Report: DOI manipulated wildfire science data to justify increased logging

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A former petroleum geologist at the USGS asked scientists to “gin up” emissions figures for him

logging forest service
U.S. Forest Service photo file photo.

A trove of emails obtained by reporters at The Guardian indicate that an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior selected wildfire science data in order to promote logging.

Below is an excerpt from the article.

…The emails show officials seeking to estimate the carbon emissions from devastating 2018 fires in California so they could compare them to the carbon footprint of the state’s electricity sector and then publish statements encouraging cutting down trees.

The records offer a look behind the scenes at how Trump and his appointees have tried to craft a narrative that forest protection efforts are responsible for wildfires, including in California, even as science shows fires are becoming more intense largely because of climate change.

James Reilly, a former petroleum geologist and astronaut who is the director of the US Geological Survey, in a series of emails in 2018 asked scientists to “gin up” emissions figures for him. He also said the numbers would make a “decent sound bite”, and acknowledged that wildfire emissions estimates could vary based on what kind of trees were burning but picked the ones that he said would make “a good story”.

Scientists who reviewed the exchanges said that at best Reilly used unfortunate language and the department cherry-picked data to help achieve their pro-industry policy goals; at worst he and others exploited a disaster and manipulated the data…

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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.

4 thoughts on “Report: DOI manipulated wildfire science data to justify increased logging”

  1. If this is true [“ginning up data”], than that’s a real shame. We do not need to “justify” additional vegetation removals from America’s forests. Growth is two times removals and the forests are getting clogged up, stressed and dying. Large, high intensity wildfires throughout America – especially in the west – have created a national crisis, no doubt. The three primary reasons are, with a tie for the top spot, in my view:

    1. Lack of forest management.
    1. The impacts of a changing climate.
    3. The expansion of the Wildland-Urban Interface

    In some of my past writings I have stated that the primary culprit for the deterioration of America’s forests [reminding us all that forests represent more than trees] and the incredible destruction caused by wildfires, is the lack of forest management. Further, I concluded that the impacts of a changing climate represents a real force, no doubt, but not the driving force. Lately, however, the line between the lack of forest management and impacts of a changing climate on large, intense wildfires has become much too blurred for me to make a rationale distinction; there is none.

    Certainly, we do not need to “dry lab” anything to know what is happening. We already have a very solid argument. I can only hope the report is false or words were taken out of context. There is no need to tarnish a very solid factual narrative. We know the reasons for the destructive wildfires over that last two decades or more. And, we know what to do to begin a campaign to reduce the impacts. Now, we simply need the will to make some necessary changes in landscape scale management; mitigation and adaptation; and smarter growth.

  2. If you ignore the extremes (log everything vs log nothing) you’ll generally find that folks involved with the topic agree that active forest management has significant role to play in reducing the largest negative impacts of wildland fire while increasing the beneficial effects. There is plenty to argue about when it comes to specifics but there really isn’t any need to “gin-up” numbers except exagerate a political viewpoint to appease an audience.

    So while I can certainly believe this administration did such a thing, there really wasn’t any need to do so. Why can’t the folks in the corner offices understand that real people would greatly prefer a reasoned discussion to get to potential solutions when it comes to climate change, forest management, and wildland fires. We’ve got to stop this pushing-the-extremes attitude for the sake of winning brownie points with our supporters and acknowledge that the world is changing rapidly and so must our approaches to managing it.

    Logging won’t solve everything and neither will trying to preserve everything just like it is as if it were a museum display. When it comes to public lands management let’s sit down and figure out where on the maps we can agree right now and get to work there while continuing to talk about the other areas. Leave the extremists on both ends of the spectrum out of the discussion if they aren’t willing to discuss rationally and acknowledge other viewpoints.

    Just my 2 cents.

  3. Bill. Do you think this is true or is it just as likely that protectionists are ginning up climate numbers and understating management outcomes to keep loggers out?


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