Soapbox

More logging in California’s forests won’t prevent wildfires, no matter what the Trump administration says

Embers fly above a firefighter as he hustles to control a backfire as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest on Sept. 6.
Embers fly above a firefighter as he hustles to control a backfire as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest on Sept. 6. AP

The Trump administration’s Interior and Agriculture secretaries recently claimed that California’s forests are “overgrown” (“Administration ready to help state meet wildfire threat,” Viewpoints, Sept. 5).

Ryan Zinke and Sonny Perdue are using this assertion to promote an extreme rollback of environmental laws in our national forests in the farm bill before Congress and to increase logging and clear-cutting, supposedly to save forests from wildfires. However, their claims are inaccurate.

 
Opinion

For example, it is highly misleading to say that our forests are “overgrown” or overly dense. The truth is we currently have slightly more small trees, but fewer mature trees, in California’s forests, compared to a century ago. Overall, our forests are actually less dense now, since so many have been removed by intensive logging.

Further, the suggestion by Zinke and Perdue that the large fires in California this year are somehow due to a lack of logging does not even pass the laugh test. The Ferguson, Carr and Mendocino Complex fires, for example, occurred in some of the most heavily logged forests in California.

Current science shows that it is weather, and therefore climate change, that overwhelmingly determines how fires behave and spread, not forest density. The most heavily-logged areas burn more intensely, not less, contrary to the claims of the Trump administration.

Perhaps most troubling is the administration’s refusal to focus attention and resources on protecting homes and communities from wildfires, such as helping homeowners create “defensible space” within 100 feet of homes. This is highly effective in protecting homes. Vegetation management, including logging, beyond 100 feet from homes provides no additional protection from fire.

After the tragic loss of so many homes and lives in recent fires, why is the Trump administration pushing for more logging and clear-cutting in remote public forests, rather than helping to save homes and lives by creating fire-safe communities?

Dan Ryant was invited aboard the firefighting trains that are helping battle the Delta Fire near Shasta, California. Some of the shots are along the Sacramento River.

Chad Hanson is a forest and fire ecologist with the John Muir Project and a national director of the Sierra Club. He can be contacted at cthanson1@gmail.com.

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