FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests

We often hear that our forests are “unhealthy” and among the indicators of forest ill-health are large acreages burning in wildfires. However, if you look back a few centuries or more, you find that we have a fire deficit.

Many paleoclimate studies document major wildfires long before there was “fire suppression.”

Indeed, one study by Martin and Stephens estimated that in pre-contact days, between 5.5-19 million acres burned annually in California alone. That is more acreage than typically burns in the entire United States, except for particularly dry years.

Or how about the 1910 Big Burn that charred 3-3.5 million acres of Idaho and Montana, long before there was any effective firefighting ability?

The very time when many suggest we had “successful” fire suppression is also a period between the late 1930s and 1980 when the climate was cooler and moister. What happens when you have cooler, moister conditions? Well, you have fewer ignitions and less fire spread.

Basically, when the climate is cool and moist, Nature puts out fires and we take credit for the deed. When the climate is dry, hot, and windy, Nature defeats our best efforts to control blazes.

Any fire scientist will tell you that major factors in large fires include major drought, high temperatures, low humidity and high winds. These factors are driving large wildfires, not fuels.

The same factors are also responsible for the beetle kill and other natural agents of change.

Furthermore, dead trees are less flammable than live trees. Most of the acreage burned annually occurs in green forests which have an abundance of flammable resin soaked fine burnable materials like needles and cones. The bole of trees does not readily burn which is why you have snags left after a fire. So, a forest of dead snags is less combustible than a green, drought-stressed forest.

Another misleading idea conveyed by proponents of logging is that fire suppression has affected all forest stands. To degree that fire suppression has played any role in expanding fire acreage burned, it only applies to the lowest, driest ponderosa pine forests. All other plant communities including lodgepole pine, spruce, fir, even juniper and sagebrush naturally have long intervals between blazes, often running into the hundreds of years.

Therefore, even if fire suppression were effective — an increasingly contested assumption — most forest types are well within their historic fire regimes and do not need “restoration.”

Finally, logging the forests does not restore our forest ecosystems. Forest ecosystems depend on episodic and periodic high mortality from wildfire, bugs, drought and other factors. Many plants and animals depend on the dead logs and down wood for their survival and live in mortal fear of “green” forests.

A healthy forest ecosystem is one dominated by occasional large high severity fires, major beetle outbreaks and high mortality from occasional severe drought. Assertions to the contrary demonstrate a failure to understand science and ecology.

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 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
Bach-A-Doodle-Doo
Elliot Sperber
Aunt Anna’s Antenna
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail