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Fewer trees do not equate to fewer fires

Key quotes:

  • Blazes under such conditions [low humidity, high temperatures, persistent drought, high winds] regularly burn through fuel treatments – thinning projects and even clearcut. In fact, fuel treatments can even make fire spread quicker by opening the forest to greater drying and wind penetration.
  • Even our best fuel reduction does not appear to be adequate to provide much assistance in the control of high intensity wind-driven fires.
  • Extreme environmental conditions … overwhelmed most fuel treatment effects. … This included almost all treatment methods including prescribed burning and thinning. … Suppression efforts had little benefit from fuel modifications. (1).
  • It may not be necessary or effective to treat fuels in adjacent areas to suppress fires before they reach homes; rather, it is the treatment of the fuels immediately proximate to the residences, and the degree to which the residential structures themselves can ignite that determine if the residences are vulnerable. (2)
  • We cannot halt large fires through fuel treatments. The best way to save homes is not by logging more of the forest, but by implementing fire-wise policies in communities that reduce the flammability of homes.
  • The truth is that the responsibility for avoiding disasters lies not with the Forest Service, but with individual private landowners, and county commissioners who continuously approve new subdivisions in the wildlands-urban interface. But the Forest Service can't say this publicly.
The author, George Wuerthner, is an ecologist who has published 38 books, including "Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy." Wuerthner divides his time between Livingston, Montana, and Bend, Oregon.

Here's the full article:
Here are some of the papers Wuerthner referred to in the article.
  1. Objectives and considerations for wildland fuel treatment in forested ecosystems of the interior western United States
  2. Hayman Fire Case Study: Summary