When most reporters cover wildfire and forest issues they seem to present an entirely false narrative (feed by the timber industry and pro-timber industry politicians, ad nauseam) that all forests in the U.S. are unnaturally over-crowded and dense and all forests used to burn frequently, but at a very low severity.
While that narrative might (generally) be true of a certain (but small) percentage of forests in the western U.S. (for example, such frequent fire, but low burn severity forests, make up only about 5% of the entire forested landscape in Montana and northern Idaho), the vast majority of forest ecosystem in the western U.S. have a much more complicated and mixed fire history. This includes huge forest ecosystems that were born of, and are maintained by, mixed- to high-severity fire regimes.
That’s why this piece in the Seattle Times by Hal Bernton is so important, and refreshing.
The article highlights a new study from a research team that included scientists from the University of Washington, Washington state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service scientists. Better yet, the reporter got out into the forest with some of the leading forest and fire ecologists around.
One interesting tidbit of information in this article was the fact that early in Dr. Jerry Franklin’s career, he also dove into wildland fire issues. In fact, Dr. Franklin co-authored a 1982 study of Mount Rainier National Park, uncovered evidence of huge conflagrations 900 years ago that affected nearly 50 percent of the forested areas.
Apparently, if you believe Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that wildfires are caused by “environmental terrorist groups,” that huge conflagration that burned nearly 50% of the forested areas around present-day Mount Rainier National Park in approximately is 1118 A.D. is a real eye-opener, proving that “environmental terrorist groups” have been living in our midst for almost 1000 years now. Tune in to Fox News, The Daily Caller and Breitbart “News” for more breaking coverage exposing this 1118 A.D. “environmental terrorist” sect. In the meantime, here’s some snips from Bernton’s latest article:
On a remote ridge, the hemlock, silver and noble firs stood for several centuries, nurtured by deep winter snow and drenching rains. Then last year, amid the searing August temperatures, the Norse Peak fire on the east side of the Cascades pushed over the range’s crest and engulfed this stand, killing most of these trees.
Now the charred trunks rise like ghostly sentinels in a forest littered with charcoal, which still gives off whiffs of the smoke that billowed from the 55,909-acre blaze. This austere burn zone is a typical aftermath to intense fires that, over the course of centuries, periodically feast upon the huge amounts of wood that grow in the west-side forests of our region.
The fire ecology of such forests, and how it may evolve amid climate change, is of increasing importance as wild-land smoke emerges as a regional concern. The polluted air that hung this summer over a vast stretch of the West Coast — from San Francisco to Vancouver, B.C. — has generated a fresh wave of support for more logging and cool-season burns to thin the forests and reduce the potential fuel.
These tactics are standard practice east of the Cascades. But in a peer-reviewed paper published this year, a research team of University of Washington, state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service scientists caution that such tactics won’t do much to tame or head off west-side fires, which are forecast to happen more often — and burn more acreage — as climate change spurred by the combustion of fossil fuels reduces winter snowpack and increases summer temperatures.
But wetter forests, such as the stand torched in the Norse Peak blaze, have a very different relationship with fire. They burn infrequently but the toll on the trees often is severe. Trying to head off these fires would require thinning these public lands every decade or so, and that would change the natural character of these lands in what Franklin calls a “fool’s exercise.”
There also are benefits to these west-side fires, which Franklin says can act as powerful sources of forest renewal.