Are stand replacement fires “bad”?

Cranston Fire
Cranston Fire, July, 2018. InciWeb photo.

The video below, paid for by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, advocates active management of forests as one of the methods of preventing catastrophic wildfires. Most land managers and members of the public will agree with that very general statement, with exceptions for certain parks and wilderness areas.

The video defines active management as thinning to reduce fuels,  prescribed fires, and “managing natural fires when they start”. It begins with Doug Grafe, Fire Protection Chief of the Oregon Department of Forestry stating,”It’s the public perception that catastrophic stand replacement fires are bad. And they are.”

The interviewer enthusiastically said, “Yes they are”.

Chief Grafe continued, “And they’re not natural.”

At the end of the video the narrator says “fire is complex”.

Agreed. It is too complex to throughly explain in a 96-second film which is apparently intended to shape public opinion about how to manage forests.

Not all stand replacement fires, in which most or all overstory trees are killed, are catastrophic, unnatural, or bad. Fires in lodgepole pine, for example, are either creeping and slow moving or rapidly spreading, intense, stand replacing crown fires occurring at 50 to 300-year intervals.

In addition to prescribed fire, thinning, and fuel management, “active forest management” in recent years has been a dog whistle for increasing logging, used by lobbyists and others that make their living from the timber industry. The president used the term along with “health treatments” in a Presidential Order signed on the Friday before Christmas in which he directed a 37 percent increase in timber harvesting.

The moral of this story is, active forest management in most landscapes has many benefits, but beware of how it is defined.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

One thought on “Are stand replacement fires “bad”?”

  1. The problem is defining what “bad” means. Ecologically speaking, some stand-replacing fires are perfectly normal and essential for what we think of as natural patterns of disturbance on the landscape (e.g. many Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine stands). However because humans tend to have very short, and essentially selfish, worldviews, we tend to view things like stand-replacing fires as bad because we don’t like the way they look or feel like it’s depriving us of some value or endangering something we built (like a house). It’s a bit like saying death is bad when it’s simply the normal outcome for any organism.

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