Blame For Western Wildfires… Timber Industry (??!!)

I just read this story from AP via NPR.. interesting statement by “Federal forest ecologists.” I wish they’d said “some federal forest ecologists” or even “one or two”, whomever they interviewed.

Federal forest ecologists say that historic policies of fire suppression to protect Sierra timber interests left a century’s worth of fuel in the fire’s path.

“That’s called making the woodpile bigger,” said Hugh Safford, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service in California.

Wow! My first experience in the Sierra was at Meadow Valley Forestry Camp, prior to UC Berkeley forestry school in 1974. That was almost 40 years ago. At that time there were many people and communities, (camps, ski areas, etc.) and infrastructure of various kinds (dams, powerlines) in the Sierra. Fires were thought to be bad for people and communities and infrastructure. Smoke was bad for human health.

It seems to me that fires were also suppressed, and continue to be suppressed, in southern California, where there was no timber and no timber industry, but there was still.. people and houses and infrastructure. And Colorado, where industry is minimal…

6 thoughts on “Blame For Western Wildfires… Timber Industry (??!!)”

  1. A couple of the many cracks in the fatally-flawed “century of fuel build up due to fire suppression” meme…

    – We can’t put out wildfires at will today. We can’t even find many until they get big. Was fire suppression totally effective in 1913? Plenty has burned despite any intentions of suppression. Oops, no century of fuel buildup there.

    – Much of the landscape of concern, which didn’t ever burn at some point during the last 100 years, has been logged one or more times since 1913.. Oops, no century of fuel buildup there, either.

    • Hi Kevin: I am in total agreement with you regarding the mythology and misdirection of the “century of fuel build up due to fire suppression” meme you reference and got sick and tired of hearing it years ago — and still, it won’t go away for some reason or another.

      My research has shown that the problem has mostly been the elimination of regular, relatively frequent fires across the landscape NOT the “suppression” of subsequent and mostly predictable wildfires. “Suppressing” wildfires was a joke until after WW II, when aerial attacks (including smokejumpers) and extensive roadbuilding, clearcutting, and salvage logging began to take place. Then, when those processes were largely stopped, catastrophic-scale wildfires began taking their place.

      Fuel build-up is largely responsible for these events, but it has been a result of eliminating active management — including regular burning — across the landscape, NOT “fire suppression.” We couldn’t suppress the 1910 Fires, the 1933 Tillamook Fire, or the 1987 Silver Complex, and we haven’t been able to suppress the major fires burning this afternoon. Not sure how or why this idea got started or why it hasn’t been put to bed.

      • Bob

        Re: “Fuel build-up is largely responsible for these events, but it has been a result of eliminating active management — including regular burning — across the landscape, NOT “fire suppression.”” … “Not sure how or why this idea got started or why it hasn’t been put to bed”

        Don’t know if this is where it got started but Page 18 of one of Tree’s Bibles whose lead author was Jerry Franklin states:
        “The current vulnerability of dry forests of the interior West to disturbance is the result of many factors including fire exclusion, high-grade logging, livestock grazing and conversion
        of stands form low to high levels of tree stocking”

        So now you know who has at least helped to perpetuate it.

  2. Oh, well, at least the nature only people will be happy for a little while as they get satisfaction from knowing that once again they were right and nature has just proven that. So, ‘things are now back to where they need to be and all will be well if we just leave nature alone with her new clean slate. Too bad about all of the insects, animals and plants that were destroyed but that’s just nature’s way. Did you hear we spent thousands to save 12 giant sequoias, I mean we have to save nature don’t we?’

  3. Very interesting facts pertinent to many of the discussions that we have had here:! **** “To grab the attention of politicians or the public, a fire has to do at least one of three things: It must burn lots of houses, kill people or involve celebrities (a celebrity landscape will do).” ****
    –> “Prescribed, or controlled, fire is a foundational principle in the Southeast, where places such as Florida are succeeding in replacing wild fire with tame fire, but it has foundered in the West”
    –> “The National Association of State Foresters estimates that more than 72,000 communities are at risk and only 20 percent have a plan for protection”
    –> “Efforts to get ahead of the flames are meager. The largest, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Arizona, proposes to treat up to 50,000 acres a year for 10 years by thinning and burning. As a point of comparison, the nearby 2011 Wallow fire burned 538,000 acres in one savage swipe”
    –> “megafires now account for more than 85 percent of costs and burned area”
    –> “The fact is, you control wildland fires by controlling the countryside”
    –> “It’s probably too late to do more than flee skillfully from the fires we face today. But we can begin positioning ourselves for the ones to come.”!
    **** “Thin the Threat” campaign ****
    –> “Insect induced mortality is three times what it used to be,”
    –> “At the federal level, she said, the National Environmental Policy Act could add up to a million dollars to a timber sale, and delay the amount of time it takes to get a sale out.”
    –> “She said most environmental impact statements take a minimum of two years to complete and that is just the beginning of the federal process for selling timber.”
    –> “90 percent of all veg(etative) projects are going to court … that usually adds another two years to the timber sale process”
    –> “The Lands Council recently took a turn toward collaboration with timber companies,” Peterson said. “As a result, there have been no lawsuits on the Colville National Forest in the past 10 years.”


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