An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.
This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.
And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.
This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true?
It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.
And, the report says, cutting trees after the beetles have hit ‘em – this seems *so* obvious, but I guess it needs saying – doesn’t do anything to stop the beetles.
No, the report argues, what would make a lot more sense would be to spend the money the government does processing these post-beetle timber sales to instead cut back brush around vulnerable homes and install fire-resistant materials instead of the wooden roofs you see so often on houses in the woods.
A press release describing the report includes the following quote, which sums up the thrust of the report pretty well, from scientist and co-author Dominick Dellasala of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy:
"The science is clear. Unless preventive measures are aimed at creating defensible space around homes, the federal government will be shoveling taxpayer money down a black hole. Logging in the backcountry will do little to prevent insect infestations or reduce fire risks, and it will not solve Colorado’s concerns over dying trees. Colorado’s pristine roadless areas are best protected for their clean water and unbridled fish and wildlife recreational opportunities.”
Now… as for those folks who are so in love with the woods that they build homes there…. we'll surely return to that another day. For now: I love the woods, too. But especially with climate change, locating at the site of a likely future inferno may not be the brightest decision.
— Robert McClure