FIRES, INCLUDING HIGH SEVERITY FIRES, ARE GOOD FOR FORESTS
Western conifer forests have evolved with fire and are adapted to it, and in fact need fire. Wildfires, including high-severity fires, create important habitats, lessen the severity and frequency of disease and insect outbreaks, and facilitate seed germination in some plant species. Post-fire forests are one of the most biodiverse and important habitats, and are home to many at-risk, sensitive, and listed species. Post-fire areas are rich in snags (standing dead trees) used for nesting and foraging by many species, including woodpeckers. Fires also stimulate the growth of many species of native wildflowers, certain berries and fungi (such as Morels), and provide habitats for small mammals and forage for deer and elk. Post-fire habitats are among the most important for wildlife, and are unfortunately very rare compared to historic proportions because of continued fire-suppression and post-fire logging.
In studies of the structures left by high-intensity burns, ecologists have found biodiversity equal to, or surpassing, the biodiversity found in old-growth forest. Dr. Richard Hutto, one of the nation’s top ornithologists, found that: “Besides the growing body of evidence that large, infrequent events are ecologically significant and not out of the range of natural variation, an evolutionary perspective also yields some insight into the ‘naturalness’ of severely burned forests… The dramatic positive response of so many plant and animal species to severe fire and the absence of such responses to low-severity fire in conifer forests throughout the U.S. West argue strongly against the idea that severe fire is unnatural. The biological uniqueness associated with severe fires could emerge only from a long evolutionary history between a severe-fire environment and the organisms that have become relatively restricted in distribution to such fires. The retention of those unique qualities associated with severely burned forest should, therefore, be of highest importance in management circles”. The current science points to post-fire replanting hindering natural recovery as well as potentially setting forests on an unnatural trajectory, and asserts that there are no ecological benefits to salvage logging.
Donato et al. (2009) found that “high-intensity re-burn [high-intensity fire occurring 15 years after a previous high-intensity fire] had the highest plant species richness and total plant cover, relative to high-intensity fire alone [no re-burn] and unburned mature/old forest; and the high-intensity fire re-burn area had over 1,000 seedlings/saplings per hectare of natural conifer regeneration”. An example of the importance of post-fire areas occurring after high intensity fires include these Donato et al. (2009) findings:
“[S]evere fires are typically expected to be deleterious to forest flora and development; however, these results indicate that in systems characterized by highly variable natural disturbances (e.g. mixed-severity fire regime), native biota possess functional traits lending resilience to recurrent severe fire. Compound disturbance resulted in a distinct early seral assemblage (i.e. interval- dependent fire effects), thus contributing to the landscape heterogeneity inherent to mixed-severity fire regimes. Process-oriented ecosystem management incorporating variable natural disturbances, including ‘extreme’ events such as SI severe fires, would likely perpetuate a diversity of habitats and successional pathways on the landscape.”
The August 2017 “Science Findings” from the PNW Research Station note that mixed-severity fire, including high-severity fire is necessary for many species:
- In dry forests, a mixed-severity fire that kills trees is an important but underappreciated strategy for providing enough snags for cavity-dependent species. Low-severity prescribed fires may not provide enough snags for these species.
- Suitable snags are limited, such that snag availability drives landscape-level habitatselection by some species. For example, white-headed woodpeckers selected severely burned patches for nesting, which was initially puzzling because this species does not characteristically forage in burns.
- Within burns used by at-risk woodpeckers, the majority (86 to 96 percent) of seemingly suitable trees contained unsuitably hard wood; wood hardness limits nest site availability for these declining species.
- This suggests that past studies that did not measure wood hardness counted many sites as available to cavity-excavating birds when actually they were unsuitable. “By not accounting for wood hardness, managers may be overestimating the amount of suitable habitat for cavity-excavating bird species, some of which are at risk,” Lorenz says.
“Based on their results, Lorenz and her colleagues see the critical role that mixed-severity fires play in providing enough snags for cavity-dependent species. Low-severity prescribed fires often do not kill trees and create snags for the birds. “I think humans find low-severity fires a more palatable idea. Unfortunately or fortunately, these birds are all attracted to high-severity burns,” Lorenz says. “The devastating fires that we sometimes have in the West almost always attract these species of birds in relatively large numbers.” Many studies have shown that a severely burned forest is a natural part of western forest ecosystems. Snags from these fires attract insects that love to burrow beneath charcoal bark. And where there are insects, there are birds that love eating these insects. Lorenz and her colleagues stress that providing snags that woodpeckers can excavate is crucial for forest ecosystem health in the Pacific Northwest, where more than 50 wildlife species use woodpecker-excavated cavities for nesting or roosting.”
“Currently, the best solution we can recommend is to provide large numbers of snags for the birds, which can be difficult without fire,” According to the researchers’ calculations, if one of every 20 snags (approximately 4 percent) has suitable wood, and there are five to seven species of woodpeckers nesting in a given patch, approximately 100 snags may be needed each year for nesting sites alone. This does not account for other nuances, like the fact that most species are territorial and will not tolerate close neighbors while nesting, or the fact that species like the black-backed woodpecker need more foraging options. Overall, more snags are needed than other studies have previously recommended.”
PROTECTED FORESTS WITH LITTLE OR NO LOGGING ARE NOT MORE LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE HIGHER SEVERITY WILDFIRE
A recent study from Bradley et al. (2016) challenges USFS assumptions about the fire risk associated with more protected areas—those area that have been less-managed or less-logged, but may still have experienced some degree of fire exclusion (such as Wilderness areas. RHCAs have also, of course, seen much more protection than upland areas). The authors state:
“There is a widespread view among land managers and others that the protected status of many forestlands in the western United States corresponds with higher fire severity levels due to historical restrictions on logging that contribute to greater amounts of biomass and fuel loading in less intensively managed areas, particularly after decades of fire suppression. This view has led to recent proposals—both administrative and legislative—to reduce or eliminate forest protections and increase some forms of logging based on the belief that restrictions on active management have increased fire severity.
“We found forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel loading. Our results suggest a need to reconsider current overly simplistic assumptions about the relationship between forest protection and fire severity in fire management and policy”
“Protected forests burn at lower severities: We found no evidence to support the prevailing forest/fire management hypothesis that higher levels of forest protections are associated with more severe fires based on the RF and linear mixed-effects modeling approaches. On the contrary, using over three decades of fire severity data from relatively frequent-fire pine and mixed-conifer forests throughout the western United States, we found support for the opposite conclusion—burn severity tended to be higher in areas with lower levels of protection status (more intense management), after accounting for topographic and climatic conditions in all three model runs. Thus, we rejected the prevailing forest management view that areas with higher protection levels burn most severely during wildfires.”
EFFICACY: LOGGING IS NOT PRACTICAL OR COST EFFECTIVE, AND DOES NOT MAKE COMMUNITIES SAFER
The short-term and temporary nature of the perceived fuels reduction benefits from most logging project are not likely to result in meaningful changes to fire intensity, size, or severity. Most projects designed to reduce fuels note that perceived benefits are estimated to affect fire behavior for approximately 20 years. If the estimated effectiveness is only approximately 20 years, then the justification for this project is even more tenuous. For example, Rhodes and Baker (2008) found that: “[u]sing extensive fire records for western US Forest Service lands, we estimate fuel treatments have a mean probability of 2.0-7.9% of encountering moderate-or high-severity fire during an assumed 20-year period of reduced fuels.”
Current forest management is unnecessarily putting firefighters at risk by focusing on remote areas, contrary to peer-reviewed science or common sense. Gibbons et al. (2010) found that defensible space work within 40 meters [about 131 feet] of individual homes effectively protects homes from wildland fire, even intense fire. The authors concluded that the current management practice of thinning broad zones in wildland areas hundreds, or thousands, of meters away from homes is ineffective and diverts resources away from actual home protection, which must be focused immediately adjacent to individual structures in order to protect them. In addition, other studies note that the vast majority of homes burned in wildland fires are burned by slow-moving, low intensity fire, and defensible space within 100-200 feet of individual homes [reducing brush and small trees, and limbing up larger trees, while also reducing the combustibility of the home itself] effectively protects homes from fires, even when they are more intense (Cohen 2000, Cohen and Stratton 2008).
Hutto et al. 2016 note, in relation to climate change, that increased efforts towards fuels reduction would be an untenable emphasis: “Any perceived problem with future changes in fire behavior cannot be solved by redoubling our effort to treat this particular climate change symptom by installing widespread fuel treatments that do nothing to stop the warming trend, and do little to reduce the extent or severity of weather-driven fires (Gedalof et al. 2005). Therefore, fuel management efforts to reduce undesirable effects of wildfires outside the xeric ponderosa pine forest types could be more strategically directed toward creating fire-safe communities….Fuel treatment efforts more distant from human communities may carry the negative ecological consequences we outlined earlier and do little to stop or mitigate the effects of fires that are increasingly weather driven (Rhodes and Baker 2008, Franklin et al. 2014, Moritz et al. 2014, Odion et al. 2014).”
In terms of possible future reentry of forests for logging under the guise of ‘fuels reduction’—what is the USFS’s plan for the many thousands of acres of logged areas? Will re-entries be planned across the landscape if wildfire or prescribed fire does not burn the area within 10-35 years? If treatments are only good for 10-15 years, then either re-entry will be needed or logging is a very costly and short-term endeavor that is not effective. It is not feasible to thin the entire landscape every 10-35 years, and if we could accomplish such a misguided feat, it would likely have unacceptable ecological impacts and not be economically viable.
LOGGING HARMS MANY AT-RISK AND SENSITIVE WILDLIFE SPECIES
Growing scientific evidence shows that numerous species are at much lower risk from wildfire than previously thought, and some of these species may be more negatively affected by thinning than by wildfire. Example include Olive-sided flycatchers, Canadian lynx, Pacific fisher, Northern spotted owls, flying squirrels, and others (Bond 2015; Bond et al. 2012; Hanson 2015; Moriarty et al. 2016; Manning et al. 2012; Robertson and Hutto 2007). Such research strongly suggests that a greater abundance of caution is needed when considering logging in important wildlife corridors such as riparian areas. For example, Robertson and Hutto (2007) provide evidence for the harmful effects of thinning to some species in their study Is selectively harvested forest an ecological trap for Olive-sided flycatcher? The authors state that: “Human activities that closely mimic the appearance but not the fundamental quality of natural habitats could attract animals to settle whether or not these habitats are suitable for their survival or reproduction. We examined habitat selection behavior and nest success of Olive-sided Flycatchers (Contopus cooperi) in a naturally occurring burned forest and an anthropogenically created habitat type—selectively harvested forest. Olive-sided Fly- catcher density and nestling provisioning rates were greater in the selectively harvested landscape, whereas estimated nest success in selectively harvested forest was roughly half that found in naturally burned forest. Reduced nest success was probably a result of the relatively high abundance of nest predators found in the artificially disturbed forest. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that selectively harvested forest can act as an ‘‘ecological trap’’ by attracting Olive-sided Flycatchers to a relatively poor-quality habitat type. This highlights the importance of considering animal behavior in biodiversity conservation.”
Large trees are essential for wildlife habitat for numerous species, regardless of the age of trees. The USFS categorizes trees less than 150 years old are “young”, and argues that they do not have to adhere to current Forest Plan prohibitions on logging large trees if they are “young”. To determine if large trees are less than 150 years old, the USFS uses the Van Pelt guidelines. However, the Van Pelt guidelines are wholly inadequate for determining the age of Grand fir, as they do not contain guidance that can be used in the field to reliably identify Grand fir older than 150 years. It is large trees that are necessary for wildlife habitat, and those are in extreme deficit across the region due to logging—regardless of age. The Ursus Environmental Assessment on the Deschutes NF discusses the inadequacies of the Van Pelt guidelines for determining age (USFS pg. 77): “A size or a diameter limit was chosen as the best metric to measure effect on trees that are old or large on the landscape. Other considerations were made, such as using Van Pelt’s guide to identify old grand (white) fir, but due to the characteristics of white/grand fir it was determined to not be an accurate metric. Bark on white/grand fir never develops the thickness of its fire-tolerant associates. The transformation that many trees experience from young gray bark to increasingly more colorful mature bark does not occur with white/grand fir. Even in giant old trees, bark characteristics reveal little about age. Like Douglas fir and western larch, white/grand fir is an opportunist, and has epimoric branch formation. As the stand matures and conditions change around a tree, light penetration may allow new branches to grow where they had been previously lost. Crown condition, tree form, and bark fissures are not an accurate way to tell age. Other than size, there is little else on white/grand fir that indicates age.”The Forest Service claims that Grand firs and other less fire-resistant trees are present in larger numbers and higher densities across the landscape than they were historically, as a consequence of fire suppression. However, the Forest Service abuses this rationale by applying it overly broadly and aggressively, and uses it as an excuse to extensively log old growth and mature forests– including in ecologically inappropriate areas such as forests with ample evidence of historic mixed-conifer and high-density forests, on north and east facing slopes; deep gulches and narrow valleys; forests on soils that hold more nutrients and moisture (such as ash soils); and other areas that show historic evidence of supporting mixed-conifer forests in general and Grand fir in particular. The Forest Service is using flawed assumptions that lack adequate scientific backing in order to log in ecologically inappropriate and sensitive areas, and to large trees across many thousands of acres—despite the documented deficit in large trees across the landscape and their importance to wildlife.
Furthermore, fire suppression efforts of the past were highly unlikely to have been widespread or effective in remote areas such as those within the project area until recent decades. The 100+ year timeframe the FEA puts forth for fire exclusion is an extreme overestimate. Heyerdahl et al. (2002) note that fire suppression was not effective until recent decades: “…active re suppression by land-management agencies because these efforts were probably not effective until the 1940s–50s when surplus military aircraft became available”.
THROUGH AN EVOLUTIONARY LENS
Mixed-severity fires (including high severity fires) create habitat that is necessary for species within eastern Oregon, suggesting that high severity fires are natural and historically present. High severity fires create important habitat that is very high in biodiversity, and is rare compared to historic norms. The evolutionary history and very existence of native species such as Black-backed woodpeckers suggests that large high-severity fires must regularly occur within their range. We are concerned that current fire suppression efforts through the region will continue to exclude high-severity wildfires (and continue despite project implementation) and threaten the viability of Black-backed woodpeckers and other species that depend on high-severity wildfire.
Hutto et al. (2008) noted that: “Without embracing an evolutionary perspective, we run the risk of creating restoration targets that do not mimic evolutionarily meaningful historical conditions, and that bear little resemblance to the conditions needed to maintain populations of native species, as mandated by law (e.g., National Forest Management Act of 1976).” “…[T]he patterns of distribution and abundance for several other bird species (black-backed woodpecker [Picoides arcticus], buff-breasted flycatcher [Empidonax fulvifrons], Lewis’ woodpecker [Melanerpes lewis], northern hawk owl [Surnia ulula], and Kirtland’s warbler [Dendroica kirtlandii]) suggest that severe fire has been an important component of the fire regimes with which they evolved. Patterns of habitat use by the latter species indicate that severe fires are important components not only of higher-elevation and high-latitude conifer forest types, which are known to be dominated by such fires, but also of mid-elevation and even low-elevation conifer forest types that are not normally assumed to have had high-severity fire as an integral part of their natural fire regimes.
In addition, two lines of evidence suggest that it is the more severe fires that are needed to create conditions most suitable for this fire specialist: (1) not only is the black-backed woodpecker restricted to burned forests, but its distribution within burned forests is also relatively restricted to the more severely burned conditions (Kotliar et al. 2002, Smucker et al. 2005, Russell et al. 2007, Hutto 2008); (2) black-backed woodpecker nest sites occur in locations that harbor significantly larger and more numerous trees than occur around randomly selected sites within a burn (Saab and Dudley 1998, Kotliar et al. 2002, Russell et al. 2007). Such nesting locations would be difficult to find in forests maintained as low-density, open, park-like stands due to frequent, low-severity fire.
How could a species evolve to depend on a condition that occurs only infrequently? The answer lies with the distribution and abundance of such fires across space and time. The return interval for severe fire in one location may be several hundred years, but black-backed woodpecker populations persist in a particular re for >6 yr (Saab et al. 2007), so the probability of a severe fire occurring somewhere within an entire watershed in any given 6-year window is very high. Thus, when viewed on a landscape scale, it becomes easy to imagine that a sufficiently mobile plant or animal species (e.g., re morel [Morchella angusticeps]; jewel beetle, Buprestidae; black-backed woodpecker) could become specialized to use a burned forest condition that is ephemeral on a local scale but always present somewhere in the larger landscape.
FIRE REGIMES AND FOREST STRUCTURE
Multiple convergent lines of evidence suggest that mixed-severity fire, which included large patches of high-severity fire, dominated most western forested landscapes. In addition, many forests were more dense than commonly recognized by agencies such as the Forest Service. For example, Odion et al. (2014) noted, based on extensive literature review of landscape-scale evidence of historical fire severity patters in Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests: “… most forests appear to have been characterized by mixed-severity fire that included ecologically significant amounts of weather-driven, high-severity fire.”
“Our results illustrate broad evidence of mixed-severity fire regimes in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America. Prior to settlement and fire exclusion, these forests historically exhibited much greater structural and successional diversity than implied by the low/moderate-severity model”
“Our findings suggest a need to recognize mixed-severity fire regimes as the predominant fire regime for most of the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America”
“The high-severity fire rotations […] do not support the hypothesis that low/moderate-severity fire regimes were predominant in the majority of ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America. In all the large, forest landscapes for which data covering at least 70 years exist, high-severity fire rotations ranged from about 217 to 849 years , and were mostly 200–500 years. This is generally less than potential tree lifespans. For combined moderate- and high-severity fires in the eastern Cascades, rotations were 115–128 years”
Evidence that mixed-severity fires are still within historic range of variability in the west is also provided by the research of Pierce and Meyer (2008). They examined the size and frequency of fire-related debris flows within alluvial fans in Idaho dating back approximately 2,000 years. They found that evidence of small frequent fires historically coincided with multi-decadal climatic cycles of greater moister or drought, and that larger fires corresponded to drought cycles. Today’s high severity fires were found to be within natural range of variability.
The extent and influence of fire was much more prevalent than today across the US (USFS National Report on Sustainable Forests, 2010). Historically, mixed-conifer forests were dominated by dense forests (Hessberg et al. 2007). Many of the mixed conifer forests in the west are closed canopy forests that are highly interwoven complex ecosystems that provide high quality habitat for numerous species such as goshawk, marten, Pileated, Lewis woodpecker, and others.
Much peer-reviewed scientific research on mixed-conifer forests has suggested that thinning is likely not needed, effective, nor ecologically beneficial in moist mixed-conifer forest to prevent fire, does not mimic the complex natural fire regime (Noss et al, 2006; Lindenmayer et al. 2009) and threatens to increase fire risk (Lindenmayer et al. 2009). The mixed-conifer forest type is fragile and vulnerable to the chronic negative impacts of industrial commercial logging. Mature and old-growth moist mixed conifer stands have dense, moist interiors and little wind, which inhibit the spread of wildfire (Lindenmayer et al. 2009; Morrison and Smith, 2005; Rhodes, 2007). Large fires are climatically driven and fuels reduction treatments can be insignificant to prevent fire spread under these conditions. Post-fire habitat is significantly degraded by the logging that happens in the name of fuels reduction prior to the fire.
Noss et al. 2006 noted: “One barrier to better use of ecological science is that individuals involved in developing fire policies and practices have tended to be specialists in fire and fuel management, not ecologists, conservation biologists, or other broadly trained scientists. It is not surprising, therefore, that current forest law does not adequately incorporate ecological considerations in its implementation and tends to promote a narrow definition of restoration that focuses almost exclusively on fuels (DellaSala et al. 2004; Schoennagel et al. 2004).”
“True ecological restoration requires the maintenance of ecological processes, native species composition, and forest structure at both stand and landscape scales. Because forests are highly variable over space and time, few universal principles exist for integrating insights from ecology and conservation biology into fire management policies. Nevertheless, one fundamental principle is that managed forests should not only support the desired fire regime but also viable populations of native species in functional networks of habitat (Hessberg et al. 2005). A common-sense conservation goal is to achieve forests that are low maintenance and require minimal repeated treatment. With time, in a landscape of sufficient size, the right end of the restoration continuum could be reached, where natural fire maintains the system in the desired state. Indeed, wildland fire use is the cheapest and most ecologically appropriate policy for many forests. We envision a future where fire is seen by land managers and the public as the key to healthy forests, but where each forest and each patch of the forest mosaic is recognized for its individuality and managed accordingly. Above all, a guiding principle of forest management should be a precautionary approach that avoids ecological harm.”
Williams and Baker have published several studies suggesting that forests in eastern Oregon were considerably more dense than estimates commonly asserted by agencies (Baker 2012; Williams and Baker 2012; and Baker and Williams 2015). There studies have received criticism by some, such as Fule et al. (2014). However, Williams and Baker (2014) provided in-depth responses to these criticisms and clear rationales and defense of their methods; their response was peer-reviewed and published. Their work should not be discounted; rather, it should be considered part of the ongoing conversation and part of the scientific controversy involved in these discussions. Williams and Baker (2014) note:
“Government wildland fire policies and restoration programmes in dry western US forests are based on the hypothesis that high- severity fire was rare in historical fire regimes, modern fire severity is unnaturally high and restoration efforts should focus primarily on thinning forests to eliminate high-severity fire. Using General Land Office (GLO) survey data over large dry-forest landscapes, we showed that the proportion of historical forest affected by high-severity fire was not insignificant, fire severity has not increased as a proportion of total fire area and large areas of dense forest were present historically….. In response, Fulé et al. …suggest that our inferences are unsupported and land management based on our research could be damaging to native ecosystems. Here, we show that the concerns of FE are unfounded. Their criticism comes from misquoting W&B, mistaking W&B’s methods, misusing evidence (e.g. from Aldo Leopold) and missing substantial available evidence. We also update corroboration for the extensive historical high-severity fire shown by W&B. We suggest that restoration programmes are misdirected in seeking to reduce all high-severity fire in dry forests, given findings from spatially extensive GLO data and other sources.”
The authors respond to criticism of their paper point by point, and then include the following concluding notes: “The best possible historical baseline for dry forests is likely to come from systematically combining all sources. Past studies that supported the past incomplete historical baseline, which suggested that low-severity fire primarily maintained historical dry forests, were often spatially limited, incomplete samples of larger landscapes. Tree-ring methods can reconstruct to fine scales back to the late 1800s, but are difficult to complete across large landscapes (but see Heyerdahl et al., 2001). Palaeoecological reconstructions can provide key temporal evidence, but are also difficult to replicate across large landscapes. GLO data, in contrast, can be used to develop reconstructions across hundred of thousands to millions of hectares. New findings from GLO data have challenged past findings about the nature of the historical baseline in dry forests, but it is the role of science to continually test past findings. Refining the historical baseline should help avoid misuse of evidence, false narratives, and misdirected restoration and provide a sound scientific foundation for predicting the effects of climatic change on wildfire and forests.”
POST-FIRE LOGGING IS BAD FOR FORESTS
The wealth of scientific studies done on post-fire logging have come to an overwhelming consensus that post-fire logging has extremely negative impacts on numerous species, sensitive ecosystems, snags and downed wood (both very important for wildlife habitats), water quality, and forest regeneration. Richard Hutto, in his study Towards Meaningful Snag-Management Guidelines for Postfire Salvage Logging in North American Conifer Forests (2006) goes so far as to state: “I am hard pressed to find any other example in wildlife biology where the effect of a particular land-use activity is as close to 100% negative as the typical postfire salvage-logging operation tends to be.”
In an Open Letter to Members of Congress from 250 Scientists Concerned about Post-fire Logging (2013), scientists state that “Post-fire habitats created by fire, including patches of severe fire, are ecological treasures rather than ecological catastrophes, and that post-fire logging does far more harm than good to the nation’s public lands.”
Burned areas are best left to their own natural recovery processes. Several studies also showed that post-fire logging decreases the abundance and diversity of native plant recruitment. Post-fire logging and post-fire replanting can negatively impact forests’ ability to regenerate, which can facilitate non-native species establishment and spread by creating spatial and ecological openings (Donato et al. 2006, Lindenmayer & Noss 2006, Titus et al. 2007). Titus et al. (2007) looked at vegetation in salvage-logged and replanted plots vs. vegetation in non-salvaged logged and unplanted plots in the blast zone of the Mount St. Helens eruption. They found that salvaged logged and replanted areas had lower herb and shrub diversity and richness, and more bare areas and moss than un-salvaged areas. Post-fire logging can also exhaust the natural replacement seed banks if plants begin to germinate following fire but then are destroyed by logging activity (Donato et al. 2006, Lindenmayer & Noss 2006). This is particularly true in areas where the remaining slash is burned (Keeley 2006), or when regeneration burns are used to promote the germination of particular varieties of commercial tree species (Lindenmayer & Noss 2006).
The alteration of unique and crucial post-fire habitat may result in the degradation of destruction of characteristics necessary for species that depend on post-fire habitat. The repeated and widespread loss of this type of habitat may have a negative effect on population trends and habitats for a number of listed, sensitive, at-risk species, MIS, or other special status species. This may include species such as: Townsend’s big-eared bats and other bat species; Peregrine falcon; wolverine; Canada lynx; Pacific fisher; American marten; Bald eagle; Lewis’s woodpecker; Black-backed woodpecker; Three-toed woodpecker; special-status owls; Neotropical songbirds; Bull trout; Redband trout, steelhead, Chinook salmon; Columbia spotted frogs. For example, Black-backed woodpeckers are negatively affected through cumulative impacts from post-fire logging. They may also be negatively affected by the alteration of tree species composition and future quality of habitat from replanting. Black-backed woodpeckers rely on dense snag habitats that have been recently burned and on the Bark beetles that move in afterwards. In addition, species such as Pacific fishers that rely on complex mature forests have also evolved in the presence of fire-created habitats and have been found to utilize them extensively.
There is no scientific evidence to justify salvage logging on an ecological basis, and projects on public lands should focus on truly restorative activities, such as road removal. Numerous scientific studies point to a suite of possible long-term problems caused by post-fire logging, including erosion, increased sedimentation, soil compaction, and negative impacts to wildlife and hydrology. Post-fire logging can also increase future fire risk. Donato et al. (2006) found that post-fire logging actually increases the risk of future high intensity fires, particularly when slash is left on the ground. Thompson & Spies (2010) found that areas that had previously experienced burning and “salvage” logging after the 1987 Silver Fire in southwestern Oregon had more extensive crown damage during the 2002 Biscuit fire than areas that had not been “salvage” logged after the Silver Fire. Post-fire logging can also negatively affect forests’ ability to regenerate, which can facilitate non-native plant species’ establishment and spread. Post-fire logging can also exacerbate or create problems with invasive species through other mechanisms, such as logging equipment spreading invasive plant seeds.
The Forest Service needs to do away with post-fire (“salvage”) logging on all National Forests. Post-fire logging is an outdated, ecologically destructive practice that harms important and delicate habitats.
Post-fire areas are too ecologically valuable to sacrifice for marginal economic benefit to a few individuals and corporations while the public pays for the costs of ecological degradation. Post-fire logging needs to be eliminated on public lands.
Learn more about the beauty and importance of burned forest! Links to great resources:
Check out this New Message for Smokey about the importance of high-intensity wildfires:
You can also learn more from the following link:
And you can also listen to a podcast interview discussing the ecological necessity of high-severity fire:
Also check out this great presentation on fire ecology and the importance of mixed severity fires by Dominick DelaSalla, PhD.
Here is a wonderful video summarizing the importance of post-fire ecosystems by the Wild Nature Institute:
Other information and links to fire ecology information:
The Chaparral Institute (posted 2014). 11 Reasons Why Burned Forests are Beautiful.
DellaSala, D. Ecosystem Benefits of Wildfire vs. Post-fire Logging Impacts
DellaSala, D.; Hanson, C.; Bond, M.; Hutto, R.; Odion, D.; Halsey, R. (2014). Fireside chat: Lessons from Fire Ecology and Post-fire Landscapes. Presentation accessed at: https://prezi.com/embed/efzm54g383n_/ through http://www.geosinstitute.org/banking-on-forests/public-forests/1139-fireside-chat.html
Geos Institute (2013). Open Letter to Members of Congress from 250 Scientists Concerned about Post-fire Logging. http://www.geosinstitute.org/images/stories/pdfs/Publications/Fire/Scientist_Letter_Postfire_2013.pdf
Geos Institute- example pictures of post-fire logging: http://www.geosinstitute.org/images/stories/pdfs/Publications/Fire/SalvageLoggingBiscuitFire.pdf
Hutto, R. 2006. Towards meaningful snag-management guidelines for postfire salvage logging in North American conifer forests. Conservation Biology 20(4) pp 984-993. Accessed online at: http://www.sierraforestlegacy.org/Resources/Conservation/SierraNevadaWildlife/BlackBackedWoodpecker/BBWO-Hutto06.pdf
Hutto, R. (posted 2013). Exploring with Dick Hutto. Produced by the Audubon Society.
Sierra Forest Legacy webpage on post-fire logging that contains many good science citations:
Wuerthner, G. (2015). Post-fire Logging- a Bad Deal for Forest Ecosystems. Article in Wildlife News. http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2015/03/19/post-fire-logging-a-bad-deal-for-forest-ecosystems/
4-H filming. After the Burn:
Other citations for the scientific studies and research on fire regimes, forest density and composition, and the importance of post-fire areas and the negative impacts associated with post-fire logging are listed below.
Baker, W. L. 2012. Implications of spatially extensive historical data from surveys for restoring dry forests of Oregon’s eastern Cascades. Ecosphere 3(3):23. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES11-00320.1
Baker, W. 2015. Are High-Severity Fires Burning at Much Higher Rates Recently than Historically in Dry-Forest Landscapes of the Western USA? PLoS ONE 10(9): e0136147.
Baker, W. L. and M. A. Williams. 2015. Bet-hedging dry-forest resilience to climate-change threats in the western USA based on historical forest structure. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 2:88.
Beschta, R.; Rhodes, J.; Kauffman, B.; Minashall; Karr, J.; Perry, D.; Gresswell, R.; Frissell, C.; Hauer, R.; 2004. Post fire Management on Forested Public Lands of the Western United States. Conservation Biology 18 (4) p. 957–967
Bradley, C.; Hanson, C.; DellaSala, D. 2016. Does increased forest protection correspond to higher fire severity in frequent-fire forests of the western United States? Ecosphere vol 7(10).
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