Burning Questions

Why the National Fire Plan is a Trojan Horse for Logging

Earlier Ralph noted a new study that suggests fire mitigation work in the US may be misplaced.  Along those same lines, George Wuerther shares an account of one experience he had digging deeper into the rationale & motive of some “fuels reduction” projects :

Burning Questions ~ George Wuerther

A couple of years ago I went on a show me tour of a Forest Service Thinning project that was funded under the National Fire Plan (NFP). A group of us, including some forest service employees, a university fire researcher, country commissioners, timber interests, and the like gathered at the Forest Service office. The district ranger explained that we were going to see a fuel reduction project designed to protect the small town where we were standing. After giving preliminary background on the proposed timber sale, we got into a bunch of Forest Service vehicles and drove out of town. And drove. And drove. And drove. Eighteen miles from the town, we got out of the car to look at the thinning project.




  1. DB Avatar

    I wish George said where this logging was and asked about elevation, climate, habitat type etc. The stand replacing fire of the 1860s which gave rise to the Ponderosa pine stand could have been a normal occurrence for its age and species composition, the same type of stand replacing fire that George feels may have been so normal throughout much of the west. So it wasn’t fire suppression in the 1860s that caused that replacement fire, it was normal for the habitat type, species composition, and climatic conditions that existed then. The original stand (prior to 1860) was probably a mixed stand of spruce, lodge pole pine, grand fir, and western larch, with much dead and down woody material which when it burns, burns everything.

    What is also normal is that Ponderosa pine and other seral species reclaimed some of these areas (again depending on elevation, habitat type, etc) and maintained themselves in a sub climax condition often because of frequent, low intensity lightening fires which were so frequent prior to large scale fire suppression. This accounted for the many thousands of acres of open, large diameter Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir stands throughout the Northern Rockies. I don’t understand why the FS reps and the university researcher couldn’t have pointed this out to George. It wasn’t an open Ponderosa pine forest which George alleges that burned in 1860. And how could they not have answered the challenge that only fire suppression and resultant fuel build ups were responsible for stand replacing fire (“How could the basin full of ponderosa pine burn up in a stand replacement blaze if fuel build up is what creates large stand replacements fires? No response. The idea had apparently not occurred to anyone before.”)?

    These kinds of logging/thinning/fuels reduction projects do require periodic burning of ground fuels to keep them in a seral condition. And some future thinning may be warranted depending on how quickly the stand develops or new trees regenerate beneath. But there were once many hundreds of thousands of acres of these kinds of seral stands in the Northern Rockies. Not only were these stands aesthetically pleasing but they represented a diversity of habitat conditions which are missing since large scale timber harvest and fire control.

    George is right that local weather and climate probably have most influence on fire starts and behavior. But, despite his claim that stand replacing fires have occurred in all habitat types, I think there is no doubt that they were less frequent in low elevation dry types than they are today. And these are the types that people are building in and are the types that have changed so significantly in species composition and stand density since aggressive fire suppression.


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Brian Ertz