FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
Jonathan Cook
Forget Trump’s Deal of the Century: Israel Was Always on Course to Annexation
Andrew Levine
The Biden Question
Stanley L. Cohen
From Tel Aviv to Tallahassee
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Collapses 70 Years Early
Kenn Orphan
Normalizing Atrocity
Ajamu Baraka
No Dare Call It Austerity
Ron Jacobs
The Redemptive Essence of History
David Rosen
Is Socialism Possible in America?
Dave Lindorff
The US as Rogue Nation Number 1
Joseph Natoli
The Mad King in His Time
David Thorstad
Why I’m Skipping Stonewall 50
Michael Welton
Native People: Changing Our Ways of Seeing
Peter Bolton
The US-UK “Special Relationship” is a Farce
Ramzy Baroud
‘World Refugee Day’: Palestinians Keep Their Right of Return Alive Through Hope, Resistance
Louis Proyect
The Douma Gas Attack: What’s the Evidence It was a False Flag?
Binoy Kampmark
Nigel Farage’s Grand Tour of Sabotage
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Sanctions are Sadistic and Spiteful
Norman Solomon
Clueless and Shameless: Joe Biden, Staggering Frontrunner
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong is Far From China’s Biggest Problem
Lawrence Davidson
On the Alleged “Preciousness of Life”
Mel Gurtov
Impeach Trump
Rajan Menon
America’s Suicide Epidemic: It’s Hitting Trump’s Base Hard
Dan Bacher
Oregon Governor Kate Brown Signs Five-Year Fracking Ban Bill
Ralph Nader
Congressional Interns and Congress Redirections—A Meeting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail