Oregon lawmakers look to supersize firefighting and forest cleanups; critics say it could be counterproductive
Debate on wildfire heats up in Oregon with Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist calling on legislators not to make matters worse by increasing logging.
Legislators will consider several bills in the upcoming short session that could expand and overhaul the way Oregon works to fight – and prevent – wildfires.
The plans include an unprecedented effort to restore forest health through thinning, removing brush and small trees, and increasing prescribed burns. Over the next 20 years, supporters aim to do that work on 5.6 million acres of forest and rangelands — an area equivalent to the state of New Jersey, or nearly 10 percent of Oregon’s entire land base.
The proposals also call for expanding firefighting resources at the Oregon Department of Forestry, putting more boots on the ground and modernizing equipment to put fires out when they’re small, thereby keeping costs low. And they would add administrative staff to make sure the state is promptly invoicing and collecting its firefighting costs – a problem that drove the Department of Forestry to the brink of insolvency last fall.
By Joseph Serna and Susanne Rust
Originally published January 14, 2020 at the Los Angeles Times
KANGAROO ISLAND, Australia — Sam Mitchell balanced himself on a eucalyptus branch 30 feet above the ground as his meaty left fist clutched a koala, which wailed like a pig with breathing problems. The dark gray marsupial batted its 3-inch black claws in the air helplessly, and minutes later Mitchell crawled down. He and the animal were safely on the ground.
Across much of Australia, volunteers and professionals are fighting to contain widespread blazes, with many also taking risks to save wildlife being killed by the millions. Kangaroo Island, a popular tourist destination and wildlife park off Australia’s southeast coast, has seen some of the worst damage to the nation’s biodiversity. Fires have overrun nearly half of the 1,700-square-mile island, and rescuers have been going tree to tree, trying to save what they can.
“There’s not much that isn’t threatening koalas at the moment,” said Mitchell, who has owned and run the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park with his wife, Dana, the last seven years. The couple started a GoFundMe campaign so people can help with the rescues. Without quick intervention, koalas that survived the fires “are going to die of starvation,” he said.
In terms of human fatalities, Australia’s blazes this year have been less severe than some previous bush fires — with 27 people killed so far this season, compared to 75 during the nation’s 1983 “Ash Wednesday” inferno. But the impact on wildlife this year has been far more devastating, a preview of what California could experience in future fire seasons.
Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala testifies in the Oregon legislature on a proposal by state legislatures to provide $4 billion for logging Oregon’s forests, which would be a maladaptive climate change response.
By Dominick A. DellaSala Oct 5, 2019
Originally published October 5, 2019 at the Santa Fe New Mexican
Santa Fe is blessed with magnificent national forests, wild rivers and some of the cleanest airsheds in the nation. Many people are here to be part of, connect with and heal through nature. It’s only natural that there is public outcry when forests are cut down or burned.
I was asked recently by local conservationists to take a hard look at the Santa Fe National Forest from the perspective of forest-fire ecology. I toured Santa Fe’s municipal watershed at Black Canyon and burned areas outside Los Alamos. I viewed forest “restoration” in the Jemez Mountains. What I witnessed was ill-informed tinkering with forest ecosystems that likely will continue for decades under the U.S. Forest Service’s new management plan currently in public review.
Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala’s letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s Wildfire Council on how the state can best prepare communities for wildfires
I am a conservation scientist with over 200 peer-reviewed publications including books on forest-fire ecology, climate change, and forest management globally and in Oregon. I also served on the Oregon Global Warming Commission Task Force on Carbon, and the Governor’s Forest Carbon Stakeholder Group. I have reviewed the report from the mitigation subcommittee and I write to provide input and a summary of the scientific literature on wildfires in a changing climate to help with your deliberations.
by Cassandra Profita | OPB Sept. 27, 2019 1:54 p.m. | Portland, Ore.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown got a progress report from her Council on Wildfire Response on Thursday, and it came with a hefty price tag.
The board is advising the governor on how to change the state’s wildfire policy in response to growing wildfire risks from overstocked forests, population growth and climate change.
Council Chair Matt Donegan told the governor that one of the major changes the board is recommending is increased investment in wildfire suppression.
“It just stands to reason that in an era of climate change, in an era of fuel buildup and in an era of population growth and increased wildfire activity that we’re going to have to spend more resources suppressing fire,” he said.
He said the state will need an estimated $4 billion in “a multi-decade initiative that will involve significant state, federal and private investment” to reduce wildfire risks through actions such as logging overstocked forestland.
“That number feels a bit overwhelming,” Brown said in response. “But I think it’s critically imperative that we bite off a significant chunk right now — immediately.”
The governor said she wants to spend more to improve wildland firefighting capabilities, increase controlled burning and help communities live with more wildfire smoke.
“There isn’t really a fire season anymore. It’s year-round. It’s increasing in Oregon and frankly around the entire globe,” she said. “I obviously know we need to do things differently and we need different tools and we clearly need additional resources.”
Megafires Not Increasing: New Research Shows Large High-Severity Fires are Natural in Western Forests
In September 2019, Dr. Dominick DellaSala (Geos Institute) and Chad Hanson (Earth Island Institute) published a peer-reviewed study in the science journal Diversity disputes the widely held belief that “megafires” in our national forests are increasing, preventing forests from re-growing, and that logging is necessary to prevent these wildfires. Read the Press Release
“This is the most extensive study ever conducted on the high-severity fire component of large fires, and our results demonstrate that there is no need for massive forest thinning and salvage logging before or after a forest fire” – Dominick DellaSala
Links to the study
- Abstract: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/157
- HTML Version: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/157/htm
- PDF Version: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/11/9/157/pdf
- For more information on the Rim fire, visit https://bit.ly/2kaxpMF.
So why is California spending millions on them?
A recent Los Angeles Times project explores the effectiveness of firebreaks across California, with satellite and drone footage showing the devastation caused by recent fires, including the Camp fire in 2018.
Post-conflagration photos of Paradise reveal row after row of houses reduced to heaps of ash, while nearby trees and vegetation stand green and largely untouched by flame. In the Camp fire, the primary fuel was houses, not vegetation.
Jack Cohen, a retired Forest Service research scientist who studied ignitions and wildfire spread, said he’s been asked to explain the “unusual pattern of destruction” in Paradise.
His response: “It’s not strange and unusual — it’s typical. Every investigation I’ve done comes up with that pattern.”
“We do fuel breaks because the premise is we’ve got a wildfire containment problem” when in fact, Cohen argues, we have a home ignition problem.
Until firefighting agencies recognize that, he said, their efforts are doomed to “further failure at ever increasing cost.”
Megafires Not Increasing: New Research Shows Large High-Severity Fires are Natural in Western Forests (Press Release)
For Immediate Release, September 10, 2019
From Geos Institute and The John Muir Project
Contact: Eric Podolsky, firstname.lastname@example.org, (415)585-2100, photos available via e-mail
“MEGAFIRES” NOT INCREASING: NEW RESEARCH SHOWS LARGE HIGH-SEVERITY FIRES ARE NATURAL IN WESTERN FORESTS
Case Study Rebukes U.S. Forest Service’s Post-Fire Clearcut Methods
ASHLAND, OR – SEPTEMBER 10, 2019 – A peer-reviewed study by leading experts of forest and fire ecology recently published in the science journal Diversity disputes the widely held belief that “megafires” in our national forests are increasing, preventing forests from re-growing, and that logging is necessary to prevent these wildfires. While many policy and management decisions in U.S. national forests are based on these assumptions, research shows that large patches of trees killed by wildfires—known as high-severity burn patches—have not been increasing. These findings thus show that taxpayer-funded logging projects on public lands are not only unnecessary, they are also counter-productive, as related research shows that such logging often increases fire severity.
Researchers analyzed the most extensive contemporary and historical datasets ever collected on large (over 1,000 acres) high-severity burn patches across 11 western dry pine and mixed-conifer forests over three decades. The findings dispute the prevailing belief that increasing “megafires” are setting back post-fire forest regeneration.
“This is the most extensive study ever conducted on the high-severity fire component of large fires, and our results demonstrate that there is no need for massive forest thinning and salvage logging before or after a forest fire,” says Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, lead author of the study and Chief Scientist at the Geos Institute. “The perceived ‘megafire’ problem is being overblown. After a fire, conditions are ideal for forest re-establishment, even in the interior of the largest severely burned patches. We found conditions for forest growth in interior patches were possible over 1000 feet from the nearest low/moderately burned patch where seed sources are most likely.”
A recording of a recent webinar discussing the role of climate change in wildfires and how forests can help fight climate change. The webinar was held on July 18, 2019.
- Dr Dominick DellaSala (Geos Institute): wildfire ecology and the climate connection (jump to presentation)
- Alexander Harris (Cascadia Wildlands): forest-carbon 201 (jump to presentation)
- Ralph Bloemers (Crag Law Center): communicating about 21st century wildfires (jump to presentation)