In May, 2021 I happened to be traveling through northern California on my way to Lassen National Park. When I drove out of Chester, California, I encountered a number of forest thinning projects along the highway. So I photographed some of them, in part, because in many cases large fire-resistant trees were being removed.

Then in August of 2021, the Dixie Fire raced across northern California, including the area around Chester. Curious to see whether the extensive thinning had precluded fire spread and tree mortality, I went back in early October and took the following photos.

Here’s a map of the Dixie Fire. The bright colors indicate where there had been previous thinning or other fuel reductions. Chester lies near the northwest corner of Lake Amador, the blue area on the left side of the map. The Green area in the top right is Lassen Park. The photos below were all taken about 1-2 miles west of Chester.

I didn’t have the original “before” fire photos with me, so I was shooting images from memory. Furthermore, even by October, salvage logging along the highway right of way had already occurred, substantially alternating the view. So I did the best I could to get back to the same photo points. Here are the results.

Note that there is a clearcut in the background that failed to stop the fire. By the time I had gotten back to retake the same area, highway salvage logging had removed some of the foreground trees.

In this next series, note the green highway sign on the right of the photo, taken with a telephoto which does compress the distance. In the second photo, taken with a wide-angle lens, you can see the green sign. All the forests along this stretch of highway were salvage logged by the time I got back to retake the photo.

In this next set of photos, a bicyclist is pulled over from the highway in front of a logging road. The forest behind the bicyclist has been thinned.  The second photo shows the same location.

In this next photo I took a picture of a huge sugar pine that had been cut. Typically when you thin, you leave the biggest, most fire-resistant trees, but this was not done. Behind the stump you can see how the forest was thinned and sanitized. There are no understory shrubs, grass, or even small trees.

In this second photo, I was not able to replicate the exact angle because of the fallen tree adjacent to the stump. Nevertheless, one can see that thinning did nothing to preclude the spread of the Dixie Fire.

When I came back in October, the highway right of way had been logged, but I found the same sugar pine stump. As can be seen, thinning the forest did not change the outcome of the fire–all the trees remaining after thinning died in the blaze.

 

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About The Author

George Wuerthner

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

9 Responses to Before and After Photos of Dixie Fire

  1. Carol Johnson says:

    It is a shame that so many blindly support the USFS policies of thinning to prevent fires. In my neighborhood I have taken photos of huge stumps, sent them to neighbors some of whom are appalled, others make up excuses for the cutting of huge trees. It is the same thing as those who support bad politicians who persist in killing the country. They offer no good reasons for the damage they do; people make up their own reasons for the damage they do.

  2. Ralph Maughan says:

    People talk about planting a trillion new trees around the planet to take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
    Then the U.S. Forest Service and the logging companies come in and do this which inhibits regeneration of the forest and makes sure that the carbon remaining in the burnt and the green trees they cut is quickly released to the air, decades before new trees will be large enough to sequester the carbon that was released by the fire, the logging, and the use of the “salvaged” wood. These people are just as bad as the coal companies and the coal power plants and Biden and Newsome ought to hear about it.

  3. Linda says:

    Not to mention what it does to the wildlife habitat in these areas. It’s all a mixed bag of bad ideas.

  4. Bob Sheridan says:

    And meanwhile in good ol Montana the Gubnr and his henchmen legislators are securing the power to bulldoze any ind all review with there new found emergency authorization to clear cut in the name of “Active Forest Mismanagment”.Oh ya, and by the way I have 20+ years of wildland fire fighting experience in every western state and my personal boots on the ground experience tells me, time and again,more and more the Mr. Wuerthner is one of the only outspoken individuals telling people the Truth about fire behavior and its relationship to reality.

  5. Maggie Frazier says:

    Does the old saying “doing the same thing over & over and expecting different results” ring a bell?
    I dont think that was the exact phrasing but you get the meaning! This should be the catch phrase of our governmental administrations – plural – no matter which party is in control. Could it possibly be laid at the door of the corporate lobbyists? Maybe?

  6. Oakley Taylor says:

    George, these are amazing photos. Why do they still continue with this practice if it doesn’t work? Is there a reason they continue doing this in spite of your message which I’m sure you have relayed to them? There must be a feasible alternative and surely at this point, it’s time to try something new. I would say we are at a turning point now. If you keep repeating the same behavior and it still doesn’t work, wouldn’t that be considered unbalanced judgement?

  7. Charles Fox says:

    After forest “thinning” it’s not really a forest anymore, just a few lonely trees standing around waiting to burn in the next megafire or die of old age.

    What about the next cohort of younger trees that will need to grow and replace the current large trees? All the younger, smaller trees appear to be completely removed.

    Whether the forest burns catastrophically or is thinned to oblivion, that’s the end of the forest. So this is what all the king’s men decided would be best? Is there space for any rational response to this liquidation?

  8. Martha S Bibb says:

    Why does the Wildfire Today site continue to repeat untruths about “forest management”? Seems the fire-industrial complex is part of the “timber management” complex. Probably the same lobbyists.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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