USA — Recently Sen. Daines and Sen. Tester have stated their support for increased logging of Montanas federal forestlands under the presumption that logging can preclude severe wildfires.
There is no evidence that under severe fire weather that logging and thinning of forests can reduce fire spread. The only reason thinning appears to work is that most fires do not burn under severe fire conditions, but under such conditions, fires remain small and are hardly a threat to communities.
However, all the big fires — the very fires that Daines and Tester seeks to preclude — are driven by severe fire weather and are not fuel-driven events.
In other words, logging will not and cannot prevent large fires if fire weather conditions are conducive to fire spread.
Not only are there are scientific reviews that reach that conclusion, but we are surrounded by numerous examples here in Montana. Fires like the Jocko Lakes, Lolo Creek, Gold Creek and many others I could name burned through previously logged landscapes. What stopped the blazes were changes in weather conditions, not fuels.
Second, the overstated idea that fire suppression has contributed to unnatural fuel conditions is misleading. Only the lowest forest types primarily dominated by ponderosa pine may have been affected by fire suppression new research even questions that assumption. The vast majority of forest types that burn annually like lodgepole pine, subalpine fir and other forest species are characterized by long fire free intervals. Fire suppression has not affected these forests to any significant degree. It is completely natural for fuels to build in these forests until the weather conditions are conducive to large fires.
Third, even if thinning did work to some degree, the efficacy of fuel reductions is short-lived because trees grow back rapidly in thinned forests due to reduced competition. Since the interval between fires in many Montana forest types is often hundreds of years, the probability that any fire in these forest types will encounter a recently thinned forest is negligible.
Fourth, what is driving large wildfires are changing climatic conditions. Warm temperatures, less snowpack, earlier spring melting of snow, and other factors are contributing to an increase in fire spread. For example, given the climate we are experiencing, large fires are the natural outcome — they are not the result of “fire suppression”. But climate is what drives fires in these forest types. If Daines and Tester wanted to do something about large wildfires, they would be far more active in promoting measures to reduce fossil fuels instead of supporting these sources of pollution.
Fifth, large wildfires are ecologically important and necessary. The idea that we want to prevent large fires is not scientifically-based
Sixth, if one wants to protect communities, again an abundance of science demonstrates the way to do that is keep people from building in the fire plain and reduce the flammability of homes.
Seventh, logging is not benign. From reduction of hiding cover for elk to sedimentation in streams to the spread of weeds, so one has to carefully consider if the presumed benefits are real, especially since most timber sales in Montana are money losers to the government and a direct subsidy to timber company stockholders.