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REPORT No. 731
PROTECTION OF NATIONAL FORESTS FROM FIRE
May 26 (calendar day, May 27), 1930.-Ordered to be printed
Mr. McNary, from the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry,
submitted the following
(To accompany S. 35941
The Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, to whom was referred the bill (S. 3594) authorizing appropriations for the construction and maintenance of improvements necessary for protection of the national forests from fire, and for other purposes, having considered the same, report thereon with the recommendation that the bill do pass.
There follows a lengthy report from the Forest Service explaining the purpose of the legislation, which has the approval of the Department of Agriculture.
MARCH 11, 1930. Hon. CHARLES L. McNary,
United States Senate. DEAR SENATOR McNARY: In reply to your request for a report on S. 3594 it may be said that the construction of the improvements authorized by this bill would greatly increase the effectiveness of the protection, afforded the national forests from destruction by fire and would facilitate the management of the grazing resource. In order to simplify the discussion of this bill, the following comparison is given, showing the amounts appropriated in the fiscal year 1930, the amounts included in the appropriation act for 1931 as it passed the House, and the amounts included in S. 3594 for the two general classes of improvements:
It is recognized by everyone familiar with the situation that the national forests are poorly equipped with permanent improvements such as simple roads, trails, telephone lines, fire lanes, lookout towers and observatories, cabins for firemen, etc., needed for fire-control purposes. 8. 3594 would authorize appropriations which would enable necessary protective improvements to be made under a businesslike program. The present slow rate of progress in completing the urgently needed protective improvements on the national forests can not be justified on any ground of ultimate saving or orderly management of the entire national forest enterprise. The total amount required is small in proportion to the enormous values at stake. No business organization under similar conditions would hesitate to make the investment necessary to protect its property The urgency of the situation has been recognized by the Bureau of the Budget and the House of Representatives and a substantial increase granted in the fiscal year 1931. S. 3594 would set up a reasonable financial plan for making an investment in protective improvements which are essential if basic natural resources for which the Federal Government is responsible are to be properly cared for.
The $200,000 authorized by this bill for range improvements is only a portion of the increase in grazing fees which stockmen will be required to pay annually by 1931 for the use of national-forest ranges. As a part of this program of increased grazing fees and also in the interest of better administration of the grazing ranges, it is highly desirable that the construction and maintenance of the improvements necessary for the proper utilization of the forage crop be undertaken by the owner of the land. The amount included in the 1931 appropriation bill as it passed the House is $100,000. Stockmen have cooperated to the best of their ability, but since the cost of urgently needed new improvements is $1,700,000 the progress being made is seriously inadequate and stockmen should now be relieved of the burden which they have been carrying,
As now worded, the bill authorizes cooperation with the Biological Survey for the eradication and control of range destroying rodents on the national forests. The Biological Survey is a bureau in the Deportment of Agriculture, and for that reason the authorization for cooperation is unnecessary. At the present time both the Biological Survey and the Forest Service are engaged in eradicating rodents from national forest ranges. A question has arisen as to whether the inclusion of the reference to rodent control in this bill would bar the Biological Survey from using its appropriations in eradicating rodents from the national forests. It is therefore suggested that the words and in cooperation with the Biological Survey, or otherwise, for the eradication and control of range destroying rodents on the national forests” be eliminated from the bill.
There is attached a memorandum prepared in the Forest Service which discusses the need for protection and range improvements in greater detail. Sincerely yours,
ARTHUR M. HYDE, Secretary. Referred to the Bureau of the Budget, as required by Budget Circular No. 49, and under date of March 8, 1930, the department was advised by the Director of the Bureau of the Budget that the program of expenditures for the purposes named in S. 3594 would not be in conflict with the financial program of the President if it were amended so as to authorize the appropriation of amounts not to exceed the amounts specified.
FEBRUARY 21, 1930. Memorandum to accompany report on S. 3594.
This bill authorizes an enlarged program of construction of two broad classes of improvements, i. e., protection improvements and range improvements. The discussion which follows will be subdivided by these two headings.
PROTECTION IMPROVEMENTS The amounts carried for this purpose in the 1930 appropriation act, the appropriation bill for 1931 as it passed the House and in S. 3594, are given below: 1930 appropriation act..
$360, 000 1931 appropriation bill.
2, 191, 000 S. 3594..
4, 300, 000 The kinds of improvements included under this heading are as follows: Singletrack roads, trails, telephone lines, lookout towers and observatories, fire breaks, cabins for firemen, barns, pastures, pasture fences, etc. The existence or absence of improvements of the classes listed above have a direct bearing upon the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of the Forest Service fire-control organization. Since these improvements are of such great importance to the fire-control organi
zation of the Forest Service it will be noted that the paragraphs which follow deal with the difficulties now encountered in giving adequate protection from fire to the national forests.
The national forests, when created over 20 years ago, were wild undeveloped areas. During this period of nearly a quarter of a century important lines of development have gone forward. Areas more suitable for agriculture than for timber production have been passed to private ownership under the forest homestead act. Under the Weeks law of 1911 and subsequent acts, a broad national program of Federal ownership of timber-producing and watershed lands has been laid down, and purchase and organization of vital areas is proceeding with increasing momentum. In the McNarv-McSweeney Act a basic law has been enacted which provides for a broad program of forest research. Policies and practices covering the complex problems arising in the correlated administration of all the resources of the national forests have reached a high state of development. Although practically no aid was to be had from experience in other continents, the technic of fire control under American conditions has been advanced to a point where the organization and personnel on the national forests may fairly be said to be equal to the task of protecting these great national properties which incidentally have increased enormously in their commercial value since they were set aside for timber production and water conservation.
It is necessary to realize how far the construction of protective improvements has fallen behind these other developments. Although the creation of the national forests was authorized by the act of June 4, 1897, and most of these forests have been under Federal management for over 20 years, it is necessary to say that in many instances they still lack the most rudimentary improvements necessary for their protection. With respect to their protection from fire the national forests may be compared to a city which has a fire chief and some firemen and engines but in which only a few water mains have been laid.
During the carly years of the national forests this condition was not so serious as now. Industrial use of the national forests was in its infancy in those early years and the fire danger proportionately less on that account. Visitors to the national forests numbered 23,000,000 in 1928, but in 1917, when our first estimate was made, the number was placed at 3,100,000 and this latter figure was the result of a large percentage of increase over still earlier years. This contrast between relatively light use of the national forests in the early years and the enormously heavier use of to-day is reflected in a corresponding difference in fire danger in the early and later stages of national forest history. Moreover, serious as were the fire losses in the early years, the enterprise of protecting American timberlands froin fire was in a pioneering stage and knowledge as to the quantity and type of structures needed was lacking. There was a time when the Forest Service was not prepared to use widely any large improvement fund.
These conditions no longer exist. The Forest Service is prepared to proceed with the construction of needed improvements as rapidly as the funds are made available, and get full value for every dollar expended. Years of experience and study by protection experts under Federal, State, and private employment have developed a body of exact knowledge as to the type and quantity of improvements which are essential to effective forest protection. Reasonably satisfactory protection is an accomplished fact on a majority of the national forests, and although 20 years ago the public was skeptical as to the feasibility of effective protection of timberland, it now recognizes that it can be done when the necessary steps are taken to that end. The chief remaining step required on an important minority of the national forests is to make an additional investment in protective improvements, which would be relatively small when compared to the values at stake and the amounts expended for personnel, and particularly the amounts expended for suppression of fires after they have grown large and extremely difficult to handle. The campaign against man-caused fires which is regularly pushed vigorously on the national forests needs to be supplemented by tangible evidence of sincerity and determination on the part of the Federal Government. In a businesslike way, those improvements should be provided which are essential to suppression of lightning fires and man-caused fires which start despite the best efforts which can be made to prevent carelessness, accident, and malicious incendiarism. The need for such a program is emphasized by a number of factors among which are the more frequent occurrence during recent years of climatic conditions extremely favorable to the rapid and destructive spread of fires and the enormous increase in the number of people using the National Forests for industrial and recreational purposes.
The denudation of the areas burned over on the national forests in certain regions is a matter of great concern to the national policy of keeping the national forests green and productive.
On the national forests of north Idaho and eastern Montana during the 19 years ending with 1926, 65,000 acres have been artificially reforested, but during that same period 270,000 acres of high-quality timber-producing land have been so completely denuded by fire that artificial reforestation must be resorted to. In this particular region the area of national forest land lying idle and unproductive has actually increased notwithstanding the planting program which has been carried on and the large expenditures for fighting large fires.
There are too many instances where large areas are ravaged by a single fire, as in 1927 when 52,000 acres within and adjacent to the Columbia National Forest in the State of Washington were lost. The original stand of timber on this area was destroyed by fire in 1902, before the creation of the national forest. Following the fire of 1902 an excellent stand of young timber started from seed which had worked its way into protected places and which therefore escaped destruction. This young stand was successfully protected until 1927 but had not yet matured sufficiently to produce the store of seed which might reforest the area if burned again. Consequently most of the land burned over in 1927 will remain idle and unproductive until costly artificial reforestation can be undertaken.
In seasons when climatic conditions are favorable to the rapid spread of fires, appalling losses occur on the national forests despite the best efforts which can be made to prevent fires or catch them while small. In 1919 the area burned on all the national forests was 2,000,034 acres and the damage was $4,919,000. In 1924, which was the next bad season, the area burned was 602,044 acres and the damage was $1,471,267. In 1926 the area lost was 776,570 acres, with a damage of $4,260,426.' The season of 1928 proved to be an easy one except in California where the area burned was nearly as large as in 1924, which witnessed the worst losses this region has experienced. In the season of 1929 the area lost on all national forests was 736,687 acres and the estimated damage was $5,000,000.
The experience of 1928 in California illustrates the need for additional protective improvements if fire losses are to be brought within reason. More than half of the season's losses are attributable to the presence of highly inflammable grass and brush along roads, and to the absence of cleared and fireproofed barriers which could have been used to stop fires which swept in from outside the national forests. Out of the 22 fires which reached 3,000 acres or over in size, 11 swept in from outside the national forests and could not possibly have been stopped at the national-forest boundaries without the aid of artificial barriers or firebreaks prepared in advance. Firebreaks have been constructed in California and some roadside clearing has been done where the travel and danger is greatest, but that the amount which it has been possible to invest in this way has been totally inadequate is clearly shown by the experience of the 1928 fire season. For some years a special appropriation has been available for this type of work in the four southern California National Forests and the construction program which is being carried out has already had an important effect, although most of the programmed work still remains to be done. In the national forests elsewhere only insignificant sums have been available for this type of protective improve ment work.
Analysis of the 1928 record for the California national forests shows that 26 per cent of the fires which attained 100 acres or more in area are chargeable to the fact that lookouts and fire guards were spread too thinly. More personnel is clearly necessary, but the addition of more lookout men and fire guards will be largely ineffective unless telephone lines and lookout houses can be provided so that the additional men can be stationed at the proper points and kept within communication.
In this connection it should be stated that after 20 years of earnest effort to complete the structures necessary to secure prompt discovery and report of fires. nearly half of this plant still remains unconstructed because of lack of funds.
Success in catching fires while small depends on speed in reaching them and this in turn depends largely on roads and trails. When roads and trails are available, fires are reached promptly and are normally either controlled at once or rounded up within the first 24 hours. An analysis of California national forest fires of over 100 acres which were not rounded up within the first 24 hours in 1928 shows that 29 per cent of such failures are attributable to lack of roads and trails.
An analysis of large fires on the national forests of north Idaho and western Montana in the disastrous season of 1926 shows that 21 per cent of such fires became large primarily because of lack or scarcity of trails. These fires which were chargeable to lack of trails cost about $156,000 to suppress and caused damage estimated at $700,000.
In 1929, in north Idaho and western Montana disastrous losses were experienced, but it is significant that no fire grew large which was within striking distance of a road.
The records of the Forest Service contain many striking proofs of the importance of roads and trails to effective and economical protection of the national forests. A district forester cites an instance in which between 7 p. m. and 1 a. m. the following morning, a large crew with supplies, equipment, and pack stock was collected, organized, and moved 60 miles by truck to the end of the existing road. It took the outfit the next two days to travel 45 miles over mountainous trails from the end of the road to the fire for which they were called. Such delay in seasons such as that of 1929 inevitably means heavy losses and heavy expenditures for fire fighting. The cheapest and most effective remedy in such regions is the construction of simple low-cost protection roads.
Under existing legislation approximately $3,000,000 is expended annually on the construction and maintenance of roads and trails needed for the protection and development of the national forests. This program, however, must provide for roads needed for administration and utilization of timber and other resources, as well as for strictly protection needs. At the present rate of construction it will be 41 years before the roads and trails at this time included in the development plans can be completed. By an additional appropriation of $3,000,000 annually for the construction of the simple, low-cost roads and trails of the type required for protection, the time required for completion of the planned system would be reduced by about half.
The Nation has a stupendous investment in the national forests and the industrial and social consequences of keeping these areas green and productive are farreaching. Furthermore, the failure upon the part of the National Government to keep these areas green and productive will have a disheartening influence on every citizen who is the owner of land which should be kept in timber production. It would be most unfortunate if the lack of a modest capital investment in protective improvements on some of the national forests should lead to the belief that effoctive protection is a practical impossibility.
These continued and unnecessary losses of merchantable timber and young growth, together with the destruction of recreational and scenic values in the great public properties on the national forests have given great concern to publicspirited men in the States where these losses have occurred. It is to be expected that more insistent demands from the public will be made for more aggressive action looking to the completion in the needed improvements for protection of the national forests.
RANGE IMPROVEMENTS The amounts included for this purpose in the 1930 appropriation act, the appropriation bill for 1931 as it passed the House, and in S. 3594 are given below: 1930 appropriation act.
$85, 000 1931 appropriation bill.
100, 000 S. 3594.
200, 000 The kinds of improvements included under this heading are as follows: Fences, water-development projects, corrals, driveways, stock bridges, etc. The eradi. cation of poisonous plants is also provided for in the bill.
The amount authorized for this bill for range improvements is only a fraction of the increase in grazing fees which stockmen will be required to pay annually by 1931 for the use of national-forest ranges. As a part of this program of increased grazing fees, and also in the interest of better administration of the grazing ranges, it is highly desirable that the construction and maintenance of the improvements necessary for the proper utilization of the forage crop be undertaken by the owner of the land. During recent years it has usually not been possible to allot more than $30,000 annually from Forest Service appropriations for such work. Eighty-five thousand dollars was provided for this purpose for the current fiscal year. Stockmen have cooperated to the best of their ability, but since the cost of urgently needed new improvements is $1,700,000, the progress being made is seriously inadequate and stockmen should now be relieved of the burden which they have been carrying.
L. F. KNEIPP, Acting Forester. O