Forest fires don’t work like we think they do…
(Video the “New California Wildfire Report Co-Authored by ForestWatch Staff”)
We, along with the good people at Los Padres ForestWatch, are very excited about a reboot of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which contains grant programs for planting trees in urban areas, support for outdoor recreation, and funding focused on creating jobs for youth. What we are not excited about are billions of taxpayer dollars tucked into HR 1162/ S 487 which go towards outdated solutions for wildfires that were developed by the original CCC almost 90 years ago, actions which we now know will increase threats to communities and worsen climate change.
The CCC was a Depression-era voluntary public work relief program, begun in 1933 as part of FDR’s New Deal, which employed single men to improve America’s public lands, forests, and parks. One of their most distinctive accomplishments was the replenishment of our nation’s forests, which had been reduced by uncontrolled logging from 800 million acres of timberland to just 100 million acres in 1933. When the program ended in 1942, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted an estimated 3.5 billion trees, more than half of the total amount of trees planted in America as part of reforestation efforts. They also developed techniques, like thinning dead trees and brush, along with the use of watch towers to aid in immediate fire suppression efforts, that they thought would decrease the number and severity of forest fires. These concepts and techniques remain as established traditions today.
However, almost 90 years later, scientists around the world know a lot more about the effects of fire on forests and have changed their concepts on how to deal with it. While it seems intuitively obvious that reducing fuel by logging, clearing brush and cutting fire breaks would eliminate or minimize large fires, studies have shown differently. Taking timber from forests dramatically changes their structure, making them more vulnerable to brushfires. Examples like Australia’s Black Summer bushfires demonstrate that logged forests are also more likely to burn out of control. What remains true about the forest thinning solution is that it promotes more logging, more roads, more sediment flows into waterways, more reductions of wildlife habitat and more logging industry lobbyists wandering the halls of Congress.
Action: Send an email to your legislators, telling them to save money with science!
Minimal email script: I’m writing to tell [Rep./Sen. ____] that I’m very excited about (Rep. – HR 1162/Sen – S 487) the new Conservation Corp Act. However, as a resident of a state that routinely experiences wildfire, I don’t want to see billions dollars of our tax dollars wasted on outdated methods for “wildfire resiliency.” Experts state that thinning trees (logging) and brush for this purpose are not only ineffective for reducing or prevent fires, they actually make them bigger, hotter and more destructive. Scientists can also tell you that reducing native forests into fuel for biomass energy facilities will emit even more carbon than burning coal, while removing tree canopy that keeps the earth cooler. I ask you to please consult with experts not associated with the logging industry and delete the following sections from this bill:
- Section 2(a)(1)A)(i) – Removal of native vegetation and trees in Nation Forest System: $3.5 billion in additional funding over three years (a tripling of current annual funding levels) for removal of native vegetation and trees on National Forest System lands that are deemed “hazardous fuels” by the US Forest Service. Though well-meaning, the attempt to subject these projects to some conditions unfortunately does not prohibit the use of this money for logging or the sale of timber from public lands, including mature and old trees. Nor does it ensure robust environmental analysis (many projects are done through categorical exclusions or tiered to historic documents with no notice to the public). Such “sideboards” have proved to be unenforceable in court. But most concerning is that these activities, which have been practiced for decades, greatly increase carbon emissions, and are not effective at altering fires that are primarily driven by weather and climate, or protecting communities.
- Section 2(a)(1)(A)(ii) – Increase logging of native forests: $150 million additional funding (a tripling of current annual funding levels) to the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund which encourages groups to collaborate on promoting projects that increase logging and use native forests as “feedstock” for biomass energy facilities that emit even more carbon than burning coal for equal energy produced.
- Section 2(a)(1)(C)(i) – Removal of native vegetation and trees on private/state/tribal land: $100 million (a tripling of current annual funding levels) for logging and vegetation removal at the landscape scale on private, state and tribal lands.
- Section 2(a)(3)– Incentivizing the removal of trees from our forests: An additional $100 million for the Community Wood Energy and Wood Innovation Program which subsidizes the building of energy systems that burn wood or facilities that turn trees into wood products – incentivizing the removal of trees from our forests and increasing the emission of carbon into the atmosphere and pollutants into communities.
- Section 2(a)(4)(A)(i) – Removal of native vegetation and trees on BLM land:Another $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management to double the amount of funds they use to remove native vegetation and trees from wildlands. This funding would, as discussed above, be wholly ineffective in reducing fire risk and would critically damage native ecosystems and their ability to store and sequester carbon, all while increasing overall greenhouse gas emissions.
- Section 2(a)(4)(D)(ii) – Increase logging on tribal lands: $45 million specifically designated to subsidize and expand logging on tribal lands.
- Tree plantations: $3.5 billion annually to establish tree plantations on federal lands. While planting trees sounds like a good thing, forests do not actually need to be replanted after natural disturbances. They simply grow back naturally as they have for over three hundred million years. While none of this money could be used to log a burned area or replant an area that was recently logged after a fire, the provision that allows for funds to be used for “site-preparation” would facilitate harmful activities involving bulldozing trees and shrubs into piles for on-site burning and the widespread use of the carcinogenic herbicide glyphosate to kill all remaining live vegetation. (These practices, often done in the name of creating spotted owl habitat, actually negatively impact these birds.)
[Rep./Sen. ____, can we invest this part of the funding in our young people instead? This money would help both them and the public, just like the original CCC did. Projects on public and private lands in their own geographic region will enhance the environment, reduce emissions, help to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and create community resilience to the impacts of climate change. Such jobs could include:
- Harden homes and community facilities against extreme weather events such as wildfires, hurricanes, as well as flooding and sea surge;
- Decommission and rewild roads, skid trails and timber landings;
- Maintain Level 4 roads;
- Upgrade culverts;
- Reintroduce beavers and other native species;
- Non-toxic weed eradication;
- Maintain and increase trails and interpretive centers;
- Maintain and staff campgrounds;
- Provide staffing on public lands as recreation officers to assist visitors and prevent unplanned human ignitions;
- Install water bars and road blocks for closed roads;
- Supporting native species by installing nest boxes, bat boxes, and plugging the tops of pipes on gates and other human infrastructure that pose hazards for wildlife
- Repair livestock damage to stream banks and protect streams/riparian areas from livestock impacts;
- Creation of cattle exclosures;
- Removing barbed wire fences to protect wildlife and ensure freedom of movement and access to critical areas within their range;
- Vegetation pruning within 100 feet of homes and buildings to create defensible space and make it easier for fire-fighters to protect homes
Here are references for you and your staff to review.
- Why Thinning Forests is Poor Wildfire Strategy (https://www.westernwatersheds.org/gw-poor-wildfire-strategy/)
- Letter to House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to oppose legislative proposals that would promote logging and wood consumption as carbon storage (https://johnmuirproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/200TopClimateScientistCongressProtectForestsForClimateChange13May20.pdf)
- Native forest logging makes bushfires worse – and to say otherwise ignores the facts (https://www.uow.edu.au/media/2021/native-forest-logging-makes-bushfires-worse–and-to-say-otherwise-ignores-the-facts.php)
- Logging and thinning of forests can increase fire risk (https://news.griffith.edu.au/2021/02/10/logging-and-thinning-of-forests-can-increase-fire-risk/)
- Misconceptions about Wildfires Are Fueling the Problem (https://www.scientificamerican.com/video/apocalypse-no-wildfire-damage-and-impacts-can-be-overstated/)
- New California Wildfire Report Co-Authored by ForestWatch Staff (https://lpfw.org/new-california-wildfire-report-co-authored-by-forestwatch-staff/)
- Let Wildfires Burn: Study Shows Forests Bounce Back on Their Own (https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2016/08/19/after-catastrophic-wildfires-forests-rebound-on-their-own)
- Impacts of Postfire Management Are Unjustified in Spotted Owl Habitat: (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2021.596282/full)
- The John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute – Camp Fire Photos: Logged Areas Burned Much More Intensely, While Mature Forest Burned Mostly at Lower Intensities (https://johnmuirproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/JMPCampFirePhotoMemo.pdf)
- Logging Didn’t Stop the Camp Fire (https://johnmuirproject.org/2019/01/logging-didnt-stop-the-camp-fire/)
- Industry Impact on US Forests (https://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Industry-Impacts-on-US-Forests.pdf)
- The Role of Defensible Space for Residential Structure Protection During Wildfires (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267028232_The_Role_of_Defensible_Space_for_Residential_Structure_Protection_During_Wildfires)