Chad Hanson’s New Book: “Debunking” Myths or Generating Them?

Mullen Fire difference in treatment of thinning lodgepole pine. From Co/Wy SAF virtual field trip.

We picked this up in the High Country News, but it was originally published in The Food and Environment Reporting Network. Since that organization is based in New York, and Dr. Hanson is based in California, we might expect a somewhat Coastalist perspective. That is, folks who want to do fuel mitigation treatments to help with fire suppression efforts motives are really are all about making money from logging. Of course, there is no market for the products for many of these treatments on private or federal lands in, say, Colorado or New Mexico, so that argument on its surface wouldn’t fly in many places.

So let’s look at this book review (the book was published by the University of Kentucky Press) and the claims therein (with the caveat that this is a review, and perhaps those are the reviewer’s words and not Hanson’s):

But the logging industry and those who stand to benefit from it – especially the U.S. Forest Service, which pockets most of the profit from its timber sales and “functions like a logging corporation,” Hanson argues – have long been preying on society’s pyrophobia, pedaling a host of now popular myths to garner support for additional logging on both public and private lands. For example, “thinning” is often promoted as a means of reducing the fuel load in supposedly “overgrown” forests, thereby decreasing both the likelihood and intensity of wildfire. And yet extensive research has proven otherwise.

“Thinned forests often burn more intensely in wildland fires,” he writes, “because thinning reduces the windbreak effect of denser forests, allowing winds to sweep through more rapidly, while also reducing the shade of the forest canopy and creating hotter and drier conditions.”

In fact, the deadliest wildfire in California history, the notorious Camp Fire of 2018, began on several thousand acres that had been heavily logged – thinned in some areas, clear cut in others — following a lightning fire in 2008.

I especially like the idea of the Forest Service functioning like a “logging corporation” despite the best intentions of the Clinton, Obama and now Biden Administrations.. who, whoops, just offered this testimony about increasing fuel treatments a few weeks ago. Clearly the FS must be telling political appointees what to do.. or, more likely, environmental NGO’s who have the ear of political appointees disagree with Dr. Hanson.

Hanson keeps saying this, despite peoples’ experiences of fuel treatments working, and of places where material is not sold, (such as the PODs or any of the other voluminous information about fuel treatment effectives, both research studies and monitoring).

Given that, it strikes me that “ecological hate speech” is an interesting characterization:

“A kind of ecological hate speech has developed around the issue of wildland fire and forests,” Hanson writes, “and it is perpetuating the removal of massive amounts of carbon from forests worldwide under the banner of benign or benevolent-sounding terms, exacerbating climate change, and pushing at-risk wildlife species and ecosystems closer to the brink.”

Perhaps in the writing of the day, you can’t disagree with other people anymore.. you must “debunk the myths” of what they’re saying. Yawn. And you don’t disagree with other people, if they say something you disagree with, they are engaging in “hate speech.” And if people disagree with you, their claims must be “spurious.”

The vitriol ramps up and the opportunity for rich discussion and finding areas of commonality ramps down.

“Nor can fires be stopped by fire suppression tactics during extreme weather, regardless of how much money is spent or how many firefighters and water tankers are employed. In the era of climate change, we can no more stop weather-driven fires than we can stand on a ridge and fight the wind,” he adds.

I’d argue that these claims may only seem compelling to people who don’t live in areas likely to be impacted by wildfires.

48 thoughts on “Chad Hanson’s New Book: “Debunking” Myths or Generating Them?”

  1. Very well said Sharon. Without reading Mr. Hanson’s book, I would venture to say that he is generating far more than a myth. I will refrain from sharing my description.

    Reply
  2. Hanson brings up fire intensity, as do people and groups that agree with him: “Thinned forests often burn more intensely in wildland fires.” However, fire intensity is primarily related to the amount of available fuel, live or dead. Wind can increase fire intensity, but the amount of heat generated is directly related to fuel. Compare two fires on the same windy day, with fuels having the same fuel moisture: a handful of pine needles and twigs vs. a pile of the same weighing one ton. The pile will produce far more BTUs. Extend that to a stand: a stand crowded with ground and aerial fuels will burn at a higher intensity. Remove some of that fuel and make more space between the live trees, and fire is less likely to jump from one tree to the next. Leave the stand crowded and the “windbreak effect of denser forests” will likely result in a fast-spreading crown fire. Not only is there “extensive research” that proves this, but it’s just plain common sense.

    Reply
  3. Some reasons why Steve Wilent is completely wrong about his claims that its fuel, not wind that’s the problem.

    –Fire commanders calculate rate of spread primarily based on humidity and average wind speed not fuels. I’ve shared links to the papers published on how these numbers are calculated before but as always, Wilent will act like he never saw them because he always closes his mind to points that don’t agree with his cult-like obsession with fuels management.

    –A cutting torch can cut through a one inch thick steel plates very easily not because of the fuel being turned up all the way to full blast but because the oxygen level is turned up to full blast.

    –Rockets that are the largest most powerful human controlled form of combustion that’s not nuclear require much larger liquid oxygen tanks than the size of the tank that carries the kerosene or methane.

    –The fastest gas engine cars in the world have a very small tube for fuel and giant suction devices to grab as much air as possible. These engines don’t turbocharge the fuel coming in from a fuel pump they turbo the oxygen coming in!

    –Anyone who does the math to calculate how much electricity they can generate from a windmill will explain to you that when wind speed doubles, you quadruple the amount of energy you can generate. If you double the fuel load in a forest it doesn’t quadruple the intensity of the fire only doubling the available oxygen doesn that.

    –Last Fall we had an unprecedented freeze in the rockies that led to a difference in atmospheric pressure so extreme that we had massive winds out west and had a burn rate of 5 hectares per second in all three western states during that event. Go study those forests that burned 100K acres in a single day, I have! Thinning or no thinning it all burned on a massive scale and areas where wind speed was slowest is where the least mortality was. Fuels management had very little to do with what survived when you have winds like that.

    –Global warming has increased global average wind speed by 17% in less than 10 years, which explains why catastrophic wildfire has experienced near the top 10 worst years in the past decade. The extreme fires of the past decade have nothing to do with industry lie of “fuels build up.” There’s such a profound level of dishonesty in the claim of centuries of fuels build up when you look at how much fuel has been cleared off the lands, as well as how often what remains was burned off the land ever since the mass genocide of the people who lived here eliminated everything that used to thrive as the original forests.

    Reply
    • Deane, it is not true that “Fire commanders calculate rate of spread primarily based on humidity and average wind speed not fuels.” They look at fuels, weather, and topography — all three are important. If there is no fuel, there can be no fire. If there is little fuel, there may be some fire. Lots of fuel, lots of fire — with or without winds. (And, of course, if fuel moisture is low, and winds certainly do “fan the flames”.)

      FWIW, I was once a wildland firefighter and taught a college wildland fire class for 13 years.

      Reply
      • Well, you know what they say about those who teach and how much they know…

        And my point is that the baseline data / calculation of the daily expected rate of spread of a fire is the foundation upon which all the other factors of topography, vegetation and access are calculated on and that’s why there’s been so many papers published on how best to get that baseline data, because if you misjudge humidity, temp and wind and how it changes as the day heats up you’re gonna lose firefighters, as well as no longer have a job commanding a fire.

        And again your comment of lots of fuel equal lots of fire is wrong and defies the basic laws of combustion. For example, if we were out cruising timber in Winter and got stuck and had to build a fire to stay warm, your reasoning is like the guy who can’t builds a fire and smothers it by putting too much wood on it, where as my reasoning is like the guy who places lots of fine fuels surround by widely space larger and larger size logs and then blows in through those openings to maximize the amount of oxygen getting to as much of the surface area of the fuels as possible.

        My method coincidentally is also the same way forests that have been wrongly thinned to limit crown fires look after 5-15 years when all the fine flammable fuels have grown into the areas where they wouldn’t of even had a chance to grow had the forest not been thinned.

        This is exact same point Wuerthner made in TheWildlifeNews.Com today: “A review of 1500 wildfires in dry and mixed conifer forests, the very forests that supposedly have excess fuel buildup, found that stands with “active forest management’, burned at higher severity than forests in protected areas like parks and wilderness where presumably there is more fuel.”

        Reply
  4. First, although the book was written for the layperson, I highly recommend that every professional forester and fire ecologist read Chad Hanson’s new book with an open mind; you may not agree with everything he says, but he does have some valuable observations and insights that we should be considering. Moreover, Hanson is not some lone voice in the wilderness, despite the fact that there have been many dismissive comments that categorically reject his position outright, with an apparent form of ostracism at work (makes me think of Galileo). There are some other reputable fire ecologists, such as Dominick DellaSalla, Curt Bradley, and many more, who have verified and confirmed some of Hanson’s findings and recommendations.

    For some basic definitions:
    Excerpt from Franklin, J.F., et al. (2018), “Ecological Forest Management.”

    Weather and Fire
    “Weather, directly or indirectly, moderates fire behavior through several dynamic variables. Two key weather variables are wind speed and relative humidity.

    Wind speed is typically reported as 20 ft. wind speed, which is the velocity of the wind velocity 20 feet above the dominant vegetation cover (i.e., trees, shrubs, grasses). Wind speed may be reduced by as much as 90% in dense canopies before influencing the flaming front. Mid-flame wind speed is the velocity of wind at half the flame height and has the greatest direct impact on fire rate of spread and intensity of any weather variable. Wind mixes oxygen into the flaming front, where it may otherwise be rapidly depleted by the chemical combustion process, thereby increasing the rate of combustion. In many cases, fire draws air into the flaming zone to replenish oxygen and heated air that is vertically lifted into the atmosphere, giving the perception that fire is actively breathing. Wind also bends flames toward fuels in advance of the active flaming front, increasing the rate of preheating of fuels. As wind speed increases, so too does fire rate of spread and intensity, although thresholds may be reached if combustion becomes limited by fuels.

    Intensity vs. severity. It is important to distinguish fire intensity from fire severity. Intensity refers to fire behavior itself and can be quantified in a number of ways, including fire line intensity, flame length, and heat-per-unit-area. Severity refers to the effects of fire on a particular resource of interest, including fuel consumption, tree mortality, wildlife habitat, or impacts on soil.

    In the context of Chad Hanson’s quotation, “we can no more stop weather-driven fires than we can stand on a ridge and fight the wind.”
    Excerpt from Hanson, C.T. (2021), “Smokescreen: Debunking Wildfire Myths to Save Our Forests and Our Climate”

    “… I have noticed … in fire after fire … [That] dense old stands of forest sometimes burn intensely, creating high-quality snag forest, but more often they burn less intensely, and nearly all the mature and old trees survive and thrive in the rich post-fire environment. Given what we hear every fire season from government officials and the logging industry – claims that “overgrown” forests and dead trees cause more intense fires – how can this be?”

    The answer is simple: wildland fire behavior is driven primarily by weather and, therefore, by climate. A few years ago, a team of researchers, including myself (Hanson), set out to conduct an unprecedented analysis of the factors that govern forest fire intensity. Analyzing data from three decades, including more than 1,500 fires that covered about 24 million acres of forest in the western United States, we found that weather and climate variables were consistently the most important determinants of fire behavior in all our statistical models. A variety of other factors mattered too, to some extent, but climate-related factors were clearly dominant. Other researchers corroborated that weather and climate govern fire behavior more than anything else and that forest density, in terms of high forest biomass, is generally a “poor indicator” of fire intensity (https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.1492).

    These findings highlight an important lesson for land managers and fire suppression programs. Extreme weather – hot, dry, windy conditions – will drive wildland fires until the weather changes. Under such conditions, which are becoming more common due to climate change, no matter how many billions of dollars we spend to try to manage vegetation in remote areas, we cannot stop or curb fires. Nor can fires be stopped by fire suppression tactics during extreme weather, regardless of how much money is spent or how many firefighters and water tankers are employed. In the era of climate change, we can no more stop weather-driven fires than we can stand on a ridge and fight the wind.
    This message is still not being received, however. Around the world, governments continue to labor under an outdated twentieth-century approach that focuses on vegetation density, as well as increasingly ineffectual efforts to halt the advance of flames during hot, windy drought conditions. Despite the obvious futility of fighting climate-driven fires, politicians around the world are doubling down, pushing for increased expenditures and emphasizing attempts to stop fires in remote areas. As a result, resources and efforts are being expended on fire-suppression approaches in wildland habitats – approaches that are ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst – while vulnerable communities are largely ignored and proven measures that could make them vastly safer go unfunded and unrealized.”

    In short, I tend to agree with Hanson and others that we should be focusing our main efforts and funds on implementing fire protection practices within the immediate vicinity of WUI homes and communities. We are wasting our funds and efforts by logging older, fire-resistant trees in remote areas of the wilderness where there is a need to return fire to the landscape to recover from failed past historical fire suppression policies.

    I would like to discuss other claims made by Franklin, Hanson, Palik, D’Amato, Lindenmayer, Simard, and many others, regarding the ecological value of snags, woody debris, post-fire “salvage” logging, and ecological forest silviculture and management practices, but there is not enough time or space here to pursue these topics. Perhaps we can address these more in the future? Maybe even do a book club reading of Hanson’s book(s)?

    I look forward to your thoughts and expert opinions.

    Reply
    • Michael, you do know the link to “other researchers corroborated”.. is the same folks? I.e. Hanson, DellaSala.

      “Analyzing data from three decades, including more than 1,500 fires that covered about 24 million acres of forest in the western United States, we found that weather and climate variables were consistently the most important determinants of fire behavior in all our statistical models.”

      But we can actually go out and look on the ground, and see where fuel treatments involving thinning work. Field trips, research articles, Cal Fire Science Seminars. So we are supposed to think some “western United States” wide modeling answers the question, and say the work on the ground by Prof. Johnston at OSU does not? (to be fair, his work involved fire models as well).
      https://forestpolicypub.com/2021/06/02/monitoring-and-adaptive-management-in-the-southern-blues-webinar/

      Then there’s the experience with PODs outlined here. https://forestpolicypub.com/2021/05/13/changing-the-game-using-potential-wildfire-operational-delineation-pods-for-a-better-future-with-fire/

      And I’ve been hearing this for years
      ” logging older, fire-resistant trees in remote areas of the wilderness where there is a need to return fire to the landscape to recover from failed past historical fire suppression policies.”

      Well it couldn’t be Wilderness, and it’s only on the edges of Roadless (unless it’s roaded Roagless) so… where are these areas that are so far from human habitation/areas of environmental or watershed concern, and let’s look at the purpose and need and see if we agree.

      I’ve had bad luck with book clubs on The Smokey Wire since the Botkin book – and I ran out of steam on that one as books tend to be long and polemicists can get repetitive (Botkin, Shellenberger, and Hanson all count).. however, if you want to do a series of posts on what you think are key and interesting insights/observations of his from his book, feel free to start- just email me the post. Also any other topic you’d like to discuss.

      Reply
    • Really appreciate your interest in having more conversations about this subject Michael. Also appreciated the breaking down of the different types of winds and where they are placed in a fire with that Franklin reference you shared.

      There’s so much to learn still and sadly our history/conditioning related to the timber industry has scarred everyone’s perspective on both sides and makes it hard to study this stuff in a way where we learn more and develop better methods, especially because our human lifespan is so short compared to a tree’s potential lifespan. We can’t really ever know for certain the long term outcome of forest management decision we make because we simply don’t live long enough to be able to test and prove our theories.

      But what we can do is add to the existing knowledge that we do have and I’d love an opportunity to do so as relates to this book. So a book club discussion about Hanson’s work sounds like a great idea, though we might be better off with a different forum than Smokey Wire ‘cuz of all the dismissiveness and discrediting of non status quo beliefs in forestry on here.

      Maybe we could talk about it at reddit.com/r/forestry ? Or I’m on [email protected] which has most of the leaders in Canadian eco-forestry who have spent many decades trying to push forest management in a better direction.

      Reply
      • Chad Hanson uses questionable (and at times intentionally duplicitous) research methods to sway public opinion and enhance his position during litigation:
        https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3232&context=icwdm_usdanwrc

        There is a difference between reading something with an open mind and acknowledging when someone has participated in activities that discredit them as an objective scientist.

        The field of forestry needs fresh voices, and it’s disingenuous to imply “conditioning related to the timber industry has scarred everyone’s perspective on both sides.” I am relatively new to the field and have no love for the timber industry. I actually wrote about this for SAF in 2017 (“In general, I believe we have a different set of values than previous generations [of foresters]. The timber industry is no longer our only career aspect – in fact my generation might be the first that values the ecosystem services forests provide more than the monetary value of timber. Timber production is an integral part of forestry, but the focus is shifting away from it.”)

        Perhaps more than anything, this “old guard” of preservationists needs to acknowledge that young folks in the field with dissenting opinions aren’t mouthpieces for “the industry” (as I have been called…), but have been seriously jaded by decades of mismanagement and are now seeking an equitable path forward. Muddying the waters with biased material and outdated stereotypes ain’t it.

        Reply
        • ….And round and round we go.

          Here is a response by the scientists who were attacked in the Peery et al. letter that Emily Dolhansky provided.

          We debated/discussed this very issue on this blog over two years ago. In addition to the response above, Smokey Wire contributor Andy Stahl emailed the following letter to Professor Peery (but apparently got zero response).

          March 28, 2019 at 1:43 pm

          See below for my answer to your question “Is it fair, valid criticism?” emailed to the article’s lead author on March 4. I’ve had no response.

          Professor Peery,

          I’ve no dog in your fight, but do have a longstanding interest in the spotted owl, its politics and biology.

          In “Mixing science and litigation without declaring potential conflicts of interest,” you point out that Dr. Hanson has a law degree (in addition to his science credentials) and claim his “legal arguments depend on (i) severe wildfire mostly being benign to spotted owls, regardless of scale and extent; and (ii) forest restoration activities posing the primary threat to this species, as he and his colleagues have suggested is the case in many publications.”

          However, Hanson makes no legal arguments in the case you cite (Earth Island Institute v. USFS), nor in any other spotted owl-related case I can find. The reason? He is not the attorney in any of these cases. Thus, whatever else he may be doing, he is not making legal argument. From my quick perusal of the cases, he appears to be testifying as a scientist. Having dual degrees, alone, does not discredit or impeach his scientific work or testimony.

          You also assert that Hanson’s participation as an expert witness in litigation should be disclosed in his scientific publications because being an expert witness creates a “conflict of interest.” Although I’m no scientist (for what it’s worth, my dad is, so I have some understanding of its behavioral norms), testifying as an expert in litigation that seeks to enforce public laws does not fall within any conflict-of-interest disclosure rules. In my 40 years of environmental advocacy, I have never seen a scientific publication that discloses a conflict-of-interest under these circumstances. Of course, Hanson’s scientific publications should reveal the source of his research funding.

          You also claim that Hanson is a “party” to these lawsuits. The only spotted owl-related case I could find in which Hanson is a party is Hanson v. United States Forest Serv., 138 F. Supp. 2d 1295 (2001), which precedes all of Hanson’s fire-related owl research. Although Hanson is a member of some of the plaintiff organizations, that does not make him a party to these cases. If it did, every time the Sierra Club brought suit, millions of its members would be parties to the case; obviously, they are not.

          In sum, when you write about matters outside your area of expertise, e.g., politics and law, some relevant peer review would be helpful.

          I look forward to your response.

          Best,

          Andy Stahl

          PS: Please feel free to share this note with your co-authors.

          Reply
        • To add to Emily’s comments.. I have never been “a mouthpiece for the industry” either. As a 70’s forester and a hiree during the expansion of the ologists. I have engaged in numerous disagreements with industry reps when I worked for the Forest Service. But I don’t see them as enemies either, more like potential partners. Perhaps because I wasn’t around the NW during the timber wars.

          I was, and am, concerned about working class people with living wage jobs who produce products that are used by almost everyone in our society. I am concerned that offshoring our demand for wood products enriches other individuals, and enlarges the tax coffers of other countries at the expense of our own people and tax coffers (I am not that worried about Canada’s forestry environmental regulations). Our tax coffers that go to desirable public goods like renewable energy and health care and poverty reduction….

          Reply
  5. Sharon,

    My reference may be a bit biased, I realize. But, does their peer-reviewed paper in a reputable periodical disqualify them from presenting their data for evaluation? I am also reading their 2015 book, “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix,” among several other authors. However, my forester god is Jerry Franklin; he has a wealth of experience and the right values; Hanson and DellaSalla echo some of his opinions.

    I will definitely be reviewing the information and links that you provided.

    Do you not tolerate polemicists: persons who engage in controversial debate, as in …
    “a brilliant polemicist with an independent critical mind?” After a couple of years lurking on this site, however, I know otherwise. But, I do agree that it can be exhausting and frustrating at times to hear conflicting viewpoints.

    P.S. I just finished Suzanne Simard’s “Finding the Mother Tree” and found it to have some profound implications for forest ecology and forest management policies (esp. the “free-to-grow”/herbicide, mono-crop findings). I can’t wait until the movie is released.

    thanx

    Reply
    • No it doesn’t “disqualify them”. I was just pointing out the statement “other researchers” may not have been entirely accurate.

      I’ve had great experiences with Franklin, both when he came to the Ochoco to help us in the 80’s and when he stood up for geneticists at an R-6 Biodiversity Meeting. And going further back, to when he and Jack Ward Thomas spoke at a Region 6 Silviculture meeting in the 80’s on Killing Sacred Cows.

      Nevertheless, that being said, he would probably be the first person to admit that his knowledge and experience has been shaped by his experiences on the wet west side. If he had worked in say, La Grande instead, he might have a different perspective and perhaps different values. So I would say that he might be the equivalent of a regional god for me, not a national one nor a world-wide one.

      As to the book club thing, I have nothing against polemicists but with our most successful book club https://virtualbookclubforestpolicy.wordpress.com/
      you can see that I would pick things out and we would discuss them.. I’m not sure anyone read the book. Same thing with https://forestpolicypub.com/2020/08/17/apocalypse-never-book-club-i-scientific-hubris-and-the-satellite-gaze/

      There’s a certain amount of work in doing that and after some chapters, it turned out that my energy dissipated. It does depend on the book , though. Certainly 193 Million Acres was not repetitive!

      Again, if you’d like to post about some ideas from the Hanson book or Simard or others, that would be appreciated. I’d be willing to read either one or both..

      Reply
  6. This is a really interesting discussion. Here in the Black Hills we had the Jasper Fire in 2000 that burned 80,000 acres. I was not here at the time but from looking back at the situation, much of the fire area had been thinned with commercial thinning. It was a wind driven fire and the majority of the fire was catastrophic. Most of the trees were lost and many areas still have no trees to this day. I have also seen other ponderosa pine stands that were thinned with whole tree logging and had hardly any residual slash, where almost the entire canopy was lost due to scorch in a wind driven fire. This scorch was generated from the heat of the needle and duff layer burning. They had not had a prescribed fire, quite possibly this would have helped to prevent the heavy scorch.
    The question is, is there any treatment that will mitigate the impact of high wind conditions? Possibly thinning combined with prescribed burning, but for how many years post treatment? Maybe we should just admit that under high wind conditions, all bets are off? But, under low to moderate winds, thinning combined with rx burning can have some mitigating impact? Clearly, with any given wildfire, there are many variables that affect wildfire behavior. Fuel loading and arrangement are only a couple of the variables, but a lot of logging is justified by presenting them as the variables that are causing all of our problems.

    Reply
  7. I see that Chad is still a significant source of agenda-based science and disinformation. “Spin” should not be part of a true scientist’s toolbox. His lack of objectivity and penchant for cherrypicking make him a pathetic figure in the world of nature.

    Reply
    • Larry,

      I know you have some amazing nature photographs, some of the best I have ever seen. My question for you is, have you ever documented photo locations, both pre-fire and post-fire, thinned and unthinned, “salvage” logged, replanted, or left unlogged for natural regeneration after a fire, to record the historical transitions for comparison? I would love to see some “before” and “after” photographs; they could be quite revealing and informative.

      As far as personal ad hominem attacks, they can only go so far; the real issues to “attack” are the specific observations and the logic being employed, or the “message” and not the “messenger.” Someone may be mistaken in their interpretations or come to the wrong conclusions, some or even most of the time, but that doesn’t automatically discredit everything they observe or every conclusion they draw. It is even possible that they have discovered some valuable detail or presented the subject from a different viewpoint that others might have missed (or dismissed without due process). In my opinion, every assertion should be evaluated independently with an open mind, impartially and objectively, without preconceptions or personal agendas.

      Reply
      • Hanson’s views on California wildfires: “Our forests need larger and more intense wildfires”. Most humans do not want this outcome.

        Hanson lies to potential donors. His claims of Forest Service salvage clearcuts are prominent in his fundraising efforts but, he never brings these claims into the courts, where such ‘evidence’ would certainly win his court cases. Hmmmm!

        Hanson often shows private logging practices, claiming the Forest Service is breaking laws. Him, and his people, don’t seem to be very good at map reading or GPS use.

        Hanson never includes the silvicultural benefits of thinning small merchantable trees in his biased ‘analysis’. If he could eliminate the current Forest Service thinning of trees averaging around 15″ in diameter, he would.

        Now that he has lost the income from winning lawsuits, Hanson is trying other funding schemes (which don’t seem to be working).

        Reply
  8. RE: “We picked this up in the High Country News, but it was originally published in The Food and Environment Reporting Network. Since that organization is based in New York, and Dr. Hanson is based in California, we might expect a somewhat Coastalist perspective.”

    For whatever it’s worth, the review of Dr. Hanson’s new book was written by Carson Vaughan, “a freelance journalist from central Nebraska with a focus on the Great Plains.”

    Not sure where Mr. Vaughan’ supposed “Coastalist perspective” comes from, but here’s some information about Mr. Vaughan from his website:

    Carson Vaughan is a freelance journalist from central Nebraska with a focus on the Great Plains. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker (online), The Atlantic, The Guardian, The Paris Review Daily, Outside, Pacific Standard, VICE, In These Times, and more. Most recently, he was awarded the 2018 John M. Collier Award for Forest History Journalism from the Forest History Society for his Weather Channel feature, “Uprooting FDR’s ‘Great Wall of Trees.’” He was also a recipient of a 2018 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Nebraska Arts Council. His first book, Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream, was published by Little A in April 2019 and earned a 2020 Nebraska Book Award for Nonfiction (Investigative Reporting) from the Nebraska Library Commission.

    P.S. RE: “I’d argue that these claims may only seem compelling to people who don’t live in areas likely to be impacted by wildfires.”

    I find Dr. Hanson’s claims very compelling and today a wildfire burned within 1 mile of my house. Off the top of my head, this may be the 8th wildfire within a mile of my house in the past 15 years.

    Reply
  9. Anyone see this article?

    The Future of Fire in Canada
    We’re on the brink of a ‘runaway fire age.’ Here’s why. And how to respond.

    Thought the final paragraphs were pretty interesting.

    Time to heed past warnings

    It’s not like we haven’t been warned that that the fire situation was going to ramp up. In 1991, Mike Flannigan and Charlie Van Wagner published a paper predicting a near 50-per-cent increase in seasonal fire severity with a doubling of CO2 emissions. Former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon underscored this when, following the 2003 fire season, he was hired to produce a report on what could be done to limit or reduce the threat of fire. The Tyee’s headline at the time: “How BC Was Built to Burn.” Most of the recommendations were ignored.

    Scientists were exasperated by this lack of action. When Flannigan and 70 other scientists gathered in Victoria in 2009 to address the issue of climate change and the impact it would have on the fire situation, he bluntly stated: “We’re exceeding thresholds all the time. We better start acting soon.”

    “We let 150 wildfires burn each year and we need to be more transparent about that,” said Judi Beck, then the manager of fire management for BC Wildfire Management Branch. ″The public needs to know what we can and can’t do.″

    Gordon Miller, a director general with the Canadian Forest Service, summed it up succinctly, saying, ″More fires mean more communities will be at risk.”

    Progress has been made. Many communities have become more resilient with the help of the FireSmart program. Last year, the Canadian government invested $5 million towards the development of a wildland fire research network in Canada in collaboration with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. It was part of bigger plan to develop 68 wildland fire professionals at the graduate and postgraduate level. And just this June, the B.C. government announced that it is investing $5 million in a new research chair at Thompson Rivers University that will address the challenge of predicting when and where wildfire will arise and how it will spread.

    But B.C.’s win in recruiting Mike Flannigan to fill the chair is Alberta’s loss. Flannigan headed up the Canadian Partnership for Wildland Fire Science at the University of Alberta, and given the extraordinary cutbacks there — 1,050 jobs to be eliminated — he is unlikely to be replaced.

    Those who lost their homes, businesses and public services in Lytton will likely be compensated by insurance companies and governments, just as the people in Fort McMurray were following the 2016 fire. The total cost of that wildfire was, according to one study, $8.86 billion.

    A fraction of that amount would go a long way to reducing the threat of fire if it was invested in making communities more resilient, in investing more in fire science, in the new tools that firefighters need to deal with wildfire, and ways in which Canadians can decarbonize. The fact that the people of Lytton had only 15 minutes notice of a wildfire that was about to destroy their town suggests that we haven’t learned a lot since 2003.

    We would do well to learn quickly because we can expect ever more deadly lessons. As more people migrate into rapidly warming forested environments, we will need stricter building codes and better early warning and evacuation systems. We must recognize that fires are here to stay because we are now living in an era of pyroCbs, fire tornados and slow-moving thunderstorms that produce little rain but a great deal of lightning.

    Historian Stephen J. Pyne has offered a name for this new era, which he ascribes to our fossil fuel burning and our willful suppression of good fires that are necessary for forests to regenerate. We may well have entered, he says, a “runaway fire age.”

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    • Matthew I agree with all those investments “A fraction of that amount would go a long way to reducing the threat of fire if it was invested in making communities more resilient, in investing more in fire science, in the new tools that firefighters need to deal with wildfire, and ways in which Canadians can decarbonize.” I don’t know why an “all of the above” strategy (including strategic fuel treatments) is not OK with some..

      Reply
    • That’s a good analysis. The House Republicans have now established a climate caucus, which I hope means that the most reluctant skeptics are starting to acknowledge reality:

      https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/lawmakers-launch-republicans-only-climate-change-caucus-rcna1257

      In addition to the author’s points, I wonder why governments in the U.S. and Canada continue to let people build vulnerable houses in wildland-urban interfaces. It seems to me that one ought to have a fireproof house (no wood, only concrete, bricks, and metal) with adequate distance from the forest or scrubland boundary, and maybe some sort of safe room to ride out the worst of a fire.

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  10. Generally, an author has more leeway to introduce his own opinions and agenda-driven biases when producing a popular book, or even a textbook, than when submitting a peer-reviewed scientific white paper. Hanson’s book is no exception. Of course, at the furthest extreme, it is almost mandatory for popular media sources to emphasize the most emotional and controversial aspects in order to attract audience attention, and thus, the media often engages in sensationalistic hyperbole and provocative pronouncements which tend to have more of a negative rather than constructive effect. Of course, a discriminating information consumer fully expects this tendency and knows how to wade through the most egregious of bullsh*t. 😉

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  11. From Dr. Hanson:

    Hi Matthew, Can you please post the following to the group? Thanks. Chad

    Hi all, I appreciate the lively discussion about my new book, Smokescreen. I notice that the most dismissive criticisms are coming from folks who have not yet read my book, or the 2015 fire ecology textbook, subtitled Nature’s Phoenix, that I co-edited, and co-authored with over two dozen other scientists from around the world. I hope you will read both books, and note that the key conclusions and recommendations are based on literally hundreds of peer reviewed scientific studies that I cite in each book. Then, let’s discuss it. As for the personal attacks on me and my colleagues by Forest Service funded scientists, I’ll simply say this: aside from the numerous blatant factual inaccuracies in the personal attacks, my sense is that some people will assail your character when they know they can’t credibly discuss or debate the evidence. Chad Hanson, Ph.D.

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    • Matthew.. I looked for Nature’s Phoenix and found this at Amazon “The Ecological Importance of High-Severity Fires, presents information on the current paradigm shift in the way people think about wildfire and ecosystems.

      While much of the current forest management in fire-adapted ecosystems, especially forests, is focused on fire prevention and suppression, little has been reported on the ecological role of fire, and nothing has been presented on the importance of high-severity fire with regards to the maintenance of native biodiversity and fire-dependent ecosystems and species.

      This text fills that void, providing a comprehensive reference for documenting and synthesizing fire’s ecological role.

      Offers the first reference written on mixed- and high-severity fires and their relevance for biodiversity Contains a broad synthesis of the ecology of mixed- and high-severity fires covering such topics as vegetation, birds, mammals, insects, aquatics, and management actions
      Explores the conservation vs. public controversy issues around megafires in a rapidly warming world.”
      https://www.amazon.com/Ecological-Importance-Mixed-Severity-Fires-Natures-ebook-dp-B00ZI3BLHA/dp/B00ZI3BLHA/ref=mt_other?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=

      But that’s not the question at issue here is it? I think the framing is very important and possibly the underlying source of disagreement. My framing is “how best are we to live with fire including climate enhanced fires?” and framed that way it’s not ultimately a science question. In fact, choosing a framing itself is not a scientific question. So it might be an interesting discussion to see how we might all frame this question differently. On a tweet the other day I said “I thought we were talking about “living with fire” and “helping suppression folks out” so their work is safer and we are safer.”

      Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have those books, so if Hanson is willing to send me copies of his two books I am perfectly willing to read and discuss here.

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  12. Hi folks – I have worked with Dr. Hanson over many years and find his observation of the natural world impeccable and his integrity as a scientist exemplary. We can disagree on what’s best in wildfire adapted ecosystems and how to coexist with fire in a climate changing world, but let’s not attack a person based on perceived assumptions and biases of the attacker. My new book – Conservation Science for a Planet in Peril: Speaking Truth to Power (Elsevier, Amazon) will be out this month. It talks about scientists like Dr. Hanson facing personal attacks when naysayers disagree. It rampant in the USA, focused mainly but not exclusively on climate scientists, and it’s unacceptable. Dr. Fauci comes to mind as an example of a scientist with integrity attacked by naysayers that believe in conspiracy theories over science. As to agenda-driven science, those that live in glass houses should not throw stones! And to get the criticism of me correct – I believe in a vibrant world where nature is thriving, we live in a safe climate, and humans are not causing the biggest extinction rate on the planet since the dinosaurs. I’m also an objective scientist – so my agenda is saving biodiversity and making sure my grandkids have a safe climate. Oppose me at your own peril, I suppose.

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  13. Many scientists I know have equally impeccable observations and scientific integrity. And yet we disagree! Jerry Franklin once pointed out at a Region 6 Biodiversity Workshop that there is not a real place for a discussion of differing views in science. The institution just allows different papers in different journals or maybe a review article here and there, but no substantive discussions of differences, and especially not open to the light of transparency to the public and the diversity of views out there.

    I don’t oppose anyone but I do disagree and share my own experiences. You’re always welcome to participate in the conversations here.

    As to scientists facing attacks, I follow climate science, and even climate twitter and I agree that it’s unacceptable. I have argued that scientific societies should consider this a violation of ethics, at least when scientists attack other scientists. And yet AAAS honored Michael Mann with a public engagement award in 2018! Also, I do need to point out that I didn’t accuse people who disagree with me of engaging in “ecological hate speech.”

    It seems to me that there should be one set of rules for behavior with some accountability by someone. And an open conflict exploration, if not resolution, mechanism.

    Perhaps we could mutually explore an appropriate venue for the latter.

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  14. Reading through the excerpts of Doc Hanson’s treatise he seems to be screaming for the Forest Service to be moved from USDA — an argument where we are in complete agreement.

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    • Yes, Larry Kurtz, I totally agree!

      The USFS manages about 25% of federal lands and is the ONLY major national land management agency not part of the DOI. Let’s move the USFS into the Department of the Interior (DOI) where it should fit right in with the other “conservation-oriented” departments:

      Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); their mission is to: “… enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunity, and carry out the responsibility of protecting and improving the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.”

      Bureau of Indian Education (BIE); charged with providing quality education opportunities from early childhood through adulthood under the federal trust responsibility…

      Bureau of Land Management (BLM); manages public lands for various uses such as energy development, livestock grazing, recreation, and timber harvesting while ensuring that natural, cultural, and historic resources are maintained for present and future use. The BLM promotes the safety, security, and environmental protection of public lands, public land users, and employees and investigates wildland arson, mineral resource theft, hazardous materials dumping,
      archaeological and historical and paleontological artifact theft and defacement, and illegal marijuana cultivation.

      Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM); manages the development of U.S. Outer Continental Shelf energy and mineral resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way.

      Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). Manages, develops, and protects water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.

      Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement provides oversight and enforcement to promote safety, protect the environment, and conserve offshore resources.

      Bureau of Trust Funds Administration (BTFA). The Bureau of Trust Funds Administration provides banking and investment services to Native American beneficiaries who earn royalty income and other monies from activities on Federally-managed land. The BTFA maintains official archives of American Indian Records, safeguarding millions of original, historical documents that detail the Federal government’s treaty obligations to Native Americans.

      National Park Service (NPS); Promotes and regulates the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations

      The USDA mainly focuses on COMMERCIAL farming, forestry, livestock food production and trade, rural economic development, and food safety; it works to end hunger in the United States and internationally. Approximately 80% of the USDA’s $141 billion budget goes to the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) program.

      It might be worthwhile to assign wildland fire services entirely to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) under the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); it should work closely with the DOI departments.

      In California, our forest service is disproportionately assigned to fire-fighting services and not forest management activities, per se – that’s why the forestry department is called “CALFire” and not CALForest.

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  15. I hate forest fires. Forest fires kill all kinds of trees, lots of them. Forest fires even kill big old “fire resistant” trees. Most forest fires kill everything in their path. Gone is the hundreds of years of accumulated biodiversity.
    In return we get an environment that is without shade, hot and dry. The landscape is full of dead trees. I have seldom, if ever, observed this mystical forest fire that thins the underbrush and leaves the forest healthier. From my observations the forests of Southwestern Oregon could get along fine without fire. I know there has always been fire, just like there has always been disease.
    The other day I was up on the Willamette Umpqua divide hoping to enjoy the forest and the high Cascade air. Instead the air was full of smoke, it was hot and dusty. As I drove through some burnt areas is was quit apocalyptic. I felt like I was seeing the future and it wasn’t pleasant.
    I wish we could spend our efforts learning how to control fire rather then being told being told how beneficial fire is.

    Reply
      • Hi Matt: Good points. There’s not much we can do about tornadoes or earthquakes, but we can pretty much control or effectively respond to pesky mosquito populations. I remember in the early 1950s when I was a child along both sides of the Columbia River and up to the mountains and lakes we visited, mosquitoes were far more prevalent than they are today. Conversely, from my early childhood until I was nearly 40 years old, there was only a single wildfire in western Oregon (1966 Oxbow) that was greater than 10,000 acres in size. Rare to have wildfire smoke in the air, although wigwam burners continued for a while, people used more firewood in town than now, and prescribed burns became increasingly a factor for several years. Then, from 1987 until this week, catastrophic-scale wildfires have become more frequent and greater in size (and almost entirely on federal lands) and major urban air pollution and mass wildlife kills have become common events as a direct result. The difference in eras is well-known, and it has nothing to do with “climate change”: following WW II and into the late 1980s our federal lands were being actively managed for “Multiple Uses.” Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until now, Wilderness designations, roadless areas, streamside buffers, “wild and scenic” rivers, ESA “critical habitat” zoning, and other passive approaches to the management of our common forestlands has predictably resulted in the massive fires, soil and water pollution, and native wildlife mortality that has been increasingly — and predictably — taken place during the past 35 years. A return to active forest management (with some acquired modern sensibilities and improved technologies) would greatly enhance our rural economies, the health and safety of our native wildlife, and the beauty and recreational opportunities long associated with our public lands. In my opinion, and based on significant experience and observation.

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        • Howdy Bob,

          Tell me more about the PDO during your childhood. Tell me more about the current megadrought across the American West, which researchers are saying may be the most severe in the past 1,500 years. Tell me more about the hottest June on record? Tell me more about 5 hottest years on record and when they occurred (HINT: It wasn’t during your childhood). Also, don’t 99 out of 100 fire/forest ecologists tell us that aggressive past (and current) fire suppression policies just makes future wildfires bigger and more intense?

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          • Hi Matt: Not sure where you are getting your “99 out of a hundred” statistic, but much of your information is — as you well know — debatable. And science and politics are two different animals — only the latter is a voting discipline. Science depends on challenges, observations, hypotheses and testing. 99 people out of a 100 have been wrong many times throughout history, and maybe particularly regarding scientific conclusions — even when someone declares some kind of “consensus” or another. Are you saying that the current drought is possibly worse than the 1930s and even the Medieval Warm Period? That the PDO directly causes active management of our public lands? Or causes wildfires? What? Also, the “five hottest years,” where? Or since when? Satellites? I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything about “the PDO in my childhood” and unable to add anything more to that topic.

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          • I am thinking that from 1900 to 1945 those fires burn over a larger landscape. I think the fires from the eighties on burn mostly on federal lands, especially forest service land from the 90’s on. I know there exceptions but I generally think you will fine that the increase of fires on forest service land increased when the current philosophy of “fire is good” took hold.

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        • Hi, Bob,

          Thanks to you for your comment and also to Matt for his reply.

          If I understand your main point correctly, I agree that there’s much to critique in how forest management has gone from traditional forestry to a mix of that approach and essentially religious approaches. Those approaches may be harmful. One can see how they’ve dialed their tenets down to the point where the Forest Service requires laborious authorizations for such minutia as using a wheelbarrow or a chainsaw for Wilderness trail maintenance. If it’s like that at the micro level, one wonders what forests-as-religion movements, and the movements’ seemingly endless money available for lawsuits, have done to fire occurrences at the macro level.

          At the same time, though, as we all know, correlation isn’t always causation, and the rise in dreadful wildfires and designations like Wilderness or Recommended Wilderness Areas may be only correlative and not causative. One would think that the issue could be studied and any causation determined by studying fire disasters in “ordinary” forests and, say, roadless areas or Wilderness Study Areas.

          Also, I was curious about your putting climate change in quotation marks. Does that mean that you’re skeptical that climate change is a real phenomenon?

          I now know something new from you and Matt. I had never heard of a PDO. I see that it’s a Pacific decadal oscillation.

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          • Thanks Lourenco:

            I very much appreciate your comments. The trend to micro-managing our public forests with acronyms, polygons, and silly measures and arbitrary requirements has been a real boon to the environmental law industry — which is largely responsible for inventing and imposing most of these regulations since the late 1960s. I have written about “Environmentalism as modern-day Lysenkoism” for many years, but that was a quasi-religion, too, based on beliefs and desires rather than facts and experience.

            Correlation isn’t always causation, but when scientific predictions are made that regularly prove accurate, then such a relationship becomes ever more likely. Nearly 30 years ago I predicted that Wilderness, ESA, streamside buffers, etc., and other forms of imposed passive management would result in massive catastrophic wildfires — “climate” wasn’t even a consideration; just fuels and history. That is exactly what is continuing to take place today, and particularly on federal forestlands where these restrictions have been most severe.

            The reason I sometimes use quotes around “climate change” is because the climate has always changed, but somehow some people seem to confuse this phrase with their own fears of “Apocalyptic Global Warming” (AGW) fears — which it is not, by any stretch.

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            • Hi, Bob,

              You’re welcome. Your comparison with Lysenkoism of activism-based forest management, which is frequently at odds with the science-based variety, is right on the mark.

              I’ve long suspected that the environmental-law industry to which you refer may be funded by two or three billionaires who, feeling guilty about and trying to atone for having made their fortunes through some sort of pillaging of natural resources or despoiling of land, are the undisclosed principals behind the myriad groups that bring all of these lawsuits. Lawsuits are expensive. Thousands of $50 contributions by gullible people, though I’m sure welcome, probably are only a fraction of the funds the Fill-in-the-Blank-Keeper organizations expend. To be sure, that industry does help keep upscale Bozeman restaurants thriving.

              Axiomatically, the climate has always changed. It seems to me, however, that we have embarked on a potentially dangerous experiment, one for which there is necessarily no control. An activist-environmentalism cliché that does happen to be true is that we have no Planet B with which to run a controlled experiment.

              The remedy is, of course, a separate question, and there I believe that if anyone can get us to one it will be scientists, engineers, economists, and earth scientists of various types, along with people who derive economic value from their lands.

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            • The distinction I would make between “climate change” and “apocalyptic global warming” is the same as the one between “natural” and (industrial-scale) “human-caused.” I do not include “passive management” in “human-caused;” inaction cannot be “causation,” and “passive management” cannot “result” in massive catastrophic wildfires.” Whatever is providing the fuel and the burning conditions are the causes. I would also not pay much attention to someone who seems to minimize the scientifically recognized actions that humans have actually taken that have contributed to those causes (and moved us well beyond “the climate is always changing”).

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              • Jon: The decision to do nothing (“passive management”) is a management decision that has predictable results — in the instances of crowded, pitchy conifer forests, the result is often a firestorm. I’m not sure what “scientifically recognized actions” you are referring to, but I definitely consider human-caused fires to be “natural.” It is one ability that separates us from all other species on this planet, and we have become very good in its use. It’s only natural that we make mistakes over time, as we become more practiced. Same with forest management, in my opinion.

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  16. Deane Rimerman cited a recent piece by George Wuerthner on thinning, which coincidentally? showed up in the Missoulian today:
    https://missoulian.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-wind-is-bigger-factor-than-fuel-in-spread-of-forest-fires/article_2d75be0e-e054-5411-ad23-56f09a8f5f10.html

    You’ve heard most of this debate already, but I thought two things were notable here. One is this statement: “What burns in a forest fire is primarily “fine fuels” like grass, shrubs and small trees. U.S. Forest Service “thinning projects” remove the larger trees, which provides little benefit.” Maybe the real issue the extent which the Forest Service actually does this, and maybe the resolution is to not do it.

    Also this conclusion: “So we trade inevitable negative consequences of active forest management (thinning) today and get only a tiny chance that any thinning will influence a wildfire.” So it’s really a cost-benefit analysis. Presumably the likelihood of influencing a fire before understory regrowth should be part of the analysis for any thinning project; is there a good example out there?

    I think Wuerthner’s risk/reward equation does leave out something. The point is not just to “influence a wildfire;” it is to protect values at risk from that wildfire. If the values lost are high enough, then even a “tiny chance” of influencing a fire could amount to a substantial benefit. But also, the chance that thinning will protect values at risk is higher if it is closer to those values at risk. Identifying values at risk, and areas where vegetation management would protect those values at risk, is something that a forest plan should do.

    Reply
    • “You’ve heard most of this debate already, but I thought two things were notable here. One is this statement: “What burns in a forest fire is primarily “fine fuels” like grass, shrubs and small trees. U.S. Forest Service “thinning projects” remove the larger trees, which provides little benefit.” Maybe the real issue the extent which the Forest Service actually does this, and maybe the resolution is to not do it.”

      A perfect example of isolating impacts and benefits. “Larger trees” means nothing, and implies that old growth is being cut. There ARE other benefits to thinning out some trees 20 to 30 inches in diameter, if they are crowding larger or better trees. In the end, prescriptions are written with many issues in mind, resulting in, maybe, the best balance of what is legal, under current environmental rules, laws and policies.

      Reply
  17. Jon, I’m surprised by this statement.

    “What burns in a forest fire is primarily “fine fuels” like grass, shrubs and small trees. U.S. Forest Service “thinning projects” remove the larger trees, which provides little benefit.”

    I’ve got hundreds of thousands of acres not far away, plus many photos we’ve seen here on TSW which show… burned up full-sized trees. I’m not sure what he’s getting at.

    And to claim that FS “thinning projects” “remove the larger trees” is not correct. Some thinning projects remove some larger trees but this is not generally true. In fact if you look at the “zones of agreement” that I’ve seen in Oregon and California, they tend to focus on when and when not to remove large trees.

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  18. Has anyone read this book?

    I recently listened to this audiobook and found it to be an excellent discussion on historical and future forest management practices and their consequences in relation to climate change.

    Trees in Trouble: Wildfires, Infestations, and Climate Change (April 27, 2021) by Daniel Mathews

    https://smile.amazon.com/Trees-Trouble-Wildfires-Infestations-Climate/dp/1640094660/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1626048537&sr=1-5

    Can anyone recommend any other current books on this topic?

    Reply

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