In a recent IR editorial, former Forest Service foresters, Dale Bosworth and Jack Blackwell, promoted numerous out-of-date concepts and paradigms about forest health and management. Their editorial demonstrated that they are unfamiliar with the latest science regarding the ecological value of large wildfires, bark beetles and other natural ecological disturbance processes.
Ecologists view large mixed to high severity fires, bark beetles, and other natural processes as critical to maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. The dead snags and down wood produced by such events are vital to many wildlife and plants. Indeed, some 2/3 of all wildlife species depend on dead trees at some point in their lives.
One example of their outmoded concepts is the idea that fuels drive large wildfires, even though numerous scientific studies suggest that severe climate/weather is what powers large wildfires. High winds, for instance, typically blow embers miles ahead of fire fronts, making fuel breaks largely ineffective at reducing fire spread and intensity.
A growing body of scientific evidence calls into question their assertions that logging can preclude large high severity blazes. For instance, a study published in Ecosphere last month did a review of wildfire on 23 million acres of public lands over the past few decades. The authors found that ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests under active timber management had the highest percentage of high severity blazes, while lands without any management like wilderness and parks had the lowest percentage of high severity fires.
To quote from their paper, the authors found “forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel loading.”
This is in direct contrast to the assertions of Bosworth and Blackwell that our forests need to be logged to remove “fuels.”
They also appear to ignore the fact that natural processes like bark beetles, wildfire, and so forth have been shown to reduce and contain wildfires and are vital to restoring healthy forest ecosystems.
If the goal is to preclude large wildfires, we would be wise to designate more wilderness as advocated by the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which would prohibit the Forest Service from active timber management.
Bosworth and Blackwell disregard the numerous scientific studies that demonstrate that logging damages and impoverishes forest ecosystems.
Logging removes biomass (dead wood), nutrients, carbon, and fragments wildlife habitat. Logging equipment compacts soils and disturbance of soils creates a perfect seedbed for exotic weeds — perhaps one of the greatest threats to our forests. And logging roads are a major source of sediment in our streams, negatively impacting fisheries.
Bosworth and Blackwell are frustrated that the Forest Service is obligated to follow the law and manage our public forests for all Americans, not just the timber industry. The fact that some environmental organizations succeed in challenging with litigation Forest Service timber sales means that the agency is violating the law.
Bosworth and Blackwell still see the national forests in a rear-view mirror.
However, Montana never was and is even so today the nation’s woodbox.
Trees on our public forests are far more precious for their wildlife, scenic, and even carbon storage value standing on the hillside than being cut up into 2x4s.
George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books, including "Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy."