FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Using Wildfires as an Excuse to Plunder Forests

President Trump recently blamed environmental protections for the loss of homes and lives in wildfires in California, and followed up that groundless suggestion by strongly implying that increased logging could protect rural towns from these conflagrations. Not to be outdone, his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, complained that “environmental terrorist groups” were, in part, responsible, through legal efforts that had blocked logging of live and dead trees.

This false narrative is part of the Trump administration’s effort to promote the inclusion of extreme logging measures in the farm bill that House and Senate leaders are now negotiating. (The current farm bill expires at the end of the month.)

These provisions, included in the House version of the bill, could exempt an unlimited number of commercial logging projects up to 6,000 acres each in our national forests from environmental analysis and meaningful public comment. This would include logging of old-growth forests and clearcutting of ecologically important post-fire habitat, upon which many imperiled wildlife species depend. Proposed changes would also essentially nullify the application of the Endangered Species Act to federal forests by eliminating the requirement to consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service over impacts to endangered species.

The House provisions represent the gravest threat to federal forests in decades. If they become law, our national forests would become unrecognizable. What’s more, such destructive logging would do nothing to protect homes from wildfires — and might even lead to greater damage by fires.

The danger from wildfires is real, but cutting down more trees is not the solution. By far the most effective way to prevent damage is to focus on basic fire-safety measures for at-risk houses. These include installing fire-resistant roofing, ember-proof exterior vents and guards to prevent wind-borne embers from igniting dry leaves and pine needles in rain gutters and creating “defensible space” by reducing combustible grasses, shrubs and small trees within 100 feet of homes. Research shows these steps can have a major impact on whether houses survive wildfires.

Unfortunately, most counties in the United States don’t incorporate these protections in their building codes or help homeowners maintain defensible space. This must change, but it will not happen if politicians instead pursue misinformed measures like the ones that could end up in the farm bill.

Most of the homes that were destroyed by wildfires over the past year, as in the Tubbs fire and Thomas fire last fall in California, were not primarily in forested areas, but in grasslands, shrub lands and oak savannas. Furthermore, recent research by one of us, Dr. Hanson, and colleagues shows that reducing environmental protections and increasing logging does nothing to curb fires. On the contrary, increased logging can make fires burn more intensely. Logging, including many projects deceptively promoted as forest “thinning,” removes fire-resistant trees, reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy and leaves behind highly combustible twigs and branches.

While forest density and the concentration of dead trees generally appear to have a minimal impact on the intensity of wildfires, data show that climate-change-driven drought and abnormal weather is increasingly influencing fire behavior and the length of the fire season. The provisions that pro-logging politicians seek to include in the farm bill run directly counter to what we should be doing to slow global warming.

Scientists have concluded that to reach minimum climate change mitigation goals, we must not only rapidly transition from fossil fuels to clean energy but also significantly increase forest protection, since forests are a significant natural mechanism for absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

It would be both reprehensible and counterproductive if politicians exploit the tragic loss of homes and lives in wildfires to advance the economic interests of the logging industry.

This column originally appeared in the New York Times.

Chad T. Hanson is the director of the John Muir Project, which focuses on the management of the country’s national forests.

Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club.

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
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail