11 Reasons Why Burned Forests are Beautiful

A severely burned forest is not a “destroyed” forest, but rather a habitat restored.

That is not something you are likely to hear during or after the next large forest fire in the Sierra Nevada. It certainly wasn’t during the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite and the Stanislaus National Forest. It should have been, however, because the science is clear – severely burned forests provide some of rarest and most biodiverse habitats on earth.

Severely burned forests should be left alone, protected, and allowed to thrive without our meddling. This is why we are joining with several other environmental organizations to stop “salvage” logging and “reforestation” projects in the forest burned by the Rim Fire. The Forest Service will make a decision about what they will to do in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

dsc_5084-ii1. Severely burned forests provide rich habitats.
Why? Because, as described by wildlife biologist Monica Bond, “These post-fire, complex early seral forests are rich in post-disturbance legacies (e.g., large live and dead trees, downed logs), and post-fire vegetation (e.g., native fire-following shrubs, flowers, natural conifer regeneration), that provide important habitat for countless species and differ from those created by logging (e.g., salvage or pre-fire thinning) that are deficient in biological legacies and many other key ecological attributes.”
Location: Tahoe National Forest, after the 2008 American River Complex Fire.

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The Cliven Bundy Narrative – Intoxicating, uncompromising, quasi-religious

You may have heard about the standoff between the federal government and a rancher named Bundy in Nevada. He has refused to pay his grazing fees and his cattle are endangering the desert tortoise. We posted a short quote from Mr. Bundy along with an editorial cartoon about the subject on our Facebook page (you can see the cartoon and the quote at the bottom of this post). But, wow!

We usually receive about 1,000 post views, but this time? It’s currently at 348,000 and climbing. The good part of this is that the Chaparral Institute is getting a lot of attention. But there’s also a scary part.

There’s an intoxicating, uncompromising, quasi-religious narrative out there that some very vocal folks have so surrounded themselves with that they have created an alternative state of reality. This narrative is promoted by several financially successful “news” media outlets that have rejected the most basic principles of news journalism. For example, fact checking. The Sean Hannity Show is a case in point. Hannity even created news himself by initiating rumors that federal agents were going to conduct a secret raid on the Bundy Ranch. Gone is one of the most fundamental requirements for rational thought, the art of unbiased questioning.

Fortunately there’s a lot of rational people helping to promote the actual truth. But it remains an ongoing battle, one that will unfortunately have to play out for some time to come.

Pulling from the hundreds of comments we’ve received this past week on our Facebook page, here are some of the most common tenets of the Bundy narrative:

1. Anti-federal government and government in general.
“I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada. I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” -Cliven Bundy
There is also the notion that the federal government cannot own land and that everything from national parks to national forests are illegal.
“The fact is, the Bundys as well as many Americans who do the research know that the government has no jurisdiction on this common law land and only by fiat and though environmental conservationist ideals media attempts to sway Americans to believe they do.” -Joel

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The Myth of “Park-like” Forests in the Past

A research paper released yesterday finally did it for us.

“The most profound implication of this study is that the need for forest ‘restoration’ designed to reduce variation in fire behavior may be much less extensive than implied by many current forest management plans or promoted by recent legislation.”

Over the past ten years I have become increasing skeptical of the notion that large, high-severity fires in Western forests are “unnatural” and are completely the result of fuel build-up due to past fire suppression. A comment made last summer by a fire scientist during the Rim Fire in Yosemite that historically in the western Sierra the maximum high-intensity fire patch size was 40 acres with a few acres being the norm was, for me, completely illogical. The press loved it though.

Having read hundreds of research papers, hiked in the Sierra Nevada all my life, having some experience with fire as a USFS seasonal firefighter, watched huge fires move in drought-stressed, low humidity, windy conditions, and observed billions of dollars being spent to “restore” forests by clearing out habitat (i.e. “fuel”), I’ve concluded the conventional wisdom that “forests-are-supposed-to-be-park-like-with-only-surface-fires-clearing-out-the-understory-every-5-10 years,” really needs to go.

Yesterday, a remarkable paper was released that examined “the historical and current mixed-severity fire regimes in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America.” The scientists examined a huge landscape-data set (from published literature and information on stand ages from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program) about forests across the entire West.

Their conclusion? The traditional reference conditions of low-severity fire regimes are inaccurate for most forests in western North America. Most forests appear to have been characterized by mixed-severity fire that included ecologically significant amounts of weather-driven, high severity fire.

Some of the findings of the paper particularly struck us.

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