Wilderness Protection Reduces Risk of Wildfires

Some of the folks opposed to protecting lands as wilderness, national parks, national monuments and other designations often cite their fear of wildfire, suggesting that without “active management” (code for logging), these lands will create high-severity blazes.

But like a lot of mythology surrounding wildfires, the opposite is true. Active management actually increases the likelihood of wildfire.

A recent study published in Ecosphere gets at this issue. In their paper, “Does increased forest protection correspond to higher fire severity in frequent-fire forests of the western United States?” the researchers looked at 1,500 wildfires in ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests across the West.

What they discovered, contrary to popular opinion, is that protected areas which presumably have higher biomass and fuels loads had lower-severity fires than forests that were actively managed.

This is not surprising if you understand why and how forests burn.

First, what burns in a forest fire are primarily the fine fuels like needles, small branches, grass and shrubs. That is why in the aftermath of a fire, there are snags. The tree boles themselves seldom burn.

Logging and thinning tend to put more fuels on the ground and promotes the growth of easily combustible fuels like grasses and shrubs.

Secondly, thinning/logging opens up the forest to drying and wind penetration. These are the primary ingredients that promote fire spread. Fuels do not drive large fires, rather extreme climate/weather conditions. When you have low humidity, high temperatures and most importantly, high winds, wildfires roar through all forest stands.

Active forest management (thinning/logging) may reduce the amount of total biomass like large logs which don’t ignite and burn easily in the first place, while at the same logging increases the fine fuels and enhances the conditions for fire spread.

Plus, since most wildfires are human-caused and often occur along roads, keeping roadless lands free of logging roads, also reduces overall fire starts.

Thus, one of the additional benefits of setting aside large acreage of wilderness or national monuments is a net reduction in high severity fires and a reduction in the costs of firefighting.


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
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South