Report suggests logging won’t cut down on wildfires

Report suggests logging won’t cut down on wildfires

03 March 2010

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USA —  A report released Tuesday by the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy suggests that drought conditions and flammable forest fuels are a more likely contributor to the American Northwest’s wildfire rate than an increase in the bark beetle population.

In a teleconference Tuesday morning, the four authors of the report agreed that cutting beetle-killed trees in the backcountry would not be an efficient use of funds and that doing so would be less effective than implementing fuel reduction efforts near homes and communities.

“The beetles appear to have little or nothing to contribute to fire rates,” said Dominik Kulakowski, assistant professor of geography at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “The fire rate is higher than it’s been in a century, but that’s because of recent drought, not the beetles.”

However, Marna Daley of the Gallatin National Forest believes the infestation has a little more to do with the wildfire rates than Kulakowski does. Beetle-killed trees make the forest dryer and build up forest floor material, she said, and suggested that there is a difference between the Colorado forests in which the study was conducted and the forests around Bozeman.

“There’s a difference in the ecosystems as you go north,” Daley said. “We have to look at what is available in our own toolbox, and our opinion is based on how we can address the issues at hand.

“What we’ve found is that, as the trees turn red, there’s an increase in fire risk,” she said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘What are the values at risk?'”

Much of the Colorado study focused on the effect of logging in backcountry areas, which has been generally accepted as a solution to the beetle infestation. The idea is that thinning the forest would decrease the infestation rate by reducing the density of the trees.

Colorado has proposed a change to their 2001 Roadless Rule to allow the construction of roads, allowing a preventative logging operation to take place.

Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore., suggested that building roads and logging are not the best methods for dealing with the fires.

“There’s very little evidence that logging is effective,” Black said. “Thinning decreases stress for the trees, but not water stress during a drought.”

Also, ecological problems could arise from logging, he sad. Because bark beetles are native to the lodgepole pines and spruce in northwestern forests, they “play a vital role in ecosystem function, and their absence could have a profound effect on the function of forest ecosystems,” according to the report.

The effect of building roads through the now-roadless areas would extend beyond the road itself, according to Barry Noon, fish and wildlife biology professor at Colorado State University. Changes to wildlife dynamics, watershed effects such as widespread sedimentation and “the unfortunate consequence that road construction is a permanent transformation of the landscape” are reasons to keep these areas roadless, he said.

Daley said watershed values “rank very high” in the Gallatin Forest, as well, but added that “tools like cutting and prescribed burning are necessary at times given the environmental risks and values at hand.”

“Logging in the backcountry is not consistent with the best practices of science,” said Dominick DellaSala, president of the organization that released the report. He said that a more strategic removal of trees near communities would control the risk of fire while keeping the forests healthy.

Both DellaSala and Noon live near forests and have taken personal precautions to protect their own homes, such as removing brush and using non-flammable construction materials. They believe this is a more viable option to combat wildfires than logging farther into the land.

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