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Thinning forests aims to reduce fire risk

Originally published April 3, 2017

To restore a forest and reduce the risk of severe wildfires, a conservation group is cutting down trees.

The Nature Conservancy is selectively logging dry forests in Washington’s Central Cascades as part of a long-term plan to make thousands of privately owned forestland more resilient to fire, disease and climate change.

A century of wildfire suppression has resulted in overgrown tree stands that are ripe for fire, so the group is weeding out smaller trees that can serve as kindling for fires. They’re leaving bigger, older and more fire-resistant ponderosa pines while removing tree species such as grand fir that are more susceptible to fire.

Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, said thinning that’s done right can be a good tool but it’s not the only one.

“I don’t see it as a panacea and it should be strategically used to defend homes and lives and get into the truly flammable area,” he said. Often missing from the equation is letting fires burn naturally under safe conditions, he added.

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