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.

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex