We Can’t Log Our Way to Fewer Forest Fires

In a meeting in Bozeman, Montana, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) once again opined that more “active” forest management (read logging) would reduce wildfires.

This may make “intuitive” sense to some, but I can also show you that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and “intuitively” argue that the sun circles the Earth. We all know that the Earth circles the sun despite the daily apparent movement of the sun across the sky.

What Daines and other “active” management supporters fail to realize is that climate/weather, not fuels, is what drives large fires. When we have drought, with the right combination of low humidity, high temperatures and especially wind, you get fires.

If you have cool, moist conditions, you don’t get fires. This is why the coastal forests in Alaska where it rains nearly all summer almost never experience wildfires despite the fact that they harbor far more biomass (read fuel) than anything here in the Rockies.

Furthermore, live trees, particularly in a drought when fires occur, are more incendiary than dead trees. Green trees have fine fuels of flammable, resin-packed needles and branches, which are what burns in a blaze–the main tree bole typically does not burn well which is why we get snags after a fire.

This is not hidden science. There is much in the scientific literature that finds under extreme fire weather thinning and active management either make no difference in fire occurrence, nor will reduce the likelihood of fire spread.

For instance, when I Google bark beetles and wildfire, I immediately come to a study published by the Ecological Society of America titled “Does wildfire likelihood increase following insect outbreaks in conifer forests?”

The article states: “research shows that high-severity blazes typically occur under extreme fire weather, where research again suggests, logging and other “vegetation treatments” like prescribed burning are ineffective at halting wind-driven fires.”

Another study concluded that “Managing forest fuels is often invoked in policy discussions as a means of minimizing the growing threat of wildfire to ecosystems and WUI communities across the West. However, the effectiveness of this approach at broad scales is limited….the area treated has little relationship to trends in the area burned, which is influenced primarily by patterns of drought and warming”

A paper published by forest service researchers concluded: “Extreme environmental conditions . ..overwhelmed most fuel treatment effects. . . This included almost all treatment methods including prescribed burning and thinning. . .. Suppression efforts had little benefit from fuel modifications.”

A study published in 2016 looked at the relationship between “active” management and wildfire severity. “We investigated the relationship between protected status and fire severity applied to 1500 fires affecting 9.5 million hectares between 1984 and 2014 in pine (Pinus ponderosa, Pinus jeffreyi) 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.”

I could go on with numerous examples that conclude that “active” management (read logging), yet many politicians continue to harp on the idea that we need more logging, and almost never acknowledge that climate/weather is what drives our wildfires. In the era of warming climate and drought is it any wonder we are seeing more fires. Not if you know much about fire science.

Instead of hiding behind the false assertion that they are improving forest health and the flawed idea that logging will reduce wildfires, politicians like Senator Daines would serve us all better if did what he could to reduce Greenhouse Gases and climate warming, along with helping communities to protect themselves by reducing the flammability of homes. We cannot log our way to fewer fires.


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.

July 22, 2019
Michael Hudson
U.S. Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses
Evaggelos Vallianatos
If Japan Continues Slaughtering Whales, Boycott the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Mike Garrity
Emergency Alert For the Wild Rockies
Dean Baker
The U.S.-China Trade War: Will Workers Lose?
Jonah Raskin
Paul Krassner, 1932-2019: American Satirist 
David Swanson
U.S. Troops Back in Saudi Arabia: What Could Go Wrong?
Robert Fisk
American Visitors to the Gestapo Museum Draw Their Own Conclusions
John Feffer
Trump’s Send-Them-Back Doctrine
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
Landscape of Anguish and Palliatives: Predation, Addiction and LOL Emoticons in the Age of Late Stage Capitalism
Karl Grossman
A Farmworkers Bill of Rights
Gary Leupp
Omar and Trump
Robert Koehler
Fighting Climate Change Means Ending War
Susie Day
Mexicans Invade US, Trump Forced to Go Without Toothbrush
Elliot Sperber
Hey Diddle Diddle, Like Nero We Fiddle
Weekend Edition
July 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
The Blob Fought the Squad, and the Squad Won
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.
Anthony DiMaggio
System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
Andrew Levine
South Carolina Speaks for Whom?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man
Bruce E. Levine
The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t
Evaggelos Vallianatos
How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government
Pete Dolack
All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago
Ramzy Baroud
Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis
Ron Jacobs
Dancing with Dr. Benway
Joseph Natoli
Gaming the Climate
Marshall Auerback
The Numbers are In, and Trump’s Tax Cuts are a Bust
Louisa Willcox
Wild Thoughts About the Wild Gallatin
Kenn Orphan
Stranger Things, Stranger Times
Mike Garrity
Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem
Helen Yaffe
Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures
Brian Cloughley
What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America
David Underhill
The Inequality of Equal Pay
David Macaray
Adventures in Script-Writing
David Rosen
Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression
Nick Pemberton
This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz
Dan Bacher
Chevron’s Oil Spill Endangers Kern County
J.P. Linstroth
A Racist President and Racial Trauma
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Julian Assange
Rose Ramirez – Dedrick Asante-Mohammad
A Trump Plan to Throw 50,000 Kids Out of Their Schools
David Bravo
Precinct or Neighborhood? How Barcelona Keeps Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Global Capital
Ralph Nader
Will Any Disgusted Republicans Challenge Trump in the Primaries?
Dave Lindorff
The BS about Medicare-for-All Has to Stop!
Arnold August
Why the Canadian Government is Bullying Venezuela
Tom Clifford
China and the Swine Flu Outbreak
Missy Comley Beattie
Highest Anxiety