Geos Institute helps communities build resilience in the face of climate change

Program: Fire Ecology

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.

Read the full article: https://www.oregonlive.com/politics/2020/01/lawmakers-look-to-supersize-firefighting-and-forest-cleanups-critics-say-it-could-be-counterproductive.html

An Australia in flames tries to cope with an ‘animal apocalypse.’ Could California be next?

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

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.

Read the testimony

Read the supplemental materials

Read the additional supplemental materials on the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), climate change, thinning, and defensible space

Here’s to a new way to manage forests

By Dominick A. DellaSala Oct 5, 2019

Originally published October 5, 2019 at the Santa Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe Municipal Watershed at Black Canyon thinned on steep slopes in early 2000s and burned twice by the Forest Service – critics of the project say this is no longer a functional pine-mixed conifer forest. (Photo by Dominick A. DellaSala)

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.

Read the rest of the letter

Oregon Governor’s Council Projects Big Bill To Manage Wildfire

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

fire increasing study MDPI2019

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

Press Coverage

Forest thinning projects won’t stop the worst wildfires

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, eric@pikeandcompany.com, (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.”

Wildfire – Forest Webinar

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.

Panelists:

Climate change calls for new look at fire, experts say

By Caitlin Fowlkes of the Tidings

Dominick A. DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, says more scientists agree that forest thinning in the backcountry is futile.

At a presentation he gave Friday during a symposium on fire, DellaSala said that according to a 2017 study, less than 1% of areas that were thinned had a forest fire.

He said thinning doesn’t work well in extreme fire weather, it can increase wind speed and vegetation, it doesn’t last longer than 10 to 15 years before it must be redone, and it can make land more prone to fire.

DellaSala, speaking at the 100th annual meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said there’s just no way to tell where lightening is going to strike.

“A lot of it is in backcountry, in steep areas that you can’t get to it anyway,” DellaSala said. “In many areas you don’t have access, and there’s no way you can treat enough of the landscape to make enough of a difference.”

Timber industry the focus of GOP wildfire response

By Adam Aton, E&E News reporter

Originally published at E&E News on June 17, 2019

Republican climate policy is taking shape under the Trump administration, with a new forestry proposal offering an example of businesses setting the parameters of action.

As wildfires become an emblem of climate change, the GOP wants to help the timber industry respond. The strategy mostly disregards emissions, accepts some collateral damage to local ecosystems and limits public oversight of corporate activity.

The Forest Service’s new proposed rule, open for comment until Aug. 12, would loosen environmental reviews for many projects, including logging and road-building. A new suite of categorical exclusions for those projects would require only public notice, not public comment.

Rep. Haaland statement on wildfire risks

Rep. Haaland (D-NM) asks congress to focus on home protection and climate change to address wildfire risks. Read the full statement.

Conservation Today talks wildfires with Dr. Dominick DellaSala

Dr. Dominick DellaSala talks about fire, including how wildfire is beneficial to our ecosystems. Does thinning help reduce fire? Does it help the forest? It depends. In any case, Dr. DellaSala explains why salvage logging a burned forests is so destructive. Dr. DellaSala also explains the relationship between climate change and forests, and the carbon capture and release of a forest. Finally, Dominick summarizes the green-new-deal from congress.

Listen to more episodes from Conservation Today

Dotty Owl: Born in Fire

Dotty Owl travels back in time and visits young forests emerging from the charcoal after intense wildfire. Forest fires burn at varying severities leaving a mosaic pattern on the landscape. While burned forests appear stark immediately after a fire, one of the best kept secrets of fire is how quickly the young forests emerge and thrive after fire. Join Dotty and see with your own eyes how many plants and animals thrive in burned forests.

Watch Episode 1 here.

Oregon Needs New Approach to Forest, Fire Management

For Immediate Release, March 13, 2019

Contacts: Luke Ruediger, Applegate Network, Klamath Forest Alliance, (541) 890-8974, elliottcreek@yahoo.com | Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute, (541) 621-7223, dominick@geosinstitute.org | Timothy Ingalsbee, Fire Fighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, (541) 338-7671, fire@efn.org | Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894, rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org

Oregon Needs New Approach to Forest, Fire Management

Gov. Brown’s Wildfire Council Ignores Wildfire Science, Won’t Make Communities Safe

ASHLAND, Ore.― Conservation groups are urging Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to include proven methods for protecting communities and firefighters in the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response. In a recent letter to the governor, the groups outline six recommendations as part of a proposed community protection alternative plan.

The governor should include expertise in defensible space and wildfire risk planning, climate change and forest-fire ecology on the Council, the groups said. Brown also should ensure a transparent process for the public and scientists to contribute to the council’s work.

“Our community protection alternative would most effectively accomplish the governor’s goals of keeping the public safe and protecting Oregon’s environment, which brings residents, visitors and businesses to our state,” said Luke Ruediger with the Applegate Network and Klamath Forest Alliance. “Unfortunately, public promises to eliminate smoke and stop wildfires are not realistic and are misleading. It may be counter intuitive, but we need more fire in the backcountry, where wildfires benefit forests and reduce fuels.”

Investing in home and firefighter protections will do far more to keep communities and firefighters safe than thinning backcountry forests. Research found that wildfires occur in only about 1 percent of U.S. Forest Service areas that have undergone fuel-reduction treatments. This suggests that landscape-scale thinning is not a cost-effective means of addressing wildfires.

“The chance of a forest fire encountering an area where fuels have been reduced is about 1 percent, but we’re 100 percent certain where there are communities at risk from wildfires,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Focusing resources on existing developments, rather than on logging in the backcountry, is the best way to protect communities with limited tax dollars.”

Wildfires are a natural and necessary ecological process. But a warming climate, fire suppression, clearcutting, and post-fire logging and tree planting practices have transformed portions of Oregon’s fire-resilient older forests to fire-prone landscapes.

Oregon also suffers from a lack of fire-safe building siting and construction practices. Homes that are easily ignited by embers are responsible for feeding urban conflagrations like those in Santa Rosa and Paradise, Calif. This risk can be greatly reduced by proven defensible space measures that prepare homes from the home outward instead of logging from wildlands inward.

“Thinning is appropriate in densely planted tree plantations that act as fire’s gasoline, but is being oversold as a panacea to stop fires and smoke that it simply cannot deliver on—especially in a warming climate where large fires overwhelm firefighting forces regardless of thinning efforts, said Dominick A. DellaSala, chief scientist with the Geos Institute. “Thinning forests away from houses does nothing to prevent those houses from burning.”

“Firefighters are needlessly being exposed to extra risk trying to protect vulnerable homes and communities, said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE). “If homes and communities are proactively prepared for fire, this dramatically improves their chance of surviving fire from any source or location, and greatly expands opportunities to ecologically managed fires in remote natural areas for the many benefits they provide in fuels reduction and forest restoration–virtually for free.”

The Community Wildfire Protection Alternative recommendations:

  1. Emphasize reducing home ignitability and discourage new development in naturally fire-prone areas.
  2. Target thinning and prescribed fire in strategic locations surrounding communities on both public and private lands within a quarter-mile of residential lands. This will help provide safe spaces for wildlands firefighters.
  3. Address particulate pollution by improving state air-quality standards and restricting emissions from uses such as wood-burning stoves, automobiles and agriculture.
  4. Provide funding for fire/smoke shelters, tax rebates for HEPA filters and upgrades to HVAC systems, and aid to the most health-vulnerable segments of society by working with health care providers.
  5. Utilize both managed wildland fires in the backcountry and prescribed burns under safe conditions for multiple ecosystem benefits—including the most cost-effective way to restore forest ecosystems to have more natural amounts of burnable material.
  6. Prohibit logging practices that can increase unnatural wildfire risks such as clearcut/modified clearcutting, postfire logging, removal of large fire-resistant trees, excessive opening of forest canopies, and commercial logging operations that produce highly flammable, excess slash that is expensive and most often not feasible to remove.

Community Fire Protection Alternative for Fire Safety

Conservation groups announced a new fire protection alternative designed to protect homes and firefighters from wildfires as a counter to pro-logging approaches that create fire- and climate-unsafe landscapes. The alternative was sent to Oregon Governor Kate Brown and has relevance to fire fighting efforts in California as well, where California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed massive logging that will do nothing to prepare communities for wildfire safety.

Read the response to Governor Brown’s Executive Order on Oregon’s Wildfire Response Council

The Paradise fire: Could it happen to us?

By Dominick DellaSala and Dennis Odion
Originally published on December 23, 2018 in the Medford Mail Tribune

Smoke from wildfires is gone for now, but this year’s tragic California fires are a stark reminder of what could happen here. There are many take-aways that can help us prepare.

The Camp Fire of Paradise Valley, which took the lives of 88 people and destroyed thousands of structures, had nothing to do with whether the forest was thinned. It was a structure-to-structure fire. Startling images from GoogleEarth reveal surrounding trees untouched while homes burned to the ground. Blown by high winds, embers advanced miles ahead of the flame front, landing on unprepared homes and taking them out in a domino-like fashion.

In Southern California, tornado-force winds are known to spread fire rapidly through shrublands that at one time supported diverse wildlife habitat, but are now sprawling developments. Wildlands were gobbled up by developers during a mid-20th century climate-cool down that made fire suppression effective and created a false sense of security.

California now has unbridled traffic jams and global warming-related fires that destroy entire towns with no end in sight, as over 1 million new homes are planned in harm’s way by 2050. Insurance companies also have taken notice, anticipating increased wildfires related to global warming that will impact everybody’s bottom line.

So, what have we learned that can be applied in the Rogue Valley?

The Paradise fire: Could it happen to us?

By Dominick DellaSala and Dennis Odion
Originally published on December 23, 2018 in the Medford Mail Tribune

Smoke from wildfires is gone for now, but this year’s tragic California fires are a stark reminder of what could happen here. There are many take-aways that can help us prepare.

The Camp Fire of Paradise Valley, which took the lives of 88 people and destroyed thousands of structures, had nothing to do with whether the forest was thinned. It was a structure-to-structure fire. Startling images from GoogleEarth reveal surrounding trees untouched while homes burned to the ground. Blown by high winds, embers advanced miles ahead of the flame front, landing on unprepared homes and taking them out in a domino-like fashion.

In Southern California, tornado-force winds are known to spread fire rapidly through shrublands that at one time supported diverse wildlife habitat, but are now sprawling developments. Wildlands were gobbled up by developers during a mid-20th century climate-cool down that made fire suppression effective and created a false sense of security.

California now has unbridled traffic jams and global warming-related fires that destroy entire towns with no end in sight, as over 1 million new homes are planned in harm’s way by 2050. Insurance companies also have taken notice, anticipating increased wildfires related to global warming that will impact everybody’s bottom line.

So, what have we learned that can be applied in the Rogue Valley?

Are feds over-fighting fires? Critics point to this blaze

By Adam Aton, E&E News reporter, originally published Thursday, December 13, 2018

Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service -- Los Padres National Forest/Facebook

Firefighters saved the homes. Then they went into the woods.

California’s 2016 Soberanes Fire broke records for costing the most money to fight a wildfire — much of it in a national forest near Big Sur. That’s the kind of place where experts say fire is good; the ecosystem depends on it, and the flames don’t threaten people or property.

(Photo: Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service — Los Padres National Forest/Facebook)

Instead of letting it burn, the Forest Service unleashed an air show. By the end, 3.5 million gallons of flame retardant blanketed the area. Bulldozers cut through 60 miles of woodland, costing the Forest Service as much as $1 million a day to repair, according to a new report.

That lesson threatens to be lost in the whiplash pace of fighting fires.

Are feds over-fighting fires? Critics point to this blaze

By Adam Aton, E&E News reporter, originally published Thursday, December 13, 2018

Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service -- Los Padres National Forest/Facebook

Firefighters saved the homes. Then they went into the woods.

California’s 2016 Soberanes Fire broke records for costing the most money to fight a wildfire — much of it in a national forest near Big Sur. That’s the kind of place where experts say fire is good; the ecosystem depends on it, and the flames don’t threaten people or property.

(Photo: Firefighters working to contain the 2016 Soberanes Fire in Los Padres National Forest in California. U.S. Forest Service — Los Padres National Forest/Facebook)

Instead of letting it burn, the Forest Service unleashed an air show. By the end, 3.5 million gallons of flame retardant blanketed the area. Bulldozers cut through 60 miles of woodland, costing the Forest Service as much as $1 million a day to repair, according to a new report.

That lesson threatens to be lost in the whiplash pace of fighting fires.

Fire Seasons Without End (KBOO Interview)

Aired Monday November 2, 2018

The wildfires in Northern and Southern California this month are a grisly foreshadowing of a world in the fiery grip of climate chaos. It is apparent – unless you’re a climate denier – that climate change is upon us and that fire seasons without end are a stark indication of how much human activity and fossil fuels have intensified wildfire regimes as well as catastrophic weather events.

On this episode of Locus Focus, host Barbara Bernstein talks with fire and forest ecologist Dominick DellaSala, with the Geos Institute in Ashland, Oregon, about what we need to be learning from California’s escalating problems with destructive wildfires, driven by a warming, drying climate, and a massive expansion of housing in the wildland–urban interface.

Get more information or listen to the recording at the KBOO website.

Why California Can’t Chainsaw Its Way Out Of A Raging Inferno

By Peter Aldhous, BuzzFeed News Reporter (Posted on November 20, 2018, at 4:36 p.m. ET)

Some of the news photos from the devastation in Paradise, California, show a surprising scene: Green, living trees stand near homes that have been reduced to ashes.

They reveal that wildfire is a capricious enemy, but also indicate that there’s more to preventing catastrophic loss of lives and property than the prescriptions offered by the president of the United States — whose tweets and public statements suggest that what California needs to do is hoard water, cut down trees to prevent fires spreading, and get busy raking.

While thinning forests might work in some areas, studies indicate that it’s unlikely to be an effective remedy for California or the West as a whole — and it would have done little to curb the state’s most destructive recent fires.

As BuzzFeed News reported in July, California’s escalating problems with destructive wildfires have been driven by a warming, drying climate, and a massive expansion of housing in what experts call the wildland–urban interface. This has not only put people in the line of fire but has also increased the chances of a conflagration — because power lines and other human infrastructure and activity are the main sources of ignition.

Keep reading at BuzzFeedNews.com

Burning impact: What happens after the fire

By Anette McGee Rasch for the Mail Tribune, October 14, 2018

Only 2 percent of the land affected by the 211,801-acre Klondike and Taylor Creek fires on the Wild Rivers and Gold Beach Ranger Districts burned at high severity; an additional 75 percent burned at “low” or “very low” severities — or remained “unburned,” according to a recent U.S. Forest Service assessment. About 20 percent burned at medium severity.

This was determined by Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team members — soil scientists, hydrologists and other Forest Service specialists — who combined ground observations with information from aerial reconnaissance flights and satellite-generated images to produce a soil burn severity map that will now be utilized to create an action plan.

The BAER team just wrapped up a two-week project to identify “imminent post-wildfire threats to human life, safety, property, and also, critical natural or cultural resources on Forest Service lands,” according to public information officer Andy Lyon.

Fire and Smoke: Where thinning is winning

By Mark Freeman for the Mail Tribune, October 10, 2018

Editor’s note: This is Part 5 of a five-day series on devastating wildfires and their effects on Southern Oregon done in partnership with KTVL Channel 10. Also see Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.

ASHLAND — More than 3,000 lightning bolts all itching to pick a wildfire fight came crashing into Southern Oregon July 15, yet one of those bolts bound for the Ashland watershed never stood a chance.

With great promise, it smashed into a massive 300-plus-year-old Ponderosa pine that rises like a sentry atop Skyline Ridge, which separates the Ashland and Talent watersheds. Scars show the electricity spiraled around the tree three times, blowing off shards of bark, before it unleashed its fiery fury at the tree’s base.

And that was it.

Response to The Nature Conservancy’s Rogue Basin “fuels reduction strategy”

Scientists express reservations about The Nature Conservancy’s Rogue Basin “fuels reduction strategy” that proposes to log/thin over 1 million acres of dry forests in southwest Oregon.

Read the full response here

Beyond smoke and mirrors

By Dominick DellaSala; Originally published in the Ashland Daily Tidings, August 29, 2018

Just about every day someone has a quick-fix logging “solution” and scapegoat to blame for the growing wildfire problem caused by years of climate neglect and poor planning. Meanwhile, smoke and fires are damaging our local economy, forcing home evacuations and causing tragic loss of life. Everyone wants to do something. So, what do we know about wildfires and is there a simple solution, given fires are not going away, no matter how hard we try?

Climate change plus industrial logging plus human-caused fire ignitions equal fire increases

Since the 1980s, wildfire acres have been increasing, although much fewer acres burn now compared to historic times. The main culprit — dinosaur carbon used to run our cars, homes and factories is conspiring climatically with carbon released from deforestation. The consequence — the hotter/drier it gets, the more fires we see.

Beyond smoke and mirrors

By Dominick DellaSala; Originally published in the Ashland Daily Tidings, August 29, 2018

Just about every day someone has a quick-fix logging “solution” and scapegoat to blame for the growing wildfire problem caused by years of climate neglect and poor planning. Meanwhile, smoke and fires are damaging our local economy, forcing home evacuations and causing tragic loss of life. Everyone wants to do something. So, what do we know about wildfires and is there a simple solution, given fires are not going away, no matter how hard we try?

Climate change plus industrial logging plus human-caused fire ignitions equal fire increases

Since the 1980s, wildfire acres have been increasing, although much fewer acres burn now compared to historic times. The main culprit — dinosaur carbon used to run our cars, homes and factories is conspiring climatically with carbon released from deforestation. The consequence — the hotter/drier it gets, the more fires we see.

217 Scientists call on Congress to oppose logging provisions in the House Farm Bill

As scientists with backgrounds in ecological sciences and natural resources management, we are greatly concerned about proposals to speed up and expand logging on public lands in response to recent increases in wildfires in the West – proposals such as the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill. There are pragmatic, science-based solutions that can maintain biologically diverse fire-dependent ecosystems while reducing risks to communities and firefighters facing some of the most active fire seasons in recent memory. Unfortunately, such solutions are getting lost in the endless rhetoric and blaming that has characterized wildfires in the media, Congress, and the Trump administration. We the undersigned are calling on decision makers to facilitate a civil dialogue and careful consideration of the science to ensure that any policy changes will result in communities being protected while safeguarding essential ecosystem processes.

Read the full letter to Congress

Klondike fire crews brace for ‘long fight ahead’

BY ANNETTE MCGEE RASCH FOR THE MAIL TRIBUNE, August 18, 2018

With the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires merged at nearly 120,000 acres — and still growing — many southwestern Oregonians fear the blaze is poised to enter the record books alongside the 2002 Biscuit fire and last year’s Chetco Bar fire.

In an effort to quell that possibility, fire managers brought in reinforcements from California Saturday with the goal of full suppression.

Because of the fire’s size and complex challenges, operations have been split between two teams: Taylor Creek Klondike East based near Selma, and Taylor Creek Klondike West, now headquartered at the Curry County Fairgrounds in Gold Beach.

California’s Interagency Incident Management Team 4 took over operations on the entire west-facing flank of the fire complex Saturday. This team possesses experience with steep terrain and dry fuel types, and plans to go into “full suppression mode” to protect coastal residents.

Klondike fire crews brace for ‘long fight ahead’

BY ANNETTE MCGEE RASCH FOR THE MAIL TRIBUNE, August 18, 2018

With the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires merged at nearly 120,000 acres — and still growing — many southwestern Oregonians fear the blaze is poised to enter the record books alongside the 2002 Biscuit fire and last year’s Chetco Bar fire.

In an effort to quell that possibility, fire managers brought in reinforcements from California Saturday with the goal of full suppression.

Because of the fire’s size and complex challenges, operations have been split between two teams: Taylor Creek Klondike East based near Selma, and Taylor Creek Klondike West, now headquartered at the Curry County Fairgrounds in Gold Beach.

California’s Interagency Incident Management Team 4 took over operations on the entire west-facing flank of the fire complex Saturday. This team possesses experience with steep terrain and dry fuel types, and plans to go into “full suppression mode” to protect coastal residents.

Better Dead than Gone: Rep. Walden pushes for dead tree removal and replanting

By Henry Houston, originally published by Eugene Weekly, August 9, 2018

The state of Oregon currently faces 14 fires, affecting nearly 180,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. When the fire season is over, some of what’s left is dead, burned trees.

But what happens to those burned trees?

Eastern Oregon Rep. Greg Walden is urging the U.S. Senate to adopt the House’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which would remove burned, dead trees from public lands “while they still have value and replant” forest — just like private timberlands do.

It’s common sense, Walden says, in an email newsletter to constituents.

That’s a problematic strategy, according to Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at Geos Institute in Ashland.

To thin or not to thin: That is the question

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter | Originally published Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at E&E News.

GROVELAND, Calif. — The Rim Fire, which burned 257,314 acres of forest in 2013, was the biggest wildfire on record for the Sierra Nevada. Forest Service officials declared large areas of the Stanislaus National Forest “nuked” into a “moonscape” where pine trees might not grow back for a generation.

But five years later, Chad Hanson — a forest ecologist who opposes logging on federal lands — can barely avoid stepping on the ponderosa pine saplings that have taken root amid the blackened trunks in one fire-damaged patch of the 898,099-acre national forest. Here, where the Rim Fire burned especially hot, one of the biggest questions about the future of America’s climate-challenged woodlands plays out around Hanson’s ankles: Are forests healthier and safer if humans mostly leave them alone?

The inconvenient truth about forest fires

By Dominick DellaSala, Timothy Ingalsbee, and Luke Ruediger

July 29, 2018, Medford Mail Tribune

It seems like every time there is a forest fire, the timber industry blames environmentalists for a lack of “active forest management” and presumes that contemporary fires have catastrophic ecological consequences. David Schott’s opinion piece in the Mail Tribune July 22 does just that, using the Klamathon fire as an example.

But this fire began on residential land, not in the backcountry environmentalists seek to protect. It made its largest run on private residential, ranch, and timber land, pushed by strong winds. More roads and logging advocated by Schott will not protect communities nor maintain our natural environment.

The forests of our region are some of the most biologically diverse on the planet. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, fire resets nature’s successional clock from biologically rich old growth to also rich new forest — the circle of life. Fires were historically set by Native Americans to manage culturally important wildlife habitats. 

The inconvenient truth about forest fires

By Dominick DellaSala, Timothy Ingalsbee, and Luke Ruediger

July 29, 2018, Medford Mail Tribune

It seems like every time there is a forest fire, the timber industry blames environmentalists for a lack of “active forest management” and presumes that contemporary fires have catastrophic ecological consequences. David Schott’s opinion piece in the Mail Tribune July 22 does just that, using the Klamathon fire as an example.

But this fire began on residential land, not in the backcountry environmentalists seek to protect. It made its largest run on private residential, ranch, and timber land, pushed by strong winds. More roads and logging advocated by Schott will not protect communities nor maintain our natural environment.

The forests of our region are some of the most biologically diverse on the planet. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, fire resets nature’s successional clock from biologically rich old growth to also rich new forest — the circle of life. Fires were historically set by Native Americans to manage culturally important wildlife habitats. 

Central Oregon wildfire season off to busy start

Number of fires in June double from recent years

In a recent interview with KTVZ in Central Oregon, Dr. Dominick DellaSala explains the environmental factors that lead to an increase in potential wildfires. 

Central Oregon wildfire season off to busy start

Number of fires in June double from recent years

In a recent interview with KTVZ in Central Oregon, Dr. Dominick DellaSala explains the environmental factors that lead to an increase in potential wildfires. 

Walking on the wild side of a snag forest

fire snag forest walk webThis May, Dominick DellaSala was part of a team of researchers and citizen scientists conducting field surveys on the Stanislaus National Forest within the world-class (biodiverse) Sierra-Nevada region of California.

The trip was on the site of the Rim Fire, California’s third largest in recent history, that burned in 2013 over 250,000 acres bordering Yosemite National Park.

What they found was an ecosystem teeming with life, new growth, and diversity, not a barren wasteland.

Read more about Dominick’s walk on the wild side here.

 

Why Oregon forests may continue to burn

Last year’s fire season was bad. This year’s could be too. So why does agreement on a plan to reduce the likelihood of forest fires remain elusive?

“We keep hearing that if only we could do active management we could reduce the risk of severe fires,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute, a climate change solutions advocacy group based in Ashland. “I heard that continuously when I testified before Congress last September. But when we looked at 1,500 fires, we found it’s the areas with the most active management that had the highest amount of high-severity fires. They wouldn’t believe that data.”

Read the full article by Pete Danko at the Portland Business Journal

Why Oregon forests may continue to burn

Last year’s fire season was bad. This year’s could be too. So why does agreement on a plan to reduce the likelihood of forest fires remain elusive?

“We keep hearing that if only we could do active management we could reduce the risk of severe fires,” said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute, a climate change solutions advocacy group based in Ashland. “I heard that continuously when I testified before Congress last September. But when we looked at 1,500 fires, we found it’s the areas with the most active management that had the highest amount of high-severity fires. They wouldn’t believe that data.”

Read the full article by Pete Danko at the Portland Business Journal

Comments on the Chetco Bar post-fire logging environmental assessment

Geos Institute and NGO comments on the Chetco Bar post-fire logging environmental assessment. The Chetco fire took place in an area of extraordinary botanical diversity, spectacular wild rivers, and a potential climate sanctuary along the Oregon-California border that benefited from the fire but will be impacted by extensive post-fire logging by the Forest Service. 

Everything you wanted to know about wildland fires in forests but were afraid to ask

wildfire report cover 2018Geos Institute releases a new report, “Everything you wanted to know about wildland fires in forests but were afraid to ask: lessons learned, ways forward“, summarizing latest wildfire science and calls on decision makers to develop science-based policies that protect communities from fire and allow wildfires to perform their ecological functions safely in the backcountry.

Media Coverage

  • Phys.org highlighted this report on April 9, 2018

 

Wildfire funding fix confounds omnibus talks

Marc Heller and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A long-term solution to address the climbing cost of wildfires continued to stymie lawmakers yesterday, despite a near-agreement to loosen some environmental restrictions on timber harvesting.

Lawmakers, congressional aides and industry insiders tracking the issue said top lawmakers were on the cusp of a deal early this week, only to see it dashed for a reason that some hadn’t seen as contentious: how to set up disaster funding so the Forest Service can cover the cost without hurting other programs.

The basic outline of a deal, they said, involved expanding certain categorical exclusions from the National Environmental Policy Act. The exceptions allowed for forest thinning on several thousand acres and expanding “good neighbor” authority that allows the Forest Service to work with states on forest management projects.

Over 200 scientists sign letter to Congress about proposals to “fix” funding for Wildland Fire Management

Congress has included 90 anti-environmental riders on the Omnibus Appropriations bill that it is rushing to pass next week. Measures to address runaway wildfire suppression spending, for instance, include destructive riders to eliminate protections for old-growth forests and roadless areas in Alaska, expand Categorical Exclusions (no environmental review) on logging projects up to 6,000 acres, and weaken protections for endangered species.

I am excited to report that over 200 scientists have signed on so far. The letter will be delivered to Capitol Hill staffers on Friday morning DC time; however, we will continue to accept signatories through Tuesday of next week as we update the final count and resubmit the letter later.

View the letter delivered Friday, March 16, 2018.

Aftermath of the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire

Commissioners hit Forest Service with vote of “no confidence,” but they stand alone

By Curtis Hayden

Originally published in Sneak Preview on March 1, 2018 (Grants Pass and Medford) and April 1 (Ashland)

The timing was impeccable. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were visited by some friends from Portland, Tom and Laura, and when I mentioned that I was writing a story about the Josephine County commissioners and their vote of no-confidence in the ability of the U.S. Forest Service to handle catastrophic forest fires, Tom went out to his car and returned with a book he was reading, Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn.

I figured the book was about the Tillamook Fire of 1933 because I’d heard a lot about that Mother of All Fires over the years.

“The Tillamook Fire was nothing,” Tom said. “It only burned 300,000 acres. This book is about the fire that took place in northern Idaho, Montana and Washington in 1910, which burned over three million acres.”

Aftermath of the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire

Commissioners hit Forest Service with vote of “no confidence,” but they stand alone

By Curtis Hayden

Originally published in Sneak Preview on March 1, 2018 (Grants Pass and Medford) and April 1 (Ashland)

The timing was impeccable. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were visited by some friends from Portland, Tom and Laura, and when I mentioned that I was writing a story about the Josephine County commissioners and their vote of no-confidence in the ability of the U.S. Forest Service to handle catastrophic forest fires, Tom went out to his car and returned with a book he was reading, Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn.

I figured the book was about the Tillamook Fire of 1933 because I’d heard a lot about that Mother of All Fires over the years.

“The Tillamook Fire was nothing,” Tom said. “It only burned 300,000 acres. This book is about the fire that took place in northern Idaho, Montana and Washington in 1910, which burned over three million acres.”

Apologies from teen who started Eagle Creek fire

On Friday Februray 16th the following article was posted online by the Washington Post, featuring the work of Forest Legacies director Dominick DellaSala. 

The 15-year-old boy who started a wildfire that torched 48,000 acres of one of the northwest’s most coveted scenic regions entered the courtroom stoically Friday. Wearing a beige suit, a black necktie and with his hair neatly combed, he admitted to all 12 of the misdemeanor charges against him, and when he spoke to the courtroom, he apologized.

He apologized seven times.

The wildfire he admitted to sparking along the Eagle Creek Trail — in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area — started Sept. 2 when he hurled a firecracker into a dry ravine as a group of friends filmed him with a cellphone. On that scorching-hot afternoon, the state was in the midst of a burn ban.

“Every day I think about this terrible decision and its awful consequences,” said the Vancouver, Wash., boy, who is being identified by the judge only by his initials, A.B. “I know I will have to live with my bad decision for the rest of my life.”

Agreement skips over wildfire funding fix

This story from E&E News is especially timely. We’ve been pushing hard here at Forest Legacies on the fire fix funding as there are really bad logging provisions being proposed by Congress that would usher in massive logging on national forests, eliminate roadless and old growth protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and bypass landmark environmental laws. We recently with law makers and the reporter below while in DC. This is a big push nationally to maintain public lands protections that we are involved with.

By Marc Heller and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters

Originally Published at E&E News on Thursday, February 8, 2018

The battle over federal wildfire funding and forest management will go on, given that a broad budget deal between Senate leaders failed to resolve the issue.

Cumulative Impacts Research Consortium Panel Presentation: Wildfire preparedness and Cumulative Impacts

unbc screen grabWatch a recording from January 19, 2018 from the University of Northern British Columbia “Cumulative Impacts Research Consortium Panel Presentation: Wildfire preparedness and Cumulative Impacts“.

Presenters are: Dominick DellaSala, Madeline Maley, Raina Fumerton, and Sonja Leverkus.

 

Guest Opinion: All the king’s horses can’t make wildfires go away

Published in the Medford Mail Tribune on December 31, 2017

By Dominic DiPaolo, Dominick A. DellaSala and Dennis Odion

State Sen. Alan DeBoer recently convened town hall meetings in Medford and Ashland on last summer’s wildfires and actions under consideration at the state Legislature. What we hoped would be an informed discussion became a venue for DeBoer to promote unfounded theories, point fingers and dismiss real dialogue. As ecologists who have studied forest ecosystems for decades, we realize that wildfire is alarming, smoke unhealthy, and everyone is looking for solutions. However, we take issue with DeBoer’s unhelpful ideas and offer caution about using forest thinning as a panacea to all issues surrounding wildfires.

DeBoer started both meetings by giving the floor to William Simpson, who proposes introducing feral horses to control flammable vegetation in the Siskiyou Mountains. In doing so, DeBoer privileged a position that is not only unscientific and unworkable, but already proven ineffective. In the 1910s, the Forest Service studied livestock use of shrub-dominated areas in the Siskiyous and found that livestock were unsuccessful at converting large swaths of shrubs to grass. Simpson’s proposal is unlikely to pass the federal permitting process and valuable time should not be wasted on it. Yet, Congressman Greg Walden and Curry County Commissioner Court Boice have endorsed it.

Guest Opinion: All the king’s horses can’t make wildfires go away

Published in the Medford Mail Tribune on December 31, 2017

By Dominic DiPaolo, Dominick A. DellaSala and Dennis Odion

State Sen. Alan DeBoer recently convened town hall meetings in Medford and Ashland on last summer’s wildfires and actions under consideration at the state Legislature. What we hoped would be an informed discussion became a venue for DeBoer to promote unfounded theories, point fingers and dismiss real dialogue. As ecologists who have studied forest ecosystems for decades, we realize that wildfire is alarming, smoke unhealthy, and everyone is looking for solutions. However, we take issue with DeBoer’s unhelpful ideas and offer caution about using forest thinning as a panacea to all issues surrounding wildfires.

DeBoer started both meetings by giving the floor to William Simpson, who proposes introducing feral horses to control flammable vegetation in the Siskiyou Mountains. In doing so, DeBoer privileged a position that is not only unscientific and unworkable, but already proven ineffective. In the 1910s, the Forest Service studied livestock use of shrub-dominated areas in the Siskiyous and found that livestock were unsuccessful at converting large swaths of shrubs to grass. Simpson’s proposal is unlikely to pass the federal permitting process and valuable time should not be wasted on it. Yet, Congressman Greg Walden and Curry County Commissioner Court Boice have endorsed it.

The thinning debate: Does logging help or hurt fire mitigation?

Politicians say thinning forests will help prevent ‘catastrophic’ fires. But ecologists say this season wasn’t the worst, and logging won’t stop it from happening again.

According to peer-reviewed studies on the overall likelihood of a thinned area of forest being hit with fire and on historical fire trends, the argument that thinning is the best way to address future fire seasons like the one we just had is profoundly flawed.

For one, proposals to remove trees, or “fuels,” are based on the idea that fires burn more intensely in unlogged forests, making them more severe and quicker to spread.

But a recently published examination of the intensity of 1,500 forest fires over the past 40 years in 11 Western states found the opposite. Its authors, scientists at the Project Earth Institute, Geos Institute and Earth Island Institute, found fires burned most intensely in previously logged areas. In contrast, in wilderness, parks and roadless ares, the fires burned in mosaic patterns – which maintain healthy, resilient forests.

Both sides of the thinning debate frequently point to one-off incidents to show how thinning either is or is not effective.

“You have to be careful about anecdotal information,” warned Dominick DellaSala, a renowned fire ecologist and chief scientist at the Geos Institute. “Wind speed can change, humidity levels can change, and if you don’t account for all those factors, you could conclude either way. Either the thinning helped, or the thinning didn’t help, depending on what was going on with the fire climate.”

Read the full article at streetrootsnews.org

After the Smoke Clears – PDX Fire Forum

fire talk portland2017

Geos Institute Chief Scientist speaks to packed house in Portland’s Revolution Hall on the ecology of wildfires and attempts by the Trump administration and congressional allies to radically increase logging on public lands.

 

After the Smoke Clears – PDX Fire Forum

fire talk portland2017

Geos Institute Chief Scientist speaks to packed house in Portland’s Revolution Hall on the ecology of wildfires and attempts by the Trump administration and congressional allies to radically increase logging on public lands.

 

Scientists fight for wildfire-burned land amid logging threat

Published by The Guardian, November 15, 2017

The US cashes in on timber from ‘devastated’ areas – but the land is actually ‘the rarest and most biodiverse habitat in the Sierra Nevadas’, says an expert

Less than a mile from Yosemite national park, Chad Hanson is wading through a sea of knee-high conifers that have burst from the ashes of the vast 2013 Rim fire. The US Forest Service essentially says the baby trees don’t exist.

The agency says that “catastrophic” fires have “devastated” parts of the forest, painting an eerie picture of swaths of blackened tree trunks like something out of a Tim Burton film.

But the vibrant green pines, firs and cedars surrounding Hanson among the patches burned during California’s third-largest wildfire tell a different story.

Keep reading online at The Guardian

 

Scientists fight for wildfire-burned land amid logging threat

Published by The Guardian, November 15, 2017

The US cashes in on timber from ‘devastated’ areas – but the land is actually ‘the rarest and most biodiverse habitat in the Sierra Nevadas’, says an expert

Less than a mile from Yosemite national park, Chad Hanson is wading through a sea of knee-high conifers that have burst from the ashes of the vast 2013 Rim fire. The US Forest Service essentially says the baby trees don’t exist.

The agency says that “catastrophic” fires have “devastated” parts of the forest, painting an eerie picture of swaths of blackened tree trunks like something out of a Tim Burton film.

But the vibrant green pines, firs and cedars surrounding Hanson among the patches burned during California’s third-largest wildfire tell a different story.

Keep reading online at The Guardian

 

The Damage Done – a two-part series on the Chetco Bar fire (Jefferson Public Radio)

Chetco Bar Fire, Photo: Liam Moriarty/JPR

Restoration efforts in the Chetco Bar fire in southwest Oregon are getting underway. While most of the area was lightly burned or even unburned, more than a third of the acreage suffered severe or moderate tree damage.

Federal forest managers are gearing up to authorize salvage logging in some of the more badly-burned areas. Local elected officials are pushing hard for cutting those trees. But others question whether the long-term costs outweigh the short term benefits.

The Chetco Bar fire in southwestern Oregon was the state’s biggest wildfire of 2017, burning just over 191,000 acres, mostly in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Seven homes were lost and hundreds of people had to evacuate from Brookings and nearby communities.

Read and listen to the November 2017 two-part series on Jefferson Public Radio:

 

(photo: Liam Moriarty/JPR)

The Damage Done – a two-part series on the Chetco Bar fire (Jefferson Public Radio)

Chetco Bar Fire, Photo: Liam Moriarty/JPR

Restoration efforts in the Chetco Bar fire in southwest Oregon are getting underway. While most of the area was lightly burned or even unburned, more than a third of the acreage suffered severe or moderate tree damage.

Federal forest managers are gearing up to authorize salvage logging in some of the more badly-burned areas. Local elected officials are pushing hard for cutting those trees. But others question whether the long-term costs outweigh the short term benefits.

The Chetco Bar fire in southwestern Oregon was the state’s biggest wildfire of 2017, burning just over 191,000 acres, mostly in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Seven homes were lost and hundreds of people had to evacuate from Brookings and nearby communities.

Read and listen to the November 2017 two-part series on Jefferson Public Radio:

 

(photo: Liam Moriarty/JPR)

A New Climate- and Human-Influenced Wildfire Era for Western Forests

By Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D.

2014 Meadow Fire, Yosemite National ParkWildfires are greatly impacting human communities in the West that every summer face the prospects of loss of life, homeowner damages, and smoke-filled skies. Legislators and many managers believe wildfire intensity and occurrence can be greatly reduced by removing environmental safeguards to allow more logging in the backcountry to avoid wildfire “disasters.”

Wildfires are not ecological catastrophes, rather, they are a keystone natural disturbance agent that has maintained the biologically rich and fire-adapted web-of-life in forests of the western United States for millennia. Wildfire area burned, size of large wildfires (>1,000 ac), and length of the fire season have been increasing in recent decades and these increases are at least partially attributed to the emergence of a new fire-climate era that is interacting with human-caused wildfire ignitions and logging related conversion of native fire-resilient forests to flammable tree plantations.

Proposals to radically increase logging of native forests to reduce “fuels” will not achieve their desired outcomes but instead may increase wildfire risks and impair the adaptive capacity of forests to respond to cumulative disturbances in a rapidly changing climate. Responsible wildfire management and climate change policies are needed to:

  1. reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning while storing more carbon in forest ecosystems;
  2. prioritize vegetation treatments in “fire-sheds” closest to homes;
  3. redesign the built environment with wildfire safety in mind, including limiting ex-urban sprawl, and
  4. manage wildfires for ecosystem benefits under safe conditions.

Download the full paper

(photo: Pbjamesphoto/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Summer of Fire, Smoke and Ash

Why has this year’s fire season in the West been so intense? Is this a precursor of what is becoming the new normal?

On Monday October 16, Dominick DellaSala was a guest on KBOO’s Locus Focus. In previous conversations they stressed the important role that fire plays in ensuring healthy forest ecosystems. But after this summer of fire, smoke and ash across the Pacific Northwest, and now Northern California, how do we reconcile our understanding of the need for forests to burn from time to time, with the horrific realities now in our faces.

Listen to the full interview at KBOO.fm

 

Summer of Fire, Smoke and Ash

Why has this year’s fire season in the West been so intense? Is this a precursor of what is becoming the new normal?

On Monday October 16, Dominick DellaSala was a guest on KBOO’s Locus Focus. In previous conversations they stressed the important role that fire plays in ensuring healthy forest ecosystems. But after this summer of fire, smoke and ash across the Pacific Northwest, and now Northern California, how do we reconcile our understanding of the need for forests to burn from time to time, with the horrific realities now in our faces.

Listen to the full interview at KBOO.fm

 

Fire management faulted in Calif. disaster

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

Credit: amissphotos / pixabay

Originally Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 at E&E: Greenwire

The widespread damage from wildfires in California’s wine country could have been avoided with better fire management policies, researchers say.

A more consistent and thoughtful approach to defensible space around homes would reduce wildfire threats and is a better long-term approach than thinning forests far away from populated areas, said Alexandra Syphard, a senior research scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute.

Syphard, speaking yesterday at a forum sponsored by critics of the timber industry, said policymakers should stick to a “from the house out” strategy to protecting homes and businesses, and not rely on management of wildland areas to control fires.

Fire management faulted in Calif. disaster

By Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

Credit: amissphotos / pixabay

Originally Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 at E&E: Greenwire

The widespread damage from wildfires in California’s wine country could have been avoided with better fire management policies, researchers say.

A more consistent and thoughtful approach to defensible space around homes would reduce wildfire threats and is a better long-term approach than thinning forests far away from populated areas, said Alexandra Syphard, a senior research scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute.

Syphard, speaking yesterday at a forum sponsored by critics of the timber industry, said policymakers should stick to a “from the house out” strategy to protecting homes and businesses, and not rely on management of wildland areas to control fires.

Wildfire safety starts at home

By Annette McGee Rasch / for the Mail Tribune

wildfire townAfter such a smoke-filled summer, many are fatigued by wildfire and hope next year’s fire season will be less intense.

But fire officials and scientists say if future impacts are to be minimized, the public must take personal responsibility on their own properties, embrace common-sense rural development plans and support science-based forest policy.

“Especially in the wildland-urban interface zones, people need to become more responsible for their own survivability,” said Illinois Valley Fire District Chief Dennis Hoke. “We can’t look for the government to solve everything. People should ask themselves, ‘What would it take to create the defensible space that can spell the difference between losing or saving my home if a wildfire runs through?’ ”

Geos scientist testifies in congress on climate change and forest fires

On Wednesday September 27, 2017 the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on wildfire policy. Geos Institute’s President and Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala testified. You can read his full testimony here, read his Questions for the Record statement, watch a video of the hearing, and read coverage by E&E Daily below. 

Guest Opinion: We need responsible forest fire policies, not more logging

By Dominick DellaSala

Many people view large wildfires as only destructive. But fires in Oregon’s forests are exactly what these ecosystems need to thrive.

After wildfire, the forest is transformed into the earliest stage of forest growth that allows a completely new fire-adapted community of plants and animals to get their time in the sun. A hike up Grizzly Peak near Ashland or the Biscuit burn area near Cave Junction reveals a young forest remarkably being repopulated by a rich web-of-life that not only thrives in severely burned areas but also requires them to survive. Dead trees anchor the soils preventing erosion, provide habitat for scores of insect-eating bats and birds that keep destructive forest pests in check, and shade new seedlings from intense sunlight. Soil nutrients are recycled as the forest rejuvenates quickly.

Attempting to put out every wildfire in the backcountry disrupts these natural cycles, is unsafe for firefighters and, most importantly, diverts limited funding from protecting homes and communities. Logging to stop forest fires also does not work because large fires are not like campfires — they are mainly driven by extreme weather conditions, not fuels.

Guest Opinion: We need responsible forest fire policies, not more logging

By Dominick DellaSala

Many people view large wildfires as only destructive. But fires in Oregon’s forests are exactly what these ecosystems need to thrive.

After wildfire, the forest is transformed into the earliest stage of forest growth that allows a completely new fire-adapted community of plants and animals to get their time in the sun. A hike up Grizzly Peak near Ashland or the Biscuit burn area near Cave Junction reveals a young forest remarkably being repopulated by a rich web-of-life that not only thrives in severely burned areas but also requires them to survive. Dead trees anchor the soils preventing erosion, provide habitat for scores of insect-eating bats and birds that keep destructive forest pests in check, and shade new seedlings from intense sunlight. Soil nutrients are recycled as the forest rejuvenates quickly.

Attempting to put out every wildfire in the backcountry disrupts these natural cycles, is unsafe for firefighters and, most importantly, diverts limited funding from protecting homes and communities. Logging to stop forest fires also does not work because large fires are not like campfires — they are mainly driven by extreme weather conditions, not fuels.

Why we need a rational fire policy

Geos Institute Chief Scientist and partners brief Congressional aides on ecological fire science and the need for a rational fire policy.

fire testimony video 201706

 Watch video

Why we need a rational fire policy

Geos Institute Chief Scientist and partners brief Congressional aides on ecological fire science and the need for a rational fire policy.

fire testimony video 201706

 Watch video

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.

Keep reading the full article

Let Wildfires Burn: Study Shows Forests Bounce Back on Their Own

Modern fire management practices of logging and seeding interfere with an ecosystem’s ability to restore itself, and does little to protect property.

The May sun was still below the mountains when a small group of biologists set out in the brisk morning air of the Sierra Nevada. Comparing contour maps and checking radio channels, Dr. Chad Hanson and his team from the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute spread out to explore the Stanislaus National Forest, about 160 miles east of San Francisco. The team was searching for black-backed woodpeckers, which are increasingly rare in the Sierra Nevada-Cascades region and which seek out forests that have recently burned with high intensity.

Keep reading the Yes! Magazine article here

Post-fire Logging Scientist Letter

In an open letter to the U.S. Senate and President Obama, 276 scientists expressed concern that current legislation in both the House and Senate would use fear and misunderstanding about wildland fires to suspend federal environmental protections to expedite logging and clearcutting of both post-fire wildlife habitat and unburned old forests on National Forest lands, removing most of the structure a forest ecosystem needs to properly function.

The proposed House and Senate legislation addresses the borrowing of funds from other programs to cover costs of fire suppression. However, both bills would increase funding for suppression of mostly backcountry fires in remote areas, and neither would focus on, or prioritize, protection of rural communities. The best available science has shown that effective home protection from wildland fire depends on “defensible space” work within approximately 100 feet of individual structures, and improving the fire resistance of the homes themselves. Unfortunately, neither bill recognizes the ecological costs of further suppressing fire in fire-adapted ecosystems.

View the letter

Study: Protected Forests on Public Land Burn Less Severely Than Logged Areas

For Immediate Release, October 26, 2016

Contacts: Curtis Bradley, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 345-5710, cbradley@biologicaldiversity.org | Dr. Chad Hanson, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, (530) 273-9290, cthanson1@gmail.com | Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute, (541) 482-4459 x 302 or (541) 621-7223 cell, dominick@geosinstitute.org

TUCSON, Ariz.— A new study published in the scientific journal Ecosphere finds that public forests that are protected from logging burn less severely than logged forests. The study is the most comprehensive investigation of its kind, spanning more than 23 million acres and examining three decades’ of forest fire data in the West. Among the major findings were that areas undisturbed by logging experienced significantly less intensive fire compared with areas that have been logged.

Study: Protected Forests on Public Land Burn Less Severely Than Logged Areas

For Immediate Release, October 26, 2016

Contacts: Curtis Bradley, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 345-5710, cbradley@biologicaldiversity.org | Dr. Chad Hanson, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, (530) 273-9290, cthanson1@gmail.com | Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute, (541) 482-4459 x 302 or (541) 621-7223 cell, dominick@geosinstitute.org

TUCSON, Ariz.— A new study published in the scientific journal Ecosphere finds that public forests that are protected from logging burn less severely than logged forests. The study is the most comprehensive investigation of its kind, spanning more than 23 million acres and examining three decades’ of forest fire data in the West. Among the major findings were that areas undisturbed by logging experienced significantly less intensive fire compared with areas that have been logged.

Helpful videos on forest fire science

In order to understand you better the current science on forest fires and why it is at odds with the current fire management approaches often used, we have collected a number of videos that explain the issues.

Dead trees don’t trigger more severe fires

Congress is considering legislation that would weaken environmental laws that protect fish, wildlife, and water quality on national forests. Scientists are concerned about this –  Geos’ Chief Scientist, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, teamed with Dr. Chad Hanson in this opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle: Logging California’s dead trees is harmful to the forests

Fires provide spotted owls with kitchen and bedroom habitat

USFWS Northern Spotted OwlLong known for its old-growth haunts, the spotted owl is quite resilient to forest fires. Check out the new blog by Chief Scientist, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, where he comments about how owls teach us what it means to be a “forest.”

The Wildfire Conundrum

Geos Institute’s Dominick DelsaSala is interviewed in The Wildfire Conundrum, an article published in the Jefferson Journal based on a three-part radio series by JPR reporter Liam Moriarty.

“The wildfire conundrum is made up of a complex set of interrelated factors. But it boils down to three main parts: forests out of ecological balance from decades of fire suppression; sprawling development in the woods that requires expanded firefighting efforts; and the mounting impacts of climate change.” – Liam Moriarty

The Wildfire Conundrum

Geos Institute’s Dominick DelsaSala is interviewed in The Wildfire Conundrum, an article published in the Jefferson Journal based on a three-part radio series by JPR reporter Liam Moriarty.

“The wildfire conundrum is made up of a complex set of interrelated factors. But it boils down to three main parts: forests out of ecological balance from decades of fire suppression; sprawling development in the woods that requires expanded firefighting efforts; and the mounting impacts of climate change.” – Liam Moriarty

Analysis of proposed fire legislation by Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist shows public lands at risk of increased logging

In comments submitted June 10, 2016 Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist provides analysis of 6 specific pieces of the proposed fire legislation in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee:

  1. Ecological role of wildland fire in resilient and fire-adapted ecosystems is missing from the draft
  2. Restricts provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by restricting forest planning to the “no action” vs. “action” alternative and allowing for expansive use of emergency “alternative arrangements” will harm the environment
  3. Allowing for long-term (20-year) federal “hazardous fuel reduction” contracts (d – Long-Term Contracts) in dry mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests is a disincentive to ecologically based restoration
  4. Not excluding inventoried roadless areas and other ecological important lands recognized in forest plans (e.g., Wilderness Study Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Late-Successional Reserves, “high-value watersheds”) will cause harm to public lands with some of the highest ecological values
  5. Not addressing the risk of human-caused fire ignitions from an extensive and damaging road system on public lands misses an important contributing factor to uncharacteristic fires
  6. Reducing hazardous fuels in the backcountry diverts much needed attention away from homeowner safety

Read the full comments here

Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist speaks out on draft fire legislation in Congress

Bipartisan Senate proposal eyes funding, promotes clearing

(Originally published in Environment & Energy Daily, Thursday, May 26, 2016) Marc Heller, E&E reporter

A bipartisan group of senators proposed draft legislation yesterday that would spare the Forest Service from borrowing money from forest management to fight wildfires while encouraging more forest clearing to remove potential fuel for fires.

The draft, called the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act,” would allow the Forest Service and the Interior Department to tap a budget cap adjustment when the cost of fighting fires exceeds the 10-year average.

That provision is in line with requests Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made repeatedly to Congress, culminating with his pledge this year to refuse to engage in any more budget borrowing for fires.

It also resembles the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act” proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in 2013. Both of those senators joined in crafting of the new draft.

Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist speaks out on draft fire legislation in Congress

Bipartisan Senate proposal eyes funding, promotes clearing

(Originally published in Environment & Energy Daily, Thursday, May 26, 2016) Marc Heller, E&E reporter

A bipartisan group of senators proposed draft legislation yesterday that would spare the Forest Service from borrowing money from forest management to fight wildfires while encouraging more forest clearing to remove potential fuel for fires.

The draft, called the “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act,” would allow the Forest Service and the Interior Department to tap a budget cap adjustment when the cost of fighting fires exceeds the 10-year average.

That provision is in line with requests Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made repeatedly to Congress, culminating with his pledge this year to refuse to engage in any more budget borrowing for fires.

It also resembles the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act” proposed by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) in 2013. Both of those senators joined in crafting of the new draft.

Beetle outbreaks not responsible for severe fires

A new whitepaper by Geos Institute Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala summarizes the results of dozens of recent field studies in multiple regions on the effects of mountain pine beetle tree kill on fire severity.

“There is now substantial fieldbased evidence showing that beetle outbreaks do not contribute to severe fires nor do outbreak areas burn more severely when a fire does occur. Outbreaks are primarily the result of a warming climate that has allowed more beetles to survive and to have multiple broods within a breeding season.”

 

 

Vilsack pitches revamped wildfire budget to firefighters

(originally published in Greenwire, an E&E Publishing Service)

by Marc Heller, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, May 6, 2016

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took his plea for a new approach to paying for wildfire fighting to the nation’s fire departments last night, telling hundreds of firefighters that Congress needs to set up disaster funding for forest fires.

At the annual National Fire and Emergency Services dinner, Vilsack said the borrowing the Forest Service does within its budget to pay for firefighting hurts the Agriculture Department’s programs for small, volunteer fire departments.

Fuels management or logging?

Geos Institute’s chief scientist Dominick DellaSala is critical of The Nature Conservancy and their approach of “fuel reduction” as a mechanism to control forest fires. Read the full article posted by the Earth Island Journal.

Ecosystem Benefits of Wildfires: a radio interview

Listen to Drs. Dominick DellaSala and Chad Hanson talk about the ecosystem benefits of wildfires on Locus Focus, a KBOO FM radio program.

Does Logging Forests Lower Fire Risks and is Woody Biomass Clean, Renewable Energy?

The answers to these questions are not so clear, as explained by Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D. of Geos Institute in a webinar on February 18, 2016.

Download his presentation as a PDF here

Storms and Climate Change

Is weird weather the result of global warming? Listen to Dr. DellaSala, Chief Scientist, Geos Institute talk about what can be done.

Dominick DellaSala on climate change and forest fires in the West

The climate of the West is changing rapidly leading to the potential for more fires in places by the middle of this century. Chief Scientist Dominick DellaSala discusses how thinning a forest away from homes will not protect homes or fire-fighter lives when a fire eventually occurs particularly as fires are driven increasingly by extreme weather events. Living with fire is possible by re-directing fire suppression dollars to helping homeowners reduce their risks of fire. Logging in the backcountry will not help prepare homes or property from fire risks. Listen to the debate.

Nature’s Phoenix – ScienceWorks Pub Talk with Dominick DellaSala

Dr. Dominick DellaSala presents science behind the ecological role of fire and the importance of mixed-severity fire with regards to the maintenance of native biodiversity and fire-dependent ecosystems and species.

New report shows forest thinning and biomass energy are NOT climate friendly

biomass report thumbForest thinning and use of logging slash and shrubs as fuel for energy production is being championed as clean, renewable energy. Geos Institute scientists Dr. Dominick DellaSala and Marni Koopman say that isn’t so. Read the full report.

Related Articles

 

We can’t stop all fires

Dominick DellaSala comments on NYTimes dot earth blog on fire and climate change.

Fire’s as nature’s phoenix – interview with co-editor Chad Hanson

Dr. Chad Hanson and Dr. Dominick DellaSala have released a new book on the ecosystem benefits of wildfires as featured here on Charter Local Edition TV.

Ways to Co-exist with Large Fires and Their Ecosystem Benefits

fire report coexisting with large firesThis fire primer is meant for decision makers concerned about forest fires in the American West. Using best science, we address seven fundamental questions related to the ecological importance of large fires and their appropriate management on public lands. Specifically, we examine: (1) what works best for reducing fire risks to homes and firefighters; (2) are large wildland fires an ecological catastrophe as claimed; (3) are fires increasing from historical levels; (4) does forest thinning reduce fire intensity or lower large fire occurrence; (5) how does post-fire logging affect forest rejuvenation and reburn intensity; (6) do insect outbreaks increase fire occurrence or intensity; and (7) how is climate change affecting fire behavior in the West?

260 Scientists Oppose Post-fire Logging Bills

For immediate release on September 24, 2015

Contacts: 
Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Geos Institute: (cell) 541-621-7223; dominick@geosinstitute.org
Chad Hanson, Ph.D., Research Ecologist, John Muir Project: (cell) 530-273-9290; cthanson1@gmail.com

Ashland, Oregon —  Over 260 scientists sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and President Obama urging them to oppose two public lands logging bills, being promoted by the timber industry and their supporters in Congress, which the scientists say would be very destructive to forest ecosystems and wildlife on National Forests and other federal public forestlands. The bills, HR 2647 and S 1691, will not improve forest health or reduce fire risks by promoting widespread logging of ecologically rich post-fire “snag forest” and older forest in mostly remote areas of federal public forestlands. 

Instead they would eliminate most environmental analysis, prevent enforcement of environmental laws by the courts, and markedly reduce public participation in forest management decisions on public forests. The role of the timber industry in federal forest management would also unfairly increase under the deceptive guise of promoting decision-making by “collaborative” groups.

Global Synthesis of Large Wildland Fires Shows They Are Ecologically Beneficial

For Release on June 29, 2015

Contacts:

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
www.geosinstitute.org www.johnmuirproject.org

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.

The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix

fire natures phoenix bookcoverThe Ecological Importance of High-Severity Fires, presents information on the current paradigm shift in the way people think about wildfire and ecosystems.

While much of the current forest management in fire-adapted ecosystems, especially forests, is focused on fire prevention and suppression, little has been reported on the ecological role of fire, and nothing has been presented on the importance of high-severity fire with regards to the maintenance of native biodiversity and fire-dependent ecosystems and species.

This text fills that void, providing a comprehensive reference for documenting and synthesizing fire’s ecological role.

  • Offers the first reference written on mixed- and high-severity fires and their relevance for biodiversity
  • Contains a broad synthesis of the ecology of mixed- and high-severity fires covering such topics as vegetation, birds, mammals, insects, aquatics, and management actions
  • Explores the conservation vs. public controversy issues around megafires in a rapidly warming world

Purchase the book from Amazon

Book Reviews of Nature’s Phoenix:

Fireside Chat

fire fireside chat thumbIn the “Fireside Chat” presentation (click on link below), we view post-fire landscapes through an ecological lens that allows us to see the ecosystem benefits and unique biodiversity that follows wildfires.

An ecological perspective is needed because the public most often hears that fire (especially severe ones) is bad for forests. Indeed, many forests, from low- elevation ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir to upper elevation and high latitude subalpine and boreal, depend on a significant amount of severe fire. 

Fireside Chat was prepared for the media, managers, conservation groups, and decision makers using the Prezi presentation software and storytelling tool.

Click here to start the presentation.  You may enlarge the presentation to full screen and use the right/left arrows or slide bar  to navigate the zoomable canvas. Once finished, you may also use the pan/zoom to revisit sections.

In addition, you can click here to see a slide show of salvage logging on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, following the Biscuit Fire in southwest Oregon.  And click here to see a photo gallery of post-fire logging and roading on industrial, private lands near Glendale, Oregon.

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