Study: Protected Forests on Public Land Burn Less Than Severely Logged Areas

This article, “Study Finds Protected Forests on Public Land Burn Less Than Severely Logged Areas,” discusses a study on Ecosphere (full text – open access).

Note that the study was performed by three activists who are strongly opposed to logging: Curtis M. Bradley (Center for Biological Diversity), Chad T. Hanson (John Muir Project), Dominick A. DellaSala (Geos Institute).

From their paper’s conclusion: “In general, our findings—that forests with the highest levels of protection from logging tend to burn least severely—suggest a need for managers and policymakers to rethink current forest and fire management direction, particularly proposals that seek to weaken forest protections or suspend environmental laws ostensibly to facilitate a more extensive and industrial forest–fire management regime.”

12 Comments

  1. We see many examples in the Rim Fire, where it burned in Yosemite National Park, of catastrophic losses of ancient trees and wildlife habitats. Ironically, managed forests near the Park’s boundary fared better than the choked forests inside the Park.

    We’ve also seen the same thing, including devastating re-burns, in the Foresta area of Yosemite. This included the original firestorm in 1989, and two re-burns since then. https://www.google.com/maps/@37.7112517,-119.7450753,114m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

  2. QUOTE from the article: “The most intense fires are occurring on private forest lands, while lands with little to no logging experience fires with relatively lower intensity.”

    Tying this to private timberlands without accounting for degree of soundness of forest management practice & execution (including regeneration, stand density & etc) concerns me & suggests the opportunity for confounding.

    In addition, no one (not just this paper) seems to have looked at % of acres burned by ownership, soundness of forest management, type of management &site characteristics. My observations suggest that this is not true for well managed private lands where controlled burns are allowed & stand densities are properly controlled.

    All else being equal, fuel reducing fire (naturally or management initiated controlled burns) has repeatedly been proven to lower the risk of catastrophic loss to fire & isn’t questioned by foresters.

    • You raise the issue that fire behavior on private timberlands needs to “account for degree of soundness of forest management practices.” That would be nice, but the fairy tale being told in Congress and state legislatures around the country is that private forest management is superior to federal land management even though the evidence shows clearly that federal lands have better outcomes in terms of: water quality, fire hazard, fish & wildlife habitat, carbon storage, recreation, scenic values, etc.

      • Not sure how you consider this a fairy tale? When your mortality rate is fast approaching the growth rate, I hardly call that healthy, nor conducive to carbon storage. Recreating in stands of standing snags as far as the eye can see is not only not scenic, but it is also dangerous as can be documented by the increasing number of people struck falling trees, both while recreating and working in the forestland. The water quality is not improved when you have entire basins being burned off by wildfire in which land slides increase after burning due to sedimentation from the first rainy season on bare soil and continuing over the next 5-10 years as root systems from dead trees rot and lose their effect on soil stability. The lack of shade as the RMA’s are burned off tends to be counter productive to providing the needed shade for water temperature – a direct effect on fish habitat, in fact if you review fire severity on managed stands you will see that often the unmanaged RMA is more severely burn than the managed stand surrounding. Etc. Etc. Etc.

      • 2nd law

        You may have misunderstood me. My observations are made after ruling out those private landowners who are not practicing sound forestry. The root problem is not sound forestry but, is instead, differing objectives or malpractice whether said malpractice is done out of ignorance or done out of willful intent to ignore the long term impact of cost cutting whether it is done on federal, private or other public lands.

        My point being that the proper application of forest management designed to meet the owner’s objectives is superior to allowing stands to become overly dense, thereby increasing risk of undesired catastrophic loss from:
        1) insects and disease resulting from increased competition for limited moisture, nutrients and light which decreases a tree’s/stand’s health and therefore its ability to survive when stressed. Compouding the problem, drought limits available moisture even more than under normal conditions, making the need to keep density down even more important in a global warming scenario.
        2) wildfire where the increased proximity of trees in a stand with excessive density exponentially increases the chance that the point of ignition will blow up, due to fuel density&/proximity, into a fire that creates it’s own wind and becomes a runaway monster that destroys what society wants to protect. It is no different than trying to start a campfire with four pieces of kindling with one piece in each corner of a large pit and the tinder in the center. The closer the kindling and the tinder with the kindling over the tinder, the higher the probability of having a nice cooking or warming fire. Again, spreading the trees/kindling out and removing as much tinder/debris as possible is even more important in a global warming scenario where the fuel is dryer than normal.

        So, in regard to your last statement: “the evidence shows clearly that federal lands have better outcomes in terms of: water quality, fire hazard, fish & wildlife habitat, carbon storage, recreation, scenic values, etc.” – This is your opinion and you might be right until you look at the long term and the loss probabilities compared to what could have been if sound forestry had been included and prescribed to meet the same objectives. See my post of this past weekend (Fixing Faucets by Fixing (Managing) Forests) for examples of the failure of your opinion in the area of “water quality”.

        Of course, the need for sound forest management on federal lands goes out the window if there is no desire to reduce the risk of catastrophic loss.

  3. A review of the 2014 fires on the Klamath National Forest in Northern California will show the opposite of their conclusions.
    A map of protected areas do to NSO habitat or other protected resources that excluded logging with an overlay of fire intensity will show a direct correlation with severe intensity and unmanaged areas.
    The other part of the story that is missing is the ability to control wildfire. Speaking from 35 years of experience, it is easier to effectively control wildfire in managed areas do to; higher road density allowing quicker response, more open canopies which allow for better penetration to the ground with aerial attack, etc. Yes, young reprod stands usually don’t survive, but the loss of less ground and resource generally offsets the risk. – unless you’re inside the “big box” used by today’s federal fire managers, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

  4. It would be interesting to see their data sets. Was it a yearly comparison? or did they pick fires from protected areas that burned 30 years ago and compare to fires in managed areas that burned in the last decade? Compounding fuel loading’s alone would impact the data over a 30 year period, in most federal forests in the PNW, harvest since the NWFP has been at <1% of annual growth. Over a 25 year period since implementation this is a substantial change. Couple this to the changes in fire control methods and tactics in the last 20 years, where they have gone from continued direct attack on extended fires to the big box tactic for most fires that extend past the first burn period and this significant finding is significantly flawed.

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