FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging

The timber industry and the U.S. Forest Service aggressively market the idea that reducing fuels through logging/thinning programs will result in a significant decrease in acreage burned, firefighting costs and the number of high-severity fires.

However, it is climate/weather, not fuels, that drive all large wildfires.

The factors responsible for all large wildfires are drought, low humidity, high temperatures and, most importantly, wind. If you have those ingredients in the same place with an ignition, you get a wildfire that can’t be stopped — until the weather changes.

The recent extreme drought that gripped California was the biggest factor in creating the ideal conditions for large, high severity blazes.

the very fires that logging/thinning programs seek to control and stop are the wildfires burning under extreme conditions that cannot be controlled through fuel reduction efforts. These wildfires are few in number but are responsible for the vast majority of all acreage burned annually.

For instance, a total of 56,320 fires burned over 9 million acres in the Rocky Mountains between 1980-2003. Approximately 98 percent of these fires (55,220) burned less than 500 acres and accounted for 4 percent of the area burned. By contrast, Only, 2 percent of all fires, burning under extreme weather conditions, accounted for 96 percent the acreage burned. And 0.1 percent (50) of blazes were responsible for half of the acres charred.

Furthermore, the probability of a wildfire encountering a fuel reduction is very small, even if they did work as some suggest, making most fuel reductions essentially useless but still leaving behind the negative impacts of logging on soils, watersheds, nutrients, carbon storage, wildlife habitat losses, and consequences like spread of weeds, sedimentation from roads into streams and so on.

Plus, there is evidence that timber management (i.e. logging) can increase fire severity. A recently published study concluded: “We investigated the relationship between protected status and fire severity applied to 1m500 fires affecting 9.5 million hectares between 1984 and 2014 in pine (Pinus ponderosa, Pinus Jeffrey) and mixed-conifer forests of western United States. … We found forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel.”

The Congressional Research Service reached a similar conclusion. “From a quantitative perspective, the CRS study indicates a very weak relationship between acres logged and the extent and severity of forest fires. … The data indicate that fewer acres burned in areas where logging activity was limited.”

These studies suggest that thinning/logging is a very inefficient and ineffective means of altering wildfire behavior — especially under extreme fire weather.

By contrast, study after study has concluded that protecting homes is best accomplished by reducing the flammability of the structures, not logging the forest. As one study asserted. “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.”

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books including two dealing with fire ecology and five dealing with California parks and wilderness.

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.

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail