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Science Must Guide Forest Fire Policy

Ashland, Ore. - Dominick DellaSala released the following statements in advance of a visit by President Bush that will highlight the administration's forest fire policy. DellaSala is the director of World Wildlife Fund's Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion program in Ashland, Ore. He holds a doctorate in forest ecology.

"The administration's fire policy may be good news for logging companies, but it will do little or nothing to safeguard communities threatened by wildfires. The policy will result in logging large, old trees. This flies in the face of sound forest science. Numerous studies have shown that this kind of logging actually increases the risk of catastrophic fires. If the administration is serious about protecting people and forest resources, it needs to focus resources on brush clearing and thinning in the forests nearest communities and in tree plantations."

Fires are nothing new in the West. Up until the 1800's, about 10 times the land burned in an average year than burns today. For many Western forests, fire is inevitable and even essential. While fires that destroy entire forests - so called "stand replacement" fires - do occur naturally, they have become more frequent and more likely to occur in forests that are roaded, clearcut, grazed and subjected to indiscriminate fire suppression. Conversely, wild forests are less prone to these kinds of fires.

Root Causes of Modern Forest Fires Roads fragment forests, weakening forest ecosystems and leaving them more prone to catastrophic fires. Roads in forests become pathways for flammable, invasive plants to be introduced, and by opening forests to human activity, often the source of accidental and intentionally set fires.

Fire suppression has disrupted the natural cycle of fire that cleanses the forest floor of young trees and other flammable plants which fuel catastrophic fires.

Livestock grazing spreads non-native plants that can spread fire. Livestock also eat the native plants that carry low-grade, ground-burning fires, leaving behind flammable shrubs.

Clearcutting leaves flammable debris and exposes the remaining forest to the sun, drying it.

Lightning causes 90-95 percent of forest fires in the West.