FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Myth That Logging Prevents Forest Fires

shutterstock_292324574

The Forest Service solution to large wildfires is more logging, but this prescription ignores the growing body of scientific research that suggests that logging/thinning/prescribed burning does not work under severe fire conditions.

Why is this important?

Because the vast majority of all fires self-extinguish whether we do anything or not. However, all large fires — the ones that are a threat to communities — burn under what are termed “severe fire weather.” These are fires burning under conditions of low humidity, high temperatures, persistent drought and, most importantly, high winds.

If you get these conditions in the same place as an ignition source, you cannot stop the fire until the weather conditions change. Blazes under such conditions regularly burn through fuel treatments — even clearcuts. In fact, fuel treatments can even make fire spread quicker by opening the forest to greater drying and wind penetration.

Here’s a small sample of conclusions that cast doubt upon Forest Service policies.

“Finally by current standards, even our best fuel reduction do not appear to be adequate to provide much assistance in the control of high intensity wind-driven fires. If fuel treatment is the answer, it will need to be done on a level that is far more extensive (area) and intensive (fuel reduction) than we are now accomplishing — even on our best fuel breaks.” Source: Wildfire Cast Management

“fuel treatments … cannot realistically be expected to eliminate large area burned in severe fire weather years.” Source: Gedalof, Z., D.L. Peterson and N.J. Mantua (2005). Atmospheric, climatic and ecological controls on extreme wildfire years in the northwestern United States. Ecological Applications 15: 154-174.

“Extreme environmental conditions … overwhelmed most fuel treatment effects…. This included almost all treatment methods including prescribed burning and thinning…. Suppression efforts had little benefit from fuel modifications.”

“It may not be necessary or effective to treat fuels in adjacent areas in order to suppress fires before they reach homes; rather, it is the treatment of the fuels immediately proximate to the residences, and the degree to which the residential structures themselves can ignite that determine if the residences are vulnerable.”

“The majority of acreage burned by wildfire in the US occurs in a very few wildfires under extreme conditions (Strauss et al., 1989; Brookings Institution, 2005). Under these extreme conditions suppression efforts are largely ineffective.”

Source: Objectives and considerations for wildland fuel treatment in forested ecosystems of the interior western United States Elizabeth D. Reinhardt *, Robert E. Keane, David E. Calkin, Jack D. Cohen.

We cannot halt large fires through fuel treatments. The best way to save homes is not by logging more of the forest, but by implementing fire-wise policies in communities that reduces the flammability of homes.

I suspect many in the Forest Service, and especially firefighters, know this, but the agency is continuously under attack from politicians, rural communities, and the timber industry to increase the amount of subsidized timber from federal lands. Fire prevention is the excuse used to justify these sales.

Plus, logging/thinning gives the agency reasonable deniability. When a fire overwhelms firefighting efforts, the Forest Service can always say we did what we could to protect the community.

It is easier to log the forest than face the wrath and accusations from ill-informed community members that if only the FS had logged more, than the “disaster” could have been avoided.

The truth is that the responsibility for avoiding disasters lies not with the Forest Service, but with individual private landowners, and county commissioners who continuously approve new subdivisions in the Wildlands Urban interface.

But the Forest Service can’t say this publicly.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

Weekend Edition
May 25, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
A Major Win for Trump’s War Cabinet
Andrew Levine
Could Anything Cause the GOP to Dump Trump?
Pete Tucker
Is the Washington Post Soft on Amazon?
Conn Hallinan
Iran: Sanctions & War
Jeffrey St. Clair
Out of Space: John McCain, Telescopes and the Desecration of Mount Graham
John Laforge
Senate Puts CIA Back on Torture Track
David Rosen
Santa Fe High School Shooting: an Incel Killing?
Gary Leupp
Pompeo’s Iran Speech and the 21 Demands
Jonathan Power
Bang, Bang to Trump
Robert Fisk
You Can’t Commit Genocide Without the Help of Local People
Brian Cloughley
Washington’s Provocations in the South China Sea
Louis Proyect
Requiem for a Mountain Lion
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Israel: a Match Made in Hell
Kevin Martin
The Libya Model: It’s Not Always All About Trump
Susie Day
Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”
Pepe Escobar
How Iran Will Respond to Trump
Sarah Anderson
When CEO’s Earn 5,000 Times as Much as a Company’s Workers
Ralph Nader
Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities
Chris Wright
The Significance of Karl Marx
David Schultz
Indict or Not: the Choice Mueller May Have to Make and Which is Worse for Trump
George Payne
The NFL Moves to Silence Voices of Dissent
Razan Azzarkani
America’s Treatment of Palestinians Has Grown Horrendously Cruel
Katalina Khoury
The Need to Evaluate the Human Constructs Enabling Palestinian Genocide
George Ochenski
Tillerson, the Truth and Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department
Jill Richardson
Our Immigration Debate Needs a Lot More Humanity
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again a Slaughterhouse Raid Turns Up Abuses
Judith Deutsch
Pension Systems and the Deadly Hand of the Market
Shamus Cooke
Oregon’s Poor People’s Campaign and DSA Partner Against State Democrats
Thomas Barker
Only a Mass Struggle From Below Can End the Bloodshed in Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
Australia’s China Syndrome
Missy Comley Beattie
Say “I Love You”
Ron Jacobs
A Photographic Revenge
Saurav Sarkar
War and Moral Injury
Clark T. Scott
The Shell Game and “The Bank Dick”
Seth Sandronsky
The State of Worker Safety in America
Thomas Knapp
Making Gridlock Great Again
Manuel E. Yepe
The US Will Have to Ask for Forgiveness
Laura Finley
Stop Blaming Women and Girls for Men’s Violence Against Them
Rob Okun
Raising Boys to Love and Care, Not to Kill
Christopher Brauchli
What Conflicts of Interest?
Winslow Myers
Real Security
George Wuerthner
Happy Talk About Weeds
Abel Cohen
Give the People What They Want: Shame
David Yearsley
King Arthur in Berlin
Douglas Valentine
Memorial Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail