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Global Synthesis of Large Wildland Fires Shows They Are Ecologically Beneficial

For Release on June 29, 2015


Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph.D., Chief Scientist Chad Hanson, Ph.D., Ecologist
Geos Inst., Ashland, OR John Muir Project
541-482-4459 x 302; 541-621-7223 (cell) Big Bear City, CA; 530-273-9290

Ashland, OR – 25 fire scientists from around the world released a new publication “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix” published by Elsevier, a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services.  

For the first time scientific research has been compiled from fire-adapted regions providing extensive documentation that forests and other plant communities need a variety of different types of fires, including severe fire, to rejuvenate over the long-term. These findings are timely, in light of current proposals by Members of Congress to weaken environmental laws, based on the assumption that current fires are damaging forest ecosystems, and that increased logging is needed to reduce fire effects.

According to Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist of the Ashland-based Geos Institute and co-editor, “This is the first global synthesis of the countless ecosystem benefits of large and severe fires. Simply put, the post-fire landscapes created by these fires are not ecological disasters, rather they are rare ecosystems that have a unique role to play in the long-term health of our forests.”

Chad Hanson, director and ecologist of John Muir Project, Earth Island Institute, and co-editor added: “The research compiled in this book provides strong evidence that when large fires burn through a forest they enrich fire-dependent communities and provide habitat for scores of plant and wildlife species that rival the more celebrated old-growth forests. Although it makes many uncomfortable, it is time that we recognize the important role that fire plays in renewing forests.”

The research includes many surprise findings compiled from western North America, central Europe, southeast Australia, and sub-Saharan Africa, such as:

  • Thinning in the backcountry does not improve homeowner safety, and does not meaningfully influence large, weather-driven fires.
  • The mosaic of fire patches in large fires (unburned to severely burned areas) produces ideal habitat for scores of plants and animals.
  • Large, severe fires restore habitats for fire-dependent species. Post-fire logging, tree planting, and herbicides most often degrade the biologically rich post-fire landscape and increases future big fire risks.
  • Contrary to what many think, large and severe fires are not currently increasing in western North America compared to historical times.
  • Climate change in dry forest regions may increase the frequency and extent of large fires this century.
  • People can live safely with fire in the backcountry by building with fire-resistant materials and reducing flammable vegetation nearest homes.
  • Large severe fires contribute much less carbon dioxide to global warming than the burning of fossil fuels or forest thinning over large landscapes.
  • Record fire suppression is doing little to stop large fires during extreme weather events. It is best to prepare for fire by reducing risks to homes and proper zoning that limits sprawl into fire-prone areas.

DellaSala added, “In the 1940s when the Forest Service started its fire suppression policy, it made sense to put out fires for public safety. The truth is, large fires are not going away no matter what we do to try to stop them, so we need to do a better job of investing scarce public resources in protecting lives and homes.”

This major reference on fire includes nearly 400 pages of science-based accounts of the beneficial role that large and severe fires have played in shaping the ecology of plant and wildlife communities for millions of years. So called “mixed-severity fires” burn in a mosaic (quilt-like) pattern of small to large patches of low (ground burning) to high-severity (most trees killed) burns. When observed from an airplane, the post-fire landscape soon resembles a living kaleidoscope of rejuvenating forests. This is in stark contrast to logging that degrades these biologically rich post-fire landscapes. 

Ebook review copies are available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Michelle McMahon at or +1 781 663 2268. Also see this summary of the beneficial fire effects covered in the book.


View the book’s key findings in a July 2015 webinar by Drs. DellaSala and Hanson.

Listen to a July 2, 2015 radio interview on NPR with Drs. DellaSala and Hanson.

Read the July 5, 2015 Oregonian Guest Opinion: “Oregon’s Forests Were Born to Burn.”

Watch Dominick’s July 7, 2015 lecture on the ecological importance of mixed severity fires.

Read the July 7, 2015 news article, “Scientist: We Need to Learn to Live with Wildfire.”

Read Elsevier’s SciTech Connect blog post by Drs. DellaSala and Hanson.

Read the July 10, 2015 Hood River News article, “Forest Ecologist Talks “Rebirth Through Fire.”

Read Dominick DellaSala’s July 17, 2015 article in Street Roots, “Let It Burn.”

Read the July 23, 2015 New York Times Opinion Piece, “More Logging Won’t Stop Wildfires.”

Read the July 2015 wildfire primer on “Ways to Co-exist with Large Fires and their Ecosystem Benefits.”


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