FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Megafires, Climate Change and Industrial Logging

Recently Dr. Paul Hessburg gave his “megafire” presentation in Helena, Montana. Dr. Hessburg’s message has some excellent points of agreement such as the need to limit home construction in the Wildland Urban Interface, and the ecological necessity of allowing fires to burn in backcountry areas. He gives a passing nod to many other subjects that are mentioned, but not emphasized like the value of wildfire in creation of habitat for some wildlife or how climate change is challenging our ideas about wildfire.

However, Dr. Hessburg’s program gives far too much attention to ponderosa pine forest fire regimes of low severity but high frequency (i.e. fires every 10-20 years).

Most forest cover in Montana as well as the rest of the West consists of lodgepole pine, spruce, fir, and other species that have naturally long fire intervals. Why is this important? Because fire suppression to the degree it might have been successful in low elevation forests of ponderosa pine, has not significantly affected higher elevation forests.

When you have extreme fire weather—that is drought, high temps, low humidity and especially wind—you have conditions where fuel reductions cannot effectively slow or stop fires.

Most acreage burning in any year occurs during extreme fire weather conditions because of a few very large blazes.

Since one can’t predict where a fire will occur, most fuel reductions, even if effective, will never encounter a fire. We do know what we don’t want to burn. Our communities. The only places fuel reductions might make sense is immediately around our towns.

The third problem with Hessburg’s talk is he essentially downplays the role of climatic conditions in past and present fires. During the period from late 1930s to mid-1980s, it was moister and cooler in the West due to climate. We did not have any significant wildfires. But this is the era of “successful fire suppression.”

However, in the late 1980s the weather changed to warmer and drier. Droughts became common. Winds blew harder. And not surprisingly we have larger fires.

Finally, Hessburg suffers from the Industrial Forestry Paradigm. He continuously characterizes large fires as “damaging” or “destructive.” He has a green tree bias.

Ecologically speaking dead trees are critical to healthy forest ecosystems. Many species of wildlife and plants depend on large, high severity fires for their existence. They live in mortal fear of green forests. And one of the most important ways dead wood is created is the result of wildfire and bark beetles.

In fact, the clear majority of “ecological work” done by wildfires occurs during the so-called “megafires.” If Hessburg really believed that wildfire plays an important ecological role than he and others must learn to love them or at least accept them.

Climate change is exacerbating the weather factors that drive large fires. Fuel reductions and other “solutions” prescribed by Dr. Hessburg and his employer the Forest Service are doomed to failure. Long term we need to deal with human caused CO2 sources, and reverse the global warming. We also need to cease building in WUI and recognize that we need to accept large wildfires both for its ecological value and simply because we can’t do much about it.

Unfortunately, most of Hessburg’s talk reinforces what people think they know about wildfires. While his presentation has some positive aspects, he misses the chance to change attitudes about fire.

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.

March 20, 2019
T.J. Coles
Countdown to “Full Spectrum Dominance”
W. T. Whitney
Re-Targeting Cuba: Why Title III of U.S. Helms-Burton Act will be a Horror Show
Kenneth Surin
Ukania’s Great Privatization Heist
Howard Lisnoff
“Say It Ain’t So, Joe:” the Latest Neoliberal from the War and Wall Street Party
Walter Clemens
Jailed Birds of a Feather May Sing Together
George Ochenski
Failing Students on Climate Change
Cesar Chelala
The Sweet Smell of Madeleine
Binoy Kampmark
Global Kids Strike
Nicky Reid
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Requiem for a Fictional Party
Elliot Sperber
Empedocles and You and Me 
March 19, 2019
Paul Street
Socialism Curiously Trumps Fascism in U.S. Political Threat Reporting
Jonah Raskin
Guy Standing on Anxiety, Anger and Alienation: an Interview About “The Precariat”
Patrick Cockburn
The Brutal Legacy of Bloody Sunday is a Powerful Warning to Those Hoping to Save Brexit
Robert Fisk
Turning Algeria Into a Necrocracy
John Steppling
Day of Wrath
Robin Philpot
Truth, Freedom and Peace Will Prevail in Rwanda
Victor Grossman
Women Marchers and Absentees
Binoy Kampmark
The Dangers of Values: Brenton Tarrant, Fraser Anning and the Christchurch Shootings
Jeff Sher
Let Big Pharma Build the Wall
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail