Sacramento Bee Misleads Readers on Logging in Yosemite

Author’s Note: I sent the article below to the Sacramento Bee to correct a seriously misleading and inaccurate story that the Bee ran a few days ago about the lawsuit that my organization, the John Muir Project, has brought to halt illegal commercial logging in Yosemite National Park. The Bee did not dispute my allegations of misleading and inaccurate content in their story—an article which promoted a dangerous logging bill, H.R. 8168, that would rollback environmental laws and essentially hand over giant sequoia groves on public lands, including national parks, to the logging industry. In fact, the Bee did not offer any substantive response, but nevertheless refused to print my article correcting their major factual omissions, errors, and highly misleading statements. Every fire season the Sacramento Bee, through its articles and editorials of the Bee, promotes more commercial logging in remote forests on federal public lands, knowing that this means few resources, and little attention, will be devoted to creating fire-safe communities through proven methods like home-hardening, defensible space pruning within 100 feet of homes, fire-safe community shelters, and evacuation assistance. Knowing that the logging is making climate change worse. And, every fire season, large fires, driven by weather and climate, sweep rapidly and intensely through thousands of acres, where commercial logging had been conducted under the deceptive guise of “thinning”, before burning down and destroying towns, often with lives lost. Towns like Paradise (Camp fire of 2018), Grizzly Flats (Caldor fire of 2021), Greenville (Dixie fire of 2021), and many others. It has already happened again this year, in New Mexico and elsewhere, and will likely happen again later this year, due to the failed logging policies being promoted by the Sacramento Bee, some other news outlets, and Republican and Democrat politicians who have aligned with logging interests that fund their reelection campaigns. This destruction of towns and loss of lives is preventable, if we recognize what most scientists are telling us (those who aren’t funded by logging interests) and protect our public forests from logging, while redirecting current logging subsidies into a jobs program to create fire-safe communities.

The Sacramento Bee misinformed its readers about logging occurring in Yosemite National Park, and the current Washburn fire near the Mariposa giant sequoia grove (“Did thinning help the Yosemite forest survive the Washburn fire?”, July 17, 2022). First, the Bee’s article repeatedly conveys the notion that the so-called “thinning” occurring in Yosemite National Park’s forests pertains to “brush” and “small trees” the size of “Christmas trees”, and that only a “few larger logs” are being removed. That is inaccurate. I have been to the locations in the Merced giant sequoia grove, and Yosemite Valley, where “thinning” is occurring, and it is commercial logging that includes widespread removal of mature trees. In many areas the logging is so intensive that few, if any, trees remain. I communicated this to the Bee, and sent photos documenting this logging.

In an interview last week, I informed the Bee that the John Muir Project’s lawsuit only asks Yosemite National Park to comply with their own 2017 Fire Management Plan, which prioritizes wildland fire and prescribed fire as the management approaches in 99% of the Park. Yosemite’s Fire Plan allows noncommercial thinning of small trees up to 6 inches in diameter, or up to 12 inches in diameter in a few locations, within this 99% if the Park deems it necessary in advance of fire. The lawsuit does not seek to change this, and only seeks to halt illegal commercial logging and clearcutting of mature trees in the Park.

Second, the Bee’s article claims that “111 scientists have signed their names to 41 different academic papers attacking Hanson’s and his colleagues’ arguments about forest health and wildfire behavior.” The Bee omitted any mention of the fact that, in June of 2020, over 200 scientists urged Congress and the Administration to move away from logging, including commercial thinning, because it does not stop wildfires and often makes them more severe, while making climate change worse. I sent this scientist letter to the Bee previously and discussed it in interviews.

In the fall of 2021, over 200 climate scientists and ecologists once again weighed in on this issue, concluding the following:

We have watched as one large wildfire after another has swept through tens of thousands of acres where commercial thinning had previously occurred due to extreme fire weather driven by climate change. Removing trees can alter a forest’s microclimate, and can often increase fire intensity. In contrast, forests protected from logging, and those with high carbon biomass and carbon storage, more often burn at equal or lower intensities when fires do occur.

The Bee’s article discussed the “Save Our Sequoias Act”, HR 8168, but omitted any mention of the fact that this deceptively-named logging bill is strongly opposed by over 80 environmental groups because it would override NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, and other bedrock environmental laws to allow commercial logging of mature and old-growth trees, and clearcutting, in sequoia groves within Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and three national forests.

Finally, the Bee mischaracterized the Washburn fire. While the fire burned partially into areas of the Mariposa sequoia grove that had previous prescribed fire, and stopped, it also burned partially into unmanaged portions of the Mariposa grove, and stopped. The Bee didn’t mention the tens of thousands of gallons of aerial water drops, and the massive sprinkler system, in the Mariposa grove, which soaked the ground before the fire got there. It wasn’t about “thinning” at all.

Chad Hanson is a research ecologist with the John Muir Project. He is a co-editor and co-author of “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” and the author of “Smokescreen.”