Record-breaking wildfires in recent years as well as heightened concerns over the drought are prompting debate about how best to manage forests to prevent wildfire. A bill pending in Congress would expedite salvage logging of dead trees in national forests. We’ll discuss the legislation and best practices to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire while safeguarding forest ecology.

Bruce Westerman, U.S. congressman (R, Arkansas) and author of the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015
Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute
Bill Stewart, co-director of the UC Berkeley Center for Fire Research and Outreach
Tom McClintock, representative, U.S. Congress, 4th district; co-author of the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    My family has lived here in the Sierra since 1859 and I always wonder how many non logging of dead trees ‘environmentalists’ live in this area which has had some horrid fires that could have been prevented or at least reduced with the removal of dead trees.

  • Elon Husk

    If Congress came up with a plan, most likely it was to satisfy Special Interests alone.
    Expecting them to act in an ethical manner is like waiting for a gang of monkeys to type out Hamlet by chance.

  • Sam Badger

    Forest fires are a natural part of the life of a woodland. We need to be doing more controlled burns to help the forests attain the fires it needs. It seems perverse to cut the forest down to “save” it from fires. Some logging might be acceptable, but if our goal is to improve the conditions of lumber workers and make logging companies happy, it is ridiculous to do that through the “trojan horse” of an environmental bill.

    • Paul

      Any modern legislation regarding our National Forests has to be sold as ‘environmental’ or it would never see the light of day in either chamber. Would any legislator offer “The Logging and Rural Employment Act of 20XX” ? No way.

  • Sam Badger

    California’s national forests were all lands stolen from our neglected and genocide-ravaged native tribes anyways. California’s tribes went from foresters to people often dependent on casino earnings on various scattered Rancherias. Perhaps instead of giving it to logging companies, we should give more of the forests back to them. Perhaps it would undo some of the terrible social damage our federal government did in the first place by taking it over.

  • Stan Mathews

    There already is a program for harvesting dead timber. This is often done by locals to purchase tags and harvest within designated areas. I would be careful to differentiate between what is now and current practices vs. those proposed. Note current harvesting is fairly limited as it’s rather difficult to gather wood from deep within the woods and current rules are strict regarding damage to local flora, etc. I would propose allowing environmentally sensitive commercial harvesting would be unlikely to be economically feasible.

  • dougbev

    If you like wildlife and wildflower, you visit post-fire forests like the Rim Fire area near Yosemite. I visited it in May and it was full of life: see “Fires Create Vibrant Forests” in the Sacramento Bee on 6/22/15 (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article24662299.html). Contrary to what Rep. McClintock claimed, the Rim Fire created really good wildlife habitat for species like the spotted owl (http://www.wildnatureinstitute.org/spotted-owls-in-rim-fire.html)

    • Paul

      If the spotted owl thrives in chaparral, then why all the angst over so many years in regard ‘old growth’ forest preservation, besides its aesthetic value? What do spotted owl need, old growth or chaparral?

      • dougbev

        Both. Old growth makes great nesting habitat for owls (their “bedroom”), while unlogged post-fire snag forests and montane chaparral provide great foraging habitat for owls (their “kitchen”) since their prey is abundant in those areas. It is best for owls to have a mixture of both types of habitat. You wouldn’t want to have to chose between only having a bedroom or only having a kitchen, would you?

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      WE who live here in the Sierra took part in planting wildflower seeds in the Rim fire area months after the fire, to help prevent soil erosion from any rain the area would be getting.

      • dougbev

        The wildflowers in the places I visited were not planted; they were natural growth. It is well known that wildflowers are naturally abundant after wildfires. Perhaps you should get out into the unlogged parts of the post-fire areas and see this for yourself.

        • Beth Grant DeRoos

          Perhaps I should get out into the unlogged parts of the post-fire areas and see this for myself? We LIVE in a remote area here in the Sierra so we are well aware of the environment. We also do a lot of reseeding of native wildflowers as well as native species of trees.

  • The purpose of fire protection is to protect lives and property. This legislation fails to address this issue because it is focusing on the same, failed approach we have been using for decades – “fuel” reduction rather than fire risk reduction. Instead of asking, “How do we stop wildfires?” we need to ask, “How do we protect lives and property.” Increasing logging in wildland areas is not the answer.

    Trying to stop wildfires is equivalent to trying to stop earthquakes. We can’t stop earthquakes, but we can build earthquake-resistant communities. We need to approach wildfire the same way – retrofit flammable communities by using fire safe techniques: non-flammable roofing and siding, ember-resistant vents, and proper defensible space. This method is being implemented with great success in the communities of Big Bear and Idyllwild in California with FEMA pre-disaster grants.

    If we used a small fraction of the money that will be spent through this legislation on communities themselves, we will create a permanent solution to the wildfire crisis rather than conducting multi-million-dollar, ineffective, and ecologically damaging “fuel” reduction mistakes over and over again.

    High-severity fires are a natural part of the ecosystem. They are not “catastrophes.” They are not “disasters.” They create wonderful, postfire environments on which many plants and animals depend.

    The science is clear that logging and other forms of habitat clearance are most effective within and at the borders of communities. Out in the wildland, they are ecologically damaging and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    More on this subject can be found on the California Chaparral Institute’s website here:

  • FireEcologist

    This was a valuable discussion. Dr. Hanson was the only one who seemed to know the state of the science, and it was refreshing to hear him talk in detail about the ecological benefits of wildfire for native plants and animals, nutrient cycling, and the complexities of carbon dynamics. It is remarkable to hear politicians and economists suggesting that logging after wildfires is ecologically beneficial or even ecologically acceptable, since virtually every scientific assessment of postfire logging has shown the net effects to be very negative. See for example the book “Salvage Logging and Its Ecological Consequences” (search an online bookseller) by three of the world’s most famous ecologists from Australia, Canada, and the United States. The central matter is that the ecological legacies, left after the fire, including snags, resprouting shrubs, scattered surviving trees etc., are essential to effective recovery after the fire. Temperate zone ecosystems can recover very well after severe fires if the legacies are allowed to assist, not damaged by logging.

    Also, where did the idea originate that postfire landscapes are fire-prone and we have to remove fuels to prevent another wildfire? Studies of this notion have shown that the probability of a reburn after a fire is low, not elevated. In the most comprehensive study of reburns, only about 7% of a large forest area burned twice in a 116 year period. To see this study, get on Google Scholar and search for ”

    Landscape-scale controls over 20th century fire occurrence in two large Rocky Mountain (USA) wilderness areas.”

  • Bsatinkwolfson

    Traditional logging will not prevent forest fires. The large trees that are desirable to most commercial logging companies are resilient to fire, whereas the small trees that have grown in as a result of years of fire suppression are those that need to be removed. The majority of the fire ecology literature agrees with this viewpoint in dry mixed conifer forests. However, fire is a completely different animal in a chaparral ecosystem!

  • P. Smith

    There is no easy answer to restore the forests of the west. It is incredibly complicated and one bill will not fix it. Salvage logging is controversial, but under the right circumstances can be useful, thus it should not be completely ruled out. According to the majority of fire ecology literature, high severity fire on the scale we’ve seen in the last decade is way beyond any natural range of variability. Scientists and land managers need to team up to create solutions to manage the future post-fire landscape as it will only continue to grow while we argue…

    • dougbev

      To learn more about the science on the natural range of variability of big fires, I encourage to read “Nature’s Phoenix: The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires” (Elsevier 2015). Co-authored by 27 scientists and fire experts, it shows a substantial body of research that does not support your contention that we are ‘way beyond any natural range of variability’. If anything, we are experiencing a deficit of fire.

      • 22’sSweetSwing

        Any conclusions drawn by those who read “Nature’s Phoenix” should be done with great caution as little of it appears to be based on the situation in California. Don’t let 27 scientists fool you, that book is co-created by a gentleman who has an agenda and part of it is making money off of people who don’t understand how false his most basic premise is. The best, most complete, scientifically sound book that explain the place of fire in California is “Fire in California’s Ecosystem” http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520246058. It was written by people (49 contributors) who have spent their careers studying fire in the state’s unique environments, not the boreal forest of Canada, or ecosystems in South Africa or Rocky Mountains, all of which are similar but are not California.

  • Rachel Fazio

    At one point during the discussion host Michael Krasny seemed to indicate there is a
    lot of disagreement on these issues. In fact, there is no disagreement on the science regarding wildfire benefits to wildlife species and forest ecological health. Issues that are not even covered or addressed by the logging legislation, which both Congressmen
    misleadingly extol as an environmental bill.

    The legislation is premised on the outdated notion that fire is bad for forest ecosystems. Fire is not bad, it is simply a natural process. Our forests evolved with fire and so to the native species that inhabit these forests. Fire naturally restores our forests, creates a mosaic of interspersed forest types that hugely advantage native species and increase the overall biodiversity of the forests. Why is this something that we would want to suppress or prevent? In addition, drought is not new to the West. Historically there have been droughts that have lasted decades, not just three or four years. While we should definitely be working to conserve water, pretending that extensively logging our National Forests while circumventing environmental protections and closing the courthouse doors to concerned citizens is going to do anything but degrade our forests, pollute our watersheds and reduce native biodiversity is sheer folly. We are not going to log our way out of a drought or away from fire.

    I would love to see some brave member of the Senate propose legislation that would protect more of our remaining forests from resource extraction, embrace fire as a natural process allowing it to burn in remote areas unhindered, and focus fire-fighting efforts and prevention in the home protection zone (200 feet from homes). Imagine the ecosystem benefits and taxpayer savings which would occur if science and data actually informed forest management policy!

  • Blythe Adams

    Has anyone heard about the California Natives working with the park service to create more meadows to hold more water?

    • mthstar

      Resource managers are finally letting beavers keep their dams. The ‘scourge’ of the 20th century are now finally our (free) water engineers.

  • rematrav

    This discussion causes me to remember what the late novelist Michael Crichton said at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 2003:

    “Today, one of the most powerful religions in the Western World is environmentalism. Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

    There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability. Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe. . . .

    There is no Eden. There never was. What was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Is it the time when infant mortality was 80%, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? When one woman in six died in childbirth? When the average lifespan was 40, as it was in America a century ago. When plagues swept across the planet, killing millions in a stroke. Was it when millions starved to death? Is that when it was Eden?”

    • Paul

      I’ll go with the first 3 paragraphs. Zealous/radical environmentalism can function like a faith community. I qualify ‘over-zealous’ as 1) the faithful accept scientific-sounding word & innuendo as a basis for their advocacy & hyperbole, and, 2) it’s likely their only faith or spirituality.
      Whereas persons holding a traditional faith or religion (Judeo-Christian, et.al.) may also be environmentally-thinking, but are not over-zealous and tend to hold to scientific ‘fact’. An example could be Pope Francis, based on his recent encyclical, certainly not a enviro-zealot by most measures, On the other side of the spectrum would be for example the classic climate-change deniers, such as Sen. Jim Inhofe, Heritage Foundation, etc, etc.

      Of course this is all rather stereotyping and there are numerous exceptions.
      Authors on the earlier topic include: Elizabeth Nickson, Steven Milloy, David Stirling, Robert Nelson, James Delingpole to name a few.

  • John Melland

    Those who oppose tree harvesting and especially the burnt ones, need to ask themselves one question. How would plastic feel between my butt cheeks? LOL That wood is going to sit there and waste away. Why not use it. With some funding new trees could be planted. I bet if we put off buying one more stupid fighter jet we could buy and plant a lot of trees. We have more military equipment than the top 13 countries combined. What is just one plane going to hurt. If we could sacrifice 1/2 of all new fighter jets from being bought every year or so, we could have smart enough kids from better schools too by using that money for education. Not wars fought over oil!

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