, i have looked at the photo of the controlled burn on the www.savelgw.org website and it shows a forest made more flamable since being partly burned. I can say from my own observations that this sort of burn was typical of large burned areas within the Linville Gorge in the 2007 fire. So in EXACTLY what way do you consider this misleading to the public? Perhaps you are refering to some other photograph? I dont think you people have a clue as to what 'Natural' is. You talk of Lightening caused fires when the most frequent cause of wildfire is man-made. This is especially true in Linville Gorge and it will remain true. You speak of Science and Nature as if you had a monopoly on it. I think it is the last thing you should ever do to suggest that the Savelgw site is misleading the public. You believe that the LGW needs to be ,"RESTORED" - one of your favorite buzz-words, because wildfires have been supressed for about 70 years..EVEN when you know that about 40 percent of the Gorge has burned within the past 13 years? What possible amount of "RESTORATION" would be considered enough for you? You dont have the 'Science' to give a precise estimate and you know it. So please spare us from any false accusations about "misleading the public". I got news for you Ben, Linville Gorge is healthy. It is not sick, it is thriving - in spite of being in a supposedly UNNATURAL state of surpression. ( hemlocks excepted). I dont think you can make it more natural by trammeling it even more. Frankly, you people are beyond belief. Bob Underwood
    • Ben Prater Reply
      Bob, I say that http://www.savelgw.org/ is misleading because of all of the rhetoric and "cherry picked" articles that one finds there. All that appears on the site is a laundry list of fears and sensational media reports. The fact that many of these articles are about fires in the Western US undermines any credibility you have in being a public resources. As for your argument about the cause of wildfires in the Gorge you are correct, most wildfires originate from arson and accidental ignitions. These are the hardest to predict, control, or manage. Do you really think an escaped campfire ripping up the side of the Gorge is the same as a lightning strike? And you do realize that the Gorge receives more lightning strikes each year than any where else in NC? And even though it is obvious that you know little about ecological restoration I will simply say that prescribed fire is simply a tool which can serve to bring the fire adapted and fire dependent ecosystems back to within their normal range of variation. Until this is achieved every fire, no matter its source, will continue to be suppressed increasing risk of catastrophic fire and forever changing the ecosystem of the Gorge dooming numerous species to extinction. And I would strongly disagree with your assessment of the "health" of the Gorge. Are you a forest ecologist or do you simply equate aesthetics with forest health? And please spare us from the phrase "you people". You just make yourself seem ignorant and rude. Their is a diverse and healthy range of opinion on this proposal including your own. So take a deep breath and try to be constructive.
  7. Ben Prater Reply
    Sue, First let me also say that I appreciate your interest in having a constructive conversation as that as on organization we welcome the opportunity to develop alternatives that engage the full range of public opinion. That said, it is obvious to me that your knowledge of the Grandfather CFLRP is very limited. The Proposal is a work in progress with established goals that are developed and reached through and ongoing collaborative process over ten years. Furthermore, the Linville Gorge is just one of the priority landscapes in the Proposal that encompasses the entire Grandfather Ranger District. And I would have to question your "experts" since we are working directly with the professionally recognized experts on this project. Also, your continued description of aerial ignitions as involving the use "napalm" clearly shows your bias. The "ping pong balls" you refer to combine two simple ingredients: glycol and potassium permanganate. This is hardly naplam. As this process moves forward please understand that we are all in the very early stages of developing this project. I hope that the concerns you have outlined in your posts were articulated in comments to the Forest Service. Also, please know that many of the questions you have posed will be answered in the Environmental Analysis that is underway. No decision has been made.
  8. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    The intent of Wilderness is to leave the land unaltered by humans. If humans set the fires. It will be the work of humans. I spend 99% of my time in the human altered environment, if humans start setting fires in the Gorge we will only be left with another human altered environment. Wilderness Watch has a good article you can find on the http://www.SaveLGW.org site titled "Gardeners or Guardians" addressing those compelled to garden the LGW.
  9. Bob Underwood Reply
    Ben, i can definitely get rude but i used the phrase ' you people ' not as a pejorative but rather as a deliberately neutral way to avoid the phrase 'betrayers of the environment'. The USFS made the mistake of trying to head off criticism of what must be perceived as an 'unpopular' proposal by enlisting the leaders of most of the so-called environmental groups such as this one. The problem with that is that you do not represent us . You have not been elected. And you are Not " working directly with THE professionally recognized experts" as if you had a monopoly on them also ,along with your monopoly on the use of the words, "Natural"...and "Restoration". I can not even begin to take your "professionally recognized Experts" seriously when you propose to burn yet again a large area burned almost to sand ( Shortoff mountain) only SIX years ago and then claim that you are RESTORING a "natural fire cycle"..???. To say, as i did, that this is unbelievable is being too polite. The US Forest Service are mediocre managers of the Linville Wilderness. They allow trails to become a ditch and when their 4 decades of neglect becomes too embarassing for them they attempt a unnecessarily expensive but welcome 'fix'. Even as I write here, TODAY, they are attempting to correct past mistakes by constructing a NEW trail on Hawksbill Mountain...and even then they cover their planed route in secrecy FOR WHAT POSSIBLE PURPOSE? I have known them to turn down reasonable suggestions by volunteers working for free ( not me) when, if they even had a clue, they would have reached those suggestions on their own. No, they are definitely NOT experts and that reflects indirectly but poorly on any EXPERTS ( such as yourself, presumably) that they may hire. Go have a look at Hawksbill. it is a monument to mismanagement. Note that the Hawksbill re-route is largely NEW trail which is against the well intended policy of keeping the wilderness as Wilderness by minimizing trail building. So this Hawksbill project flies in the face of established policy and would be a welcome change except for the irony that there were already in existence Official trails which would serve the same destination and very little NEW trail was needed. So they broke their own rule to spend money and energy on a project that didnt need to be done.( in that way). Meanwhile NEW trail is definitely needed in other places but can not be built because it would be against the policy on NEW trail. Thus trails erode as a result of a (almost) continuously misapplied policy intended to protect them . The point of all this is that the USFS are NOT experts and if you seriously propose the reburning of Shortoff, neither are YOU. But now let me tell you about some trammeling the USFS did right: After the Pinnacle fire i watched USFS helicopters droping bundles of seedlings on the barren slopes. This was a clear violation of the Wilderness Act but i support it because even tho the forest to come will not be a 'Natural' mix, the regrowth would help stabilize the soil and prevent the river from silting up in the next big rain. They did good. Since you so Strongly Disagree with my assertion that the forest is healthy, how about educating us , since you are one of THE experts, and show us in what ways the forest is unhealthy? I see a forest of the Linville Wilderness in a turmoil of change. Chestnut blight wiped out trees that provided food for animals, Hemlocks are dying,, but none of this is attributed to an interrupted fire cycle. Point being that ive never seen a perfectly healthy forest and i dont know if there even is such a thing, but the Linville forest continues to thrive in other ways and fire will not restore the Chestnuts or the hemlocks. Nature adapts. It adapts to fire and adapts even better to lack of fire. I dont see why 30 species of fire-adapted plants should be the touchstone by which the thousands of other species of plants and animals should be valued. The tail does not wag the dog! You claim to have had ten years to develop this proposal so now meet the public and show us why the forest is unhealthy. You owe this to us, EXPERT! And if we have any misunderstanding of how you intend to conduct your fire-- You might have done better in your ten years of planing -to make it clear to us how carefully you intend to do it and how well yo4u manage the fire crews on the ground who might need to run thru the thick bush and steep slopes.... If we have a quote: " common misconception " that you do not intend to burn the whole gorge...well who gave us that misconception? We can read the maps provided by the USFS on their website and it sure looks like they intend to burn most of it!..Inflamables droped form helicopters is poor choice of public relations. And while you may find the information about fires in western states to be Cherry picked and irrelevant.....ill just mention that i know a firefighter in the Pasadena fire who tells me that there was a cover up....and the current website there only notes that it was 'human caused' and not that it was caused by humans AS A PRESCRIBED BURN. Irrelevant is in the eye of the beholder. And really Ben, whats your point when you ask if i believe the fire from a campfire is the same as a lightening fire? I never said it was or it wasnt. Its a fire in either case -it burns forests. What else did you need to know? Oh yeah, and fix your website: the link to all the wonderful things you do in Linville Gorge is somehow missing. Bob Underwood
    • Ben Prater Reply
      Bob, All I will simply say is that I disagree with all of your "points". I disagree with your understanding of the Grandfather CFLRP, our suspected collusion with the agency, your assessment of our expertise, the Hawksbill re-route and related trail policies, and your knowledge and understanding of forest ecology and prescribed burning. My point about campfires and lighting fires is just that not all fires are the same and some are more ecologically appropriate than others. Its the reason campfires aren't allowed in Wilderness areas. And here is a link to our Linville Gorge Volunteer project since you had trouble finding it: http://wildsouth.org/linville-gorge/
  10. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    The US Forest Service has asserted aggressively that "controlled" burns are necessary in the Gorge while no fuel load studies or fire risk assessments were performed in conjunction with these claims. This endorsement to set fires in the Gorge is disingenuous at best. Citizens alive and yet to be born deserve every precaution that an old growth forest with the exceptional designation of Wilderness remain free from human management. Why endorse and risk a reputation as a defender of wild places without the facts? WildSouth's activities appear otherwise altruistic. People that are paying attention can only be left to think that this $4.5 million dollar grant is more important than the truth.
  11. Ben Prater Reply
    As I stated in my response to your other comment about the lack of study on fire effects or fuel loads, the environmental analysis is currently underway. In other words these issues will be examined along with other issues and concerns. As for our reputation I don't believe you are in a position to judge our 20 plus year history of fighting for wild things and wild places. You have made it abundantly clear you disagree with our position. But, does it call in to question our integrity as an organization? If you choose to judge us unfavorably over one single issue that's your prerogative. And for the last time there is no grant, we are not receiving money from the Forest Service, and no one is hiding from the truth. I think it's time for you to take your suspicions and conspiracy theories elsewhere. I don't have time to keep repeating myself.
  12. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    Ben, Since there have been no studies to determine whether an undue fire load exists or whether controlling fire in the Gorge is possible, why would you or any of the "partners" continue to insist on setting fires to fix things? We hear a lot about the endangered species and how they need fire, the last time I spoke with one of these experts I asked if it was fire that was needed or open ground, he agreed that it was open ground that was needed. When the expert was asked if manual clearing of the outcrops could replace fire, he said he did not know. Why wouldn't this be explored before telling the public that fire is required for these plants, and that humans must supply that fire. The fire-negative plants get no mention from pro-burners either. I could go on with the many reasons the motives for promoting "controlled" burns in the Gorge are questionable. At this point given the approach of the USFS and it partners we can only think that every effort will made for an outcome that supports "controlled" burning. We expect an organization such as yours to tell the whole story and use facts to support it. If you engage on this level you will not create adversaries. Please give the Linville Gorge Wilderness your complete consideration before continuing to support this poorly established need for "controlled" burns.
  13. Ben Reply
    Lonnie, I'm not sure how many times I have to say this but the ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS IS CURRENTLY UNDERWAY. As for fuel loads I can assure you that suppressing wild fires for nearly a century in a fire prone ecosystem results in a heavy fuel load. And how do you think "open ground" is provided in a natural ecosystem? Here is a hint...fire. And surely you are not advocating for mechanical treatments. And there are species which are fire dependent such as Table Mountain Pine just one of the many species that would benefit from prescribed fire in the Linville Gorge. This pine species has cones that only open after fire which generates the heat necessary to melt the resin which coats them. And what are "fire negative plants"? Are you talking about plants that respond negatively to fire? If so, this is part of the ecology that shapes a fire dependent ecosystem. For example, in a dry oak forest a fire will promote the oaks by removing competing vegetation such as laurel and rhododendron which have encroached due to fire suppression. And in order for the "whole story" to be understood it requires people like yourself to listen and keep an open mind. We have never and will never obfuscate the facts. We value science and informed decision making that includes public input and values. At this point please agree to disagree and move on. We have a long way to go in this process.
  14. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    Ben, You asked questions which leads to further response. 1. Table Mountain pine cones open without fire, not as frequent or rapid. I have photos if you would like. 2. The mountain golden heather needs and exists in the tundra like conditions of the rock outcroppings of the Gorge. These harsh conditions with extreme temperatures, wind and thin soil don't support many other plants. The exposed higher level outcroppings also receive lightning due to their locations which may include fire and or clearing by impact. These plants were there by virtue of nature and that is what wilderness is. If you must to garden that hand clearing is much more in keeping with wilderness than dropping incendiaries from a helicopter. A better effort would be poaching prevention, due to the world market for the rare and unusual plants. 3. Fire negative species are those that don't benefit from fire, hemlock is one, Is it an indicator species and if it isn't shouldn't be given its importance? I would hope if you are a proponent of burning and describe yourself as an environmental advocate that you would be knowledgeable about these things and help others understand their importance. As you know there has been been a concerted effort and expense to save these disappearing species. There is a lot to know about the negative impacts on the soil and ecosystems that have developed on their own over thousands of years, including the numerous salamanders, insects and other flora such as fungi and the micro organisms that tie it all together, these are things I would hope you would know and address when Wilderness is at stake. 4. Fire can kill those oak trees as well and will definitely promote the bigger problem of the fire loving invasive species such as the Princess tree, multiflora rose, and Chinese silvergrass that will crowd out native species and establish their own ecosystems that are more flammable than the existing system. If you don't tinker with the Wilderness, you can be rest assured it will be an expression of nature.
    • Ben Prater Reply
      1- Table Mountain Pine needs fire to thrive, end of story. 2- Hand clearing is not effective over the long term and is not ecologically or economically sustainable. 3- A forest dominated by hemlocks won't burn and fires are not prescribed in these moist areas. 4- Non-native invasive plants are opportunists and are not fire adapted. They simply take advantage of open areas. So these species must be eradicated prior to burning.
  15. Bob Underwood Reply
    Ben, the best way for you to go in this process is to have the courage to admit it is flawed. You have a way of not responding to direct criticism but instead try to shoo your critics away. You might do better try to answer their questions if you can. When i ask why you consider an unburned forest to be unhealthy, i dont get an answer from you. Im not proclaiming myself as an expert. You ,however, proclaim that you have THE experts in support of this burn. Can none of them tell me why an unburned forest is necessarily unhealthy.? If you think you can win the hearts and minds of the public with your attitude, you dream.. Does it occur to you that we might really want to know? I do thank you for providing a link and for your explanation of why you considered the www.savelgw.org site to be misleading: at least in that case you tried to respond appropriately. The question as to why your 'experts' would recommend re-burning the already devastated Shortoff mountain area remains unanswered. I can provide recent photos of that area for your members to judge for themselves. If you disagree with my suggestions concerning the Hawksbill reroute--provide us with your own- if you can. If you think some fires are more 'ecologically appropriate than' others...at what point do they cease to be appropriate? The Gorge is long, narrow and steep. The USFS is not going to allow natural fire to rage there --the Shortoff mountain fire was natural and cost i believe 1.7 million dollars: so i understand very well why they want to reduce fuel loads with 'controled fire'. But id like you to discuss some of the alternatives even if more expensive and even just to rule them out, because - really, Ben, you need to face the fact that the public does not have a degree in forestry ( or whatever you may claim) and you are going to have to deal with the public if you want this project to get off the ground. And you say we dont UNDERSTAND how the burn is to be conducted: well, enlighten us...it may be a long road to do so, but its better for your public relations if you care about that sort of thing. You should have been working on this long before the proposal was made. And you need to face this fact: We like Linville Gorge the way it is. No outdoorsman or visitor to that area is going to support this burn IF there are reasonable alternatives and you knew that before you ever put your signature on the 'collaboration'. AS for 'ecologically appropriate' fires: It is a ridiculous point when NO fires natural or unnatural can be allowed to burn in the LGW under current policy. The current Proposal is the first and only exception. Unknown to you, Linville Gorge Wilderness campfires are indeed allowed and always have been. ( See Order 01-04-05 ) .. Perhaps it should not be that way..but ill let you take that up with the appropriate Agency. Bob Underwood
    • Ben Prater Reply
      Bob, I will "admit" no such thing as I fundamentally disagree. And, I am not avoiding answering your questions its just difficult to parse out your rants and separate your ideas in discreet pieces. First, let me say that "forest health" is a misnomer. I advocate for functioning resilient ecosystems. Part of restoring and maintaining robust ecosystems is to allow disturbance regimes to function. Fire is a natural disturbance agent and has been removed from the system. Prescribed fire is a surrogate for natural fire used to get the system "back on track" so that fires can burn within their natural range of variation. As for Shortoff, the result of this fire is precisely the kind of devastating stand replacing fires we are trying to prevent by using prescribed fire. And conducting another burn in that area will be lowest priority. But, it must be included in the analysis. The Hawksbill reroute was scoped and approved through the entire NEPA process. There is nothing secret about it. But, the new route is not open to the public until it is built to standard and completed. As for appropriateness, I would argue that setting fires at the bottom of the gorge is inappropriate, setting fires in wet areas or concave slopes is inappropriate, allowing campfires in the gorge is inappropriate. Setting fires along dry ridges in fire adapted ecosystems where fire dependent species reside using the minimum tools required to conduct the fire safely is appropriate. As for alternatives, these will be laid out in the environmental analysis as will the economic considerations you outline. As you will note Wild South has provided our own alternative as I'm sure local communities affected by this decision have as well. The burns will be conducted according to the plan that is currently being developed. But, having witnessed the successful implementation of several fires in the East I would assert that the fire will be carried out under favorable weather conditions using helicopters to ignite ridge lines within particular burn units. The fires will be allowed to back down slope and extinguish themselves as they creep into wetter areas. And as for public relations, we do "care about [this] sort of thing". This is exactly why I am engaging with you and putting our position and resources on our website for the world to see. I even advocated for several meetings that have taken place in the local communities around the gorge, attended meetings to discuss the issues, assisted with press releases and efforts to develop informative materials. And as much as you claim that "we should have been doing this long before the proposal was made" I apologize for not having a crystal ball and not being able to predict the future for you....whoops. And I agree that a policy of fire suppression is ridiculous, that's my point and why I support the effort to allow prescribed burning for a period of time. And thanks for clarifying about fires in Linville Gorge. I do not support this and think it is the one of the most asinine policies in place. This is why I spend time with volunteers breaking up fire rings, carrying out garbage, etc. Perhaps you could put some energy into that too as you are obviously passionate about the resource. And finally, I don't have a degree in forestry, nor have I ever claimed one. But, I do believe that a B.S. in Environmental Science and a Master's in Environmental Management focusing on conservation biology and forest resources with more that 10 years of experience fighting for wild places and wild things across the Southern United States having protected countless species and hundreds of thousands of acres of public land and thousands of miles of waterways gives me enough credibility to stand behind my position.
  16. Mark Kolinski Reply
    I would suggest that this conversation would benefit from everyone who has commented so far watching the first 43 slides of the narrated PowerPoint presentation on Monitoring Changes in Wilderness Character found in the Wilderness Character Toolbox on this web page: http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=toolboxes&sec=WC Forest Service wilderness managers are charged with preserving the wilderness character of those lands in the National Wilderness Preservation System entrusted to their management. It is not as simple and straightforward a task as some of you seem to understand it. It's a constant balancing act trying to protect and preserve the four main qualities of wilderness character: 1) untrammeled 2) natural 3) undeveloped 4) unique opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation Recreational use itself negatively impacts the untrammeled quality, thus putting two of the qualities the agency is charged with preserving at odds with each other. Developed trails in a wilderness area are a compromise. While they may negatively impact the untrammeled and undeveloped qualities of wilderness character, they help to focus impact in narrow areas and preserve the wilderness from more widespread "trammeling." A limited period of prescribed fire may negatively impact the untrammeled quality in the short term while greatly enhancing the "natural" functioning of the local ecology over the long term. These are just a couple of examples. Eastern wilderness areas present special challenges because of their relatively small size and close proximity to human development, explaining the common use of fire suppression for all fires, regardless of ignition source, in these areas. Every wilderness area is unique, and the management agencies receive special implementation direction in managing the resources present on every one. Every wilderness area experiences different threats to its wilderness character, and threat assessment is an important part of the management process, as is a minimum requirements analysis prior to any management action being undertaken. Please watch the PowerPoint. As Ben said, the required environmental analysis is currently underway by the Forest Service. Public input is being accepted during the development of this analysis, and there will be adequate opportunity for public comment on the EA before a decision is made on this project. I certainly hope that Lonnie, Sue, Mike and Bob all share their opinions with the USFS at every stage of the process. Wild South's position on this prescribed burning and the parameters within which we want to see it conducted do not necessarily reflect the Forest Service position on this issue. In fact, I can comfortably say we have our differences. Our position has been carefully analyzed from an ecological perspective, using the best available science, and from a wilderness management perspective as it is commonly practiced by the USFS. You are free to disagree with our position, but please do it respectfully, without assumptions. And remember, we are not the decision makers in this project, merely one of many voices.
  17. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    Mark, Your general considerations and engagement on Wilderness are agreeable and are certainly within my understanding. The fact there were no fuel load studies or fire risk analysis prior to aggressively asserting the need to for "controlled" fire in the Linville Gorge by WildSouth and others does not meet that criteria of wilderness stewardship. Easily observed in the dialog on this webpage is Ben's unequivocal terms for the need for "controlled" burning . All of this has established a rather troubling result. The fuel load studies and fire risk analysis are on the way and this may well be due to public pressure for accountability. The potentially objective studies certainly wouldn't have been needed if all took the USFS and its partners stated positions. Due diligence has been missing from the outset and makes the whole process and it participants questionable, it is spoiled and with no clear path to the truth. I have not related yet the other failings in this supposed public process, and would be happy to meet to further describe what has occurred to date. When the stakes are a rare wilderness, it would have behooved WildSouth to take its advanced position to ensure that that the public was included and served appropriately. I am a lover of the concept of wilderness and its expression in the Linville Gorge. If you, Ben and WildSouth are unable to recognize the transgression that occurred, you will have garnered my lifelong opposition to your organization, and that is not my goal. Sincerely, Lonnie Crotts 336-255-8494
    • Ben Prater Reply
      Lonnie, I believe it is fair to call your position on prescribed fire "unequivocal" and in my opinion biased. And don't kid yourself, the studies that will be done are a standard procedure for any environmental analysis and is not an attempt to placate you and others who live in this strange land surrounded by conspiracy and collusion. I've read the Blogs you regularly comment on and there is a whole lot of "crazy" being tossed about by some. So your judgement about "objectivity" and "truth" are laughable. Do you really believe the website you produced stands up to this criticism? And to accuse us of suppressing a public process while simultaneously participating in one just makes me wonder what planet you are on. And please don't threaten us with your "lifelong opposition". Do you really think threats and accusations make you appear to be a reasonable? It is obvious to me that nothing Wild South does would ever please you and that is not our goal.
    • Mark Kolinski Reply
      Well, Lonnie, you and Ben certainly have each other's hair up over this, and the conversation is not constructive when it is laced with accusations and unfounded assumptions. Accusing us of "transgressing" and somehow subverting the public process is completely out in left field. The Forest Service is the decision maker in this process and has sought to include NF stakeholders in the planning process from the very beginning. Wild South has participated in this process in good faith in a very transparent manner and in what we feel is in the best interest of the resource. Accusing us of neglecting due diligence in the process is likewise unfounded, since we have advocated for such in the development of the EA. If the draft EA that is produced lacks due diligence in any aspect, we will be the first to criticize it for this negligence. At this point, I think we have to agree to disagree about the benefit of prescribed fire in the LGW and both continue to engage the agency with our prospective viewpoints.
    • Mark Kolinski Reply
      To conclude, I don't see that meeting or talking any further about this will serve any purpose. We have both defended our positions exhaustively in all these comments, and I don't see that either one of us is going to persuade the other to adopt our viewpoint. We appreciate your involvement in the process. We all obviously care deeply for the Linville Gorge Wilderness area, even though we disagree about what is best for it. Let's inhabit our common ground primarily, and try not to fight about our points of disagreement. Thank you.
  18. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    If WildSouth ever changes the position of advocating for "controlled" burns in the Linville Gorge for the purpose of landscaping the Linville Gorge let me know and I will stop advising others of that position. lcrotts@triad.rr.com
  19. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    The USFS and the partnering agencies lack due diligence in all respects regarding their agressive public assertions of the need for fire: 1. Public notice in the newspaper of record was not performed and was only performed after public scrutiny of the process. Not only was it not published as required by law, effort to notify the community was poor to non-existant. 2. No fuel load studies were done despite the constant public comment by the USFS that there is undue fuel load in the Gorge. The fuel load is the only reason that the USFS can use "controlled" fire in the Wilderness, and only pending the risk assessment. We are now being told that these studies will be performed after the public comment period. The public comment period has been poisoned by these announcements from the US Forest Service and supported by Wild South as the public expects the federal government and partners to speak truthfully. 3. No fire risk assessment was done to determine the level of risk for controlling fire, despite the regular USFS public assertions that the risk is less than 1%. The public comment period has been poisoned by these announcements from the US Forest Service and supported by Wild South as the public expects the federal government and partners to speak truthfully.
    • Ben Prater Reply
      1)The newspaper of record for the Grandfather Ranger District is the McDowell News. What evidence do you have that the announcement of the scoping for this project was not posted? I have never known the agency to miss this important step. Furthermore, the public notices (note plural) far exceeded due diligence. A press release was published, several community meetings were held, members of local communities including your wife attended a CFLRP meeting. And after all this the agency extended the comment period. What more would you like? As someone who has participated in the public comment process with the Forest Service for 10 years I can say that this process far exceeded what is required and typical. 2)70 years of fire suppression in a fire adapted ecosystem is direct evidence that fuel loads currently exceed the natural range of variation. Also, if one examines the state of the forests it is easy to show that these areas have undue fuel loads and that the characteristic vegetation and ecological processes have suffered. Furthermore, decline in fire dependent species is further evidence that fire has been unnecessarily removed from the ecosystem. And you do realize that the environmental analysis is currently underway? But, I guess I will repeat that point for the fifth time. In addition, a public comment period will follow the release of the Environmental Analysis (EA). The EA will contain the Alternatives and the analysis to address every concern you have managed to come up with. 3)As for a "fire risk assessment" a hazard analysis and risk assessment are part of any burn plan developed for a prescribed fire. And I'm sure much of this information will likely be included and referenced in the EA. Perhaps you could try and be patient as the EA is developed. And I'm not sure why any of the facts, evidence, or basic logic matters as you will no doubt oppose the project regardless of what the final decision is.
  20. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    Protest the U.S. Forest Service Burn Plan Saturday, April 20th, 2:00 PM U.S. Forest Service Supervisor's Office 160 Zillicoa St. Suite A Asheville, NC 28801 Join us for merriment and a serious message to stop the U.S. Forest Service from burning the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Sparky the Bear, Friends of Linville Gorge, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, and others will be there!
  21. Lonnie Crotts Reply
    The NC Sierra Club among others are asking for an Environmental Impact Statement from the USFS. Comments that were made through January 31st to the proposed burning of the Linville Gorge were posted to this website: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/ReadingRoom?List-size=25&Project=37966&List-page=1. Comments include NC Sierra Club statement on the importance of the Linville Gorge Wilderness and their request for the comprehensive and objective Environmental Impact Statement which by federal statute must be conducted when the landscape will be significantly altered. Significant comments from other include organizations Heartwood, East Tennessee Sierra Club....
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