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Fighting Forest Fires Before They Get Big—With Drones

Fighting Forest Fires Before They Get Big—With Drones | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it
AT 10 AM on Friday, May 15, wildland fire season kicked off in California. Officials from the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, and a few other agencies gathered at the Kern County Fire Department Headquarters in Bakersfield to, if not celebrate, at least observe the moment. Everyone knew they were looking at a rough year. The ongoing western drought will make sure of that.

Now, a team of researchers believes they may be able to help. The idea is to enable early location and identification of fires using drones, planes, and satellites mounted with special infrared cameras. They’re calling it the Fire Urgency Estimator in Geosynchronous Orbit—or Fuego—and once fully operational the system could spot new wildfires anywhere in the Western US barely three minutes after they start. “All year round is going to be fire season now,” says Carlton Pennypacker, an astrophysicist at UC Berkeley and lead researcher on Fuego. “That makes this more urgent.”
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Lloyd's of London offers Oregon wildfire coverage with $50 million deductible

Lloyd's of London offers Oregon wildfire coverage with $50 million deductible | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it
The state of Oregon has a chance to continue its unique insurance policy that helps pay for fighting wildfires in big burning years — but at a higher premium and deductible.
Lloyd’s of London has offered to cover up to $25 million of wildfire costs this season, after the state pays a deductible of $50 million, The Bulletin newspaper of Bend reported Friday.
After last year’s tough season, the premium the Oregon Department of Forestry and private landowners would pay has nearly doubled: from $2 million to $3.75 million. The deductible is more than twice last year’s $20 million.
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Prosecutors accuse timber company of deception in efforts to reverse forest fire settlement

Prosecutors accuse timber company of deception in efforts to reverse forest fire settlement | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it
Federal prosecutors in Sacramento accuse the state's largest timber company of deception in its efforts to reverse a $100 million settlement it agreed to pay over a wildfire that destroyed more than 100 square miles of forest in Northern California.

Court papers cited by the Sacramento Bee this week (http://bit.ly/1E9lX4r ) show the government contends Sierra Pacific Industries' efforts to overturn the settlement "lack integrity" and are based on false accusations. Prosecutors claim the company "only pretended to settle" the lawsuit it faced.

Officials have blamed the Shasta County company for the 2007 Moonlight Fire.

Last October, Sierra Pacific filed court papers accusing prosecutors of misconduct and unethical behavior in prosecuting the civil suit and said the settlement should be overturned because of "fraud upon the court."

Prosecutors rejected that claim.
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Judge orders Cal Fire to pay $30 million for ‘reprehensible conduct’ in Moonlight fire case

Judge orders Cal Fire to pay $30 million for ‘reprehensible conduct’ in Moonlight fire case | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it
In a blistering ruling against Cal Fire, a judge in Plumas County has found the agency guilty of “egregious and reprehensible conduct” in its response to the 2007 Moonlight fire and ordered it to pay more than $30 million in penalties, legal fees and costs to Sierra Pacific Industries and others accused in a Cal Fire lawsuit of causing the fire.

The ruling is the latest twist in an epic legal battle that began not long after the fire erupted on Labor Day 2007, scorching more than 65,000 acres in Plumas and Lassen counties.

Sierra Pacific, the largest private landowner in California, was blamed by state and federal officials for the blaze, with a key report finding it was started by a spark from the blade of a bulldozer belonging to a company working under contract for Sierra Pacific.

But company officials have steadfastly denied responsibility and have accused the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the U.S. Forest Service of conspiring to cover up their own shortcomings that allowed the fire to rage out of control.

Even after Sierra Pacific agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over the devastation in two national forests by paying $55 million in cash and handing over 22,500 acres of land to the government, the company insisted it was undone by an erroneous ruling of U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, and then was a victim of stonewalling by Cal Fire in that agency’s Plumas County suit, including the alleged withholding of thousands of pages of key internal documents relevant to the legal struggle.

In a 28-page order issued Tuesday, retired Superior Court Judge Leslie C. Nichols essentially agreed with all of Sierra Pacific’s points, adopting a separate, 57-page order proposed by Sierra Pacific and the other defendants almost word-for-word, and excoriating the behavior of Cal Fire and two lawyers from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, which represented the agency.
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Conservation group wants to buy burned forest

Conservation group wants to buy burned forest | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

A conservation group says the wildfire that burned more than 10 square miles of private timberland outside Bend has not dampened its desire to buy the property.


The Two Bulls fire broke out last Saturday on forest owned by Cascade Timberlands. Although it threatened hundreds of scattered rural homes west of Bend, firefighters managed to stop its spread, and on Friday it was 70 percent contained.


Investigators have said it was caused by people, but have not said whether it was deliberately set or an accident.


The Bulletin newspaper reports that Deschutes Land Trust has long been interested in buying the property to create a Skyline Forest. The goal is to preserve it from development, protect wildlife habitat, maintain scenic views and use it in education programs, executive director Brad Chalfant said.

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Timber giant Crown Pacific owned the tree farm before going bankrupt in 2002. The land was sold to creditors and eventually came to be owned by Cascade Timberlands, which has an office in Bend. The timber company is owned by Fidelity National Timber Resources, a subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial in Jacksonville, Florida.


Cascade Timberlands also has forests near Gilchrist and Chiloquin, Chalfant said. Fidelity apparently wants to sell all its holdings in Oregon, amounting to about 200,000 acres, so he has been working to draw in partners, he added.

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Report: Global Warming Not Causing More Wildfires

Report: Global Warming Not Causing More Wildfires | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

Mankind has an effect on the number of wildfires, but not in the way many politicians or journalists would have you think, says a forestry professor.


Professor David B. South of Auburn University says that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have nothing to do with the amount and size of wildfires. It’s largely forest management that determines the number and size of wildfires, not global warming.


“Policy makers who halt active forest management and kill ‘green’ harvesting jobs in favor of a ‘hands-off’ approach contribute to the buildup of fuels in the forest,” South told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday.


“This eventually increases the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” South said. “To attribute this human-caused increase in fire risk to carbon dioxide emissions is simply unscientific.”

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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), carbon dioxide concentrations were much lower in the 1940s (only 310 parts per million by volume), meaning global temperatures were cooler while wildfires were much more prevalent than today.

“These data suggest that extremely large megafires were 4-times more common before 1940,” South said, adding that “we cannot reasonably say that anthropogenic global warming causes extremely large wildfires.”


“However, in today’s world of climate alarmism, where accuracy doesn’t matter, I am not at all surprised to see many journalists spreading the idea that carbon emissions cause large wildfires,” South said.

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Company Works Swiftly To Salvage Dead Timber While Public Timber Sits

Company Works Swiftly To Salvage Dead Timber While Public Timber Sits | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

As Phil Adams’ pickup climbed Rabbit Mountain, the green scenery faded to black. Trees grew sparse and were entirely absent in places.


Still, fully loaded log trucks were coming down the mountain. At the top, loggers unhooked cables attached to charred trees dragged uphill. Except for burn spots, stacked timber appeared in good shape.


The land belongs to Roseburg Forest Products, and the company is urgently salvaging flame-damaged trees before they turn to mush.

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Since early September, RFP has salvaged 8 million board feet damaged in last summer’s 48,679-acre Douglas Complex fires. The company plans to log another 32 million board feet in the next 18 months.


The fires burned on a mix of private and Bureau of Land Management timberlands, leaving behind the contentious issue of how to restore the land.


While salvage operations are moving fast on private land, the BLM has yet to make firm plans. BLM spokesman Cheyne Rossbach said the agency is aware that dead timber loses value the longer it stays in the forest.

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The dissimilar approaches are noticeable from atop Rabbit Mountain. Much of RFP’s land has been logged. Meanwhile, dead trees, both standing and toppled over, cover the BLM land. The difference creates a quilt pattern across the rolling mountains.

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Rossbach said BLM is considering options, including harvesting dead timber, and will hold meetings in January to update the public and ask for comments.


Any plans to salvage timber have to go through environmental reviews and include leaving trees for wildlife habitat, he said.


“We don’t know yet what salvage will look like,” Rossbach said. “We currently have a team in place assessing the lands and what we need to do as far as recovery, and we are setting up another team to look at potential for salvage.”


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Wildfire danger: Weyerhaeuser lands closed in Washington and Oregon

Wildfire danger: Weyerhaeuser lands closed in Washington and Oregon | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

Extreme wildfire danger has prompted the Weyerhaeuser Co. to close public access to its Washington and Oregon timberlands.

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Timber tax passes Legislature in last-minute scramble

Timber tax passes Legislature in last-minute scramble | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

A proposed tax on timber came back from the dead early Saturday, passing after Gov. Jerry Brown's aides muscled votes in the final minutes of a legislative session that stretched past midnight.

The bill would place a 1% tax on lumber sales to fund oversight of the timber industry. It also would limit companies' liability for legal damages in cases of wildfires caused by their practices, restricting how much government agencies could sue for negligence.

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Democrats hailed the plan's passage. "We needed critical reforms to ensure sustainable forestry management and to protect jobs in impoverished parts of our state," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills).


Federal prosecutors and Obama administration officials oppose the limits on damages out of concern that they could make it more difficult to secure money to pay for recovery from destructive blazes. The timber industry argues that prosecutors routinely sue for much more than the relevant land is worth.

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Northwest Wildfires Could Become More Common

Northwest Wildfires Could Become More Common | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

Fire crews continue to fight wildfires in central Washington, south and central Oregon and southern Idaho. Some residents of Cle Elum and Ellensburg, Washington are just trying to get back home. Others don’t have a home to come back to. Forestry experts say these types of large wildfires could become more common across the West in the coming years.

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Federal wildifre hypocrisy & exploding trees

Federal wildifre hypocrisy & exploding trees | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

When Wilderness Isn’t Wilderness: When the US Forest Service wants to act fast to protect natural resources, it can. But, when it needs to act fast to prevent catastrophic timber loss to pests or fire, it predictably fails to act. June’s double standard example is within the still-burning 297,000 acre Whitewater-Baldy Fire in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, Gila National Forest. As the fire burned, biologists used electro-shockers to capture rare Gila trout from streams, then the trout were netted and lifted-out of the Wilderness via helicopter. No Environmental Impact Statement; no appeal period; and no public input for mechanized machinery or fish-snatching in a designated Wilderness. Go figure.


Exploding trees — Forest Service Believe It or Not: US Forest Service workers in Montana’s Helena National Forest are using high explosives to fall beetle-killed pine trees that pose danger to scenic highways and recreation sites. An engineering program leader at the USFS Missoula Technology Development Center said the danger of cutting down rotted trees in tough locations is a reason to use explosives. “We just don’t have a whole lot of really good sawyers. The days of going out and doing that activity are long gone in the Forest Service.” Sometimes, fact is stranger than fiction.

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CA wildfire liability bill language emerges from the ashes

CA wildfire liability bill language emerges from the ashes | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

California timber companies and other major landowners would pay significantly less money when found liable for wildfire damage under draft legislation that resurfaced Monday in the Capitol.

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Opinion: CA timber tax would just give industry a fire fine escape

Opinion: CA timber tax would just give industry a fire fine escape | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

In his new budget, Gov. Jerry Brown has quietly inserted provisions that would allow lumber companies and major Northern California landowners to recklessly slash trees and leave the detritus behind to catch fire. So much for Governor Moonbeam.


According to The Sacramento Bee, Brown’s budget provisions would limit liability on the part of lumber companies and landowners in cases where their negligence led to major forest fires. In return, the lumber industry would have to pay an additional 1 percent lumber tax in order to fund forestry oversight.


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A billion-dollar wildfire season looms, with new homes sprouting in its path

A billion-dollar wildfire season looms, with new homes sprouting in its path | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

As most of Minnesota remained at high risk of forest and grassland fire this week, the nation’s wildfire fighter-in-chief told Congress that he’s expecting another unusually tough, billion-dollar, possibly budget-busting year.


And not just in the typically hot zones of California, Arizona and Colorado: “We anticipate another active fire year as above normal wildland fire potential exists across the north central United States,” Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told a Senate committee on Tuesday, “and above-normal wildland fire potential will threaten many parts of the West this summer.”


The service’s middle-of-the-road prediction for its costs in the coming 2015 fire season is $1.225 billion, with a 10 percent chance of exceeding $1.6 billion (and also, to be fair, a 10 percent chance of coming in under $800 million).


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Oregon might lose wildfire insurance

Oregon might lose wildfire insurance | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it
Private timberland owners and the state officials charged with protecting those lands are both in the dark over how consecutive bad fire seasons will change the way Oregon pays to fight catastrophic wildfires.

For nearly four decades, Oregon has purchased an insurance policy that kicks in when wildfires are catastrophic. It’s a unique setup similar to car insurance.

The state has paid a premium of around $1 million and a $25 million deductible before the company chips in. The policy has saved the state as much as $46 million since 1973.

With a month left before spring, the only thing that is certain is that the state and landowners most likely will have to pony up if they want the insurance this year, if Oregon gets a policy at all.

The state sent its top forester, Doug Decker, across the Atlantic to meet face to face with brokers from Lloyd’s of London early this month.

Even now, Decker says, the future is uncertain.

“They’ll be asking themselves the question what can they afford to provide, and we’ll be asking the question what can we afford to pay,” Decker said.
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Massive Forest Fires Could Be Cooling the Earth

Massive Forest Fires Could Be Cooling the Earth | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it
In a paper which appears in Nature Geoscience this month, a group of ecologists demonstrated that these fires scorching Earth's northernmost forests can, paradoxically, have a chilling effect on our climate. A smoldering blaze kicks up plumes of heat-trapping soot, which eventually settle back to the ground, hastening snowmelt. Combustion also releases carbon dioxide, our planet's most important heat-trapping greenhouse gas. These effects, like the heat from the blaze itself, tend to warm the planet up.

But as wildfires eat through forests, they also expose the ground, and in the far north, that means uncovering snow and ice. The dark, leafy landscape becomes a bright, reflective one. In climate science lingo, reflectivity is called albedo, and it's a critically important factor for determining how much of the sun's energy our planet absorbs. By increasing a landscape's albedo, fires can reflect more of the sun's radiation back to space and cool the climate.

Trees, in other words, affect our climate almost as much as humans do.
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Eva Rider's curator insight, February 19, 2:05 AM

amazing - How wonderful that nature is ever moving towards healing and herself through re-balancing. We can help by harmonizing our selves with her.

 

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Sierra Pacific levels corruption allegations in renewed legal fight over Moonlight fire

Sierra Pacific levels corruption allegations in renewed legal fight over Moonlight fire | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

The incendiary legal battle over responsibility for the Moonlight wildfire, which scorched 65,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada seven years ago, has flared anew with charges of corruption and cover-up leveled at federal prosecutors, and state and federal investigators.


The allegations are contained in hundreds of pages of documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento seeking to wipe out a 2012 settlement calling for timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries to pay the federal government $47 million and deed it 22,500 acres of its land to compensate for the devastation of more than 40,000 acres in two national forests in Plumas and Lassen counties, as well as the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting costs.
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The company contends federal prosecutors sat by in pretrial depositions and knowingly allowed the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and U.S. Forest Service investigators to “repeatedly lie under oath about the very foundation of their investigation.”
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One of the documents Sierra Pacific filed is a declaration from a veteran former assistant U.S. attorney, who says he was forced to give up his position as the government’s lead lawyer in the Moonlight case, apparently because he rebuffed pressure from a superior to “engage in unethical conduct as a lawyer.”


The declaration from E. Robert Wright says he was bounced out of the case by his boss, David Shelledy, chief of the civil division in the U.S. attorney’s office, and replaced by a prosecutor with no previous experience in wildland fire recovery cases.
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Although Sierra Pacific agreed to a settlement in 2012 to end its legal fight with federal authorities, it has always contended the fire investigation was flawed and that investigators manipulated evidence and lied under oath about where and how the blaze began.


According to Sierra Pacific, the government could reach into the company’s deep pockets for a big recovery only if it could blame the company for the fire, and that is what motivated investigators to move the blaze’s place of origin to the area where the bulldozer was working and then falsely deny they had originally settled on a different location.

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Explosion, fire rock Plum Creek fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls

Explosion, fire rock Plum Creek fiberboard plant in Columbia Falls | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

After initial reports that several people were missing following a Tuesday afternoon explosion at Plum Creek Timber Co., authorities say everyone who was in the affected facility has been accounted for, and no one was hospitalized.


Both Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry and Plum Creek spokeswomen Kathy Budinick and Kate Tate told reporters that all employees who were in the medium density fiberboard plant are safe.

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Later Tuesday, Budinick told the Missoulian that 68 people were in the medium density fiberboard plant at the time.


An ensuing fire sent plumes of smoke billowing above the plant that was visible for miles. Fire departments from across the Flathead Valley responded to the scene.

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“There is extensive damage to the exterior of the building,” Curry said. “It was a significant explosion.”

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Tate said the cause of the explosions is not yet known.


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Idaho sues Potlatch over deadly wildfire

Idaho sues Potlatch over deadly wildfire | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

Idaho officials have filed a lawsuit against a timber company and its contractor contending they're responsible for a wildfire that killed a 20-year-old Forest Service firefighter and burned more than 300 acres in northern Idaho.


The Lewiston Tribune reports the state filed the lawsuit Monday in 2nd District Court seeking an unspecified amount in monetary damages for costs in fighting the fire.


Anne Veseth of Moscow died Aug. 12, 2012, after being struck and killed by a falling tree while fighting the Steep Corner Fire near Orofino.


The lawsuit names Potlatch Land and Lumber, Potlatch Forest Holdings, Clearwater Paper Corp., Potlatch Corp., and DABCO Inc., a Kamiah-based logging contractor.


Idaho officials contend a logging crew started the fire using equipment that didn't meet Forest Service standards required by law.

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Idaho forest companies seek lawsuit protections

Idaho forest companies seek lawsuit protections | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

Idaho's private forestry companies want to buttress their protections against federal wildfire lawsuits that they say have been costly for companies elsewhere.

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Sierra Pacific Industries paid nearly $50 million and donated 22,500 acres to settle a lawsuit over a 2007 wildfire that prosecutors said was caused by unsupervised, bulldozer-riding employees on a red-flag warning day.

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Jerry Brown signs bill boosting California timber industry

Jerry Brown signs bill boosting California timber industry | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday enacting a new tax on lumber sales and restricting legal damages for wildfires.

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Previously, oversight of California’s vast timber industry was funded with fees on companies in the state. The bill shifts the costs to consumers by placing a 1% tax on lumber sales.


California timber companies supported the change because it eliminates a financial advantage for out-of-state operations, which didn’t need to pay the fee.

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The bill has been controversial because it limits the amount of money government agencies can seek during lawsuits over wildfires caused by negligence. Members of President Obama's Cabinet and federal prosecutors opposed the change, saying it would make it harder to recoup money needed to recover from wildfires. Timber companies have countered by saying federal prosecutors routinely sue for much more than the land is worth in an effort to boost the government's bottom line.

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Sierra Pacific Industries reports record losses in recent fires

Sierra Pacific Industries reports record losses in recent fires | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

A record amount of Sierra Pacific Industries land has been torched by the wildfires burning in eastern Shasta County. The nation's second-largest timber producer estimated that roughly 33,000 acres of its timber had burned as of Wednesday. The Ponderosa Fire alone consumed 17,600 acres of the Anderson-based company's land from Manton east to Lassen Volcanic National Park.


"It's the biggest loss we have ever had on our land," SPI spokesman Mark Pawlicki said.


The company had lost about 14,000 acres in the Bagley Fire, about 24 percent contained Friday afternoon. It is burning west of Big Bend in a remote area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.


Dan Tomascheski, SPI's vice president of resources, said the Ponderosa Fire burned extremely hot. "We saw that one burn pretty much everything, and the fuel-break-type work we had done, the fire was moving so fast, there wasn't enough time for the agencies to get in place and use the fire breaks," Tomascheski said.

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Dazzling Map Reveals Rising Menace Of U.S. Fires

Dazzling Map Reveals Rising Menace Of U.S. Fires | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

A new map, done up in blazing color, plots more than a decade's worth of the massive fires that have hit the United States, offering a revealing portrait of an increasingly common menace.


[Editor: Thanks to Mike Smith at  http://www.linkedin.com/in/southem for this story]

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Feds settle with SPI in Moonlight suit

Feds settle with SPI in Moonlight suit | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

The federal government has settled its suit against Sierra Pacific Industries over who started the 2007 Moonlight Fire, sources reported Thursday, July 5.


The terms of the agreement have not been made public. All parties are expected to sign the agreement by Wednesday, July 11, at which time the terms will be disclosed.


The government sought $700 million in alleged damage to the Plumas and Lassen national forests. Besides suppression, investigation, collection and administration costs, the feds also seek payment for loss of timber, habitat and environmental value as well as costs for rehabilitation and restoration.


The settlement will likely be the largest ever in a case about the origin of a wildfire. Previously, the Storrie Fire settlement, at $102 million, was the richest. Union Pacific settled that case in 2008. The Storrie Fire burned 52,000 acres in the Plumas and Lassen national forests in 2000.

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Big wildfire in Michigan's UP could cost DNR $3.5M

Big wildfire in Michigan's UP could cost DNR $3.5M | Timberland Investment | Scoop.it

The cost of fighting a roughly 33-square-mile fire in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is expected to rise to at least $3.5 million.

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The DNR reported Wednesday that crews fully contained the fire, about three weeks after a lightning strike started it.

The wildfire destroyed 136 structures, including homes, outbuildings and campers. It temporarily closed Tahquamenon Falls State Park. No injuries were reported.

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