President Trump is wrong about wildfire prevention

By Chad Hanson

With the shocking loss of thousands of homes and dozens of lives in the Camp and Woolsey fires in Northern and Southern California, people are looking for answers as they try to understand how a tragedy such as this can be prevented in the future.

As people struggled to evacuate, President Donald Trump in a tweet blamed the fires on poor forest management and repeated the claims before his visit to California. While Trump did not explicitly call for an expansion of logging in his latest response, he has previously touted this strategy as a way to curb fires. Meanwhile, the federal government is moving to allow commercial logging in areas such as the Los Padres National Forest outside Santa Barbara, claiming it will prevent fires. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also blamed “environmental terrorist groups” for preventing the government from properly managing forests.

Chad Hanson

It is deeply troubling that Trump and his administration would support logging as a way to curb fires when studies have shown it’s ineffective. In the most comprehensive scientific analysis conducted on the issue of forest management and fire intensity — which looked at more than 1,500 fires on tens of millions of acres across the Western United States over three decades — we found that forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging actually tend to burn much more intensely, not less.

Forest ‘Restoration’ Rule is Ruse to Increase Logging

By Chad T. Hanson
January 31, 2018

The U.S. Forest Service recently proposed a sweeping effort to identify aspects of environmental analysis and public participation to be “reduced” or “eliminated” regarding commercial logging projects in our national forests. The Trump administration is attempting to spin this as an effort to promote “increased efficiency” for the expansion of forest “restoration,” but these are just euphemisms for more destructive logging.

Last summer, the Trump administration endorsed the Resilient Federal Forests Act, an extreme bill that would dramatically curtail environmental analysis and restrict public participation to increase logging of old forests and post-fire clear-cutting in our national forests. The bill passed the House of Representatives in the fall but stalled in the Senate. This new regulatory proposal is simply an effort to implement the same pro-logging agenda without going through Congress.

The proposal targets an astonishing “80 million acres of National Forest System land” for commercial logging — much of it comprising old-growth forests and remote roadless areas — based on the claim that logging and clear-cutting of these areas is needed, ostensibly to save them from fire and native bark beetles. Not so.

The overwhelming scientific consensus among U.S. forest and fire ecologists is that these natural processes are essential for the ecological health of our forests, including large events that create significant patches of dead trees, known as “snag forest habitat.” It may seem counterintuitive to some, but the science is telling us, loudly and clearly, that this unique forest habitat is comparable to old-growth forest in terms of native biodiversity and wildlife abundance. Many native species depend upon patches of dead trees, and the understory vegetation that grows in such patches, for food and homes. Forests naturally regenerate after fires, including the largest ones such as the 2013 Rim Fire in the Sierra Nevada, creating a complex and rich ecosystem.

The Trump administration’s claim that increased logging will curb forest fires is equally suspect. Science tells us that forests with the fewest environmental protections, and the most logging, actually burn more intensely, not less. This is because logging companies remove relatively non-combustible tree trunks, and leave behind flammable “slash debris” — kindling-like branches and twigs — and remove much of the forest canopy, which otherwise provides cooling shade.

The Forest Service has now begun promoting the notion that the 257,000-acre Rim Fire emitted about 12 million tons of CO2, based on a computer model that makes the mythological assumption that trees are essentially vaporized during fires. This is part of the “catastrophic wildfire” narrative that the Trump administration has weaponized to argue for rollbacks of environmental laws, and more commercial logging.

In fact, even in the most intensely burned patches, only about 2 percent of the total biomass of trees is actually consumed. Don’t be fooled. Trump’s proposal is nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on our national forests for the benefit of the logging industry.

Chad T. Hanson is director of the John Muir Project (www.johnmuirproject.org) and the author of “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” (Elsevier, 2015).

Free Calder Creek Project

Forest Unlimited advocates for daylighting (bringing to the surface) major creeks that have been confined underground in large pipes. We want them to live again with a riparian forest, life-giving daylight and oxygen where citizens can see, appreciate, enjoy and protect them. Where possible we want bicycle trails along them.

Our first such project is the Free Calder Creek Campaign in the City of Sebastopol. Calder Creek flows through Ives Park into an underground culvert beneath two parking lots and the two branches of Highway 116: Petaluma Avenue and Main Street. The culvert empties into a channel feeding the Laguna de Santa Rosa adjacent to the Joe Rodota multi-use trail.

Calder Creek culvert.
Calder Creek runs through an ugly culvert behind a chain-link fence in Ives Park in Sebastopol.

Our proposal to the City is this: Daylight the creek from Ives Park to the Laguna. Plant a greenway along the Creek. Add an extension of the multi-use trail along Calder Creek to the park beneath Petaluma Ave. and Main Street. If the city-owned parking lot between Petaluma Ave. and Main Street is sold to a developer to construct first-floor commercial along with second story residential, some of the cost of daylighting the creek could be born by the developers. It would be an ideal location for both residents (close to the park, Laguna and business district) and business (near the commercial district). A greenway across the highway would be useful for attracting tourists to stop, dine and shop in Sebastopol. It can promote events in the park and the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. It could provide environmental education for students of the Charter School adjacent to the Creek.