Heavily logged lands failed to preclude the 2007 Jocko Lake Fire near Seeley Lake, Montana.  Photo George Wuerthner 

Recently Senator Daines spoke at the Professional Fire Fighters conference in Bozeman. Daines advocated more management of our forests, believing that we can chainsaw our way to “forest health.”

Senator Daines can be forgiven for his ill-advised position, given the considerable propaganda push to mismanage our forests by the timber industry, forestry schools, and some in the Forest Service. But, unfortunately, we cannot log our forests to health with chainsaw medicine.

The existing forest was a savanna, with far less tree cover than most thinned areas, yet it did not stop the 223,570 acres Derby Fire. Photo George Wuerthner 

The timber industry advocates assert that our forests are unhealthy and too dense, thus requiring human ignition (prescribed burns) and logging to keep the forests healthy. The problem, we are told, is that our forests have too much fuel. Some researchers question such assertions.

The snag forests left after a major blazes is critical habitat to numerous plants and animals who live in mortal fear of green forests. Photo George Wuerthner 

The solution promoted by the timber industry and Forest Service (a captive agency) is chainsaw medicine and human manipulation. Advocates of deforestation conveniently define that natural evolutionary sources of mortality like disease, wildfire, drought, and insects are “signs” that the forests are unhealthy.

There are a couple of observations that one should consider.

Assertions that thinning and prescribed burns will preclude large fires are delusional. Large high-severity fires are climate/weather-driven events. Under such conditions, thinning/logging and prescribed burns have little influence on the fire spread. All high-severity blazes are driven by high winds, typically under drought conditions.

The influence of wind is visible in this photo of Yellowstone National Park showing how spot fires occur in advance of fire front. Photo George Wuerthner

Fuels are necessary, but droughts, high temperatures, low humidity, and high winds are essential for large uncontrollable blazes. Logging does nothing to change the weather/climate conditions. Indeed, logging can open the forest to greater wind penetration and drying, thus actually exacerbating fire spread.

Under such conditions, high winds transport embers a mile or two ahead of the main firefront, starting new blazes. This means the fires jump over and around “fuel treatments. It also limits helicopters and air tankers. And no fire boss will put his crew in front of a wind-driven blaze. Indeed, 90% of home ignitions result from embers lofted by high winds.

The Correl Fire in the Scratch Gravel Hills by Helena was a wind driven event. Photo George Wuerthner 

Research and numerous anecdotal observations around the West confirm that “fuel treatments” are ineffective at controlling wildfire under extreme fire weather. Since all the large blazes the Senator and others wish to control only occur under extreme conditions, it’s easy to see the folly of such proposals.

Ironically green trees are more flammable than dead trees due to combustible resins under extreme fire weather conditions. During the 1988 Yellowstone Fires, for instance, the internal moisture of trees was as low as 1-2%, while kiln-dried lumber is typically 12-15%. Under such conditions exacerbated by extreme drought and wind, any ignition is likely to “explode” into a major blaze.

Logging roads create ideal habitat for weed invasion. Photo George Wuerthner 

Deforestation brings a host of other problems. For example, logging increases weed invasion, disturbs wildlife, removes wood and snags that are essential habitats for numerous species, removes carbon, reduces carbon storage, and costs taxpayers money.

Sizeable trees cut on the Custer Gallatin National Forest in the Bridger Mountains. Large tree boles do not usually burn in a blaze.  The Forest Service never counts the mortality caused by chainsaws, however, in many situations the logging kills more trees than natural processes like fire, beetles, etc. Photo George Wuerthner 

Rather than waste public funds degrading our forests, the solution to wind-driven blazes is to harden homes and work from the structure outward. A recent report from California found that removing burnable materials five feet from the house’s base and fire-resistance roofs and associated steps to improve home fire resistance can reduce home losses by up to 75%.

Of course, the ultimate cause of these forest issues is not fuels but climate. The human contribution of CO2 is warming the planet, and plant communities are responding and adapting to the new conditions.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

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

2 Responses to Senator Daines Ill-advised Forest Management Advocacy

  1. Maggie Frazier says:

    Another really smart idea would be to prevent people from building in areas that they shouldnt be!!

    • Jeff Hoffman says:

      Exactly! If you’re that afraid of forest fires, don’t live in or near a forest. This human supremacist attitude that humans can just live anywhere they want by destroying native ecosystems is really disgusting.

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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