Anti-Logging Activists Cause Catastrophic Forest Fires . . .

Anti-Logging Protest

Today, NASA posted this image of forest fires burning around Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. A drought has gripped the region throughout 2015. As in Alaska this year, these boreal forest fires are burning unchecked.

Question for our readers. Would fuels treatment, thinning or other logging have prevented these fires?

18 Comments

  1. Anti-logging activists do, indeed, cause a lack of prescribed fires, in Region 5. Without thinning, prescribed fires are thought to be extremely dangerous, and the statistics show it. So far, this year, Region 5 has done prescribed burns on 9,594 acres. In contrast, Region 8 (The South) has accomplished prescribed burns on over 620,000 acres.

    Question: If there was more logging, would there be more prescribed fires in Region 5?

    • Larry asks, “If there was more logging, would there be more prescribed fires in Region 5?” History doesn’t support this thesis.

      Since 1998, national forest system-wide, the FS has prescribe burned about 1 million acres annually; the acreage fluctuates little year-to-year. On the other hand, logging levels used to be significantly higher, about 12 billion board in the late 1980s, compared to about 3 billion today. I doubt that prescribed burning was any more common during those peak logging decades than it is today.

      • 35 years ago, prescribed fire wasn’t popular, either with the Agency or the public. Now, both the Agency AND the public wants to do more but, in past years more than 95% of all Forest Service acres treated with prescribed fire were done in areas east of the Mississippi River. Now that logging has screeched to a halt in Region 5, why hasn’t prescribed fires been accelerated? Comparing the distant past to today is not… ahem…. productive.

        Do you REALLY think that 9,594 acres of prescribed fire in a large fire-dominated Region is adequate??? Hey, they got TONS of timber money to get them ready to go. Why the severe “under-performance”? What is stopping them, besides the safety issue? Like you’ve said before, the Forest Service hasn’t been that busy, this fire season. Could it be that their brand new engines need to be waxed twice a week? Are there more needles to rake, this year? (Yeah, there probably is, due to serious drought stress) Is there a problem with firefighter safety? Do they feel a safety need to stay close to their home station? Are they obsessed with keeping their tools sharp, in case they get a fire call? (Project work dulls tools). Have they run out of areas that need prescribed fires?

        Just what IS the reason for so few acres treated?!?!?

        • Ya know, if I were in charge of Sierra Pacific Industries, with all that “checkerboarded” lands surrounded by unmanaged and unhealthy Forest Service forests, I would be prioritizing clearcuts along all property lines. I would also be looking to sell off certain parcels to real estate interests, too. With so little logging happening on the Forest Service side, I would also be stipulating that “my loggers” stay on company ground during wildfires, until released from putting in emergency fuel breaks and firelines. In the past, dozers were already out in the woods, and under contract to provide fire suppression duties. They didn’t have to read and sign any contracts. They could just go and see the IC and get out there, building line. Where will the Forest Service get their dozers, if they are all working for SPI? It’s kinda hard to get a line around a fire without dozers. It’s kinda unsafe to put handcrews out there, without a dozer line to help protect them.

          I guess we really ARE getting into the meat of the “Whatever Happens” mindset, eh?

        • Logging has screeched to a halt in Region 5? According to the FS cut & sold reports, in 2014 R-5 cut 355,796 million board feet of timber and sold 317,114 million board feet. I hardly consider that “screeched to a halt.”

          • According to my source, during the first 3 quarters, all of Region 5 has sold just over 200,000 MBF. Now, if you removed the salvage volume from the Rim Fire, and also removed the volumes from outside of the Sierra Nevada Framework, they sold about a miniscule 40,000 MBF. Yep, green sales might not be at a “screeching halt” but, spread out over the entire Sierra Nevada, that is a VERY tiny amount of small trees getting cut. Considering that my old Ranger District on the Eldorado used to have an ASQ of 65,000 MBF, that really tells the story of how little logging is actually going on in the Sierra Nevada today. Additionally, take a look at individual Forests. The Sequoia and the Sierra NF’s combined totals all of 9,200 MBF. Sounds like a “screeching halt”, to me! That makes me wonder if the one lumber mill in all of southern California has closed up. They cannot survive on that paltry sum of timber.

            (Also, I think you have a decimal point problem, as 355,000 million board feet is WAY off the real total) *smirk*

            http://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/documents/sold-harvest/reports/2015/2015_Q1-Q3_CandS_R05.pdf

        • Reasons for lack of prescribed fire accomplishment:
          * narrow windows when fuel and weather conditions are suitable;
          * risk averse managers;
          * smoke averse public;

          This drought-year in particular, fire-fuel conditions have been hazardous nearly all year long.

  2. There are so many anti-logging activists stopping prescribed fires and thinning in central Alaska! It’s almost like there’s no timber industry left in the boreal forests up here anymore… Oh wait…

  3. Thanks for a thought-provoking post Andy…I made a similar comment via Twitter yesterday. And thanks for a thought-provoking comment Andy Erickson, especially since central Alaska is still site of the bulk of this year’s burned-acres to date.

  4. I don’t understand how you’re framing the issue.. here is a non-technical version of my framing:

    In the lower 48 there are many areas with many people, property and critters that forest fire could endanger.

    One way to change fuel conditions, in order to give firefighters additional safety and options, is to do mechanical treatments and remove fuels. there are reasons it might be preferable to prescribed burning.

    If you are going to do that, you might as well sell the trees since people use trees all the time and you can make some money back and employ people which leads to feeding children and other good things, and all the good things taxes do. (I have recently developed a habit of watching HGTV, and it appears that many people continue to use wood).

    People that don’t want these treatments to happen sometimes litigate to stop the treatments, which can make conditions worse for firefighting or can lead to high levels of fuels such that fires burn up all the vegetation and can singe the soil.

    • Recent “Science Findings” from PNW Research reveal that in the dry provinces, “requiring landscape treatments to earn a profit negatively impacted both habitat and fire objectives”. That is, commercial logging requires removing more and larger trees, which both degrades habitat and makes the stand hotter-drier-windier, creates more slash, and stimulates the growth of ladder fuels. PNW Research Station. 2006. Seeing The Bigger Picture: Landscape Silviculture May Offer Compatible Solutions To Conflicting Objectives. Science Findings. July 2006. http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/sciencef/scifi85.pdf.

      Only a small subset of needed restoration activities are “profitable,” so we can’t let logging economics determine restoration priorities. If we restore primarily those areas that have commercial-sized logs and fail to treat the thousands of acres of areas that need restoration but lack economic return, we will not be accomplishing real restoration which requires carefully and strategically choosing the subset of the landscape that can be treated to provide the greatest gain (both ecological and fire hazard reduction) for the least ecological “cost” in terms of soil, water, wildlife, carbon, and weeds. “Hoping to boost their economies and also restore these forests, local leaders are interested in the economic value of timber that might be available from thinning treatments on these lands. … [W]e found that on lands where active forestry is allowable, thinning of most densely stocked stands would not be economically viable.” Rainville, Robert; White, Rachel; Barbour, Jamie, tech. eds. 2008. Assessment of timber availability from forest restoration within the Blue Mountains of Oregon. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-752. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 65 p. http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr752.pdf. Allowing economics to drive these choices will result in greater ecological impacts and lower ecological gains.

  5. The FS has allowed unsustainable logging for decades. It created millions of acres of plantations that industry doesn’t want so it continues to plan timber sales in natural forest lands. The plantations are the greatest fire threat yet the natural stands continue to be cut creating ever more plantations. Regardless, no matter how much logging occurs the FS screams about a fire hazard that it created. The answer? More logging = more fire threat = more logging. It never ends. Einstein’s defintion of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. FS mismanagement created the mess and doing more of the same won’t fix it. Despite the rhetoric, western forests evolved with fire and need it to be healthy. If you believe the FS misinformation there would be no forests at all because they would have disappeared due to fire, insects and disease. Yet we have forests today. This isn’t rocket science. The FS is a toady for private timber interests and instead of managing them for the American people they are managed to benefit private interests and that poor (not to mention illegal) decision has had phenomenal repercussions. The only problem with the fires burning today is the people who have chosen to live in or near them. They made a poor decision. The only thing that will stop it is zoning and substantial rate increases in home owner insurance to discourage living in these places. As to the fires, they will put themselves out when the rains and snow come. Meanwhile the FS is throwing away tax payer money and endangering firefighter lives with its incessant fear of fire. These forests need to burn and should be allowed to burn. And people who live in or near them should take personal responsibility for their poor decision.

    • You seem to be stuck in the year of 1986. There has been no clearcutting in Sierra Nevada National Forests in 22 years! I am very sure that many other National Forests do not do clearcuts, as well.

      I think that you should maybe review some of the articles and threads to see what other folks on your side are presenting. You can look at some of the credentials of regular posters here. I think you will learn much better arguments than the one you posted above. I think you will find that there is a spectrum of opinions and experiences commenting here, too. I like to talk about site-specific stuff.

      • And you seem to be stuck in not reading correctly. Nowhere does my post mention clearcutting. I said “logging” which includes clearcutting, shelterwood cutting, seed tree harvest, individual tree selection, a variety of fuels treatments, etc. And it is not my job to cater to your whims. If you want to talk about “site-specific stuff” start your own blog. I have been working for, with and against the FS for 30 years so I think I have something to contribute to this discussion. Why don’t you try reading posts with an open mind – that generally means closing your mouth. And my post above regarding logging and fire is supported by the best available scientific information. And BTW clearcutting is alive and well. I work on four different NFs in N CA and 3 of the 4 currently clearcut and the 4th used too. Not much left on it now so no clearcutting. I have thousands of pictures of such logging from these 3 NFs. And these forests are checkboard lands with SPI – they clearcut everything. Funny how fires always seem to burn thru their clearcuts. So much for reducing fuels……. and wildfire.

        • “…yet the natural stands continue to be cut creating ever more plantations.” I guess, technically, you didn’t actually type out that exact word. *smirk*

          Of course, the Forest Service has no say in the operations of SPI. My statement on 22 years of no Sierra Nevada National Forests clearcutting stands. Also, there has been no old growth harvest in those same 22 years, under the original CASPO rules. Currently, no tree over 20″ in diameter can be cut. If I was SPI’s evil twin, I would be buying these projects and then waiting as long as I could. to cut them, to get more growth volume out of them. That is, if I needed the tiny logs, to feed my tiny log monster. Of course, SPI owns there own vast acreage of tiny trees that they don’t have to buy.

          What most of us active management people want is a forest where a fire can run through it, on the ground, and the resilient forest survives. At least, here in the Sierra Nevada. Oregon is finding out that they have tons of now-dry fuels. Is the best solution to let it burn, embracing the habitat destruction, loss of ancient trees and, yes, more plantation after salvage logging?

          Yes, I do have my own blog. Not much discussion but, I do transfer information and opinions. Here, I kinda help out, approve comments and stuff.

          Soooo, tell us what the best available science says about re-burns, soils damages, and complete losses of seed trees? Is it “natural” for a burned mature forest to take 500 years to return? Yes, Yosemite makes an excellent “control” experiment, for wildfires burning in unmanaged forests.

      • The plantations created more than 22 years ago are still there Larry. They are still a hazardous fuel condition, and the agency continues to log native stands to meet stupid timber targets instead of attending to the greater threat posed by the old plantations.

        • What about this plantation thinning project? And, yes, the plantation is there because of a previous wildfire. Do you still think this is “a hazardous fuels condition”? https://www.google.com/maps/@38.7656174,-120.2422525,592m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

          Or, perhaps you’ll like this idea, better? https://www.google.com/maps/@42.6132031,-121.5043655,1193m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

          You surely must be talking about the “native stand” thinning projects. Most east Oregon NFs have solid diameter limits.

        • Not true, almost all logging on the Forest Service and BLM has been the thinning of plantations.
          Most natives stands are a don’t touch, no matter how the lands are allocated.
          And some of these thinning are now 15 years old or more and look darn good. It has to help.
          They sure look like they would not burn as well as the unthinned stands, and maybe not at all if you could keep the fire on the ground.
          Seems to me they meet there stupid timber targets (and they don’t really met their targets either) by mostly selling huge thinning sales that only those with lots of cash can afford to buy.
          I find it so strange that some people think the Forest Service answers to the timber industry.
          I guess some might find it strange that I think they answer only to the environmental community.
          Everyday we are losing millions of old growth trees to fire.

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