All trees fall down. Some fall when they are alive. Some fall after they die. Some fall when they are young. Some fall when they are old. Wind knocks trees over. Trees fall over from root decay. Trees also fall after being burned in forest fires.
Wait a second . . . go back and click on that last link. The one about trees falling over after forest fires. Most of those lodgepole pine trees are still standing. And they’ve been standing long enough for the aspen in the understory to sprout and grow.
So how long does a tree stand after being killed by fire? It’s an area of research almost wholly neglected by so-called tree hazard evaluations (“There are no scientific publications, however, that evaluate, test or compare the [tree hazard] procedures or methods”). Ecologists, however, have studied snag persistence to assess wildlife habitat.
In a western Idaho study, for example, 95% of Douglas-fir snags were still standing four years after fire. Over 80% remained up-right 11 years later.
If the Forest Service thinks wilderness should remain closed until the fire-killed trees have fallen over of their own accord, they’ll have to lock the public out for years. The Forest Service could treat wilderness trails as it does roads and cut the potentially hazardous trees, if doing so “preserves its wilderness character.” Or the Forest Service could do as it has in Idaho — open the wilderness and warn visitors to “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”