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Wildland fire and salvage logging

Salvage logging is harmful to soils and the species that depend on post-fire habitat, George Wuerthner Photo Credit

Wildfire is a natural disturbance event critical to ecosystem function. Mixed conifer forests like those in Clearwater Country have evolved with fire over the millennia. Wildland fires are not “catastrophic” or “damaging.” They restore forests by replenishing soils with important nutrients. Wildland fires burn with mixed-severity and create a forest mosaic, which leads to an increase in biodiversity and post-fire habitat for numerous insects, bird and other native species.

Road building and salvage logging on the National Forests is not “restoration”, nor does it lead to “recovery” of forests. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Salvage logging impedes natural forest succession. It damages soils, increases soil erosion, impairs streams and water quality, and robs important terrestrial habitat for numerous fire-dependent species. The best available science suggests that post-fire logging increases the threat of wildland fire due to the buildup of slash and hazardous fuel left from logging operations.

National Forests across the West are not “unhealthy.” That is simply a term used by politicians and the timber industry to dupe citizens into thinking our forests needs to be “restored”. “Thinning” is not needed on the National Forests either. Thinning as a tool for “fire hazard reduction” across large landscapes is controversial and largely unsubstantiated in scientific literature. Thinning on forests opens up the forest canopy, which allows increased solar penetration, drying of  “fuels” and flammability.

Wildland fire is climate driven. Mixed conifer forests across the West have historically burned at long intervals and generally under drought conditions. “Fuel” or “fuel loads” are part of the fire triangle but the biggest factor in stand-replacing fires across the West is climate. Drought, wind and temperature drives fire severity. The fires of 1910 burned throughout the Clearwater and across the northern Rockies following a mild winter, dry spring and hot summer under drought conditions. These fires burned through both dense forests and park-like stands with large diameter trees.

Forest Service research suggests that the best protection for homes and human safety in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) is the reduction or elimination of flammable materials and fine fuels at certain distances. At 10-meters (approx. 33-feet) a homeowner should remove or clear all brush and flammable materials from their home or structure. At 40-meters (approx. 120-feet) an individual should remove small trees or fine fuels to increase the likelihood that a fire would “drop” or burn with less intensity as it approaches a home or structure. Not building within the WUI  or “fire plane” is, of course, a more logical step.

In summary, wildland fire is necessary and a natural part of ecosystem function. Wildand fire is largely driven by drought, temperature and wind events. Mixed-conifer forests have evolved with fire and rely on them to replenish soils and deliver nutrients. Thinning projects on the National Forests is not scientifically proven to help mitigate fire severity. Logging and removing biomass (sometimes referred to as “rotting” or “dead trees”) in a post-fire habitat deprives numerous species important habitat that they depend on for food and shelter. The best way to protect a home or structure in Wildland Urban Interface is the removal of small trees, flammable fuels or brush within 120-feet of a home.

Read about the ecological value of dead trees.

Read Wildland fire and salvage logging.pdf