Governor Bullock’s Forest Council Biased Towards Timber Industry

Governor Bullock recently created the Montana Forest Action Advisory Council that is biased towards logging and is dominated by timber industry interests and supporters to “reduce wildfire risk.”

I don’t expect the Governor to be an expert on wildfire or forest ecology, but it is clear from the makeup of his council that its primary purpose is to justify logging under the mistaken view that “fuels” are driving our large fires.

The Council’s interpretation that wildfires are “harming” our forest ecosystems is not surprising given the timber industry representation. Council members include Pyramid Lumber, Sun Mountain Timber, Idaho Forest Group, Montana Logging Association, a private forestry consultant, and supporters of logging like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Intertribal Timber Council, The Nature Conservancy, county commissioners in forested counties as well as the Forest Service, BLM and Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Even though Bullock’s announcement suggests it will be “scientifically rigorous,” there are few individuals with any expertise in fire ecology and forest ecosystem function.  Among the Council membership names,  most of whom I recognize, there is almost no one that has any special expertise in wildfire ecology except for U of Montana Forestry Professor Tom DeLuca.

The stated goal of the Council is to reduce “harm” to our forests, which is extremely ironic since the most significant damage to our forests has been and continues to be from “active management” and logging practices.

Logging removes stored carbon. Logging removes biomass needed for wildlife habitat. Logging activity requires roads which are a significant source of sedimentation and the spread of weeds. Logging changes age structure and often species composition. Logging activity compacts soils. Logging disturbs sensitive wildlife from elk to grizzlies.  And nearly all public lands logging loses money for taxpayers.

The driving force behind wildfires is not “fuels” as presumed by the implicit message of the Council but due to extreme fire weather stemming from climate change.

Yet there are no climate scientists among the council membership. Nor are there any experts on forest carbon (except Deluca), sprawl, how to create defensible spaces and ecologists who recognize that large wildfires create biodiversity and maintain ecosystem health.

The best way to reverse climate change and hence reduce wildfire “risk” is to keep the carbon in the forest. Numerous studies demonstrate that logging releases far more carbon than intact forests. Even a burnt forest stores more carbon as snags, roots, and charcoal in soils compared to thinning or logging the forest. But given the council makeup, I don’t expect to hear this suggested.

Sadly, Bullock has missed an excellent opportunity to work to change public attitudes about wildlife and to implement changes that might promote healthy forest ecosystems and using forests for carbon storage to reverse climate heating to reduce “wildfire risk.”


  1. Nancy Ostlie Avatar

    I wrote the following to Governor Bullock:
    Dear Governor,

    Treating more acres (logging) is not the path to reduce wild land fire risk. I believe it is unfortunate that you are joining in Republican-led efforts to extract resources from every possible source (logging, mining, oil and gas development) at an accelerated pace as led by the Trump administration. We might have hoped that our Democratic governor would see through these attempts to bolster the logging industry, a dying economic resource in our state. Under climate change, scientists are already positing that the forests will not regenerate as they have in the past. Your efforts will help accomplish the scorched earth setting that we see in apocalyptic illustrations in movies about the end of the world, in my view. I would be glad to compile a range of scientific literature that is the basis for effective fire protection and refutation for the popular idea that cutting down our forests will prevent catastrophic wildfire.


    Nancy Ostlie
    Co-leader, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
    Bozeman Broadband

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.

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George Wuerthner