The Deschutes National Forest with the blessings of the Deschutes Collaborative is busy cutting and degrading our forest ecosystems based on several flawed premises.

First, they assert that 100 years of fire suppression has led to higher, denser stands, and secondly that has created what they term are “unhealthy” forests. Both are used to justify questionable and destructive logging projects.

The idea that a few young men riding around on mules with shovels in virtual wilderness (which almost all national forests were back in the early 1900s) had any influence on wildfire spread begs credibility. Indeed, fire suppression was so “successful” that between the 1920s and 1930s an average of more than 30 million acres burned annually and a few years more than 50 million acres burned. (Today if 10 million acres burn we call that “historic”).

Fire suppression advocates also ignore the fact that for nearly 50 years between the late 1930s and late 1980s, the West was cooler and wetter than now. What happens if it’s cooler and moister? You have fewer ignitions, and the fires that do start seldom spread.

Yes, we had fire suppression, but for the most part, nature was doing the suppression.

Since 1988 we have had decades that are considerably hotter and drier than the previous 50 years.

Indeed, under extreme fire conditions of drought, high temperatures, low humidity and winds, you cannot stop wildfires. And that, rather than fire suppression, is why we are seeing larger fires.

Climate/weather, not fuels drive large fires. If dense forests led to large fires, the biggest fires should be occurring on the Oregon Coast where there is more biomass per acre than in a hundred acres east of the Cascades. But since the Oregon Coast is cool and moist, wildfires are rare despite the abundance of “fuel.”

Under extreme fire weather conditions, no amount of thinning is going to halt or even slow fires. And this is one of the myths that the Deschutes collaboration is selling.

Recently more than 200 pre-eminent scientists signed a letter to Congress finding that proposed solutions to wildfire like thinning forests are ineffective and short-lived. To quote from the scientists’ letter: “Thinning is most often proposed to reduce fire risk and lower fire intensity. … However, as the climate changes, most of our fires will occur during extreme fire-weather (high winds and temperatures, low humidity, low vegetation moisture). These fires, like the ones burning in the West this summer, will affect large landscapes, regardless of thinning, and, in some cases, burn hundreds or thousands of acres in just a few days.”

The letter goes on to say: “Thinning large trees, including overstory trees in a stand, can increase the rate of fire spread by opening up the forest to increased wind velocity, damage soils, introduce invasive species that increase flammable understory vegetation, and impact wildlife habitat.”

By contrast, logging/thinning impoverishes the forest ecosystem. Many wildlife species rely on dead trees for food, home and shelter. Dead trees store carbon and nutrients. When these trees fall into streams, they create habitat for fish. Natural ecological processes like wildfire, bark beetles and so on are essential for healthy forest ecosystems.

The scientist letter goes on to say: “Thinning also requires an extensive and expensive roads network that degrades water quality by altering hydrological functions, including chronic sediment loads.”

If we wish to protect Bend and other communities a greater investment in reducing the flammability of homes and structures is the only measure that has been proven to work. Plus, such work doesn’t damage our forest ecosystems.

— George Wuerthner is an ecologist and author. He lives in Bend.

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George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

30 Responses to Deschutes NF ignores latest science on wildfire

  1. avatar Chris Zinda says:

    At a PIELC 2018 table organized and promoted by WELC, the Sierra Club’s Deschutes rep David Stowe says, “Collaboration is community forestry.’

    It was then I understood both the Sierra Club and WELC were not only colluding, watering down the mission of wild things, but also why each – like all of the U.S. environmental movement – ignored/s DoD’s Red Rock Biofuels.

    So, George, what is your opinion of and expect from the enemy of my enemy is my friend intra-movement results?

  2. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    If I walked into a Forest Service office today no one could tell me how a truly mature forest comes about. They think “old Growth” means a tree nearing its one hundredth birthday. Real botanical ecology in the bureaucracy has been flushed down the toilet. They should put up signs: “Real science banned until further notice”.

    The leaders of many of the so called conservation groups are not there to speak truth to power. They are there for the prestige of a leadership position. They act through compromising attitudes to gradually allow our natural heritage to be continually degraded while they give the appearance of doing something.

    I have to wonder- will I witness the day when grizzlies or sage hens will just be pictures in a book. It is fast approaching.

    • avatar Mat-ters says:

      Ecologist / writer like Emma Marris is on the right track! Designing ecosystems with MAN as a part of them is not wrong or not following “science” or not “diverse” or not cruel to animals it is absolutely correct and morally right. What is wrong are ecosystems that leave out MAN. Emma’s book “Rambunctious Gardens” is the impetus to replace failing Jurassic Park “science” based on contempt.

        • avatar Immer Treue says:

          Marris

        • avatar Mat-ters says:

          Immer, the attacks between the ‘green postmodernists’, ‘neo-environmentalists’, ‘neo-greens’, ‘new conservationists’ ‘pragmatic environmentalists’, ‘Anthropocene boosters’ or (what ever you want to call them) and the wilderness hippies, greenies (what every you want to call them) is something I’d rather stay out of.

          BUT, there is something so glaring wrong that the one side must hide from it! Their charter of “leave it alone” is selective and does not follow historic precedent and leaves them exposed as frauds and teaches us the kind of people they really are.

          Example one: As the population of elk in Yellowstone expanded the one group said “bring in wolves” because we believe in biodiversity and care about the planet and we bring balance… If they really cared about diversity and balance WHY in gods green earth did they not bring in man to fix the problem. ONLY oblivious foes ignore the historic way of the wild of which man has been a part of balance. A thinking person would know that any organic resource like that expanding elk herd would have been discovered and immediately utilized by historic man here in North America. Why didn’t those caring about balance and diversity and habitat think about that? Why do their hard core fight bison thinning in Yellowstone to this day? Do some in their midst understand this but appease the hard core for they feel they are their base? Makes them frauds don’t it?

          Example two: In the 1990’s as the moose expanded on Isle Royale and it came to a point where wolves could not control the numbers. The population swelled to around 2400 affecting habitat, biodiversity and balance. Did these “environmentalist” say bring in man (as would have happened again historically) ? NO, a bad winter then killed 2000 moose leaving behind only around 400. Did they care about biodiversity, and balance and habitat in the 1990’s? Now, here we are in 2018 and the moose population is again expanding. The wolf population which didn’t control them in the first place, has or is blinking out and ice crossings of new wolves has lately matched the historic trends ….. you see there is no historic evidence (including archaeology) of wolves crossing to the island before the late 1940’s. … but climate change is blamed for the blinking out. Without wolves we now have a moose population that is expanding (despite climate change) and panic has set in to save habitat, biodiversity and balance….. keep in mind that the population is only at around 1700 moose! It’s time to panic and save habitat and be champions of biodiversity and get man involved now….. when we can waste tons of federal US forest service dollars. Makes them frauds don’t it?

          Their charter of “leave it alone” man sucks is quite selective …..isn’t it!

            • avatar Immer Treue says:

              https://www.amazon.com/Rambunctious-Garden-Saving-Nature-Post-Wild/product-reviews/160819454X/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=two_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar

              “If Marris’ goal with Rambunctious Garden was to raise questions, she has succeeded. If her goal was to offer real solutions for the plant and animal communities of the world, and how we as humans interact with, and preserve them due to our ever increasing population, and lust for the riches the Earth provides for us, she has failed.”

              Marris is a reporter, not an ecologist. She scratches at the scab of the damage she freely admits man has done to the natural world. But just as one scratches at that scab, the healing never really begins, so folks like you can also pick at the scab as long as you find some forlorn rationale for feeding your agenda, careful to grasp at only that which conforms to your ideology. Jurassic Park indeed. I just gave a short look through Rambunctious Garden and could find no mention of the term you choose to use as a descriptor for parks like Yellowstone and Isle Royale, parks/wildlife sanctuaries ( at least within their boundaries) somewhat restored from man’s past formulaic adjustments and accidental infestations.

              If man is part of the “management” puzzle, then the vector for ungulate control can just as well be 4 legged with teeth than lead or the arrow.

              In addition, the indigenous people of North America may have had impact on their landscape and ecology, but they were also immediately effected by the consequences of their actions: they were a part of their ecology rather than apart from it, just as she documented the people living in the Amazonian RainForest in her TED presentation. She skips from Banff to a vacant lot and then an abandoned elevated rail overpass in Philadelphia. Nature is where you find it. No argument from me there, but it compares apples to oranges. That is Marris in a nutshell, and for that matter (pun intended), you.

              • avatar Mat-ters says:

                I see….. The bottom line is you either care about balance, diversity, and habitat or you don’t! Failure is in the eyes of the beholder! Balance, diversity , and habitat care is skewed when governed by bigotry!

          • avatar Nancy says:

            … If they really cared about diversity and balance WHY in gods green earth did they not bring in man to fix the problem. ONLY oblivious foes ignore the historic way of the wild of which man has been a part of balance. A thinking person would know that any organic resource like that expanding elk herd would have been discovered and immediately utilized by historic man here in North America”

            Are you so fricken blind Mat-ters that you can’t recognize that MAN, played the GOD card along time ago, first by eliminating natural sources of protein (i.e. elk, deer etc.) and then years later, made efforts to bring them back but then created another natural “imbalance” in parks and areas surrounding them, when MAN, who professed to love nature, but just some of nature, eliminated natural predators (like the wolf and the grizzly) to benefit a few? (ranchers come to mind?)

            Makes me down right dizzy (and often) trying to relate to the relationships now between hunters, outfitters & ranchers – private lands and public lands, “good stewards of” and “I’ve had enough of wildlife taking advantage of MY lands” etc. etc. etc.

            And please share why you posted the TED Talk below?

            • avatar hiker says:

              matters and his inane ramblings at least get everyone else fired up. Kinda like our president. I think he just doesn’t understand how much of our planet has been destroyed by our species. We just want to save what’s left.

              • avatar Nancy says:

                + 1 Hiker! 🙂

              • avatar Mat-ters says:

                Hiker, As I expected! If pointing out your flaws, bigotry and hypocrisy gets you fired up…..great!

                The difference between you and me is I care for animals and nature to the point where hard decision are made with compassion, but made. You, your like the animal hoarder that claims to care but can’t, then makes excuses for her failings.

                Please explain to me how harvesting excess buffalo to protect habitat in a place like Yellowstone, which is consistent with nature of old is “destroying” our planet!

  3. avatar Bruce Bowen says:

    Including man (whiteman?) into the ecology?? Tell that to the passenger pigeon.

  4. avatar Mat-ters says:

    Passenger Pigeon Myths, c/o Dr Kay

    “Newmann(1984,1985,989,1995)has written extensively about native people, who by consuming certain foods limited various wildlife populations. His most interesting example involves the passenger pigeon , often cited as an example of how pre-Columbia America teemed with wildlife before Europeans drove that and other species to extinction. But as Newmann (1985) has chronicled, native population oin pre-Columbain times were so large that those people consumed most of the nuts fruits and berries that the passenger pigeons needed for food. It was only after European diseases decimated Native populations and thereby freed the mast crop for wildlife the passenger pigeon grew to unprecedented numbers. This the large flocks of passenger pigeons that reportedly darkened the skies during the 1700s and 1800s were an artifact of the “American Holocaust” not an example of how America teemed with wildlife before Europeans arrived. “

    Bruce… There is so much history that can not be ignored, trying to peg the Passenger Pigeon Myth into your hate narrative for white Europeans, ranchers and hunters isn’t one of them. Try again.

    • avatar Hiker says:

      And yet no passenger pigeons now exist. What was your point again? how important humans are to the ecosystem? Is that true even while they are destroying said ecosystem? So many examples from history where do I start? Sumerians, Mayans, Hittites, Mycenaeans etc.

      • avatar Mat-ters says:

        And here we are having to point out your sides hypocrisy again. Your care for one of the sub-species in the vast array of those in the columbidae family strikes me as being more phlegmatic then caring. Those caring about unique sub-species would be at complete odds with what is going on in Isle Royale as we speak.

        “One of the programs the park service puts on for visitors of Isle Royale is a talk on unique species. This is the fact that “island effect” is in full force on the island and creates slightly different species. This “survival of the fittest” island effect on the island is what has created a huge swath of unique species. The island of Australia is on the far end of the spectrum BUT small island like Isle Royal do most certainly contribute to those unique species. The fact that leaving moose, balsam and wolves alone would most certainly create moose that survive on balsam and unique balsam trees that survive over browsing is most certain. It is disgusting that these so called “scientist” care more about “wolves” then they do scientific discovery and study of the island effect.”

        Hiker, I’m not sure where you came down on spending Federal Dollars to bring more wolves to Isle Royale…. BUT, only a hypocrite would care about the passenger pigeon, it’s demise and support more wolves on IR.

        • avatar Mat-ters says:

          The wide range look at endangered species is to study North America and its transformation after man arrived. Extinction of the saber tooth tiger, dire wolf, and short faced bears are a consequence and reality which allowed 100 to 50 million natives to live here in north america before Europeans. Condemnation of Natives for those extinctions is absurd, so is blaming sport hunting for the passenger pigeon demise, so is wearing extinctions on your sleeve to promote hate.

          Modern day game management would not be the root of a species going extinct today, as some would suggest here. Studying the wolf’s role in the demise of woodland caribou last winter has been poo-poo-ed here!

          • avatar Immer Treue says:

            You like what Marris writes.

            Wolf Cull Will Not Save Threatened Caribou

            https://www.nature.com/news/wolf-cull-will-not-save-threatened-canadian-caribou-1.16734

          • avatar Jeremy B. says:

            Yes, only a true hypocrite could simultaneously care about the extinctions of passenger pigeons and wolves on Isle Royale! (Psst… check your zipper, I think your ideology is hanging out.)

            • avatar Mat-ters says:

              Can’t argue the fact that they speak out of one side of their mouth by talking unique species and how unique species are created ….. then bring in wolves! We both know just who is caught with their pants down! My ideology has always been on display full display, with morality and righteousness in tow!

              • avatar Hiker says:

                righteousness? seriously? well, can’t argue with that! better pull up my pants.

              • avatar Jeremy B. says:

                Why do you assume that speciation requires the absence of predation? Speciaton occurs both because of predation, and despite it (when other selective pressures are greater). Your assumption, and rush to condemn people with whom you disagree, exposes how your ideology shapes (weakens) your arguments.

                • avatar Mat-ters says:

                  JB, I assumed nothing of the sort. Not in the least! I even said that “with wolves” the population expanded to the point they starved. BUT, If you want to get on the record saying that speciation of a natural continuous genetic purge cycle at a ratio of 400 to 2400 of a species with natural limits to no wolves is equal to a human influence wolf loving slowed down version of said dynamic do so here and now. You have already indirectly said as much, correct? Pointing out hypocrisy and bigotry is not name calling, is it? I’m simply saying those caring of unique species should embrace speciation AND that they shouldn’t be alarmed by the loss of a sole member of the vast and healthy Columbidae family. Blaming the loss on the “sport hunter” is laughable, blaming it on the market/ subsistence hunter (feeding people) is flippantly credible, blaming it on changed habitat, oddball mass nesting / mating habits and requirements, and a changing environment geared towards love of mankind is acceptable. That early 1900’s loss of the passenger pigeon to mankind is just as acceptable as the loss of the saber tooth tiger, dire wolf, and short faced bears is to the spread of Native Americans cross North America. Both have the same moral equivalence. Again, blaming it on the sport hunter & …..laughable!

                • avatar Jeremy B. says:

                  “Those caring about unique sub-species would be at complete odds with what is going on in Isle Royale as we speak.”

                  There is nothing going on at Isle Royal that is “at odds” with caring about moose, wolves or speciation — that is my point, and it is explicitly at odds with what you’ve written (above). No amount of twisting will get you out of it.

                • avatar Mat-ters says:

                  You make me chuckle JB, I’ve said a ton of things “(above)”.

                  I need to make a copy of this thread….. Here we have a wolf loving biologist giving us all a lesson on speciaton…. wonder if a “genetic rescue” of frogs and snakes will help the speciaton of those animals on isle royale and their connected species too? Thank you for today’s lesson JB…I’ve learned something.

                  If any of you make it to Isle Royale next year make sure you tell the park ranger that is giving her spiel on “island effect” of JB’s revelations here! She may also learn something.

                • avatar Mat-ters says:

                  “speciation” wink!

                • avatar Immer Treue says:

                  For those who might want an interpretation of what our visiting “expert”is trying to say.
                  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/gigantism-and-dwarfism-islands.html

                  That said, one of the interesting things I observed on Isle Royale, a place I spent 50-60 days during the 80’s and early 90’s was the garter snake. If memory serves me correctly, as one travels from the southwestern end of Isle Royale toward the northeastern end, the garter snake transition from rather robust and calm with normal color variation to smaller, melanistic, and anything but calm.

        • avatar Hiker says:

          when in doubt resort to name calling.

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