***Press Release May 12, 2009***
Forest Ecologist George Wuerthner
Openly Disputes Current Wildland Fire Management Policy
Moscow, Idaho – Noted forest ecologist and free-lance writer George Wuerthner gave an excellent talk on Tuesday May 12, 2009 at the 1912 Center in downtown Moscow. Attended by interested members of the community, Wuerthner spent over an hour discussing the current policy of wildland fire management by the U.S. Forest Service and openly challenged the ideology that fires in the West are being driven by fuel loads. Instead, Wuerthner concentrated on recent scientific findings that are leading forest ecologists to believe that wildland fire always has been, and still is climate driven. Despite recent findings, U.S. Forest Service policy is still focused on costly thinning projects and suppression that doesn’t always add up to wildland/urban interface protection.
As the 2009 wildland fire season is set to begin here in the Inland š Northwest, Wuerthner provided a refreshing outlook on why wildfires are important to ecosystem health and the specific role wildfire plays in biodiversity production. He said that stand replacement fires have always been inherent to the Northern Rocky Mountains, and will continue to occur despite costly Forest Service thinning and suppression efforts. Wuerthner lived near Yellowstone National Park during the 1988 fire season, and compared that stand replacement fire to that of the infamous 1910 fire. Both the 1910 and the 1988 fires burned during periods of severe drought, with low humidity and very dry fuel moisture contents. Both fires were driven by severe winds and burned at their hottest over a period of only a few days. Wuerthner added park service scientists today are discovering that areas which burned the hottest during the Yellowstone fire are now producing the greatest number of seedlings.
Wuerthner said that instead of the US Forest Service spending millions of tax-payer dollars on thinning projects here in Idaho, forest health and community safety could improve if more prescribed burning was implemented on the ground. Wuerthner believes that prescribed burns do a much better job mimicking natural fires regimes and allow natural ecosystem processes to occur. He stated numerous times that the current policy of thinning trees, salvage logging, and “sanitizing” forest floors are leading to poorer forest conditions and robbing the landscape of vital nutrients and wildlife habitat.
Many politicians in Idaho are pressing for roads to be built into Idaho roadless lands in order to “treat” the forests and remove beetle killed trees. Wuerthner was quick to point out that beetle killed trees are a natural disturbance and result from shifting climates and drier conditions, not necessarily decades of suppress —ion. He stressed that beetle kill trees and “snags” represent a much smaller threat than live “green” trees. Wuerthner stated that within a short time, beetle killed trees drop their needles and like snags, offer very little fine fuels to burn. In contrast, live trees have abundant fine fuels and provide ladder fuels which may produce crown fires.
In his conclusion, Wuerthner stated his support for the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, HR 980 and re-iterated that healthier Idaho forests and communities would be better served through wilderness designation. HR 980 received a hearing last week in the House Subcommittee of National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and seems to be gaining momentum in Congress. The bill would designate the entire roadless backcountry of Idaho as wilderness and allow for natural processes to occur such as wildland fire regeneration and native biodiversity production.