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.
Defending Bedrock Environmental Laws and Policies
Fire is a natural force that has shaped the biodiversity of dry forests across the West for millennia. Fire is only catastrophic when it destroys homes or results in loss of life. Unfortunately, fire has been used as an excuse for opening up millions of acres of public lands to unabated logging based on the false premise that logging can prevent future fires and is needed to “restore” forests that have burned. We have chosen to work on fire as a key- stone ecological process because there is much public concern about whether it will increase during a warming climate and whether it is a significant source of CO2 emissions.
For over a decade, Geos Institute has been playing a leadership role in bringing cutting-edge science on the ecological importance of fire featured in top tier science journals, news media reports, and in efforts by partners to defend landmark environmental laws and policies. We continue to develop scientifically sound alternatives that advocate for let-burn policies under safe conditions in the backcountry and fuels reduction near homes and in flammable tree plantations.
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.
Geos Institute Chief Scientist and partners brief Congressional aides on ecological fire science and the need for a rational fire policy.
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.
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.