Blue Mountains Don’t Need Active Forest Management

Many foresters want to be able to cut large grand fir like the one in this photo. Photo George Wuerthner 

Recently  Jim Petersen expressed in a March 1, 2023 Chieftain commentary that the Blue Mountains region needs more “active” forest management in the form of logging to preclude tree mortality due to drought, insects, disease and wildlife.

The biggest problem with Petersen perspective and that of many in the Industrial Forestry cabal (which includes many at OSU and other forestry schools) is their insistence on creating what they define as “healthy” forests.

In their view, any mortality from anything other than chainsaws is a sign of decay and waste.  And of course, their solution is chainsaw medicine to “fix” what is ailing the forests.

However, this perspective ignores, climate change, evolution and natural ecological function.

The mosaic of the Bootleg fire, Oregon’s largest fire in 2021, driven by high winds with extensive drought. Photo George Wuerthner 

We are witnessing higher mortality from natural processes primarily due to warming temperatures and significant drought. The on-going drought across the West is the most severe in 1200 years. Extreme drought drives all other mortality factors. It makes some trees more vulnerable to insects or disease and it is absolutely the reason we are seeing large wildfires.

The continued myth that fire suppression is causing wildfires ignores the overriding role of climate/weather in wildfires.

A look at the climate/weather of the last century shows that there were millions of acres that were charred by wildfire in the first part of the century during a particularly warm and dry spell. Indeed, in 1929 wildfires charred a record 50 million acres of the West. Then in the late 1930s we entered a cooling period. In fact, glaciers began to advance throughout the Cascades during this period. In the 1970s some scientists predicted we were entering another Ice Age.

During the 1940s through 1980s, climate was cooler and moister and glaciers grew on peaks like Mount Hood. Photo George Wuerthner 

The 1940s-1980s is the same period that proponents of logging claim fire suppression was so successful. Oh, indeed. Do you think that cool, moist climate had nothing to do with limited fire activity?

Was it more than coincidence that the largest wildfire in western history—the 1910 Big Burn that charred 3.5 million acres of the northern Rockies occurred during a major drought fanned by high winds? And this was well before anyone could suggest anything was approaching “effective” fire suppression.

It is exactly these same factors, drought, high temperatures, low humidity, and most importantly high winds that drive ALL large wildfires today. I do not know of a single exception. And all these factors have increased significantly since the 1970s, primarily to C02 increase as a result of human burning of fossil fuels.

Ironically, proponents of chainsaw medicine never count the trees they kill with machines as a problem, but if the trees die from insects or fire, that is a “loss.”  But they fail to acknowledge that “healthy forest ecosystems” require dead wood, snags and other physical biomass in the forest. In essence, logging is strip-mining the forest biological legacy that sustains forest ecosystems.

It is critical to understand that natural evolutionary processes like drought, fire, insects, and other sources of mortality select the most vulnerable trees, leaving behind the individuals who are most adapted to the current climate/weather conditions.

Lodgepole Pine varies in its resistance to bark beetles due to genetic differences. Foresters marking trees for cutting have no idea which trees possess these genetic characteristics. Photo George Wuerthner 

A forester with his paint gun marking trees for cutting has no idea which individuals in a tree stand have a genetic resistance to drought or insects. And we know that this kind of genetic variation does exist.

In truth, logging reduces the natural ability to resist environmental variation. Logging creates “unhealthy” forests and degrades forest ecosystems.

Peterson bemoans that drought, insects, and other natural sources of morality are selectively killing grand fir, Douglas fir, and other species—the very species he complains are unnaturally “too dense” in the Blue Mountain ecosystem. These natural agents are doing a good job of balancing forest stands with the current, and likely future climatic conditions.

Logging is by far the largest contributor to CO2 emissions in Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner

Finally, let’s not forget that the forest products industry is Oregon’s biggest source of CO2 emissions, even bigger than transportation. The more we log, the more CO2 we put into the atmosphere, contributing to warmer temperatures, drought, and wind, which are the conditions driving current wildfires and other sources of tree mortality.





  1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    “The biggest problem with Petersen perspective and that of many in the Industrial Forestry cabal (which includes many at OSU and other forestry schools) is their insistence on creating what they define as “healthy” forests.”

    The biggest problem — in fact, the REAL problem — is that the forestry industry exists at all. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a logger, every tree needs a chainsaw. The rest is minor details. Humans don’t eat trees, so they shouldn’t be killing them at all for any reason, period.

  2. Rosemary Lowe Avatar

    It is disgusting that we humans simply cannot control our destructive activities on this planet. We, apparently are bent on killing our beautiful planet–and all other life.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      It’s not that humans are trying to kill the Earth and the life here; only a complete psycho would would want to do that. It’s that we are so mentally and spiritually unevolved that we constantly try to make things easier, more convenient, and seemingly better for ourselves, with little or no considerations for the great harms we cause to others by doing so. If we were more evolved, we’d feel at one with everyone including the Earth and all the life here, and we wouldn’t act and live this way. THAT is the real root of all these problems, and it’s where our focus should be in trying to fix things.

  3. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    I recall a WELC lawyer pushing collaboration in the Blue Mountains at PIELC, Kerr, Spivak & Pedery compromising on the failed Eastside plan alongside Wyden a decade ago.

    With friends like these….

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Sorry to go off track, but this for me is a bit of a ‘breaking news’ item that is thrilling. I hope it is a good sign for the future, but they will need all they help they can get:

    1. Louise Kane Avatar
      Louise Kane

      With 200 or so left and ship strikes that just took out a couple this winter, it’s the least they can do

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Yes. I don’t like either that people have the tendency to wait until it is almost too late to do anything about this.

      2. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        It also nags at me that I feel that the reason anything at all is being done is to make way for massive offshore wind. I don’t see how adding that to the list of dangers for marine and bird life is going to do anything but compound the problem.

        If anything, it will create more ship strikes, damage to the whales’ navigational abilities, sit directly in their feeding and migration grounds, with incidental takes built directly and unequivocally into the plans (where’s the incentive to avoid, then?), and also directly in bird migration paths.

        Trying to change shipping and fishing also is going to be a Herculean labor, not that it shouldn’t have some input. Best not to compound the situation with offshore wind, IMO, and for unknown results.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          If you tried to make a list of all the specific harms that humans cause to the natural environment and the life there, you’d probably be writing until you die of old age. The problems here are 1) our totally unnatural lifestyles and 2) our gross overpopulation. Offshore wind wouldn’t exist if humans lived naturally, nor would the industrial society that creates and powers these hideous monstrosities called ships that ply the oceans.

          And BTW, another harm from motorized ships is that whales and other marine life can’t hear each other over the distances that they could before all this crap existed. Douglas Adams pointed this out about 50 years ago, and it’s only gotten worse since. I’ve heard that noise when I was snorkeling in the Florida Keys, in Tahiti, and in Hawaii (I sailed to all three places), and that noise shouldn’t exist either.

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            Yes, and people either still don’t know or don’t want to believe/accept that the noise from human activity is harming marine life. I think the US Navy must have a whole body of research on it too.

            NOAA and (millions of acres for lease) BOEM are all attributing the recent cluster of whale deaths around NY/NJ as due to ship strikes, where incidentally they are conducting sonar mapping of the ocean floor for offshore wind. But does it contribute to the ship strikes? I think it certainly bears looking into, not just a dismissal.

            Do we really need cruise ships large enough to block the sun?

  5. Louise Kane Avatar
    Louise Kane

    “ But they fail to acknowledge that “healthy forest ecosystems” require dead wood, snags and other physical biomass in the forest. In essence, logging is strip-mining the forest biological legacy that sustains forest ecosystems.“

    And fail to acknowledge the plant, insect, bird and other species that utilize dead wood and underbrush for food, habitat snd shelter

    Great writing George

  6. mahamodol Avatar

    love this post


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