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More logging on public lands means more wildfires

A reporter walks through the trunk of a 2,000-year-old giant Sequoia inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument in California.
A reporter walks through the trunk of a 2,000-year-old giant Sequoia inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument in California. AP file

It has been more than two weeks since Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released an underwhelming report about the fate of our national monuments and America’s public lands. To date, the recommendations remain unavailable to the public, although a leaked report over the weekend recommends major changes to benefit extractive industries, including logging.

 
Opinion

Zinke also released a controversial statement on fire management in response to the mega-fires sweeping across the West, stressing a “more aggressive approach” for fire prevention. That translates to clear-cutting and essentially a pass for logging companies to move in. It throws a bone to the timber industry while failing to provide funding for well-thought-out and locally vetted management plans.

In California, the 2012 Giant Sequoia Management Plan, developed with community input and years of effort, would be lost to private industry management, an approach that has a bad track record on fire. The plan supports proven techniques, including prescribed burns, managed wildfire, fuel reduction and removal of dead trees. The administration should focus on carrying out this plan and providing the visitors center requested by surrounding communities to increase tourism.

In addition, the lack of information about the future of Giant Sequoia National Monument (the leaked report leaves in limbo six of the seven California national monuments) heightens uncertainty. The need for a scientific perspective on fire management is absolutely critical for the future of our beloved giant sequoias.

As scientists at UC Berkeley, we recognize the remarkable differences in wildfires in unlogged areas versus clear-cut forestland. According to an analysis of Cal Fire and National Interagency Fire Center data, 48 percent of previously logged areas of Sequoia National Forest have burned at least once, compared to just 25 percent of the unlogged Giant Sequoia monument. And only 3 percent of Sequoia National Park burned in places where logging was banned entirely.

Protecting Giant Sequoia National Monument doesn’t just make scientific sense, it reduces risk of mega-fires – a risk that is now amplified in Cascades-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, which has been recommended for significant cutbacks. Forestlands with a comprehensive management strategy that incorporates prescribed burning and debris removal fare much better than areas where fire was suppressed.

However, timber industry executives – and now the Trump administration – continue to pursue their logging agenda that will leave forests irreversibly damaged and open to fire. This outdated approach would overrule existing management plans that are designed to protect people and forests from fire. The administration must consider the consequences of doing business with companies concerned with profit over people, property and the environment.

Increased commercial logging in these forests will result in the removal of the largest, most ecologically important and fire-resistant trees. Commercial logging also impacts soil, degrades wildlife habitat and decreases water quality, and will strip these forests’ ability to withstand drought and climate change.

Zinke is leaving us high and dry in a critical time when he should be advancing scientifically backed management plans that protect the Giant Sequoia and other forests and their nearby communities.

Anthony Ambrose and Wendy Baxter are with the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley and can be contacted at ambrose@berkeley.edu and wendy.l.baxter@berkeley.edu, respectively.

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