DellaSala on Fire

Just received this press release from Dominick DellaSala’s Geos Institute. The presentation is here. I agree with DellaSalla that fire is a vital element of forest ecosystems, but do not support his call to “allow more large fire to burn unimpeded” in the back country. If such large fires are needed, would he support starting them to obtain the ecological benefits he assigns them? The public, as well as many land managers, would be dubious, to say the least about letting nature take its course in this way, whether ignitions are natural or not.

One of the photos listed comes with this caption: “2013 Rim Fire in California’s Sierra Nevada produced an ecologically beneficial mosaic of fire severities.” So more Rim Fires are in order?

Active Wildfire Season in Western U.S. Offers Many Ecological Benefits, According to Geos Institute
ASHLAND, Ore., May 13, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Fire scientists are releasing a new synthesis of the ecological benefits of large wildfires, including those that kill most vegetation in fire-adapted forests, grasslands, and shrub lands of the western U.S.
These benefits are described in a Prezi presentation, “Fireside Chat: Lessons from Fire Ecology and Post-fire Landscapes,” which can be viewed at:
The online Fireside Chat presents the latest science on wildfire’s ecosystem benefits, with (a) nine key findings, (b) information on the landscape impacts from climate change, post-fire logging, and fire suppression, and (c) ways to help homeowners prepare for fires.
It also includes links to fire videos and contact information for wildfire researchers.
Its purpose is to serve as an information tool for the press, decision makers, and land managers interested in the ecosystem benefits of large fires, which have been under-appreciated.
Dominick DellaSala, Chief Scientist of Geos Institute, stated “Contrary to popular belief, most large wildfires are not catastrophes of nature, as many plant and wildlife species depend on them to restore habitat in short supply and to replenish soil nutrients.”
DellaSala continued, “We can co-exist with wildfires by thinning vegetation nearest to homes and in fire-prone tree plantations, and by allowing large fires to burn unimpeded in the backcountry under safe conditions.”
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (, California, southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, southern Alaska, and Oregon could experience large fires this year, given the dry conditions. However dry, fire-adapted regions generally have experienced substantially less fires, compared to historical times, due to ongoing fire suppression.
Suppression costs in some years have approached $5 billion on public lands, with limited effects on slowing large fires that are mostly driven by weather events. The Forest Service already has signaled that it is likely to run out of wildfire suppression funds long before the end of the fire season.
Related CounterPunch article on the ecological benefits of large wildfires:
Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientist
Geos Institute
541.482.4459 x302 (office); 541.621.7223 (cell)


3 thoughts on “DellaSala on Fire”

  1. Once again we see the “Whatever Happens” mindset, embracing fires that destroy endangered species habitats and old growth, claiming dubious “benefits” and worship of rare (but not endangered) woodpeckers. Next, they will find a rare plant that likes to grow in high-intensity burns (but lives on, outside of such firestorms), claiming it, also, is endangered.

    Yes, there ARE significant chunks of high-intensity fire in the Rim Fire, mostly clustered in areas of little, to no management, mostly endangered species habitat. Soooo, how easy will it be for the homeless birds to set up a brand new system of nests, in safe (but rare) habitats? Unlike the BBW, goshawks and spotted owls cannot survive well without nesting habitats. Remember, they need multiple nests to continue to breed.

  2. In addition to the species mentioned by LarryH, I still haven’t heard any feedback on how the endangered Pacific Fisher fared from the RIM fire. The last that I knew was that this was due to safety access issues prohibiting investigation in that portion of the RIM fire. The Fisher was greatly at risk to this catastrophic fire.

    My opinion is that more endangered species will be lost the more that they are subject to the extreme swings in ecosystems that comes from eliminating the improved stability that comes from sound forest management from our National Forests.

  3. Fishers are about snow amounts and duration, and porcupines to eat. I imagine they didn’t do very well in the burnt areas this winter. But, they are mobile, and can move until they hit an interstate or high use secondary road, where many critters meet their demise. The Sierra wildlife that is mobile would be well served by having under and over passes across Interstates directed at critter movement and make available habitat larger.

    Too bad there is no ongoing heavy duty post fire research happening on the Rim. One of the things that would interest me would be how much snow is now retained due to less sublimation due to it formerly hanging up on limbs and needles, and much more of it going to ground where the exposure to the air is one dimensional. And albedo can work. Will there be more retained moisture even with less precipitation? Across a vast area? And creek sediments, temperatures, and summer flows. No trees sucking up vast amounts of ground water. Creeks have to run somewhat more in summer. Localized strong rain cells can move some soil on exposed ground. If there is more water in the creeks, you can be sure California Mega Ag will want to burn more watersheds. If no trees means more water, Big Ag will be there to try to ensure watersheds go to grass, not trees. Or so says the cynic in me.


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