As one Sierra Nevada Air Pollution Control Officer said, “the public should be outraged” at the increasing pollution from burn agency prescribed burns, pile burns and out of control agency “managed” fires that are occurring across Sierra Range and the nation, at what is now a feverish pitch.

Agency created burns and the ensuing and often massive amounts of toxic air pollution they create are allowed to continue in favor of the half science of forest health over the priority of clean air and human health. We are all suffering under the guise that agency created toxic burn smoke affects only those sensitive to smoke. The truth of the matter is that agency created toxic burn smoke adversely affects us all. How can we embrace and justify the need for successful and greater controls on wood burning fireplaces and turn a blind eye to the massive and devastating nationwide toxic smoke pollution caused by the “Must Burn” paradigm undertaken daily by our local, state and federal burn agencies.

Smoke management plans are often inadequate, not enforced and continue to fail without any real consequence to the burn agencies or burn managers that create them and pledge on paper to follow them. In fact, if a State or Federal agency burn event smoke management plan fails, very seldom do county level Air Pollution Control Officers have the political clout to successfully cause State and Federal burn agencies to immediately and completely put the fire out. This, even though many local air pollution regulations give them this latitude.

After thousands of pages of EPA Clean Air regulations, State Implementation Plans and burn and smoke policies, burn agencies and their powerful burn agency lobby have been able year after year to use their public persona, public authority and public funds to elaborately forego any real consequences or public health accountability from the massive amounts of air pollution they create. They seem to have an unfettered glide path to creating as much massive air pollution as they wish. Public Agencies routinely burn public resources resulting in the pollution of entire regions with impunity.

It seems that the “Public Agency Burn Machine”, guided by debatable half science has become so large and powerful that local, state and federal politicians would rather throw as much money as possible in the direction of burn agency funding requests, rather than provide meaningful oversight, control, accountability or alternatives when it comes to dialing back agency created air pollution and preventing human suffering and harm to our health.

This giant agency burn machine will only grow as our politicians, U.S. EPA, Interior Department, local, state and other federal agencies and State Air Pollution Control Boards continue to turn a blind eye to the true pollution caused by their fellow agencies and their ineffective and often failed smoke generation policies.

Like all polluters, public burn agencies who cause air pollution are polluters pure and simple and they need to be held truly accountable, as any large scale polluter would for the results of their actions. They need to be more tightly monitored, controlled and truly regulated by local, state and federal air pollution officials and under the Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Citizens are Unaware

Due to an elaborate influential burn agency public relations and regulation exemption campaign over the last 15 years, citizens are largely unaware that they (our citizens) have been slowly sacrificing their priority expectations of public health and clean air in favor of the debatable half science of forest health. This continues today as clean air regulations and burn policies led by the U.S. EPA and influenced by the powerful burn lobby continue to exempt burn agencies from their pollution activities and erode the congressionally mandated Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Using mega fuels reduction budgets, burn agencies nationwide are slashing, burning and post burn logging the forest at a rapid rate. Along with creating “mega” pollution “managed fires” as discussed below, they are creating thousands and thousands of new burn piles every year without a responsible clean air plan to dispose of them. The only plan is to eventually burn them, usually with no required time line. Some slash piles sit for months or even years (as true fire hazards) waiting to be burned.

Hoping to enjoy natural scenery while visiting our forests, national parks and wilderness areas, visitors are greeted with thousands of manmade burn piles and almost constant smoke filled polluted air. There is nothing natural about this manmade eco-scaping process. There have been no real efforts to step up planning, use of technology or to budget for workable alternatives like large scale natural gas and mechanical chipping programs to avoid this unnatural process. Alternatives are available. One alternative would be to stop or slow all slash pile creation, along with poorly coordinated agency prescribed burns, until all existing piles are removed mechanically. A meaningful set of fuels reduction monitoring and technological alternatives must be planned for and implemented. Budget priorities need to be shifted away from the public agency “Must Burn Paradigm” to protecting our clean air.

Managed Burns 

If you thought burn agencies were actually engaging in putting out all fires you are not correct. In fact the opposite may be true. Federal and Interagency burn managers follow the Guidance for Implementation of Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy, dated February 2009”. This document gives federal agencies the ability and green light to grow and steer fires as they see fit.  The information contained in this guidance document concerning true public smoke health effects, smoke management or real time technological smoke component monitoring is woefully inadequate or nonexistent.

Interagency Burn Managers purposely steer and grow huge and destructive “managed” burns, regardless of whether such burns are naturally caused or not. Agency created “managed” mega fires are then reported by burn agencies to politicians and the public as “wildfires.” They blame recent mega wildfires on global warming and predict with a crystal ball undertone the threat of more to come if their fuels reduction and suppression budgets are not increased and approved year after year.  

Firefighter, public safety and structure property protection are of course part of all agency burn procedures, which they should be. However, what the public is not aware of is that while structures are being protected, other parts of the fire are often purposely being allowed to burn through withholding of resources and are being purposely steered and grown.

The now common Agency created “managed” mega burns, prescribed burns and pile burns unleash billions of tons of particulate matter, carbon, including carbon black, phosphorus, carbon dioxide, mercury, PM10, PM 2.5 and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere eventually finding their way to our lungs, our children’s lungs, the ozone, pets, wildlife, snowmelts. They can contribute to algae growth in our lakes.

The truth is, scientifically, the cause and growth of any wildland fire has historically been due to 1) true natural causes like lightning or volcanoes, or accidently human caused or set 2) fuel moisture at the time of ignition 3) fuel loading 4) slope and topography and 5) wind/weather. However, we now add an unnatural man made and 6th element to the cause of fire growth, that being 6) “managed burns,” the practice of Agencies actively steering and maneuvering fire (whether natural or human-caused) by withholding resources, including aircraft, and thereby growing fires through timberland acreage in the name of forest health.

There is nothing natural about thousands and thousands of agency created eco-scaped slash piles, prescribed or “managed” mega fires. The “managed” fire is massively destructive and there is no real science behind this type of total destruction. The King Fire in CA was an example of an eventual “managed” fire once the fire reached Federal Land.

Massive logging contracts resulted from the King Fire, which after months of managed burning caused much of the entire Northern Sierra and northern Nevada population, wildlife, recreation and commerce to suffer needlessly.

Another example, was the recent agency “managed” Soberanes fire near Monterey, CA.  This fire chocked the lungs of most every San Joaquin Valley and Sierra resident, including our children, pets, wildlife and recreation for months. Burn Agencies worked to protect structures, which is always a dangerous and heroic job. However, while we all watched, hoping for safety of our citizens and the firefighters, much of the rest of fire was steered, purposely grown and managed by decisions on the part of the Federal Burn Managers while we suffered.

Even though the US Forest Service and BLM claim that they have suppressed fire for 100 years, it appears that they now commonly and publically report the cause of rapidly growing fire size and the inability to contain or control their own “managed” burns as predominantly due to uncontrollable factors such as global warming.

The underlining threat from Burn Agencies that citizens, politicians, and insurance industry providers seem to be living with is “give us more and more annual money for more and more fuels reduction, agency burning and suppression costs or the fires will continue to grow” (a self-fulfilling prophesy guided by their own hand).

They claim that only by providing more and more fuels reduction money, with the “must burn” philosophy as their centerpiece, will they be able to slow the tide. However, no amount of funding ever seems to be enough. And there are no real metrics to prove their claim. The increasing agency mantra explanation for the fire size and extent of damage of each destructive fire seems to be met with the same agency PR message i.e., that more fuels reduction money and eco-scaping burn activity (pile burning, prescribed burning and managed burning) would have prevented the fire from growing out of control – a claim that is often farfetched and impossible to verify. And of course, there is no real regulatory oversight or metrics produced to ground truth any of these recurring claims.

Managed Burning before Logging

Even before the smoke clears after a “managed” burn, logging trucks move in and scheduled land closures go up “for public safety” reasons. These logging contracts would not have otherwise occurred except for agency “managed” fires. “Managed” fires wipe out the spotted owl and all other endangered animals, plants and insects and open a wide door for logging to immediately move in. So now, between the agency created mega “managed” burns, the post burn mega logging contracts and the burning of the slashed branches from the burnt logs before transportation, the States of California and Nevada, the USFS, and the BLM are accomplishing on an epic scale more toxic air pollution, destruction of our natural resources and endangered and protected wildlife than controlled regulated logging could ever come close to producing.

Another recent example of this was the human caused and eventually “managed” Yosemite Rim Fire. This fire resulted in our logs being shipped to China via massive federal logging contracts.

Smoke chocked the entire Sierra range in the often unhealthy category for months including all of the Lake Tahoe Basin and Sierra Communities. As far as 300 hundred miles north, citizens had to flee their homes, sometimes for weeks, while Yosemite Burn Managers burned up 257,314 acres of our treasured National Park and the fire was allowed to smolder for nearly 12 months without regard to human health.

Capitalizing on Public Fear

Year after year local, state and federal Burn Agencies grow their fuels reduction and fire suppression budgets repeating the “must burn” formula, a tried and true approach that continues to supply an almost endless and an always growing spigot of public monies.

This has led to the single minded policy of creating burn smoke and producing massive air pollution with impunity, while sweeping aside any real priority discussion, measurement or control regarding the harmful effects on human health and our clean air. Federal budget money pours in and the smoke increasingly inundates our communities nationwide, without accountability, measurement or oversight of our burn agencies. No one is providing real time monitoring of the true composition of the pollution that ensues from each and every burn or the directly correlated human health impacts created by runaway Agency created burn activities.

Over the years, by downplaying the message of real fire prevention and instead participating in actually creating epic damage utilizing “managed burns”, burn agencies have terrified the public and the insurance industry chanting the mantra of not “if” but “when”.  Insurance rates have skyrocketed in mountain regions.  Years ago, fire agencies prided themselves on their readiness, which actually allowed insurance companies to keep rates down. Today, agency “must burn” policies and purposeful, massive, and destructive growth of “managed” burns serve as a primary cause for increased insurance rates.

And what of health costs?  Some physicians believe going forward, that history will reveal a respiratory disease epidemic in the region as a result of unchecked, unquestioned and unmonitored agency burn and failed smoke practices.

Recent emails from a US forest service retired employee clearly demonstrate that internal job promotion opportunities for US Forest Service supervisors serve as reward for major logging contracts that are created as a result of forest service supervisors’ willingness to undertake major “managed” and “prescribed” burns.

Stop the Smoke

Until the public becomes educated and intolerant regarding these manmade and unnatural burn agency methodologies, based on the half science of forest health, and what seems to be their overwhelming lack of regard for the priority of our clean air and public health, not much will change.

Elected officials at the local, state and federal levels must step in to slow and control this unprecedented assault on our clean air.  They must provide true regulatory oversight to burn agencies and more aggressively support for alternatives to burning. There also needs to be increased citizen awareness to help work with agencies side by side as watchdogs to help control the agency created “must burn” paradigm.

Congress should require that at least 50% of federal fuels management funding be shifted to “chip as you go” and grinding technology as well as real time air monitoring during agency created burns. They must place a moratorium on destructive agency created “managed” burns and should require a significant reduction in the feverish paced “must burn” paradigm that is occurring as result of easy government money.

And finally, there should be a moratorium placed on pile burning until the thousands of existing “fire hazard” piles can be removed by chipping, grinding or transport.

Public agencies who cause air pollution are polluters pure and simple.

They need to be held accountable and more closely regulated under the current US EPA Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and increased Local, State and Federal Regulations.