Impact of forest clearing on forest fires creates divisions | News, Sports, Jobs



SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Firefighters and numerous studies attribute intensive forest clearing projects to helping save communities like the recently threatened ones near Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, but dissent from some environmental groups are upsetting the scientific community.

The western states of the United States and the federal government each year clear thousands of acres of dense timber and dig large tracts through the forest near remote communities, all designed to slow the spread of wildfires. massive forest.

The projects aim to restore overgrown forests to what they were over a century ago, before land managers reflexively started putting out every forest fire as soon as possible.

Efforts now include the use of fire to fight the blaze, with fires deliberately started during the colder, wetter months to burn dangerous fuels, or backfire on the way to wildfires. Forest managers give credit to these burns for helping protect the giant forest in Sequoia National Park.

While most scientific studies reveal that such forest management is a valuable tool, conservationists say data from recent massive wildfires supports their long-held claim that efforts to slow down Rather, forest fires have accelerated their spread.

The argument fuels an already heated debate.

This led to a flurry of citations from dueling science studies and fueled competing claims that science could be biased by ideology.

The debate has come to a head over this year’s giant Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon.

“Not only did tens of thousands of acres of recent thinning, fuel cuts and other forest developments fail to stop or slow the rapid spread of the fire, but… the fire has often moved. as quickly as possible in these areas ” Los Padres ForestWatch, a California-based nonprofit, said in an analysis, joined by advocacy groups John Muir Project and Wild Heritage.

James Johnston, a researcher at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, called the groups’ findings “Quite misleading” “irresponsible” and “Self-contradictory”.

“Claims that modern fuel reduction thinning makes the fire worse are not credible” Johnston said.

The debate focused on a project where the Klamath tribes and The Nature Conservancy spent a decade clearing smaller trees and using planned fires.

They and the US Forest Service said the treatments had slowed the spread of the blaze and lessened its intensity, while critics said the blaze had made its fastest Nordic run in the same area, extending over 8 kilometers in about 13 hours.

Scientists say climate change has made the American West much hotter and drier and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive, accelerating the need for larger-scale forest treatments.

Critics say that forest clearing operations are mostly disguised logging projects.

Opening up the forest canopy and leaving more distance between trees reduces the natural humidity and refreshing shade of dense forests and allows unhindered winds to push the fire faster, said Chad Hanson, forest and fire ecologist at the John Muir project.

Such reasoning defies the laws of physics, other experts have said: Less fuel means a less severe fire. Fewer trees means it’s harder for fires to jump from treetops to treetops.

Critics argue that the recent massive wildfires in California have also moved quickly to thinned areas that have failed to protect communities.

Timothy Ingalsbee, a former federal firefighter who heads the Oregon-based United Fire Department for Safety, Ethics and Environment, said giant Dixie Fire blew sparks beyond containment lines, igniting dry branches left by thinning near Paradise. The city was nearly destroyed in 2018 in the country’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire in modern times.

Thom Porter, director of the California Fire Agency, said critics did not get the basics: Fuel cuts are a tool that can help slow and channel wildfires while protecting them. homes and rural communities.

“The problem is, when you have a headfire one or several miles wide and it goes through the wood like grass, there is no fuel leak that can stop it.” Porter said.

Each party can cite many competing examples, said John Bailey, professor of forestry and fire management at Oregon State University. Some forest clearings have indeed been poorly managed, however “Wherever we have done efficient fuel processing, we have changed the behavior of the fire and reduced the intensity. “

The contrasting views have sparked controversial debate, with an article suggesting that spotted owl habitat supporters, including Hanson of the John Muir Project, are “By selectively using data that supports their programs.” Another article stated that such dissenting opinions have “Favored confusion” and may slow down what the authors claim are necessary forest treatments.

Hanson dismissed the criticism as “Character assassination” pushed by those who profit from logging or are reluctant to embrace what he insists on the evolution of science.

“On average, all other things being equal, thinned areas tend to burn faster and more intensely most of the time,” he said, citing his own research, including an extensive 2016 review of three decades of 1,500 fires in the western United States conducted with the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Arizona-based Geos Institute. Oregon.

The division “Reflects both evidence and understandable emotion” when wildfires destroy homes or ecological treasures, said Erica Fleishman, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University.

Competing arguments are part of the legitimate political and scientific debate, according to Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College in California who has written extensively on wildfires, including with Hanson.

Forest managers cite examples such as where a 400-foot-wide (120-meter) fuel cut helped protect rural homes in Sierra Nevada.

The US Forest Service produced a video titled “Fuel Treatments Work – A Stream Fire Success Story”, and Cal Fire featured it in a fuel reduction guide.

“This is clearly a matter of debate in the political and management arenas, but I think in terms of the scientific literature the evidence is overwhelming.” said John Battles, professor of forest ecology at the University of California at Berkeley.

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