Is it climate change or forest mismanagement?

The tragic devastation in California and Oregon has ignited a national debate over the causes and solutions to wildfire. Framing the issue as an “either/or” choice between climate change and forest management does a disservice to very complex issues.

The real question is: what can we do now?

There are many factors determining the growth and severity of wildfire. Oxygen, heat, and fuel are frequently referred to as the “fire triangle.” Other factors include extreme winds and drought, which some say are impacts of climate change.

Of all these, the one factor we can control in the short-term are fuels. Logging doesn’t prevent fires, but it’s one tool that can be used proactively to manage fuels in a forest.

As of this writing, the Creek Fire on California’s Sierra National Forest has grown to 286,519 acres, becoming the single largest fire in the state’s recorded history. According to estimates, between 80 to 90 percent of the Creek Fire’s fuel – a full 2,000 tons per acre – came from beetle-killed timber. 

For too long, the Sierra National Forest has had more trees than it could support. Overstocking contributed to fierce competition among trees for water.  Drought made the situation worse, creating ripe conditions for beetle attacks. This all resulted in tens of millions of dead trees to fuel fires, and a reason why federal land managers here have sought to use forest management tools to reduce drought stress and tree densities.

Now California’s wildfires are producing more CO2 emissions than its power plants. In response to climate change, some have called for an end to logging so forests can serve as static carbon sinks. But forests set aside only for carbon sequestration are as dynamic as any other. And they can burn up and emit carbon too. 

Forest management is part of the solution. Using these tools- including logging, thinning and prescribed fire- can help boost the resiliency of our forests to wildfire. Forest management also provides wood products, which are increasingly seen as a climate solution because they lock in carbon for a lifetime and require less fossil fuels to manufacture. 

We’ve long argued state and federal environmental regulations are delaying the pace and scale of work that can be done to protect forests and communities. For some communities, it’s too late but it’s not too late to save others. 

If you think forest management is part of the solution, and want our policy makers to address these obstacles, you can send a message to your federal representatives by clicking here

Is it climate change or forest mismanagement?