WaPo Letter: Climate change is not the main cause of forest fires

Bruce Byers writes in the Washington Post:

The July 3 news article “Climate change, development and budget cuts fuel upward trend in wildfires” did not fully explore the main cause of this trend. We are feeling the effects of wildfire-suppression policies going back a hundred years.

Forest management decisions by the U.S. Forest Service and other federal and state agencies created the unnaturally dense and uniform forests that now cover the western United States. These decisions caused the “fire deficit” in western forests noted by fire expert Stephen J. Pyne, quoted in the article. Although climate change is undoubtedly a contributing factor, more and more acres will be burning for decades to come with or without it until we allow or help our forests to come back to their natural equilibrium with fire.

Sending brave young people to their deaths in this unnatural war against natural wildfires — a war that can’t be won — is dumb. We should employ them instead in a program of mechanical thinning, harvesting wood products and controlled burning to restore the natural forest landscape we disrupted by our ecologically misguided fire-suppression policies.

Bruce A. Byers, Falls Church

The writer is a conservation and natural resources management consultant.

Read it at the WaPo.

3 thoughts on “WaPo Letter: Climate change is not the main cause of forest fires”

  1. Here’s another thought concerning why “climate change/global warming” is not causing the western wildfires America has faced in recent years. Perhaps our domestic environmental terrorists are acting in accord with al Qaeda, or at a minimum employing its directives. There were no thunderstorms in Yarnell, AZ last week, as ABC reported:
    http://www.wnd.com/2013/07/jihadists-claim-credit-for-arizona-fires

    Of course, this is nothing new:
    http://www.wildfiretoday.com/2012/05/02/al-qaeda-magazine-encourages-forest-fire-arson-in-the-us

    http://www.denverpost.com/recommended/ci_20952818

  2. One issue is that many people have been buying parcels of forest land and building homes in the forests. As noted, these forests have not been thinned for many years. Of course, the homes look elegant in the forest but become in danger because the fuels nearby have not been cleared.
    Then when a forest fire develops, all these properties are in hazard. And sometimes there are people in the homes. So the fire fighters have to take this into account.. See: Yarnell Hill. Although the town wasn’t in a forest, as such, but was surrounded by dense brush and chaparrel, which had not been cleared in many decades. This condition can be seen in many places is the Western U.S. Example: Granite Creek Fire the week before Yarnell Hill.

    When a fire does occur, whether by lightning strike or human caused, and if wind is blowing, these fires can travel very fast before slowing them down. Usually no rain falls in the times of greatest danger; the dry season.

  3. I live in travel throughout much of the federal forests in Oregon. They are indeed overgrown subject to disease outbreaks and intense fires. I would prefer the marketable timber be harvested and the rest thinned. Clear cuts are actually good things to have. Huge cuts not so much. Smaller cuts opening up the forest floor for early succession plants and animals increases forest diversity. Thick stands of trees does not.

    As this is nearly impossible with continuous lawsuits preventing harvest, fire is the only real option remaining for improving forest health. There are let it burn policies in place for wilderness areas, perhaps it should include other federal lands as well.

    One can build in the woods and be relatively fire safe. An insistence of building up against trees where needles can accumulate on roofs or not removing understory vegetation which serve as a ladder fuel increases the chances for structure to go up in flames. Inadequate clearance of brush in chaparral will also cause similar problems. Some ordinances in Southern California require brush removal 100 feet from structures and in drier years, 200 feet. Flames traveling through an inch of dried grasses yields a controllable flame. Flames fueled by 6 foot tall brush does not.

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