Response to Gallatin Working Group on North Bridger Logging Proposal

The recent guest commentary by Joe Prinkki and Joe Skinner, members of the Custer-Gallatin Working Group, supporting the logging of Bridger Canyon was full of misleading and scientifically inaccurate common myths about forest health and wildfire.

The editorial asserts that the forest is “unhealthy” and at risk of death from wildfires and bark beetles. That is like saying that an elk herd is unhealthy because wolves kill some of the animals. Bark beetles are “keystone” species that research demonstrates increases biodiversity in the forest. Similarly, wildfires are among the most important natural processes creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in our forests.

The proposed North Bridger “forest health” project will impoverish the forest ecosystem and will not even achieve the stated goals of reducing wildfire risk.

For instance, the authors assert the Northern Bridgers is a “priority landscape (for logging) because forest insect and disease infestations pose a risk for catastrophic wildfire.” They suggest that a “plan to thin disease trees and reduce fuel loads” and use pejorative terms like “catastrophic” wildfire.

From an ecological perspective, dead trees represent a “healthy” forest ecosystem.  Ironically “fuel loads” is wildlife habitat, and “catastrophic “wildfires create the second highest biodiversity found in any forest type.

Many plants and animals live in mortal fear of green forests. Dead trees are essential habitat for many species of wildlife. Some 45% of birds use down wood or snags at some point in their lives. When snags fall into streams, they create important aquatic habitat for insects and fish. Down wood hides small mammals and amphibians, is home to insects like native bees that are important pollinators and sustain nutrient and carbon storage. Removal of trees also can reduce hiding and thermal cover for elk. Logging disturbance contributes to the spread of weeds and loss of genetic diversity in forest stands.

Plus, there is general agreement in the scientific community that live green trees, particularly in a drought when fires occur, are more incendiary than dead trees. Green trees have the fine fuels of flammable, resin-packed needles and branches, which are what burns in a blaze.  That is why you have snags after a fire-the main tree bole typically does not burn well.

For instance, when I Google bark beetles and wildfire, the very first article that comes up says: “ We review the literature on the efficacy of silvicultural practices to control outbreaks and on fire risk following bark beetle outbreaks in several forest types… to date, most available evidence indicates that bark beetle outbreaks do not substantially increase wildfires ..”

In addition, even more, research shows that high-severity blazes typically occur under extreme fire weather, where research again suggests, logging and other “vegetation treatments” like prescribed burning are ineffective at halting wind-driven fires.

Indeed, over 200 scientists just sent a letter to Congress asserting that the majority of all acreage burned in wildfires occurs during extreme weather conditions, and under such conditions, thinning and logging fails to halt fires. (scientist letter here)

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.”

In short, logging is not the answer. Numerous studies assert the best way to protect homes is by reducing flammability in the immediate area around the structure, not logging the forest.


  1. Marcel Verwoerd Avatar
    Marcel Verwoerd

    Good article! Very credible to my believe!

  2. Bruce Bowen Avatar
    Bruce Bowen

    During the 90’s the U.S. Forest Service razed much of the Deschutes national forest in Oregon. They clear cut huge areas of lodge pole pine, dozed the dead trees up into piles and burned all of it. Small, isolated, remaining, bio-diverse clumps of coniferous species were also destroyed. The USFS then planted the species most desired not by wildlife or average citizens, but by the timber industry. A cultivar of ponderosa pine. They were planted in rows by the thousands and then thinned out under the cover of fire control. The “Forest Circus” created a national tree plantation.

    The deer population crashed partially because a forage shrub know commonly as bitter brush was largely eradicated during clear cutting process. Birds were seldom seen. Except for the monoculture of trees the place became sterile. Folks with an untrained eye might refer to this kind biological blunder as a forest but it is not even close. It essentially was formed into a “fast food forest” for corporate chainsaws.

    Countries like Germany and Denmark learned there lesson a long time ago. Forest monocultures simply do not work.

    With the demise of our democracy so goes our forests.

    1. rork Avatar

      We have plantations on National Forest in MI too. Like you say it’s nothing like a forest, and has almost no value for recreation or wildlife, with the exception of a few species.
      Also, thanks for the article George. Catastrophic fire indeed. Where I live we need more fire. There are rumors of tree-huggers lighting them. And we have a phrase for having a building with confer forest close by – the stupid zone.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

George Wuerthner