OpEd: Cutting through the misconceptions about logging and wildfire

  • [USFS photo]

    [USFS photo]

By Bryant Baker, Director of Conservation & Research, Los Padres ForestWatch and Chad Hanson, PhD, Forest Ecologist, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute

In any given year, less than half a percent of fires in California account for most of the acreage burned and most of the damage to communities.

Wind-driven Fires

These fires are nearly always driven by low humidity and high winds. For example, the North Complex in the Sierra Nevada was the most destructive fire in terms of home loss in 2020. The fire started as two separate fires that burned a combined 40,000 acres in the first three weeks under relatively mild weather conditions. Less than a quarter of the fire burned at high severity, where most trees are killed.

Not long after the two fires combined into one, a dry cold front with 45 mph winds blew the fire across 15 miles and 204,400 acres toward the small community of Berry Creek—all in just a 24-hour period. It was during this short period when the winds were extreme that the fire burned the fastest and hottest, destroyed 1,200 homes, and killed 14 people. The fire raced through previously burned areas and intensively managed private lands. It also burned as a crown fire through areas that had been commercially thinned in the preceding decade as part of Forest Service projects
About 62% of the area affected during this short period of high winds burned at high severity. After the winds died down, the fire then burned across 72,500 acres for the next few months. Only 18% of the area burned during that time was in the form of high severity fire. In other words, 65% of the North Complex area burned in a single 24-hour period when the winds were extreme, and it was during this same short period that 85% of all of the fire’s high severity effects occurred.

Weather More Important Than Fuel

Logging and fuel reduction projects do little to…(please see below to view full stories and photographs)

Photo captions:

Before “Thinning” and After “Thinning”

Stand Type: Pine Before Treatment and Stand Type: Pine After Treatment

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This is part of the March 10, 2023 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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