AGAIN – Past Logging Makes a fire worse

As with the Creek Fire, logging, habitat clearance, and the creation of forest plantations by private corporations and the US Forest Service in the northern Sierra Nevada Bear Fire area are making the fire worse, and threatening lives as a result.

The Bear Fire area has been heavily logged over the past couple of decades – clearcuts, commercial thinning, “salvage” logging of snags, spreading flammable, invasive weeds, mostly on private lands but also quite a bit on national forest land too.

The consequence?

The Bear Fire dramatically expanded Wednesday (9/9) when it got to the massive area of heavy logging shown below. Importantly, these clearcut areas are similar to the types of “fuel reduction” projects Cal Fire and the US Forest Service continually claim will allow them to control a fire and protect communities. Time and time again, when it matters most, they don’t – please see map of Vegetation Management Projects/Fires in California at the end of this post.

Google Earth image showing the landscape at the heart of the Bear Fire in the northern Sierra Nevada. The irregular bare areas are clearcuts and dense, artificial tree plantations, both of which facilitated fire spread.

The Bear Fire is now over 200,000 acres (mostly from Wednesday), and at least three people have been killed (see perimeter map below). This situation is very much like the Camp Fire in terms of the direct threat of recent logging to lives and homes, by contributing, along with the dominant force of extreme weather and climate change, to very rapid rate of fire spread, giving people little time to evacuate.

Overlay (orange) of the Bear Fire showing the massive spread that occurred September 9. Note the clearcut area in the lower half of the area burned. Arrows indicate the fire’s direction.

None of this is being seriously discussed in the leading media stories on the current fires.

The Main Take Aways

  1. Logging and forest plantation forestry is a contributor to increased fire spread and fire severity (Zald and Dunn 2018, Bradley et al. 2016 – see below).
  2. Weather and climate change are the dominant drivers of fire behavior.
  3. Promoting logging as “fuel reduction” under the guise of fire risk reduction flies in the face of the facts.

“In the long term, California must address its history of mismanaging fire, the expansion of residential communities into natural areas, the greed and misplaced priorities of corporations, and the pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We must also we acknowledge that not all wildfires burn in the forest. Wildfires are also burning through shrubland across Southern California and the oak woodlands that stretch across the state. In all environments, the best way to protect communities from wildfire is to focus on the communities themselves.”
– Senator Kamala Harris

More about how to make your home and community fire safe.

The Facts About Logged Forests

“Areas intensively managed burned in the highest intensities. Areas protected in national parks and wilderness areas burned in lower intensities. Plantations burn hotter in a fire than native forests do. We know this from numerous studies based on peer-reviewed science.”*
– Dominick DellaSala
From: Exploring Solutions to Reduce Risks of Catastrophic Wildfire and Improve Resilience of National Forests. Congressional testimony by Dr. Dominick DellaSala, Sept. 27, 2017.

* The research cited above analyzed 1,500 fires in 11 Western states over four decades – an overwhelming convergence of evidence. Some of those studies include the following:

1. Odion et al. 2004. Fire severity patterns and forest management in the Klamath National Forest, northwest California, USA. Cons. Biol. 18:927-936.

2. Zald, H., and C. Dunn. 2018. Severe fire weather and intensive forest management increase fire severity in a multi-ownership landscape. Ecol. Applic. 4:1068-1080.

3. Bradley, C.M., et al. 2016. Does increased forest protection correspond to higher fire severity in frequent-fire forests of the western United States? Ecosphere 7:1-13.

217 scientists sign letter opposing logging as a response to wildfires (we are signatories).

California Wildlands are Not the Unmanaged, Unburned Landscapes You are Led to Believe

California wildlands are far from unmanaged areas that haven’t burned in a century as is being implied in the media. Map shows areas cleared by logging, habitat clearance, and prescribed fires, in addition to fire history along with a 2020 wildfire overlay. This is not a comprehensive map because it is missing a lot of clearance projects that have taken place on private and non-federal lands that weren’t through timber harvest plans. Data assembled and map produced by Bryant Baker, Research Associate, California Chaparral Institute.

6 Comments on “AGAIN – Past Logging Makes a fire worse

  1. Just because someone does a study doesn’t mean it is correct. Proven fact, reduced fuel such as under brush and tree thinning WILL reduce fires. I came from the school of hard nocks. Let CA burn with their tree hugging mentality. People are the problem. They move thick into the woods and then complain because animals come thru their yard and fires coming thru. Thin the forest responsibly, harvest trees sensibly and these type of tragedies will be reduced.

    • Frank, we concur that people and their misunderstandings about Nature, fire, and the environment are the main problem. And we agree that thinning around homes will definitely help reduce fire risk. However, logging far beyond communities in an effort to control or reduce catastrophic fires (when lives and homes are lost) is a poor use of funds and fails consistently to protect communities when it matters most – during wind-driven wildfires under drought conditions. The disaster in Paradise showed that well.

  2. All the fires you have listed have been post bark beetle. Prescribe burns and proper forestry management will assist with the current situation. However due to your push for extensive environmental regulations we are at our current situation.

  3. Much good info here! Thanks for putting it out there.

    If anything good could come from this disastrous wildfire season, maybe it will be the large amounts of real world data we’ll collect for our after action reviews about what worked and what didn’t work. Newfound experience from these events could (if we are wise) enhance our current collective understanding of how wildfire works on human landscapes. And that (if we are wise) could inform more effective public policy in future to create more real fire safety for our people in the future.

    Typo: “Senator Kalama Harris” should be “Senator Kamala Harris”

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