This story appeared on KREM2 in Spokane. I’m heartened to see a support for an active strategy to deal with the wildfire dilemma. In defiance of popular conventional wisdom that harvesting trees is a bad thing. Finally, using harvesting as a tool for healthier forests. It too long overdue in the minds of the public.
This article appeared in The Economist and sums up the need and benefit of thinning the forests of the Sierra Nevada. I’ve added a few comments about it below.
I really appreciate the discussion regarding water generation through thinning. I believe this is one of the least discussed benefits of practicing forestry in the West, but in California it’s one of the biggest benefits with our constant water deficits. Thinning the Sierra forests would generate an enormous amount of water for California.
When comparing the cost of controlled burning to mechanized thinning (logging) you can’t ignored the cost incurred when controlled burns get out of control. The cost differences between doing controlled burn and fighting out of control fire is enormous. I’m not saying don’t use controlled burning, but fire suppression costs need to be included when controlled burns get out of control. Controlled burning is one tool available, but cannot come close to solving the problem of all the overstock forests.
Commercial thinning that includes merchantable (larger) trees is the only economically sustainable way to accomplish the massive level of thinning that needs to be done. The author points out 52 trees per acre was the historic density of trees in the Sierra. Research has shown that the proper density for optimal growth in fully stock mature timber stands to be between 43 and 64 trees per acre depending on the size of the trees. If we remove 236 trees per acre to reach 64 trees per acre, then some of those trees have to be big enough to make a 2 x 4. If there is enough value in the larger trees, a timber company will pay the federal government to thin the forest instead of the government paying a contractor to clean up and dispose of the unmerchantable trees.
What’s the upside? We get healthy resilient forests that are more fire resistant. Wildfires that do start are less severe, and safer and easier to control. There is more water available to the state. The wood isn’t left to rot. It is used in wood products and to generate electricity. People doing these forest related jobs see an economic benefit, particularly in the rural communities. The practice is sustainable and wood is our great renewable resource.
Lastly, some folks are going to fret over the impacts of logging at that scale. I want you to know this, timber harvests are studiously planned to mitigate the potential negative impacts they could cause. Secondly, just imagine the negative effects of these mega-fires. I’ve seen them and their effects are staggering. I’ve yet to see one large burn ever have it’s negative impacts fully mitigated.
I took this picture in an area that burned in a wildfire in 2008. When it comes to wildfires, woodpeckers are the big winners!
Looking across Indian Valley at a mountain thunderstorm. We’ve had many storms, already this year. Fortunately, they’ve been moisture laden. Dry lightening is a huge concern in the Sierra Nevada, especially in a dry year like this. Our long term weather prediction is for high thunderstorm activity in July and August. Hopefully, a healthy dose of rain goes with it.
Unfortunately, thunderstorms are so spotty when it comes to rain. As of yesterday “sleepers” started popping up all over Northern California. The sleepers are the smoldering lightning strikes that flare into a full blown fires when the temperatures rise and humidity falls.
Most of the lightning fires have already been extinguished by the fire services, but there are always a few that get away. Today we are suppose to reach 103 F in the valley and 108 F tomorrow. Despite the rain, it’s fire season in Northern California.
California is into the fourth year of drought. Wildfire is on our minds in the natural resources community. Hazardous fire conditions are just around the corner and we are already preparing. The state and federal agencies have a system for predicting high fire hazard conditions, and tracking weather and fuel moisture is at the core of it.
We utilize local weather stations on our timber lands to get pin point fire weather conditions. Our research department installs them. Some of these stations are permanent and some are mobile. The mobile stations, like the one shown above, can be relocated as needed. We put these at active logging sites so we can measure accurate on site fire weather conditions.
Years ago, we used mechanical anemometers to measure wind speed, and fuel moisture sticks weighed with a scale to measure fuel moisture. During the summer season, measurements were taken on the hour by someone on the logging crew. When conditions became severe enough, operations were shut down for the day.
With today’s technology, we have the ability to monitor conditions continuously and have the data transmitted to our office. Changes in fire conditions can be spotted in real-time and radioed to the logging crews. We can collect much more data with the new weather stations than ever before, and respond to changing condition accordingly.
The weather stations won’t eliminate wildfire, but they do assist the logging crews in avoiding being the cause.
Every time I see a news report where the reporter says loggers “chopped” down trees, I want to bang my head against the coffee table. Loggers haven’t chopped down trees since chainsaws took over the job in the 30’s and 40’s.
Chainsaws are still on every logging job, but now they share much of the tree falling duty with the feller bunchers. These machines look more like something from Star Wars. It’s not what most folks would expect on a logging job.
This machine is working on a fire salvage operation from last years wildfires. They cut trees all day long.
Life is a lot different for the loggers these days. Working in an air-condition cab is a world away for the days of axes and misery whips.
The King Fire devastated almost 98,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada, east of Sacramento. Our company lost 18,000 acres of forest. Lately, I’ve had opportunity to spend time in the burn area. There is a lot of work being done by our foresters, biologists, botanists, and others to protect the resources so the timber can be quickly salvaged in an environmentally sensible manner. Most people never get to see what is done to protect the soil, water, cultural resources, and wildlife. In the gallery are images of just some of the work being done.
There is a lot of preparation that has to be done prior to logging. It has taken a large team of resource professionals to get the job done on a project this size.
Just for children a picture book about wildfire and the forest rehabilitation that takes place after a fire. Check out, Firestorm In the Forest.