Previously logged Plum Creek Timber Company lands which didn’t stop  36,ooo acre plus Jocko Lakes Fires. Photo George Wuerthner 

Recently Governor Greg Gianforte praised forest management for limiting the spread of two fires near Helena.

Gianforte suggested that active forest management (i.e., logging) helped firefighters to keep two blazes, the Grizzly Gulch and Mount Helena fires, to 25 and 18 acres, respectively.

And the Governor noted that there were 267 fires on DNRC lands this past year, and only 525 acres burned, or an average of 2 acres per fire.

“Proactive management protects Montana,” suggests Gianforte, who attributed the small size of these blazes to forest management, a euphemism for logging.

The presumption that fuels are the cause of large fires is widespread and promoted by the timber industry and Forest Service—both of who have a direct financial incentive to enable logging.

Thinning on Mount Helena above Helena, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

I can’t discount that past forest management may have influenced the Grizzly Gulch and Mt. Helena fires. However, I will note that the more likely explanation is climate/weather.

I will remind the Governor that this spring and early summer was one of the wettest and coolest on record. As a result, the apple trees in my Livingston yard did not produce fruit for the first time in my memory due to the unseasonably cool, wet weather.

Lest the Governor gives too much credit to active forest management for the small footprint of this summer’s Montana fires, he should consider that the Yellowstone River drainage got so much moisture that we experienced some of the most significant floods in decades.

 

The Gallatin Valley by Bozeman was lush and green well into July due to high moisture and cool temperatures in the previous months. Photo George Wuerthner

Indeed, it was so moist that the Gallatin Valley surrounding Bozeman was green into the end of July.

All this suggests that the primary factor controlling all wildfires is climate/weather. And all this hype about “active forest management” ignores how climate/weather controls fire ignitions and spread.

If you have major drought, high temperatures, low humidity, and, most importantly, high winds, you get fires you can’t control. All large fires start and burn under such conditions. I know of no exceptions.

Clearcut burned over by Dixie Fire, the largest blaze in California in 2021. Photo George Wuerthner 

There is abundant evidence from numerous fires throughout the West and Montana that “active forest management” can increase fire spread.  The 2021 Dixie Fire, California’s largest blaze in that year burned through extensive logged over forests in northern California.

Industrial timberlands clearcut but burned by the Holiday Farm Fire. Photo George Wuerthner 

And the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire in Oregon charred heavily logged industrial forest lands on the western slope of the Cascades.

The Scratchgravel Hills were thinned just six months prior to this wind-driven blaze that raced across thes lands near Helena, Montana. Photo George Wuerthner

I don’t expect Gianforte to be an expert on wildfire ecology, but he should take a tour of the Jocko Lakes Fire by Seeley Lake, which burned through clearcuts on Plum Creek lands. Or he could visit the Scratchgravel Hills fire by Helena, which high winds pushed through a fire on lands that had been thinned just months before. The 2000 Bitterroot Complex blazes charred severely logged lands managed (Logged) by Darby Lumber.

Trying to influence wildfires by logging and other management is a fool’s errand. The money Gianforte says will protect homes by logging would be better spent on home hardening and minor fuel reductions in the immediate area around homes.

 

About The Author

George Wuerthner

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

4 Responses to Response to Governor Gianforte On Forest Management and Wildfire

  1. Rick says:

    Great article, George. Thank you for keeping up the fight.

  2. Ida Lupine says:

    Oh I can’t wait to read this. 😉

  3. Betina Mattesen says:

    Evidence doesn’t seem to matter. What ugly public Forests we’re creating. I’m mad. And heartbroken.

  4. Jeff Hoffman says:

    There is no doubt that if you cut down all the trees and remove all the other vegetation, there won’t be anything left to burn. Why not just pave the forests?

    Natural wildfires are not only natural, they are necessary for ecosystem health. Modern humans need to get over their hatred of natural wildfires. If you’re afraid of them, don’t live in areas that have them. But don’t kill trees and otherwise destroy ecosystems because you’re afraid of natural wildfires. (To be clear, most fires are started by humans. I’m referring to NATURAL wildfires, normally started by lightning.)

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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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