The Creek Fire: Made Worse by Past Forest Service Actions

The fire that is the biggest current threat to lives and homes right now is the Creek Fire on the Sierra National Forest. It is currently 135,000 acres.

The Creek Fire very rapidly raced through two earlier fires (French fire of 2014, and Aspen fire of 2013) that had been heavily post-fire logged by the US Forest Service, followed by planting tree plantations. They removed nearly all of the large snags in most of the higher-intensity fire patches under the guise of “fuel reduction,” claiming that this would curb future fires (see map).

Map produced by Bryant Baker, Research Associate, California Chaparral Institute

We, along with the John Muir Project, sent the Forest Service numerous scientific studies showing that the logging would not stop fires and would likely make them burn faster and with more severity, such that the logging would likely increase, not decrease, risk to people. The Forest Service ignored the science and we filed suit with the John Muir Project to try to stop these post-fire logging projects, back in 2013 and 2014, but the federal judges deferred to the Forest Service.

Just days ago, the Creek fire started in the Big Creek canyon and soon reached previously post-fire logged areas, including the post-fire logged area in the French fire of 2014, after which it raced over 12 miles north in a matter of a few hours on Saturday (similar to the Camp fire of 2018, racing rapidly through heavily logged areas in the first six hours before devastating Paradise), trapping over 200 people at Mammoth Pool Reservoir. The people were rescued by a daring National Guard helicopter operation, but it was a close call and there were dozens of injuries.

The Creek fire is now burning quickly through a large commercial thinning project area (Bald Mountain project) just east of Shaver Lake and dozens of additional hikers are reportedly trapped. The Forest Service has been told repeatedly that thinning would not stop a wildland fire and that thinning often makes fires spread faster, but they have continued to ignore the science. Numerous homes have burned down because of a preference for logging and habitat clearance over the implementation of real solutions like those in Senator Harris’ Wildfire Defense Act bill which focuses on home protection.

Overall this fire season in California, the great majority of the acreage burning is not in forests — it is in non-native grasslands, oak woodlands, and chaparral. Of the portion that is in forests, the fires that are spreading the fastest are in areas that the Forest Service and private corporations have heavily logged in recent years and decades (both post-fire logging and thinning) under the guise of “fuel reduction,” and the fires are mostly lower-intensity in unlogged areas (see research citations below).

Some logging interests continue to try to claim that the fires are spreading mostly because of dead trees and “overgrown” forests, but it’s the opposite. The overwhelming weight of science is clear that forests with more dead trees generally burn at equal or lower intensities relative to forests with few or no snags. Denser forests with the highest levels of environmental protection from logging burn at the lowest intensities. Fire behavior is driven mainly by weather and climate, not forest or snag density.

Information provided by:
John Muir Project

To learn more about how to to protect your home from wildfire, please see our webpage here.

The Facts About Logging and Forest Fires

“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).

Who Was John Muir, Really?

By Chad Hanson, Ph.D.

We have often been conditioned to think idealistically about great historical figures as icons, institutions, or superheroes, despite the historical context of their times, but that’s a mistake. They are all people, and their lives have arcs that may involve major changes and transformations. They are a product of their upbringing but it is up to them to decide who they truly are. John Muir is no exception. Muir was raised by a racist and horribly abusive father, who relentlessly beat him, forcing him into intensive labor logging forests on their farm as a pre-teen and beating and lashing him to force memorization of one verse of the Bible after another until he could recite the entire text of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament.[i] Muir’s father viewed natural areas as places to be exploited—cut down, dug up, and put to rigorous utilitarian purpose—and saw Native Americans as an impediment to this goal.[ii]

The ignorance about people of color that was beaten into Muir was reflected in some of his earliest writings in the years before he became an environmental advocate, a time period during which he used derogatory, hurtful and racist language regarding Black and Indigenous people in some passages of his original journals in 1867-1869.[iii]

In these same early years, Muir worked in the logging industry at sawmills in Ontario, Canada (1865), southern Florida (1867), and in 1869-1871 at a sawmill in Yosemite Valley, where he also worked for a time in the livestock ranching industry.[iv] At this time in his life, Muir commented frequently about the beautiful landscapes that he saw. However, there was also a sense of otherness in these early writings about Nature, including a preoccupation with wild places being dirty.[v] And, while Muir could note the beauty of a forest in the 1860s, he was nevertheless employed in an industry that was chopping down those same forests—evidencing a disconnectedness exhibited by many in the logging industry. 

When Muir first arrived in Yosemite in 1868, it was nearly two decades after (circa 1850-1852) white miners and loggers, backed by militias and the U.S. government, warred upon the Native American tribes in Yosemite Valley. Many Native Americans were killed, with survivors being forced to either flee to other areas or settle onto reservations in the foothills as part of the government’s genocidal policies toward Indigenous peoples and goal of facilitating industrial resource extraction and exploitation of the ancestral homelands of Native tribes.[vi]

After more than a year working at the Yosemite area sawmill, Muir began to change. In 1870 and 1871, he increasingly struggled with the conflict between his growing love for Nature, and the nature of his employment at the lumber mill. And, Muir began to view Native Americans, their culture, and the way they lived in harmony with Nature, with growing respect and reverence. In 1871, he began to argue increasingly with his boss at the sawmill and, in the summer of that year, Muir quit his job in the logging industry[vii] and began his personal and professional transformation. John Muir the environmental advocate was born. 

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