Treat homes, not forests, to reduce wildfire risk

Recently Donald Trump used his executive authority to mandate increased logging of our public lands with the goal of reducing wildfire threat to communities. His order instructs land managers to treat (read log) 8.45 million acres of land and cut 4.4 million board feet of timber ostensibly to reduce fire hazard.

Unfortunately, the mandate ignores the latest fire science which suggests you start at the home and work outwards to reduce fire risk to communities.  It’s time to change our fire policy to reflect what we are learning about the role of global heating in fire ecology and forest ecology.

Trying to minimize fire which is natural to most plant community in the West is wrong-headed. Instead, we must promote effective strategies that allow communities to persist in fire-prone ecosystems. We do this by reducing home construction in fire-prone landscapes and by reducing the flammability of homes.

Current fire policies focus on promoting forest alterations, mainly through logging, to change fire severity.   It is the lack of high severity fire that impoverishes many forest ecosystems.

Trump’s policies will harm forest ecosystems, while logging is one of the leading contributors to global GHG emissions, exacerbating global heating.

Most fires are small-burning less than 5 acres. These fires occur during low to moderate fire weather conditions. Though they account for 95-98% of all fires, they burn a small percentage of the landscape, and few threaten communities.

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Industrial forestry contributes to the West’s wildfire crisis

Author Craig Patterson

Imagine words so prophetic yet so misunderstood that agencies and science get sabotaged by ignorance and greed.

The U.S, Forest Service refuses to admit that past management has had significant ongoing consequences and that we can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.

Case in point: the wildfires currently raging throughout the West.

The Forest Service says we are experiencing these cataclysmic wildfires due to fire suppression and climate change, and that thinning the forests will reduce the danger.

Now witness California, Oregon and worldwide, as wildfire records are broken yearly.

Forty years ago, I remember the old bulls saying, “We don’t put out fires in the woods. Either the rains come or they run into an old growth forest and fall to the ground as a surface fire and go out.”

Now, with 95 percent of the old growth gone, only the rains really help extinguish fires of any size and consequence. Until we acknowledge and understand the connections between past practices and current realities, we will continue to experience uncharacteristic fire danger.

The Forest Service and many scientists ignore these most significant changes that have occurred in essentially three generations. This is why crown fires have become far more common today and are nearly impossible to be put out. They are consequences of past management.

Logging and replacing healthy, diverse forests with tree plantations has eliminated a key factor that seriously affects wildfire behavior (surface fire) and corresponding intensity. Rain is the other factor. Last year we spent the summer fighting uncontrollable wildfires. Then the rains returned, and three days later — problem over.

Healthy intact forests maintain shade and absorb the rain in aquifers, moderating erosion and drought while supporting diverse species in symbiotic harmony. Clearcutting causes soil, water and slash to heat, leading to erosion and ultimately leaving no forest if the integrity of the soil goes.

In the beginning, Gifford Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt defined the mission of the Forest Service to obtain “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.”

But after World War II, automation and technology drove the Forest Service to pursue the greatest good for fewest number for shortest time. Between 1950 and 1990, the Willamette National Forest cut more than 25.5 billion board feet of timber, whereas in the previous 58 years it cut 3 billion to 4 billion board feet. Where and how are the environmental, economic and social consequences accounted for in management or science? Meanwhile, the extent and consequences of today’s wildfires are too overwhelming to ignore.

Now we have our sacred cow — restoration as a focus and a determinant of places and projects to fund. However, ignoring past logging consequences allows current logging to persist. Today many restoration technologies and practices actually follow and supplement industrial forestry while consequences and lessons remain disconnected.

Today McKenzie Bridge is ground zero for the Goose Project, a restoration project which has been forced upon us under the guise of making us more “fire safe.”

Yet I’ve seen log trucks rolling by with three or four logs to the bunk. Old growth trees pushing 4 feet in diameter being cut in the name of “restoration.” Cutting these big trees makes us less fire safe, not more.

Little about industrial forestry is sustainable — environmentally economically or socially; yesterday, today or tomorrow. It’s a short boom followed by protracted bust every time. Privatized profits and socialized liabilities do not make for healthy forests or healthy communities.

The jury is in if we see the forest holistically and with common sense. How we repair the blind spots in our wildfire management philosophy and practice are questions that need to be asked. Our children and grandchildren depend upon it.

Craig Patterson of McKenzie Bridge has been a member of a forestry cooperative and delivered a paper to the National Roundtable on Sustainable forests in Washington, D.C, in 2005.

Fighting wildfire from the inside out

Paradise Wildfire Photo Shows Mature Trees

November 26, 2018

In this photo of the remains of a section of the Paradise wildfire, note the number of mature trees standing around and among the all the burned houses.

View this video to find out how to protect your home from wildfire:

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 ( and the author of “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” (Elsevier, 2015).